March 14 and the Myth of the Cedar Revolution

If March 14 2005 would happen again, I would be exactly where I was – in the middle of the chanting and exuberant crowds in Martyrs’ Square – when it all happened.  It was history and I was part of it, along with thousands of others who gathered there. The excitement of screaming Ya Bashar, ya *******, Tal’le Jayshak min Beirut (Oh Bashar, Oh [expletive], Get Your Army out of Beirut) straight into the face of a Lebanese soldier without the fear of arrest. The indescribable feeling of dignity restored, standing in an ocean of Lebanese flags singing along to Julia Boutros’ Ana Bitnaf’as Houriye (I Breathe Freedom). The emotion of seeing the sheer crowds gathered on one day, in one place, for some sort of hope for a better future, which few, if any, knew what would look like. At the same time, it was the implicit awareness, even in the midst of the protest, that such a sight of unity and the seeds of a possible revolution that may come with it wouldn’t survive.

But was it really unity? It is true that March 14, 2005 was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, demonstrations in contemporary Lebanese history, with an anti-Syria common denominator. However, people also had other reasons for being there. Some where there to mourn Rafik El Hariri and avenge his death, while others were there as part of their ongoing opposition to the Syrian regime (it being the prime suspect behind the Hariri assassination at the time). Others were there because they opposed the gathering of March 8 (the day in which pro-Syrian Lebanese gathered to “Thank Syria” for all it had done, a show of solidarity while it was being accused to killing Hariri). Others were there to call for an end to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, while others called for a drastic change to the political system and its leaders, which until then, was nurtured and protected by Syria itself.

And was it really a revolution? March 14 was indeed dubbed the “Cedar Revolution.” What’s more, what later evolved into the March 14 movement even promoted the Cedar Revolution as the mother of all Middle Eastern revolutions, inspiring the Green Movement in Iran in 2009 and the subsequent Arab Spring in 2011. Well, if you ever needed to understand why most of the revolutions in the region failed, then their so-called inspiration is the only explanation you will ever need! Much more importantly, however, what happened on March 14 was anything but a revolution, if only by considering the most simple definition of what a revolution is: a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system. Tunisia was a revolution, France had its revolution, but Lebanon only had a chance encounter with a sudden breeze that never turned into the winds of change we were desperately waiting for…

Ours was a sudden explosion after years of suppression, a glimmer of hope after years of darkness and despair, all which led to nothing but disappointment and greater despair. After March 14, 2005, the same political parties who had brought us so much bloodshed pretended to carry the torch of the revolution and the sectarianism only deepened. The student movements, most of which were ironically based out of these same political parties, dissolved in the realpolitik of what became the March 14 movement and lost their momentum. The March 14 movement turned out to be nothing but a collection of its various parts and not a single unified group. A movement that proved to have no vision other than avenge the Hariri assassination, without a true leader to guide it, without a strategy to gain support and develop into a tool for change, except for its cries for help for foreign support and assistance to help keep it alive. Some intentions were certainly noble, but they were simply lost and hijacked by the same forces of corruption and sectarianism that have destroyed so much before it.

March 14, 2005 certainly came as a surprise to Syria, whose troops eventually left on April 26 of that same year. But nothing represented the continuation of Syria’s presence and influence in Lebanon like the March 8/March 14 dichotomy itself. For after 10 years and counting, Lebanon’s political landscape is primarily still divided based on one’s stance towards Syria, a foreign country, an occupier, and enemy (the regime, of course, not the people) in its own right.

Ten years after the euphoria, March 14 still stands, but what has it done? Ten years after the euphoria, March 8 still stands, but what has it done? I ask you to think about it, whether you were in Riad al Solh Square on March 8 or in Martyrs’ Square on March 14. Why were you there? What were your aspirations? What have become of the big dreams you once had? What happened to the hopes you had in anybody who promised that 2005 wouldn’t be the same as any other year and that things would be different from then on? Why do we keep raising our hopes so high, only for them to come tumbling down. Will we ever learn? Will it ever change?

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “The General in His Labyrinth,” a fictional General Simon Bolivar faces his supporters and troops after their victory in the war of Latin American independence from Spain. “We have now gained our independence, general, now tell us what to do with it.” “Independence was a simple question of winning a war. The greater sacrifices will come afterwards, to make of these people a unified nation,” he says. “Sacrifices are the only thing that we have done, general,” the people would reply.

We gained our independence from France in 1943 and it took us around 30 years to destroy it. We gained our independence from Syria in 2005, and have still done nothing with the sacrifices we all made, to make of us a “unified nation.” May the myth of our revolution die once and for all, so that we don’t miss the next chance for change when it truly comes.

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