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    What Can the Lebanese Learn from the Egyptians?

    If anything, Egypt’s revolution and the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak have taught us one thing: The people can bring about change without the backing of a political movement or foreign interference. On the contrary, they can force the world to adapt to their uprising. They even got the Egyptian president’s allies to abandon him.

    Despite the attempts of various regional and local powers to endorse and take advantage of the Egyptian uprising, the people’s simple demands for freedom and social reforms survived and rose above international agendas. No one has so far stolen their voice.

    The resolve of the people of Tunisia and Egypt turned out to be more powerful than all world leaders and their supposedly long-established alliances and political systems. A dictatorship that is 30 years old, protected by a harsh security system and strong alliances was smashed to smithereens in a matter of weeks.

    These uprisings brought back hope to all people living under similar dictatorships in the region and inspired groups of young people in Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria and other countries to believe that their dreams might come true sooner than they thought.

    But in Lebanon, the winds of change have reminded many of us of missed opportunities.

    Why haven’t we been able to protect our own revolution? Why did we surrender so easily, and how did we leave the streets with so much unfinished business? That is a question that will haunt us for quite a while, but what can we learn from Egypt for future battles?

    In 2005, Lebanon’s own Cedar Revolution, started in the wake of the February 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, brought down the government and forced the Syrian army to withdraw from the country. However, the Lebanese who organized, led and took part in the Cedar Revolution did not realize back then the importance of maintaining unity as Lebanese people, not as members of sects or political parties.

    Lebanon’s people power started in a similar way: Angry youth and civil society activists took to the streets and set up a base at Martyrs’ Square, a location with similar symbolism to Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Tents were full of young people, day and night. There was an atmosphere of frenzied political debate. There was music, singing and dancing. People discovered their power to affect change and express their demands without fear.

    But it wasn’t long before the politicians ruined it all. Their bickering over power sharing led to a weak and divided nation. In the years that followed, Martyrs’ Square, instead of being home to one Lebanese people, was filled with Christians, Sunnis and Druze (not to mention a few independents who felt like outsiders). Masses replaced citizens, and the revolution lost its spirit.

    Six years later, as Egypt and the region burst with the desire to emancipate, what was left of Lebanon’s revolutionary flame was snuffed out by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, which took over the government. The Syrian regime is back through its powerful proxies, while Iran now controls both the southern border with Israel, and internal political and security institutions. All but one of the revolution’s achievements have evaporated: the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the court created to bring to justice the killers of Rafik Hariri and other perpetrators of political violence.

    On Monday, on the 6th anniversary of his death, what is left of the independence forces will honor his memory at the BIEL Conference center in Beirut, an event that is supposed to mark the beginning of a new phase of opposition for the March 14 alliance.

    It seems that this is now the only option. However, within this particular option, there are a number of choices. Can March 14 formulate a clear strategy? Will it start to act or keep on reacting to Hezbollah’s moves? Will the alliance take practical measures, or just make more statements and slogans? Will it cultivate its rhetoric to deal with genuine grievances, and will all Lebanese be invited to listen and discuss, or will it just target certain sects and groups that can influence election results?

    The only way to reinvent the spirit of 2005 is to address all Lebanese, including the Shia population, as one people. Being on the opposition might not be enough to face upcoming challenges. March 14 might also make an ally of civil society activists and the young people who constituted the real spirit of the 2005 Cedar Revolution. There is no shame in listening to them again.

    Although these people have the same demands regarding the STL, Hezbollah’s disarmament and the strengthening of state institutions, their additional demands can lead to practical steps toward real change and reform. For example, maybe it is actually time to discuss a civil state, a civil status law, basic women’s and human rights, and real social reforms.

    When the state is weak and Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state gets stronger every day, March 14 cannot do much from the opposition seat. But it can at least try to develop a genuine rhetoric that can make it stronger before the next parliamentary elections in 2013.

    No one is expecting much on Monday. It will be a long and gradual process that requires a huge deal of deliberation and mature dialogue with everyone, but this may be the only choice for the new opposition.

    Although the Egyptian people still have to prove that they’re worthy of their revolution, they did teach us that compromises never get you anywhere, and only unity and the will of the people can lead to change.

    Hanin GHADDAR
    NOW Lebanon
    12.02.2011

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