'The camp has served its purpose'

MENASSAT's Layal Abu Rahhal walked among the opposition demonstrators while they were breaking up their protest camp in downtown Beirut.
Beirut end of the sitting May 21 2008. © George Eid / iLoubnan.info
© George Eid / iLoubnan.info

BEIRUT, May 21, 2008 (MENASSAT) – A woman in her thirties moved in a bright colored dress from one tent to another. She was searching for one with opposition emblems and flags on it. She smiled to the cameras, moving gracefully among the opposition supporters who were busy taking down their tents, and the Sukleen workers getting ready to clean up after them. A man in his sixties was by her side, all smiles.

At last, the women found what she was looking for: a huge banner, in a color that matched her dress, that screamed out, "The Lebanese opposition." She gave her camera to one of the men present, took the right posture in front of the tent, and said, "Make sure the banner is clear, I want to keep this photo as a souvenir." Thanking the man profusely, she continued on her tour. 

More than 18 months have passed since the beginning of the opposition campaign to bring down the government of Fouad Siniora and to form a new national unity government with a bigger representation for the opposition.

In Doha this week, they succeeded in getting what they wanted. Still, the opposition supporters still have the same hard looks on their faces. Many refused to speak to the many reporters from all over the world who had come to witness the dismantling of the opposition camp, saying they did not have permission to speak.

Instead, they had their representatives speak for them.

Ali Bazzi, an MP for the Shia opposition party Amal, said, "This is the gift of the opposition to the Lebanese people."

A pro-government TV reporter couldn't control her anger and asked, "What gift are you talking about?"

He ignored the question and continued, "What happened in Doha is a victory for Lebanon and all the Lebanese who were able to free the country from the current crisis."

The Lebanese army was watching from the Ring flyover; from the windows of the surrounding buildings office workers offices were taking pictures on their cell phones.

One angry demonstrator, unable to get used to the new situation, wanted to stop people from taking pictures as he has been told to.

He got an order from one of the officials to let everybody enter the camp and take pictures. "It doesn't matter anymore," he said.

The demonstrator grudgingly obeyed and let the photographers into what used to be the parking lot for the Lazarieh building until the opposition took it over on December 1, 2006.

In the parking lot there is a huge banner counting the days since the protest started, much like the ones counting the days since the assassination of PM Rafic Hariri in 2005 that can be seen all over town. The only difference is that this one stopped on day 365. 

As the demonstrators got ready to leave, their leaders told them that they have been victorious and that "the camp had served its purposes," according to Bazzi, "a unity government and an electoral law that reflects the demands of the people."

Kassem Hachem, the Baathist in Nabih Berry’s Amal bloc, also had a word to say. "We hope some have learned a lesson in partnership, and that Lebanon can't be ruled by exclusiveness and exclusion. The opposition has kept its promise, now we are lifting the demonstration in Beirut."

Opposition MP Nader Sukkar from Baalbek had a theory he insisted on explaining under the burning sun. He criticized the majority which had criticized the demonstrators of paralyzing downtown, saying, "How did they paralyze it when they built their tents in parking lots?”

Ghassan Darwich, of Hezbollah, declared, "When we finish taking down all the tents, we will make sure to leave the situation as it was before the demonstration. We will work with the governor and the municipality of Beirut."

The political leaders agreed, they kissed each others and took pictures in Qatar. In Beirut, the opposition camp was removed from downtown. Will the latter soon be back to life with the Lebanese, Arab and foreigner visitors?