Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Update on the Situation in Beirut

Yesterday pro-Hariri supporters called for a "day of rage" today after it appeared that the opposition would succeed in democratically securing a new leader for the government. Incidentally there was also a "day of rage" already planned in Cairo against the government today which attracted thousands of protesters (see BBC pictures). However Beirut was possibly quieter than Cairo. I walked around downtown and through some of the mixed neighborhoods near the former green line (okay yes perhaps naively) and there were very few people on the streets who were not soldiers. Indeed there was a rather large army presence in these areas, demonstrating that US aid money is working. There were reports of protests in other areas of the country, indeed some press were attacked in Tripoli (link to AFP report), however most protests likely happened in private and not in the streets.

I do think that people's voices need to be heard and so public protests over a shift in power are natural. However I am disturbed by the tone of some of the pro-Hariri politicians and protesters. This was not a coup orchestrated by Hizbullah. According to Merrian Webster, the definition of a coup d'etat is "a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics; especially: the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group." That is not what happened at all. This is democracy working. In 2009 the opposition coalition won the popular vote but did not win a parliamentary majority (Americans should relate to the injustice). Since then some parties have switched their allegiance from March 14 to March 8. If some Lebanese are not happy with this decision, they can punish these parties in the next election.

Last week ministers also walked out on the government in Ireland and the Irish Prime Minister responded by resigning his leadership from the party, not by calling for a "day of rage". Nobody is claiming that the Irish maneuver is a coup. Democracy means living with whoever wins the political battle of the day. Najib Mikati, the new Prime Minister of Lebanon, was in the same office in 2005 representing the same Sunni community. He even supported Hariri in 2009. We have to stop the double standards and realize that life is not black and white. Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman needs to think more carefully about the people of Lebanon before saying ridiculous things to the press (read his comments in The Los Angeles Times). And Washington should give the (now former) opposition a chance to form a new government before passing any judgement and canceling any of that aid on display today.

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