March 14, 2005


800,000 pack Beirut for opposition rally (AFP, 3/14/05)

An emboldened Lebanese opposition mobilized more than 800,000 people to demand an end to Syrian military domination of Lebanon, hurling a potent challenge to the Syrian-backed government here.

Beirut city official Mounib Nassereddine said the estimate of 800,000 did did not include demonstrators who were still arriving from all parts of the country ahead of the rally.

Thousands of Lebanese had made their way throughout the morning to the capital by car, bus and boat, heading for Martyrs Square and the grave of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, assassinated exactly one month ago in a bomb blast.

Lebanese television aired spectacular pictures of a massive throng in the square, showing thousands of demonstrators waving the red, white and green Lebanese flag in bright sunshine against the deep blue of the Mediterranean in the background.

Nassereddine said Monday's gathering was "at least two and a half times" larger than last Tuesday's turnout called by pro-Syrian Lebanese parties, notably the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah. AFP correspondents estimated the crowd last week at 400,000.

"Hezbollah organized a giant demonstration last Tuesday to intimidate us," said Nada, 35, as she travelled to Beirut from Zahle in the east.

"Today we're taking up the challenge and invite it to join us because we represent the true majority of the country."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2005 12:35 PM

That's an impressive percentage of the entire Lebanese population, which is somewhat short of 4 million.

Posted by: John Thacker at March 14, 2005 1:20 PM

I was more impressed with the Rodney King riots. Not as big as the Million man nor the this Lebanese walk in the park, but more dedicated, focussed and ready to get down to the nitty gritty.

Posted by: h-man at March 14, 2005 1:52 PM

Hmmm, I thought the Shiites were supposed to be the natural constituency for the great democratic revolution.

h-man, you may see something just like that taking place. Mobs on two sides of an issue are not a good sign, especially with all the guns that are floating around in that country.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 14, 2005 2:25 PM

half the crowd was likely Shi'ites.

Posted by: oj at March 14, 2005 2:40 PM

No, the crowd came mainly from Christian and Druze areas. At least that's what Bloomberg is saying:
" Demonstrators arrived from north and central Lebanon from mainly Christian and Druze Muslim areas, gathering in Beirut's downtown district that was destroyed during the 1975-1990 civil war, Dubai-based al-Arabiya reported."

There have been "pro-Syrian" demonstrations in the Shiite areas, though. There was one of 300,000 in Nabatia yesterday.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 14, 2005 3:02 PM


Yes. The Shi'a would be likely to appear at both the Independence and the Hezbollah rallies.

Posted by: oj at March 14, 2005 3:18 PM

Here is a picture of one of the demonstrators. Do you think she is a Shiite?

Posted by: h-man at March 14, 2005 4:26 PM


Why wouldn't she be?

Posted by: oj at March 14, 2005 4:32 PM

The social class differences, which seem to correlate roughly with religious differences in Lebanon, are unfortunate .. but predictable. Revolutionary vanguards are typically middle class folks reaching for the brass ring.

And the urinary stream competition going on in the streets of Lebanon is a wonderful thing. Let's pray there are no electric fences within range.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 14, 2005 5:00 PM

oj- I think that's a cross on her necklace, but I can't be sure. I guess I better check again...

Posted by: Timothy at March 14, 2005 5:15 PM

As someone pretty familiar with Weimar Germany, I'm not really thrilled about massive street demonstrations by opposing groups in an area with a reputation for political violence. All that being said, the notion that any of the religious communities, other than the Druze who are far more a family than a faith, is loopy.

There is an Westernized Shia community in Lebanon which doesn't care much for Iran-style nonsense and is affluent enough not to need Hezbollah's 'soup and a sermon.' Does the name Fouad Ajami ring any bells? Reread the first couple of chapters of 'Dream Palace of the Arabs' to get a picture of this community.

Orthodox Christians are mostly pro-Assad, since they haven't had a regional protector since the fall of the Tsar. Most Maronites, including Archbishop Sfeir, are vehemently anti-Syrian but the Franjieh clan is pro-Syrian. Sunnis are increasingly anti-Syrian and it would appear that the Saudis are trying to boot Syria out.

IOW, each group is so factionalized that it gets a little silly to worry about which group is loyal to whom. Let's just keep it simple, the good guys want Syria out, the bad guys want Syria to stay. It really is just that simple.

As an aside, it is to laugh when the same people who approvingly quote de Gaulle about 'only permanent interests, no permanent alliances' get all bent out of shape because Jumblatt wants to cut a deal with the US and Israel.

Posted by: Bart at March 14, 2005 5:32 PM

Just so long as they're shooting each other, they're too busy to shoot us.

A good housecleaning is in order there.

Posted by: Sandy P at March 14, 2005 6:09 PM

Not often I agree with both Bart and derek -- in fact, never before -- but as a Southerner I am not encouraged by vast demonstrations by political opponents.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 17, 2005 4:53 PM