Mourning Beirut [Archives:2005/825/Opinion]

March 17 2005

Ms. Tahani Saeed al-Khaiba
Gender Coordinator
PRSP Program
Oxfam – GB
For the Yemen Times

I was in Lebanon on a training course on gender, citizenship and good governance, with a couple of my collogues from Oxfam. We arrived on the 23rd Feb., just nine days after the death of Rafiq al-Hariri.

I had been to Beirut before, but this time the city was overwhelmed with sadness and depression. Shock was visible on the faces of the people and it seemed as if they could not accept the fact that al-Hariri was no longer alive. People in the streets and shops were gloomy, we had to stop the taxi driver before reaching our destination fearing that he would not be able to see the road as his eyes were full of tears as he spoke of al-Hariri.

Personally I have felt that the opposition has expressed itself in a peaceful way and the demonstrations were civil and smooth. I was afraid that some parties with special interests would take advantage of this dispute and trigger internal conflict within the Lebanese community.

The opposition had their right to express their opinion but they should have put the safety and welfare of the nation over our personal requirements and point of views. If it wasn't for the stepping down of the government, God only knows what could have happened. Omar Karami is an experienced politician and his resignation absorbed public's anger and by this act he managed to allow things to settle and not break into something uglier.

However, the overall scene was tense especially the night before the demonstration when the government imposed a curfew from 5am in the city center where the procession was supposed to start the day of the announced demonstration. Our hosts had invited us the night before for a dinner party at the city center and we saw tens of youth who camped in the streets that night so that when the security stops people from entering that zone they are already inside. It was amazing, the spirit was radiating and I had to stop and chat with some of them. They explained that this is a transaction phase in Lebanon and that they want to be part of this movement. They were all heated up and enthusiastic demanding freedom and the evacuation of the Syrians from Lebanon. “We are so happy to be able to express our feelings and we think that those days are like these lived by our fathers during the sixties during the Jamal Abdulnasir and Arab revolutions days. We wouldn't miss this for anything” one of the exited youth told me. They gave us the Lebanese flag and we wished them luck.

The next day the procession took place, but what struck me the most is that during the processions, the Lebanese security forces were smiling. It seemed they had instructions not to clash with the public, but I have never seen in my life such smiling faces of the security force. In fact, this was not only my reflection as the Lebanese Peace Organization organized carried out a beautiful initiative when it arranged for 100 children dressed in white carrying white roses to present the roses to the Lebanese police and security in appreciation of their humane and civil behavior.

It is indeed a transitional phase. The government stepped down, and the opposition felt that it achieved what it wanted but the question remains: is who killed al-Hariri?