"February 14" and the Legacy of Violence in Lebanon

02/14/2017 12:30 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2017
Ya Libnan

This article was first published last year (February 12, 2016) on the Huffington Post/World Post.

I recall time stopped at noon on the 14th of February 2005. I was driving down to Hamra when I saw two friends, one of whom incidentally worked for Solidere, the company founded by Rafik Hariri to rebuild downtown Beirut. Due to Lebanon’s lax traffic rules, we stopped at the side of the highway and agreed to have lunch in Bliss Street.

Marwan went to his office in Biel while I drove towards the American University of Beirut, along the same road Rafik Hariri took as he left Parliament Square and drove towards his mansion in Qraytem. I was less than 100 meters ahead of his convoy when the blast rocked Lebanon’s coast.

The hours following the attack remain vivid in my mind. I remember the initial fear that Marwan and Joseph were caught up in the blast. They had the same fear for my safety. We all barely escaped. Thoughts then turned to all my friends and family members who took the Saint George coastal road to work or to university.

I remember a conversation I had with someone later that day. He was surprised at the shock everyone was experiencing as a result. “Fine, he died, it’s not the end of the world.” He was not a Lebanese citizen. And he did not realize the gravity of what had happened.

Nothing would be the same after that terrorist attack. Beirut was in a state of utter and complete shock.

Hariri’s death sparked a popular uprising against the sitting government and more broadly the Syrian presence and its interference in domestic affairs. Daily and then weekly protests were held until one of the largest demonstrations in Lebanon’s history took place on the 14th of March 2005.

The Syrian troops withdrew in April 2005 and an independent commission was created to investigate the crime. This was Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, an uprising that many commentators claim was the first in a series of popular uprisings that would sweep the Arab world since.

Eleven years later, as Hariri’s Future Movement holds its annual commemoration of the assassination, we should remember that the violence in Lebanon did not start or end on the 14th of February.

The country remains politically unstable in large part owing to unsettled differences - some of which date back to the civil war. Each political party has a specific narrative and the remembrance of its martyrs serves to justify and solidify its version of events in terms of who was victimised and who was loyal to the country.

Lebanon has still not dealt with the legacy of the civil war (1975-1990). Aside from the 200,000 lives lost, families of the 17,000 disappeared during the war still await some sort of closure. Two weeks ago, the ICTJ proposed a viable framework for a national commission of inquiry into their fate.

We should also remember that during the months following the 2005 uprising, Lebanon witnessed an unprecedented (since the civil war) wave of violence that led to the assassination of key figures in the country, as well as sporadic explosions in various parts of the country.

In the summer of 2006, Israeli bombs and cluster bombs killed around 1200 people (mostly civilians) following the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers by Hezbollah fighters in the South of Lebanon. Add to that the countless lives lost during the Nahr El-Bared clashes, the Tripoli fightings, and the more recent suicide bombs that have kept the country in a perpetual state of fear and violence.

What is the point of this brief non-exhaustive account of Lebanon’s legacy of political violence?

As we remember the late Rafik Hariri, we remember that the legacy of violence continues in Lebanon. It is a legacy that we have not dealt with and have not come to terms with. Demands for truth, accountability, and transitional justice are at times voiced, but the country is still very much stuck in the past.

As I wrote in 2006 in relation to steps that are needed in order to strengthen social cohesion, there is a need for a mutual and national recognition of the various tragedies that have befallen the various communities in Lebanon. That is, “by acknowledging the fact that each of these dates constitutes a national tragedy, not necessarily owing to the universality involved therein but in the mere fact that one group of Lebanese considers it to be so, all the communities in Lebanon will feel respected and included.”

Ultimately, what is badly missing is a sense that a non-selective justice has been met for all victims of this long, and seemingly endless legacy of political violence and wars in Lebanon.

It is often said: “no justice no peace,” in reference to the inability of a country to achieve a durable peace if the demands of justice are not met. Twenty-five years after the end of its civil war, and 11 years after the death of Hariri, Lebanon remains a textbook example of the veracity of that saying.

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