Update: Rafik Hariri, Lebanon, Red and White Revolution
Reports in Le Monde and L'Orient-Le Jour suggest mounting tensions, as the Lebanese Government has rejected an international inquiry into the assassination of Rafik Hariri. However, a UN mission charged with drafting an official report on the affair has been permitted entry. The Lebanese Government says it remains responsible for any inquest.
Opposition MP Antoine Andraos is quoted as saying that both sides have hardened considerably as a clash with the government looms. In an editorial in the opposition newspaper an-Nahar, Nicolas Nassif writes that both sides will exert maximum pressure on their allies in Monday's confidence vote and that Syria will pull out all the stops to save its Lebanese allies.
Nur, who confesses interest but much ignorance on the situation inside Lebanon, is worried that the opposition has gone off script in adopting the Syrian presence as the cri de défi. (They're supposed to use the legislative elections, don't they know that?) and that as tension mounts they may be challenged by inadequate crowd discipline, which is also an essential tactic in a color-themed revolution. See this post).
This dispatch is positive, according to BBC: The Lebanese and Syrian governments have agreed on a redeployment of Syrian troops to the Bekaa Valley in the next few hours, says Lebanese Defense Minister Abdel Rahinm Mrad. The redeployment has been brought about due to growing tensions between the Lebanese Government and the opposition. However, General Mrad added that following the redeployment, the Lebanese and the Syrian government would decide on the next steps for Syrian troop withdrawal from the rest of the country.
The following is digested from reports filed by Le Monde correspondent Mouna Naïm , Agence France Presse and L'Orient-Le Jour.
Martyrs’ Square in the heart of Beirut has never been so charged with so much symbolism. It is in this square, one of the battle lines of the civil war which tore Lebanon apart for 15 years, that Lebanon is reacquiring its unity. At the base of the statue raised long ago to the memory of the Lebano-Syrian nationalists executed by the Turks before WWI, people are out every night in the hundreds, men and women of every age, even children, to demand an end to the Syrian grip on their country and to demand the truth on the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
Simultaneously, a few dozen meters away, on the flowery graves of the former Prime Minister and his seven bodyguards killed in a 14 February assassination bombing, many from the same crowds are joined by others in lighting candles and in praying. Everywhere you look, former Prime Minister Hariri is being hailed as a martyr: on giant posters, on banners, and on cardboard panels, plastered with messages from well-wishers. Some messages are emotional: We miss you, old man! Even though you’re gone, you remain in our hearts, some political: From Kamal Jumblatt assassinated in 1976 to Rafik Hariri, the same criminal assassinates freedom., and some are charged with anger: Out with Syria, you are hated!
On Wednesday evening February 23, the Lebanese were right on time for the rendezvous, which they hope will be the turning point in their history. Along with the slogans of independence and freedom, there is anti-Syrian rhetoric so vitriolic that the authorities have had to intervene to restore order.
On the podium, orator after orator pleads for national unity, for people to set aside their political preferences or religion. They implore the crowds to have patience while awaiting the outcome of a decision of opposition legislators in conclave at the home of Druze leader and Socialist Progressive Party Chairman Walid Jumblatt in Mukhtara in the Shoof Mountains. Their communiqués are applauded as they are relayed by Future TV, the television network owned by the late Hariri, across two giant screens erected on the square.
These opposition legislators have insisted on the inclusion of a debate of the Hariri affair in Monday’s Parliamentary agenda. They say they will follow up the debate with a confidence vote and expect all MPs to live up to their responsibilities. L’Orient le Jour (Beirut) writes that most legislators owe their seats to Syria and that they will have no scruples in putting on the blinders, ignoring will of the Lebanese people…whom they misjudge and have never truly represented.
Hezbollah says it has not decided if it will vote to maintain the current cabinet of ministers. Loyalist Nahib Berry believes that the vote of confidence will backfire and actually boost the Karamé government, short-circuiting local, Arab and Western protest. AFP reports that the government has pressured the pro-Syrian parliamentary majority (85 of 127 seats) to defeat the opposition’s censure motion.
The opposition will also against demand an international investigation into Hariri’s assassination in a show of defiance toward the national courts as well as demand the resignation of every Lebanese security official and all other symbols of power. They want the 1989 Taëf Accords, which define the steps towards a Syrian withdrawal, to be implemented immediately, top to bottom. They are also joining ranks with the Lebanese trade and financial community in calling a national strike for Monday 28 February.
Banking associations, industrial groupings and the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce have demanded the wholesale resignation of the government and the appointment (either by Rustom Ghazalé or Jamil Sayyed) of a transitional government of neutralist politicians. In addition to the general strike, declared following three days of tumultuous meetings, they are also organizing a rally at the mausoleum of Rafik Hariri. However they are opposed by government loyalists, lead by Omar Karamé, Abdallah Ghandour, the President of the Tripoli Chamber of Commerce, Mrs. Carla Saadé of the International Chamber of Commerce and Mohammed Lamah, Vice President of the Beirut Chamber of Commerce.
Walid Jumblatt, who has become the figurehead of the opposition, launched an appeal, relayed by television to Martyrs’ Square: Rafik Hariri is a martyr for Lebanon, the Arabs and the world. His assassination was an act of terrorism. I ask you to raise the flag of Lebanon high above the others and to sing the Lebanese national anthem. Amidst the applause, other opposition leaders have joined the public where they asked the crowds to turn out again on Monday, en masse, starting at 10:00 a.m., to promote one theme: We want the truth!