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Hanin Ghaddar

Syria’s lesson to Lebanon: Revolution is an attitude

No one in Lebanon expected the Syrians to challenge President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. No one thought for a second that the Syrian revolution would go on for this long, elevating the country to its right place at the heart of what is today called the “Arab Spring.” Our stereotypes and misconceptions of the Syrian people blinded us. Our arrogance plagued our understanding of the simple reality that the Syrians have been suffering under a dictator too. We refused to differentiate between the regime and the people, and chose, as usual, the easier way to deal with our fears: isolating and victimizing our fate and political fabric.
 
Sadly, many Lebanese still refuse to accept the fact that they are not an exception and that the Syrians, whom they have humiliated for so many years, are actually fighting for democracy and freedom in the most courageous of ways. Meanwhile, the Lebanese sit by idly in the shadows, secretly hoping they can win our battles. We failed to fulfill our uprising, the Cedar Revolution, in 2005 and failed to create bonds or channels with the Syrians in the years after. Instead, we alienated ourselves.
 
Today, we see Syrians dying daily from the comfort of our living room TV. We hide our shame behind self-involved concerns of sectarian civil war spreading to Lebanon or Islamists seizing power and threatening minorities. Those concerns, of course, cannot be denied, but it’s important to note that these will only materialize if the minorities - both in Lebanon and Syria - stay silent.
 
If Christians, Druze and Allawites join the Sunnis in their fight for freedom, the regime will not be able to turn the struggle into a sectarian war. But many Lebanese, with their sick sectarian mentalities, refuse to see the possibility of a genuine call for freedom and dignity in Syria.
 
The Lebanese tend to think of Syrians as either construction workers or soldiers in the Syrian army, which occupied the country in 1976 during the civil war. Now we refuse to see beyond our fears caused by the Syrian regime's atrocities. When the army pulled out in April of 2005, many of us humiliated the men who stayed behind by relegating them to build our houses and work only menial jobs.

I don't blame the Syrian people if they hate us, or if they have lost all faith in us. The Syrians today can look us straight in the face and shake our stubborn, exceptional belief in Lebanese superiority. Every day they send us the message that freedom, political awareness and democracy are not exclusive to the Lebanese people. They have demonstrated, with meaningfulness, the necessary components of a true revolution. 
 
They have regained public space. The Syrians were deprived of public space for 40 years. They could not have their own “Tahrir Square,” so they occupied the streets, nearly everywhere. No Arab revolution witnessed the same sweeping scope in demonstrations. Cities, towns and villages all over Syria have taken to the streets in one call for freedom.
 
They have regained their citizenship. Demonstrators in Syria, from urban intellectuals to rural tribes and farmers, all realized that the only way to achieve their dream is to adhere to civil means of activism: non-violent protests, calls for basic human rights and democracy. To get their message out, activists resorted to citizen journalism and social media. In spite of the regime’s severe crackdown, the level of coordination and professionalism among activists has been impeccable.

They know that any armed group, including the Syrian National Army, must be an entity whose only mission is to protect and defend peaceful protesters.

They also understand that political power is for the people. The Lebanese, who for years have had relative access to democratic means, have instead preferred to submit to sectarian leaders who prefer the state remain paralyzed and unaccountable. Unlike us, and despite inevitable disagreements among opposition figures, the Syrians decided from the beginning that there is no such thing as a leader, but a representative whose only goal is to work on behalf of the people. For example, the Syrian National Council will likely face internal restructuring and change in leadership in the very near future.
 
The Council did not have credibility until the people on the ground supported it with their slogans, and now it is losing legitimacy because the same people disapprove of it. Today, the people on the streets will decide who represents them.
 
The Syrians, whom we have disrespected and ridiculed, told the world that they too deserve freedom and dignity. Without diplomatic manoeuvres or corrupt compromises, they saw their moment and took advantage of it. They have put us all to shame. We Lebanese should apologize to the Syrians for not only what we have done, but what we have failed to do. We need their courage today more than ever. We need to cling to their dreams and power. Maybe we could learn something from them, maybe we could start by sacrificing a bit of our arrogance.
 
Hanin Ghaddar is managing editor of NOW Lebanon.

  • ahmad

    NN people who live in a dictatorship are forced to say they donot like i.e. applaud the killing of lebanese i am from egypt when there was a pro mubarak rally and i did not join it i got into trouble and was chased by regeime thugs i actually had the fotitude being a hyperactive angry 18 year old to play catch me if you can others have families to take care of and may be intimidated so your problem is not with the people it is with the regeime

    February 1, 2012

  • Lyn

    NN have you ever been to syria or talked to a syrian person?? i don't think so. i am syrian and i have nothing but respect to your country. and we are fighting the regime that killed you and us and stole your money and our money. we don't want to occupy your country, we have our own land, thank you. and we don't need your money. what hafez did to you in the past is not our fault, he did the same to us in Hama and Halab and jusr Alshughoor. and his son is taking the same road. do you think he asked us before doing what he did to you? do you think we had anything to do with what happened? do you think we liked it? we're not asking for your support, you obviously have nothing but hatred and grudge to offer.

    January 19, 2012

  • Nuhad

    Such a good article! I agree with every single word! We had our 2005 revolution which got us right back to square one. same leaders, same mistakes... The Syrians are killing themselves for the right to vote. We on the other hand, with our fake democracy vote for the same people who got us in this rot in the first place. We will never be like the Syrians who have stood up as one! We have way too many fractures in our social fabric to be "united". Let's focus on our own shortcomings before criticizing others. I personally wish I could be on the Syrian streets demonstrating with them. At least there is the hope that it will lead to a better place than our so called "free and democratic" Lebanon.....

    January 14, 2012

  • Firas Kay

    Good words, I'll shake your hand on your last sentence.

    January 13, 2012

  • NN

    Firas of course I stand with the revolution. I hate bashar even more than the devil... I support the revolution of course.but for me the best Syria to have as a neighbour is no Syria at all.because once the opposition takes control they would want to control lebanon as well.and unless time proves me wrong I will never trust any syrian.. I know them too much.. I agree that any ruler who will come will be better than that murderer and his father, but the point on which we disagree is that you give the syrian people too much credit my freind. once bashar is gone they will be drewling again to control lebanon . it's their dream ! but on the human side I totally support the revolution! I support anyone against bashar! I am for a neutral lebanon in peace with everyone... .. a lebanon that only follows its interests wherever they are, because "brotherhood" only brought us destruction ... we are friends with everyone as long as our interests are served: stability and prosperity

    January 13, 2012

  • Firas Kay

    NN, you are confusing alot of things. The reason we are standing with the Syrians is not just because they are being killed, it's because they took a stand and demanded their freedom and democracy. As people who also had their revolution and gained some of their freedoms in 2005 from the Syrian nutters, we understand what they are going through most and so we support their plight. This is not a nationalistic thing, it's a matter of principle. You can't be for freedom in one place and against it in the other! If you hate the regime so much then you must understand what the peaceful Syrian demonstrators are going through most! A free Syria is much better for us than one ruled by that psycopath Bashar. Don't join the dark side my friend!

    January 12, 2012

  • NN

    Firas, u say they accepted us in their homes during 2006. but what u don't say is that the syrian taxi to take you from the border to damascus airport used to take 700 $ for the trip, and this happened to several lebanese. the syrians are sooo nice that they took 3000$ for a small studio in damascus. I did not go through this but I know many lebanese who did. of course it is wrong to hand the refugees back to damascus. but I ask you who is handing them back to damascus.. isn't it the puppest who the syrians planted in our country... for me the syrian regime is the devil. but the syrian people which has thrived on lebanese economy for the past 30 years is also part of the crime... i did not see the syrians demonstrate when the murderer hafez Assad was bombing our regions and stealing our country... instead they were bragging about syrian economic miracle on our backs... a miracle driven by our money. as they say silence is a sign of agreement. and the syrian people was silent.

    January 12, 2012

  • Firas Kay

    NN, I understand your emotions, but I don't think you are basing your arguments on concrete facts, and if you were then you are not presenting these facts properly. When did the Syrian opposition attack Assad for withdrawing from Lebanon? And who told you that the Syrian opposition is unified? As for the Syrian people wanting Syria to occupy Lebanon, again based on what? In reality you are just assuming things. If you are alluding to Arab nationalism then you are wrong, it's not about countries occupying each other, it's about cooperation. I am not for it, but what you are saying is just pure fallacies! The Syrian regime IS our enemy, just as it is the enemy of the Iraqis and the Palestinians! As for 2006, the Syrian people were very gracious and generous in they way they accepted the Lebanese refugees, not like what we are doing to the Syrian refugees, letting them live in horrible conditions then abducting them and handing them back to the Syrians! It's atrocious...

    January 12, 2012

  • Well Said Lubnan fakat

    to NN: YOU SAID IT ALL....GOD BLESS YOU

    January 12, 2012

  • Firas Kay

    So what have we concluded here: 1- Some Lebanese are secterian nutters. 2- Some Lebanese are racist 3- Some Labanese still behave in an unexplainable supremacist manner While 1- Other Lebanese hate secterianism 2- Fight racism and for humanity 3- Believe in co-existance and reaching out In other words: Same old...

    January 12, 2012

  • NN

    One last comment Hanin : you stated " I don't blame the Syrian people if they hate us " ... were you actually sober when you wrote this sentence??? ... the Syrians took our money away, emprisonned our youth bombarded our regions during the war, watched us die in 2006.. they occupied our country, they assasinated our leaders... they stole everything... even our water (our share from the Assi river went down from 35% to 20% after the brotherhood treaty was signed in 1992) ... and you "don't blame them for hating us???" ... they are the same as Israel! if not even worst! ... they should thank us for accepting to talk to them after what they did to us... they should beg us for forgiveness for 30 years to come ! ... shame on you for writing this sentence! they owe us... and not vice versa! What a shame!

    January 12, 2012

  • Well Said Lubnan fakat

    To NN : u r the best...I agree with every word u wrote

    January 11, 2012

  • NN

    The syrians watched us die for "palestine" ... why should we give a S**** ? ... besides palestinians, Syrians are no better than israelis... they all destroyed my country.. so for me they are all the same ... the syrians people and goverment are the same when it comes to their position from lebanon ...even the syrian opposition attacked Assad for withdrawing from Lebanon... and if you ask any syrian citizen, his wish would be to occupy lebanon again (even if does not say it loudly) ... I measure the respect to other people by how much they respect my country... and frankly the syrian people do not respect LEbanon... so fankly if Syria gets burnt I do not care... and allow me to say that we gave them the lesson in 2005... a lesson of being a civilized people... and not invading other people's countries.... so frankly the title is insulting as no people in the middle east is more human, more pained by disasters and wars than the lebanese people!

    January 11, 2012

  • Lebanese

    I didn't like this article whasoever. Syria ahad occupied Lebanon & tortured Lebanese for about 30 yrs....What are you talking about Hanin ????????

    January 10, 2012

  • Joseph Hitti

    While the premise of Hanin Ghadar's argument is understandable,I disagree that the Lebanese attitude towards Syrians stems ONLY from racist or superiority complex. I have spoken with many Syrians over the years, and, without exception, they buy into the Baathist propaganda and the "education" they have been brainwashed with over the decades Syrians believe that Lebanon is a renegade province of Syria, torn by colonial powers bent on keeping their gripl thru proxy sectarian - mainly Maronite Christian - communities. It remains to be seen if the "revolutionaries" of Syria will finally recognize Lebanon's distinct identity.

    January 10, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Hanin Ghaddar, you claim the syrians are fighting for democracy in the most courageous ways, well, what about all the killing they are doing? what about the 2,000 syrian security officers who got killed by those "democracy seekers"? what about the humiliation of bodies of pro-regime victims? what about the Christian Syrians who are choosing to wear al Hijab in order to protect themselves mainly in Homs (here you may ask Patriarch al Rai who is well aware of this information)? what about the weapons and militants smuggling from all countries neighbouring syria? what about the fact that the arab states who are supporting those democracy seekers happen to be the ugliest most backward states in earth? Hanin, if Hamad and Ben Saoud will bring us democracy then thank you, we don`t need it!

    January 9, 2012

  • leb patriot

    Hanin, I usually share your views but I have this to ask: are Sunni moves reassuring for the Christians, Druze and other minorities to join them? What about their fate in Sudan? How about the Copts’ misery in Egypt? And what of the Christians’ almost total eradication from Iraq? Oh and I almost forgot: what about the “Christians to Beirut” slogan heard from Sunni sources in Syria towards their Christian countrymen? Have you been following what is happening in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli? It is easy to pontificate generally accepted platitudes from the western book of democracy. Perhaps the Sunni community in both Syria and Lebanon should consider getting its act together and correct its dangerously deviant orientations first, before expecting Christian, Druze and Alawites to join them. Wearing western suits and ties is just not enough. Perhaps then - and only then - the Lebanese will no longer submit to sectarian leaders who keep the state paralyzed and unaccountable. Don

    January 9, 2012

  • reader

    Arrogant, indeed, are a lot of Lebanese, but please do not lump the whole country into your generalizations. What you described above has never been my thinking, and I am Lebanese. If you and possibly others you represent used to think that way of Syrians, then may God forgive you and welcome back to the respectful world. I was very interested in your contradictory statement about how the minorities, if they stay silent, will in fact be persecuted. What happened to having a different opinion? What if those minorities prefer this evil over the other? Your argument implicitly justifies the actions of intolerant people against groups who simply have an opinion of their own and preferences of their own. What if those people believe in peaceful reform and not military occupation for decades to come as a means of reform? What if they see the risk of extremism to be more than the risk of Assad's friendlier rule? Just think about it.

    January 9, 2012

  • ahamed63

    "If Christians, Druze and Allawites join the Sunnis in their fight for freedom, the regime will not be able to turn the struggle into a sectarian war.". The war is already a sectarian one Hanin. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Fundamentalists ans Salafis are raging that kind of war specifically. Human Rights and Social Justice are the least of their interests. This is exactly why the Christians, Alawis and Druze are not joining the uprising, although they are also suffering from the Assad Dictatorship. Syria is a very unique case (and I'm not here repeating the rubbish of the Arab leaders). What happened in Egypt is exactly the opposite: Liberals, Leftists and Christians led the uprising. The Muslim Brothers and Salafis joined later after the collapse of the regime. What will happen in Syria? I simply don't know. All I know is that the Syrian regime should be toppled and that the regime to replace it shpuld be a better one, How? I don't know.

    January 9, 2012

  • Mick

    I definately agree with you Hanin. The Syrian people have shown us a shining example of what a proper revolution should be despite the unfortunate bloodshed. The courage, determination and committment they have endured to see this revolution succeed has just been amazing and so inspiring. Sure, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had there revolutions, each country having a different outcome in terms of the end result and the death count as well as the time it took to see those tyranical regimes fall. In the case of Syria, sadly, it is in it's tenth month and the regime hasn't fallen yet. But I have full confidence in the Syrian people that they will overcome all the obstacles and continue this revolt until this evil regime falls. The respect I have for the Syrian people now is just enormious. The have definately proven themselves in my eyes.

    January 9, 2012

  • Firas Kay

    Hanin, I don't understand why you are assuming that the Lebanese were disrespectful to the Syrians, or worse continue to do so? I think the Lebanese and the Syrians have a lot of respect for each other, furthermore that is further asserted by the fact that thousands of Lebanese are married to Syrians! We have a shared history, and for the most part most of us were able to distinguish between lousy Syrian commanders and the previously hapless Syrian people. Your arguments don't have any evidence, I'd like to see you take to the streets and ask the everyday Lebanese these questions instead of just assuming!

    January 9, 2012