Posted by: sean | December 1, 2006

Today’s big protest

Today there will be a protest led by the opposition downtown. There is a good chance that this will dwarf the protest held last week after the assassination of Pierre Gemayel. Some are predicting a million people. Nasrallah kept people guessing until yesterday about when the protest would be, but yesterday he called on his supporters to go into the street in order to “proceed in a peaceful, civil, democratic and political manner toward the main goal of a new government”:

Lebanon, with its [sectarian] makeup, cannot be administered by one side amid difficult internal conditions. Let us call for a national unity government….

The opposition forces, on the basis of their constitutional rights, call on all Lebanese, whatever their religious confession, to demonstrate peacefully in an open-ended sit-in from 3 p.m. Friday for a national unity government. The opposition forces appeal to demonstrators to brandish only the Lebanese flag and authorized slogans and avoid any party or sectarian symbols.

If heeded, Nasrallah’s call on supporters to avoid party flags and sectarian symbols will make this protest different from previous Hezbollah-sponsored opposition protests as well as those put on by the governing coalition. (Crosses and party flags were everywhere last week.)

The governing coalition’s youth organizations have so far called on their supporters to stay at home, hopefully decreasing the chances of any clashes between the two groups.

The competing protests are part of the divide in visions of what kind of a country Lebanon should be, a division that is split somewhat across sectarian lines. There are, however, some players who seem more interested in political maneuvering than in ideological direction. But overall, the conflict is between those who feel Lebanon should seek financial gain and stability by looking to the West, a prospect that entails peace (perhaps even with Israel) and those who believe that the Israeli-Arab conflict is still strong and that finally, Lebanon is a part of that conflict, meaning that no peace should be made with the southern neighbor until a just settlement is found for the Arabs.

The first group, while officially against Israel, is aligned with Washington, and to a lesser extent, Paris, whereas the second group is allied first and foremost with Tehran, but also to varying degrees with Damascus and Ramallah.

I’ll be downtown this afternoon to see how things play out today at the protest.

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