Thousands of supporters on Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which launched the 2005 Cedar Revolution. But the anniversary also brings questions about Lebanon's future, as the current government led by Mr. Hariri's son has been pursuing warmer relations with Syria.
- Supporters of Lebanon's majority "March 14" camp gathered in Beirut's Martyrs' Square on Sunday for a mass rally marking the occasion amid tight security. "The crowds that are here today are loyal to the man who sacrificed his blood and soul for the sake of Lebanon," Khaled Daher, a member of the Lebanese parliament, said. Al-Hariri's assassination in a car bombing on February 14, 2005, is significant for Lebanon as protests in the wake of the killing, combined with international pressure, led to the pullout of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Hariri's assassination sparked what became known as the Cedar Revolution in 2005, as anti-Syrian protests forced Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after nearly thirty years of occupation. Lebanon's pro-Syrian regime also lost power, as the March 14 movement, led by Rafiq Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, gained control of the government. Saad Hariri was appointed Lebanon's prime minister in June last year, and now heads a unity government that includes pro-Syrian parties.
Agence France-Presse notes that while the March 14 movement has had political successes in recent elections, some believe it is running out of steam, particularly as Saad Hariri's government has begun thawing its relations with Syria. Hariri visited Syria last December, despite previously accusing Syria of being directly involved in the death of his father. But Hariri defended his visit in a recent BBC interview.
"I went to Damascus because I am the prime minister of Lebanon. It does not matter what I said in the past. What's important today is that I act as somebody who believes that Lebanon benefits from a good relationship with Syria," [Hariri said].
In this deeply divided country, some supporters of Mr Hariri welcome this approach, yet others say that they are deeply disappointed.
As one politician here put it, Mr Hariri's new attitude towards Syria undermines everything that he had fought for.
A CNN analysis suggests that Hariri's decision to warm to Syria is not a sign of backtracking on his previous policies, but rather an indication that he is maturing into the sort of statesman that Lebanon needs to move forward as a nation.
For five years, everything in Lebanon has been about affiliation and not necessarily race or religion -- some of the things that have separated Lebanon in the past ... but politics. Which party are you a supporter of? Whose flag do you carry to rallies? It's partly why people were shooting each other in the streets during May 2008. Every year, rallies like the one this year been about a political movement.
Maybe the dream of a father's son will be realized and this year, it will be about Lebanon
But at the same time, Lebanon's rapproachment with Syria may be hampering the UN tribunal charged with bringing Rafiq Hariri's killers to justice, warns Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star in Beirut. In an commentary for The New York Times, Mr. Young writes that the tribunal has been beset with delays and turnover, and some of that may be due to political pressure from those worrying that the investigation may destabilize Lebanon.
- The impetus to identify Mr. Hariri’s assassins is gone; not only has Lebanon sought rapprochement with Syria, but the Lebanese public’s expectations, after years of an inconclusive inquiry, have hit rock bottom. Foreign governments fear the instability that might ensue if Mr. Bellemare issues indictments, so few will regret it if he doesn’t. But the United Nations pushed for the Hariri investigation; its integrity is tied up with a plausible outcome. If that’s impossible, there is no point insulting the victims by letting the charade continue. Better to send [UN tribunal prosecutor Daniel] Bellemare home.