Friday, February 25, 2005

Beirut's Berlin Wall (

Beirut's Berlin Wall (

"Over by the Martyr's Monument, Lebanese students have built a little tent city and are vowing to stay until Syria's 15,000 troops withdraw. They talk like characters in 'Les Miserables,' but their revolutionary bravado is the sort of force that can change history. 'We have nothing to lose anymore. We want freedom or death,' says Indra Hage, a young Lebanese Christian. 'We're going to stay here, even if soldiers attack us,' says Hadi Abi Almouna, a Druze Muslim. 'Freedom needs sacrifices, and we are ready to give them.'

Brave words, in a country where dissent has often meant death. 'It is the beginning of a new Arab revolution,' argues Samir Franjieh, one of the organizers of the opposition. 'It's the first time a whole Arab society is seeking change -- Christians and Muslims, men and women, rich and poor.'

The leader of this Lebanese intifada is Walid Jumblatt, the patriarch of the Druze Muslim community and, until recently, a man who accommodated Syria's occupation. But something snapped for Jumblatt last year, when the Syrians overruled the Lebanese constitution and forced the reelection of their front man in Lebanon, President Emile Lahoud. The old slogans about Arab nationalism turned to ashes in Jumblatt's mouth, and he and Hariri openly began to defy Damascus."
"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

Where will this amazing Lebanese intifada go next? The answer may lie partly with the Shiite militia, Hezbollah, which is probably the most powerful political organization in the country. Hezbollah officials and leaders of the opposition have been trading signals this week about whether they can form a united front. What's clear is that the Lebanese are fed up with the status quo and that Hezbollah -- like all the other parties -- must adjust to change.

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