(bintlouisa writes from her country, giving a view of the background of ongoing opposition demonstrations very different from that in the U.S. and British media. The demonstrators believe the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is not legitimate and are demanding a more representative alternative. Here's why, along with some information on who the parties are and the author's account of being among these huge crowds of protesters.)
The "Siniora" government lost its constitutionality several weeks ago with the resignation of all its Shia ministers, from both parties, Amal and Hezbullah. Under the Lebanese constitution, all the main religious communities must be represented in government -- around 40 percent of Lebanese are Shias, so there can't be a government without them.
The "Siniora" government has done many illegal/unconstitutional things. For example, it impaired the constitutional court to prevent it from looking into requests for annulment of election results for eleven parliament seats that would have made it lose its parliamentary majority. This impairment has also hampered the whole judicial system. Also, the minister of interior resigned 10 months ago, and an interim was nominated. Then suddenly after the departure of the Shia ministers, the ex-minister was brought back and we learned that he had been receiving his salary during those 10 months. According to a high-ranking judge, this makes all the decisions of the interim minister invalid or at least questionable. This could only be settled by the still frozen constitutional court.
The parliamentary majority that gives today's government its credentials is the product of a gerrymandered electoral law imposed by the Syrians in 2000. The same law was used in the 2005 voting although the Syrian army had withdrawn from Lebanon. One of the effects of this law is that 35 of the 64 Christian parliamentarians were elected, not by Christian voters, but by voters from other communities: some, in the South and part of the Beqaa, were put in office by Shia votes; the others were put in through [assassinated former Prime Minister] Hariri's money machine in alliance with Jumblatt's Druze votes. [The Hariris are Sunni Muslims; the Druze are neither Christian nor Muslim.] The Christian ministers in today's government come from the later group. All in all the gerrymandering led to the following distorted results:
- the Hariri group, now in power, received 400,000 votes that gave it 71 seats;
- the Shia parties, Amal and Hezbullah, received 460,000 votes that gave them 35 seats;
- opposition Christian leader Michel Aoun and his allies received 405,000 votes that gave them 21 seats.
The current government doesn't want to hear about new elections, but wants today's parliament to unseat the current president in office and elect a new one for the next 6 years. The president in office had his six-year term extended for three extra years under Syrian pressure.
The opposition is not only Hezbullah, Amal and Aoun; it includes local leaders from all communities. There are no neutral leaders today although a handful who are in the opposition do not support the street demonstrations. However the street protest of the last three days shows that the opposition enjoys a large, almost overwhelming, popular support.
As far as I can judge the government has very limited support in the country. But the government has total support from the governments of the U.S., Europe, Israel, and their stooges like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It seems as if Siniora has no freedom to resign; the Americans want him to stay.
The country is at a standstill. Economically this is a disaster, coming not only after the summer war but also after 1.5 years of disastrous financial mismanagement. Imagine this: neither in 2005, nor in 2006 was this government now in power able to come up with a budget! All this follows fifteen years during which the Hariri governments --with Siniora as Finance Minister -- and in collusion with the occupying Syrians -- plundered the country, accumulating $40 billion public debt while spending only $4 billion for reconstruction and public works.
The opposition protesting in the streets is led by two highly persistent groups: one [led by Aoun] fought the Syrian occupation for 17 years, the other [led by Amal and Hezbullah] the Israeli occupation for 18 years. The existing government cannot yield to the demand for a national unity government because the Americans do not want it. The Lebanese national army is keeping the peace and is not divided as it was in 1975 at the onset of the civil war. In addition the army is supported by the opposition.
What can happen next after several days of huge popular demonstrations? Will the Americans who are propping up the government bow to the pressure of the people in the streets? I have no idea.
For months now, the government has been saying: Hezbullah and Aoun are followers of Syria and Iran. It is ludicrous to say this about Aoun -- in 1989-1990, he led a war to push the Syrians out of Lebanon and ended up in exile for 15 years during which the movement he inspired kept on peacefully fighting the Syrians in Lebanon and paid a heavy price for it.
Now it is true that Hezbullah has been supported by both Iran and Syria. However Hezbullah follows a Lebanese agenda. The liberation of the South from the Israeli occupation was a Lebanese agenda, not an imposed Syrian or Iranian agenda, no matter what the American administration or the Israeli government say. Already in 1989, Michel Aoun, in a broadcast speech and in the midst of the war against the Syrian army, supported the resistance to the Israeli occupation.
The protests have been peaceful, even joyful. I have been going down to the demonstrations and the sit-ins. The atmosphere is like being at a fairground. There are parents with their children carrying Lebanese flags, women wearing headscarves and around the neck the orange scarf of the Free Patriotic Movement [the Michel Aoun party]. It is wonderful to be in a mix of all Lebanese communities.
I am a little worried inside. I am not afraid that the opposition will turn the protest violent; I am afraid of provocateurs. Let's hope it all stays peaceful!