A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

“It’s ours!” – Political discourse in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 10, 2008

The third anniversary of Rafik Hariri’s assassination is this Thursday, Valentine’s Day, and March 14 is holding a rally downtown to commemmorate Hariri’s death.

(March 14 is the coalition of former militia-men, businessmen of questionable corporate virtue and zu3ama that holds the majority in Lebanon’s dyspeptic government; as opposed to the minority, the coalition of former militia-men, businessmen of questionable virtue and religious leaders that represents the majority of the Lebanese population.)

Although most front-line March 14 politicians make me queasy, I usually have great respect for Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a March 14’er and life-long friend of Hariri. Unlike most political figures in Lebanon, he has put serving his country ahead of feeding his ego. But I think his affection for Hariri has clouded his judgment: this weekend he declared that this February 14 will be a national holiday.

In other words, Thursday will be a day to rally not for Hariri, but for the coalition of political interests that has succeeded him. Of course, I won’t mind the day off from work – and M, who lives near downtown, has invited us for lunch on their terrace, so we can watch the rally while enjoying the comforts of chaise lounges and two fluffy Persian cats.

But I do mind the politicization of the day, and I do mind the advertising campaign that March 14 has been running to promote the rally.

The billboard below is the companion piece to one I wasn’t able to find in a photograph-able spot. That billboard says:

2005: We went out [to Martyrs’ Square downtown, where the rallies are held] and they [the Syrian army] withdrew.

The billboard below shows a photograph of Syrian soldiers leaving Lebanon in April 2005 superimposed over an image of Hariri as a martyr:


It says: 2008: Go out [to the rally in Martyrs’ Square] [so] they do not return

A bit aggressive, I think, and rather bald in its suggestion that the opposition wants to bring Syrian troops (and Syrian control more broadly) back to Lebanon.

I caught the billboard in the process of changing to the next poster – the one that really irks me:


The billboard below gets me steamed each time I see it:


It says:

The martyrs are our martyrs

The square is our square

Forget civic identity. Forget national feeling. Forget the belief that all citizens have the same right to access public space.

Since the 19th century, Martyrs’ Square (or the Place des Canons, as it was known then) has been a nexus for interaction between all Lebanese. No one owned Martyrs’ Square: it was the site for social, ethnic and religious mixing as Beirutis gathered to drink coffee in the cafes or to see a movie at Beirut’s early cinemas, or to take a tram from one part of the city to another.

I find it absolutely disgusting that this group of men, who claim to be working for Lebanon, have so little patriotism. Lebanon needs leaders who respect public space, who appreciate the value of a square whose historic function has been to bridge the gaps that separate people in this fractured country.

Shouting “mine, mine” has no place outside a kindergarten. Whether Christian or no, we are all called to be builders of men (and women). What kind of men and women are you building, March 14, with your rhetoric of possessiveness instead of sharing?


3 Responses to ““It’s ours!” – Political discourse in Lebanon”

  1. Rami said

    The second one is funny, the billboard now says “the martyrs will not return”.
    I honestly find the whole campaign funny. The martyrs’ square, as you said, is for everyone, and has never been an exclusive property of some group of people.

  2. Oh Rami, what a hoot! I liked the way the posters blended in to one another in the second photo, but I totally missed the new message. Thank you for pointing it out!

  3. intlxpatr said

    BBC interviewed the Maronite Bishop and was asking about the division of political offices, based on the 1930 census, to which his reply was “it is not Christians leaving Lebanon, EVERYONE is leaving Lebanon, and the census gives us a concept with which to work, a framework” (I am paraphrasing here, because I didn’t write it down right away.) The reporter pressed, and the bishop wouldn’t give an inch.

    Unless all sides start giving an inch, this won’t be resolved.

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