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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 16:11 GMT
Lebanon finds unity in street rallies
Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Beirut

Lebanon's cabinet resigned on Monday after two weeks of protests which were sparked off by the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

Anti-Syrian demonstrator with a picture of Rafik Hariri
All religious sects are out there, holding hands in a rare show of unity
The death of Hariri has been blamed on Syria, and there have been calls on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

"Cedar revolution" - in reference to the tree that is Lebanon's national emblem - "people power" or "mini Ukraine": the popular protests that brought down Lebanon's cabinet on Monday have been described with grand words, around the world as well as in Lebanon.

It is true that what Beirut is witnessing is unique. Rarely have people in this region taken to the streets like this - spontaneously, peacefully and with much determination.

Many in the region believe the Lebanese are setting an example for their Arab brethren. But it is not the first time that people here have protested en masse against Syria's presence.

National unity

In 1990, thousands of Christians demonstrated for weeks on end, calling on Damascus to withdraw its troops from the country.

At the time, Lebanon was still going through a civil war and the country was divided along sectarian lines.

If people power brought down the government, it is unlikely it will be able to do away with Syria's control
The Christian rebellion was eventually put down brutally by Syrian jets and tanks, and Damascus asserted its control over the whole of Lebanon.

Fifteen years later, the scene in Beirut is very different. Druze, Christians, Shias and Sunnis, they are all out there, holding hands in a rare show of unity.

Young women and men holding up Christian crosses and the Koran have been leading demonstrations through the streets.

People have been raising not the flags of their respective political parties, but the national flag.

That alone is quite an achievement in a country where people still put allegiance to their community above everything.

Anti-Syrian demonstration in Lebanon
Hariri's murder prompted massive street protests
Some people here are jokingly calling the phenomenon "the Gucci revolution" - not because they are dismissive of the demonstrations, but because so many of those waving the Lebanese flag on the street are really very unlikely protestors.

There are girls in tight skirts and high heels, carrying expensive leather bags, as well as men in business suits or trendy tennis shoes.

And in one unforgettable scene an elderly lady, her hair all done up, was demonstrating alongside her Sri Lankan domestic helper, telling her to wave the flag and teaching her the Arabic words of the slogans.

Farmers, taxi drivers, and construction workers have also been chanting "Syria out" and "Down with the government".


But what has been fascinating to observe is how Lebanon's middle and upper classes have been woken from their usual lethargy by the assassination of Hariri.

The self-made billionaire was often criticised for his economic policies, and for saddling the country with a huge debt.

But he was an optimist with an amazing can-do attitude which reassured investors and kept Lebanon afloat.

Lebanese girl at street protest
Well-heeled young people have taken part in the so-called "Gucci revolution"
After living through 15 years of war with amazing resilience, the Lebanese had pinned their hopes on peace.

They tried to put it all behind them, forget about politics and focus on making money.

The blast that killed Hariri devastated nearby luxury hotels, scaring off hundreds of Arab and Western tourists who left within hours, apparently taking Lebanon's dreams of economic prosperity with them.

But instead of packing their bags and emigrating, as they have done so many times before, in wartime and in peace time, Lebanon's well-to-do took to the streets in surprising numbers.


I have met Lebanese families who have been living in the West for years, but have travelled back to Lebanon over the last two weeks especially to take part in the protests.

The massive explosion brought home to businessmen, bankers and hotel owners that unresolved issues, leftovers from the war, can no longer be ignored - and that means mainly Syria's continued and pervasive presence in Lebanon, which is worth millions of dollars each year to Damascus.

Rightly or wrongly, the Syrians were blamed for the killing of Hariri and have since been the main focus of people's pent-up anger.

But if people power brought down the government, it is unlikely it will be able to do away with Syria's control over this country.

These are uncertain times in Lebanon. There are many unanswered questions. Yes, there is unity, but not all political parties have joined in, and this unity is still fragile. No-one knows if it will last.

And the big unknown is what Syria's reaction is going to be to all this.

Many believe that it will not let go of Lebanon without a fight.

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