Lebanese are united under flag of the 'cedars revolution'

By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent

The Independent

02 March 2005

They slept in tents. They slept on the pavements last night. Lebanon is cold in winter. Not as cold as Ukraine but the frost that has lain over Lebanon these past 29 years is without temperature. Never has the red, white and green Lebanese flag been used as so poignant a symbol of unity. Only a few hundred metres from the encampment, Rafik Hariri was killed. And so, the Lebanese are supposed to believe, the murder of the former prime minister has unleashed the "cedars revolution". The cedar tree stands at the centre of the Lebanese flag.

With the resignation of the pro-Syrian Lebanese government, the equally pro-Syrian President, Emile Lahoud, was looking last night for a "caretaker" government ­ without much success. Hariri's sister, Bahiya, an MP in Sidon, was not interested in being Lebanon's first woman prime minister, and the elderly Rashid Solh didn't want the job, despite his Lebanese aristocratic origins. The dearth of contenders showed how tragic the Lebanese body politic has become.

It is still not clear whether the rubric "cedars revolution" started in Beirut or in the mouth of a US State Department spokesman but its implications are still clear enough: the Syrian army must go and ­ more important ­ the Syrian army's intelligence service must leave Lebanon. Hence everyone is waiting to see if a "caretaker" government will care for Lebanon or for Syria, whose protégé, General Lahoud, is now the lonely man in the Baabda presidential palace in the hills above Beirut.

Today, the "opposition" ­ Christian Maronites, Sunni Muslims and Druze though not, to be frank, many Shia Muslims ­ will gather at the palace of the Jumblatt family in the Chouf mountains at Mukhtara where Walid Jumblatt, the new would-be tiger of Lebanese freedom, has ensconced himself for his own protection. No recent member of the Jumblatt family has died in his bed, indeed, it was Walid's claim that the Syrian Baathists murdered his father, Kamal, in 1977 that set off this unprecedented revolution in the Arab world. The Lebanese people, according to Walid Jumblatt, have struck down the Syrian-sponsored Lebanese government. The Lebanese people want the truth: Who killed Rafik Hariri?

"One voice ... one flag ..." Mr Jumblatt said yesterday. He wanted "the removal of foreign elements (sic) from Lebanon" and the end of "foreign interference" in Lebanese affairs. But neither Walid Jumblatt nor the Lebanese are naive. They know US support for Lebanese "democracy" is fuelled by Washington's anger at Syria's alleged support for the insurgency against US troops in Iraq. Mr Jumblatt showed his feelings about the US involvement in Iraq when he said last year he wished a mortar fired at the hotel in which Paul Wolfowitz, the US assistant defence secretary, was staying in Baghdad had hit Wolfowitz himself. That remark cost Jumblatt a US visa. Mr Bush wants Hizbollah guerrillas to disarm. So do the Israelis. Indeed, the Israelis want the Syrian army and intelligence service to leave Lebanon.

So the Lebanese opposition are demanding the very same goals as the Israelis. But Mr Jumblatt wants to protect Hizbollah, which drove the Israeli army out of Lebanon in 2000. "We've got to engage with Hizbollah," he said. "They are Lebanese." And he also sent a message to Damascus: "We should speak frankly to the Syrians. We want them to leave Lebanon. But we want good relations with the Syrians."

Here lies the problem. Syria will always be Lebanon's larger Arab neighbour. Its Muslims and Christians live together today on the scales of a dark negative. The Christians will not demand control of a country if the Muslims do not claim to be part of an "Arab nation". But if a "liberated" Lebanon declared itself for "the West", then the country could fall apart, as it did in the 1975-1990 civil war.

It is tempting for the Lebanese camping out on Martyrs Square - or 'Liberation Square' as they now call it, though the original name commemorates the hanging of Lebanese Muslims and Christians demanding independence from the Ottoman empire in 1915 and 1916 - to believe that they are part of a great movement for democracy in the Middle East. Elections in Iraq and the small bit of 'Palestine' left to the Palestinians, and the elephantine gift of contended presidential elections bestowed upon his Egyptian people by Hosni Mubarak can be moulded into an ideology by the Bush administration. But Lebanon has always been betrayed by its foreign cheerleaders - which is why no one won the Lebanese civil war, except, perhaps the Syrians.

Last night, even Salim Hoss, many times a former prime minister and one of the few truly honest politicians in Lebanon, made it known he did not want to lead a caretaker government. So here's a question that no one asks too directly in Lebanon: what is the future of Rustum Ghazali? "Amu Rustum" is the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon ­ he lives in the largely Armenian town of Aanjar in the Bekaa Valley and has remained silent these past three weeks. It would be good to hear from "Amu Rustum". Mr Hariri, in the months before his death, received an abusive phone call from General Ghazali. What was said?