Why the Lebanese revolution may yet work

by Claude Salhani

The upheaval in Lebanon is unprecedented in many ways, leaving authorities in a complex situation and not knowing how to respond.

What makes Lebanon’s revolution different from other attempts at revolting against a sitting government is the choice of its participants to remain peaceful.

Look at the major revolutions of the past 350 years starting with the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the Iranian Revolution. The attempts to force political changes in Syria, Iran and Iraq and all the above mentioned were very violent. The demonstrations that erupted in Iran last year, which don’t really qualify as a revolution, resulted in, opposition sources said, about 1,500 people killed.

Governments, especially those in the Middle East, know how to deal with violence; what they don’t know is how to address non-violent protests. This non-violent movement, of a novelty for the area, has been the brilliance of Lebanon’s revolution.

The people of Lebanon — call them the revolutionaries, if you will — are fed up with the political structure, starting with the sectarian-based system in which cabinet ministers are appointed not due to their level of education, academic record or achievements but rather according to religious affiliation.

Most high-level government jobs are reserved exclusively for certain religions. For example, the top three government posts in Lebanon are the president, the prime minister and the speaker of parliament. Following the National Pact, reached by the country’s sectarian leaders when Lebanon became independent from France, the distribution of power would be: a Maronite Christian at the presidency, a Sunni Muslim as prime minister and a Shia Muslim as a speaker.

Rather than unify the country, the system allowed external powers to push their interests rather than for the good of Lebanon. An example is Iran’s support of Hezbollah.

Iranian authorities did not need much prodding before reacting to peaceful demonstrations with violence. Similarly, in Syria when demonstrators began demanding a say in the way they were governed.

For nearly three months, the Lebanese revolutionaries continued their struggle to bring about the much-needed change in the way the country was governed. Their peaceful approach placed the government in a corner because authorities don’t know how they will emerge from this crisis.

One observer called it a “lesson in statesmanship,” adding: “The Lebanese revolutionaries have remained steadfast about their demands, steadfast about maintaining peaceful conduct and steadfast about their unity and perseverance in this fight.”

Indeed, this approach to a peaceful revolution is a first, not only in the Middle East but in Europe, Asia and in the Americas.

Despite the political, religious and other differences that divide the people of Lebanon and despite the recent history of severe violence, the populace demonstrated its unity as one people with one goal. That has remained constant and despite repeated efforts by various factions to sow dissent and guide this honourable movement into disarray.

Those aiming to disrupt the Lebanese revolution have no shame and no place in society. History will remember them and future generations will learn of those who were on the side of what is right and of those who chose to support corruption and sell their integrity to foreign interests.

The Lebanese authorities, principally the president, had hoped the demonstrators would, with time and winter approaching, grow tired and the demonstrations would end.

Mr President, if you have an ounce of decency left in you, listen to the shouts from the streets. As a former officer of the armed forces, show that the oath you took to defend Lebanon means something. Open the doors of your palace and listen to the calls from those you swore to defend. There is still time to act. History will recall your actions.

Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.

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