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The legacy of May 7

For those who lived though it, May 7th was more than just blocked roads, burning tires and protests. The events of that day were not simply a reaction to a government decision or a demonstration by a labor union. Rather, May 7 was a willful rejection, through arms, of the Lebanese state, human rights, coexistence and, finally, peace.

Some prefer to ignore the legacy of the events, with elections right around the corner, in favor of reconciliation. And while that sentiment is understandable, it is nonetheless imperative to shed light on the events lest they be repeated.

In exactly a month’s time, the Lebanese will get the chance to answer the most pressing questions facing the country: Do they want a democratic state or a failed one?

Do they want a working parliament or perpetual protests? Do they want coexistence or conflict? It is in the shadow of these questions that remembering May 7 is so important.

A show of force

The events of May 7 were driven by a show of force. For eighteen years before that date, the Lebanese had been seeking to heal the wounds of the fifteen year civil war. And while the post-war period was not free of aggression, occupation, or even assassinations, the Lebanese by and large did resist the urge to take up arms against their fellow citizens.

“May 7 was not a mistake,” says al Mustaqbal columnist Youssef Bazzi. “It is a threat that still exists to this very day, and one that we have to be ready to face in the future. It is a political choice taken up by March 8 forces under the guise of resistance and they will not refrain from using those weapons again. Therefore, I think May 7 is not over yet.”

The show of force displayed last May cannot be allowed to become an acceptable means of advancing one’s position, yet it seems that is just what has happened.

“Key political figures to this day don’t hesitate to bring up May 7 events as a means of pressure, highlighting that if things don’t go as they like, then they would turn to similar conduct if needed,” says Diana Moukalled, a program and production manager at Future News.



Triggers

The ostensible catalyst for the events on May 7 2008 was a general strike called by opposition-aligned Lebanese labor unions, who were protesting the government's economic policies and demanding that minimum wage be raised. With those protests came a series of skirmishes between supporters of March 8 and March 14 over the government’s decision to move against a private telephone network operated by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut. For the eighteen months preceding May 2008, Lebanon had been gridlocked in a crisis between the Syrian-backed opposition and the Western-backed government over the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a crisis that began when opposition ministers resigned from the government en masse, leaving the country effectively president-less.



The absence of the Lebanese Army and ISF

But events began to spiral out of control in January 2008, with a shootout between the Lebanese Army and opposition forces at Mar-Mikhail near Ain el Remmaneh, in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

The violence at mar-Mikhail was one of the prime reasons why the army found itself paralyzed and unable to intervene five months later, in May. Whether intentional or not, the army’s inability to intervene left citizens at the mercy of those who chose to resort to violence.

“On the day of the riots, on my way back home, I saw a group of armed men breaking down the entrance of a building,” says Moukalled. “I was naïve enough to approach them and ask them to stop or else I would report them to the Lebanese Army. One guy looked at me and said sarcastically, go ahead, they’re right there.”



Civil State and Laws

One of the most debilitating consequences of May 7 has to do with the way it set back the establishment of a civil state, one in which law and order are paramount, and basic human rights are assured.

The ultimate national aim of most Lebanese is to be a member of a state that makes no distinction between its citizens, whether religious or otherwise.

“It was clear that the civil man was the victim,” says Yehia Jaber. “The one yearning for a civil state that would protect him and not discriminate... Sectarianism was solidified. Rights were undermined. I still don’t know whether when I want to proceed with a lawsuit for the May 7 attacks, who it would be against, the political parties, the Lebanese army, the ISF, and who would I be applying to, where my evidence is, and whether it would go through at all.” 
 


Violation of Freedoms


On May 7 the state was totally absent and freedom of the press was gravely undermined.

During the era of Syrian occupation, Murr TV was a victim; on May 7 the victim was Future News.

“I’ve been working with Future TV since it first started, and the sight of the building burning down with all its archives left me feeling abused in my very own home…the memories that I’ve acquired over the years ruined,” Moukalled recalls.



Coexistence

May 7 destroyed the idea of coexistence. If one lives among people of different sects and beliefs, he or she now must be prepared to be physically abused, harassed or even killed. Beirut has been re-divided along party and sectarian lines,

“We passed through a war that lasted 15 years,” says Omar Harqous, a columnist for al Mustaqbal. “During the Lebanese civil war, we lost many. Those, whether from East or West Beirut, Muslims or Christians, were essential to build a state and coexist, but all died for petty reasons. We Lebanese failed to remember our civil war and to refrain from using arms. No party has the right to end the others’ existence, just because they differ.”



No reconciliation just yet

 
As for May 7, reconciliation among leaders is not enough. Scores were killed, and many more injured, all at the hands of their fellow Lebanese.

No reconciliation was reached among the people, no statement issued admitting wrongs and seeking forgiveness.

“Beirut and its people were abused, and there’s no turning the page till the abuser asks for forgiveness,” says Jaber.

  • omar

    be sure that may 7 was a historical mistake on the part of the 'resistance'. that halo that presumably made their name and cause sacred was smashed. any parliamentay veto or gain otherwise obtained is a short term gain. while march 8 at the time cried provacation, a truth as it may be, their resort to arms highlighted their will to smash their own state, segregate their own army, and make the citizen of the state ( which i remind you includes shii'ites) pay for one segment of the collective's ignmorance pay with blood. certainly it will not be forgotten , esp., not if the aggressor refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing. we are trying to turn the page but dialectic requires cooperation and a will to understand and grow. unfortunately, some lebanese gain from the status quo!

    January 12, 2010

  • Sami

    The question to ask about 7th May which this author (for rather obvious reasons) failed to ask is the following: why did March 14 bring in militia men and petty gangsters to Beirut after their shameful decision on May 5th? Mr. Jumblatt also publicly accepted this bringing in of militias didn't he? Didn't the author think it fit to raise the question and rely on the testimony of Waleed Jumblatt, a central figure of March 14th instead of resorting to journalists and God knows who else? Such one-eyed readings of events is precisely what breeds the tensions we all dearly need to move beyond.

    May 21, 2009

  • Lebneini..men doun manati2iyeih..

    It is funny how people of the resistance cannot take M14's sectarianism..when the resistance is made up of one sect...and cannot take the corruptions ..when it includes figures like Berri who's been feeding on the council of the souths funds for years...and it's funny how anyone who does not agree with the resistance becomes a stouge for Israel...I need to know whether Salim Hoss now is a stouge for Israel too..he too took a stand against whet the resistance did in May 7..and its of no surprise that the Akkar soldiers got smashed ..they had sticks while the resistance was firing at them..and no worries for ibn beirut..we dont think we can expect such a thing from the resistance anymore...it is clear that the resistance we were proud of in 2002..is no longer the resistance that stood and hailed the May 7 events..

    May 17, 2009

  • ibn beirut

    The truth the people of the resistance could no longer stand 'march 14's" despicale secterinism and corruption, and them being stooges for Israel. Quite simply March 14 and there Akkar 'soldiers' (who like the M14 king, Jumblat, said did not last 15 minutes) got smashed, and rightly so. Dont ever expect tears or an apology from the resistance or their supporters, and thats that.

    May 16, 2009

  • Sami

    Amazing,Jenna, you want all of 1.5 million Shiaa to die?Or only those who represent them.That is half of Lebanon my dear.This kind of mentality is exactly what caused May 7 events.

    May 9, 2009

  • jenna

    All those who participated in the May 7 attacks and all those started the 2006 war should be dead!!!!!!

    May 8, 2009

  • Beiruti

    How to reconcile this?? On June 7 vote these people, their enablers and apologists out of office and out of power. If any of them remain in power, then none of them will ever face prosecution for their criminal acts committed on May 7.

    May 7, 2009