iOS app Android app More

Patrick Galey

Patrick Galey

Posted: February 22, 2011 12:19 PM

Thousands gathered in the capital's central square, waving the national flag, wielding banners and demanding their right to freedom. They said millions came to voice decades of grievances, buried for years under mountains of bureaucracy and repression.

This scene, splashed across newspapers the world over and one which became an icon for a nation finding its feet, was not from Tunisia, Egypt, or even Libya. It came from Lebanon, from the tiny Mediterranean state's 2005 Cedar Revolution.

The movement, crystallized following Rafik Hariri's assassination, ejected Syrian troops from Lebanon after 30 years of interference and tutelage. It was an expression of discontent as much as a bid for self-determination. But calls for independence were not universal and, six years later, the insurrection has stalled.

Lebanon remains the playground on which regional bullies select their victims. Syrian influence, far from being got rid of, is as engendered as ever; even if the military men from Damascus aren't physically inside the country, Bashar al-Assad still packs significant clout. Saudi Arabia, the West's key Arab ally and champion of pro-Westernism in Lebanon has an equally large amount of fingers in the pie.

Iran, channeled through the all-powerful Hezbollah, has made clear its interests will be met in Beirut, or the country will face the consequences.

What was started by the people was corrupted by politicians, fiefs with no idea about -- let alone adherence to -- Lebanese national interests. Orders from across the Middle East were issued to both sides of the governmental divide to ensure tiny makeweight Lebanon fulfilled various obligations.

The country is currently in the latest fit of an enduring political crisis and a government, which is supposed to move away from reflecting religious differentiation, continues to reinforce differences instead of reaching for common ground.

Lebanon, the country which a Pope once called "a message" of tolerance, has become a warning against the shortcomings of democracy. Its unique brand of the West's favorite political system has led to the collapse of a "national unity" cabinet, which achieved very little indeed during its aborted tenure.

Development has stalled. Not those huge metal and concrete skyscrapers which now sit resplendent on plots where once beautiful, original townhouses stood, but development on things like civil liberty, information infrastructure and gender equality. The economy is wobbling. An indictment from the court set up to try Hariri's killers looms large over domestic political squabbles and we are warned against the consequences of either complying with, or truncating, (depends on who you're with) international judicial procedure.

All the while, the people continue to gaze vacantly into the middle distance, eyes and ears glazed over by year after year of empty promises and hollow sound bytes.

The protests sweeping the Middle East are, by definition, popular. The people on the streets are the ones making the change. They have a common, collective idea of what they want different. More specifically, they hold a communal view on what it is they don't want, usually manifested through animosity towards a dictator.

Lebanon has seen protests in 2011, but they have been sectarian in nature and dismal in turnout. The divisions sown by politics and expanded by MPs continue to prevent a common bond from forming between citizens. With no single objective or -- it must be said -- widespread popular interest, protests in Lebanon will continue to be predominantly factional and anemic in comparison to those of Arab neighbors.

True, Lebanon blessedly lacks the tyrants of some North African states, a scalp to aim for, a head to skewer as an example of people power. The population has its grievances, but these gripes are manipulated in such a way that disquiet becomes targeted against other groups, not the ineptitude of government as a whole.

The euphoria brought by the Cedar Revolution seems a long way from Lebanon's current political malaise. Another uprising looks more distant still.

 

Follow Patrick Galey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/patrickgaley