Analysis: A fading revolution in Lebanon

Is Lebanon starting to accept the Hariri assassination as an unsolved mystery?

hariri at rally 311  (photo credit: AP)
hariri at rally 311
(photo credit: AP)
For years a gadget showing the numbers of days that passed since the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri was “glued” to Al-Mustaqbal TV, a channel owned by the Hariri family.
A few months ago it disappeared. On the fifth anniversary of Rafiq al-Hariri’s murder the channel still broadcasted some footage of the late prime minister and patriotic songs dedicated to him, but something was missing.
In the city center Hariri posters could be spotted, like in previous years, and large crowds gathered to participate in a memorial ceremony, yet the atmosphere of grief, loss and power was no longer there.
Was it the time factor? Could it be that five years later the sharp feeling of loss somehow faded away, vanishing in the smoke and fire of many other occasions and events? Perhaps this is the law of human nature – to accommodate the grief, to embrace it and then to come to terms with it. Or maybe it was Lebanon and the Lebanese – especially the March 14 camp – that has changed during these five years, as it grew, matured and changed priorities.
The tragic death of the late prime minister, the most spectacular of all political assassinations in Lebanon, had galvanized the anti-Syrian camp in the country and gave a huge push to the Cedar Revolution, resulting in the withdrawal of the Syrian military from the country after 30 years. Five years ago everybody present in Sahhat ash-Shuhada (“Martyr’s Square”) in downtown Beirut could sense the tremendous strength, unity and determination of the hundreds of thousands who gathered there to mourn Hariri and to demand freedom and independence for Lebanon.
Today, after the devastating 2006 war with Israel, a 2008 military showdown with Hizbullah (when Hizbullah goons shut down Hariri’s Al-Mustaqbal), the continuous stalemate during coalition talks in 2009 and finally the forced marriage between March 14 (the anti-Syrian camp) and March 8 (the pro-Syrian alliance) in the form of a unity government, as well as ongoing clashes between March 14 movement leaders, many Lebanese are left more skeptical and cynical about both the Cedar Revolution and the chances of a fair investigation into Hariri’s death.
Indeed, how can the Lebanese head of state, the son of the slain politician, demand the continued investigation of his father’s death when not long ago he pointed a finger at Damascus? Certainly, Saad ad-Din al-Hariri keeps saying that he will not keep quiet until the circumstances of the murder become clear.
During yesterday’s rally in Beirut he said that “five years have passed, and we are still gathering here to demand truth, justice and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, so that revenge doesn’t prevail and murder ends,” adding that “five years have passed, and we are still continuing our path of defending Lebanon, Arabism, democracy, freedom, sovereignty and independence.”
The Lebanese commentators at the Daily Star and An-Nahar assume Hariri’s latest moves – his visit to Damascus and his decision to initiate warmer ties with Syria and Hizbullah – are an indication of his political maturity and wisdom. Recently An-Nahar even called Hariri “the Lebanese Obama.”
Yet many Lebanese now wonder whether the prime minister’s current position will allow him to compromise his ties with Syria for the sake of revealing the truth behind Hariri’s assassination.
“We no longer hear about the investigation, nobody demands that itshould be held at any cost, nobody keeps pressuring the UN. It’s as[if] we accepted that Hariri’s murder is just one of those unsolvedpolitical assassinations that we have grown accustomed to here inBeirut,” a Lebanese blogger wrote this weekend in a popular March 14forum.
Today, Beirut still remembers Rafiq al-Hariri, but thememory has become more faded and distant with every day, just like theold posters once hanging from every wall in Beirut in the heyday of theCedar Revolution.