Downtown Beirut’s symbolic Martyrs Square was once again the scene of Syria-related protest Tuesday evening, as around 50 Lebanese and Syrian demonstrators gathered to condemn Hezbollah’s military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Carrying ‘Free Syria’ flags and placards expressing solidarity with Qusayr, the rebel-held Syrian town currently facing a major assault from Hezbollah units in conjunction with regime forces, the demonstrators chanted “curse your soul, Hafez [al-Assad]” and “come on, step down Bashar/Hezbollah.” Flyers also played on the Party of God’s insignia, changing the word “Hezbollah” to “hurriyah” (meaning "freedom”).
Unlike similar demonstrations that broke out at Martyrs Square in the earlier stages of the Syrian uprising, there was no counter-protest from supporters of Assad and Hezbollah. “They’re probably busy fighting in Syria,” quipped Abdallah Haddad, a financial consultant who told NOW he had showed up to protest what he saw as Hezbollah’s dragging Lebanon into the conflict next door.
“We’ve come here to condemn Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and in Damascus, but especially in Qusayr,” said Taher, a Lebanese demonstrator who preferred not to disclose his surname. “We would like our prime minister and president to take a clear stance against this intervention,” he told NOW.
While Haddad, Taher, and many other attendees were Lebanese, it was in fact Syrians who made up the majority of protestors – a pleasant surprise, said organizers, given the fears Syrians often have of the Lebanese authorities.
“I’m Syrian,” said protestor Muayyad al-Bunni. “We felt we should do something because we heard that Hezbollah is now killing our brothers in Syria. We are in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s country, so we decided to make our voices heard.”
Like everyone else, al-Bunni told NOW it was the Qusayr clashes in particular that sparked the outrage that fuelled the protest.
“Hezbollah has been helping the regime since the beginning of the revolution but now it’s doing so with its soldiers, and that’s something really shocking.”
The event was organized on Facebook by a mix of students and professionals of diverse political and religious backgrounds, according to Karim, an organizer who preferred not to disclose his surname due to fears of repercussions from his predominantly pro-Amal neighbors. Karim added that attendance would likely have been much higher had the event’s Facebook page not been hacked earlier in the day, leading hundreds of pledged attendees to believe it had been cancelled. Who did he think hacked the page, NOW asked? “Shabbiha,” he replied, half-jokingly using the catch-all term for Assad supporters.
“You cannot be with a dictator against his people,” Karim replied when asked why he decided to organize the protest. “We wanted to denounce Hezbollah’s one-sided military intervention in Syria and say, as Lebanese, that we do not accept what they are doing and this does not represent us. This bypasses not only our constitution but our sense of liberty, and everything that Lebanon is supposed to stand for.”
NOW asked why organizers had chosen this particular moment to protest when Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria had been an open secret for some time. “I admit it is late, it should have been done earlier,” said Karim. “But it turned out to be the peak now because they were almost reaching Qusayr and we thought if we didn’t speak out now – I mean, on a personal level, if I did not speak out today, I would have felt guilty about it if the Syrian revolution failed. So it’s a stand we should take first of all from an ethical perspective, and second as a political position.”
Karim further argued that it was in Lebanon’s self-interest to support the Syrian revolution, given the historic influence wielded by Damascus in Lebanese affairs.
“The Lebanese and Syrian people are in this together. Their freedom is our freedom.”