Inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri held a rally in Beirut on Sunday calling for the disarming of the powerful Shi'ite Hezballah movement.
Hezballah – Lebanon's largest political party and only faction to have retained its weapons – ousted Hariri and his pro-Western March 14 coalition from government in January following the defection of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to the Hezballah camp.
Despite attracting thousands of supporters to the rally, Hariri failed to make an impact online as the Lebanese blogosphere largely snubbed his demonstration.
Scattered coverage of the Hariri rally can be found amongst Lebanese blogs, which is a significant contrast from the major role social media has played in the Arab uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain.
In a time of increasing debate on the role of social media in popular unrest, one must wonder whether a revolution is possible without the assistance of social media. Such an argument appears to have merit in Lebanon at least.
Indeed, Lebanon's circumstances are unique in the Arab world, where the majority of the region continues to live under the iron fist of an autocratic ruler. Lebanon, conversely, is a quasi-democracy constrained by the sectarian nature of its political system that pits the country's confessions against each other in a struggle for power.
The Lebanese blogosphere has, however, largely moved beyond the sectarianism that defines Lebanon's politics, and thus offer an alternative voice on Lebanese affairs and life that is not subject to a factional allegiance. That the blogosphere has snubbed the Hariri rally is an important indication of the failure of Hariri to woo neutral Lebanese to his cause.
Nevertheless, one prominent Lebanese blogger – Beirut Spring – offered his views on the Sunday protest:
Right before Mr. Hariri spoke, a large poster of King Abduallah of Saudi Arabia was erected on one of the walls of Virgin and became a backdrop for Mr. Hariri’s speech.
I was very dismayed when I saw it, as it contradicts much of what March 14 stands for. To mention only two things: The rejection of foreign intervention in Lebanon and the embracing of liberal values like freedom, democracy and multiculturalism (all of which are absent in Saudi Arabia).
It’s telling that the king’s poster was erected right before Mr. Hariri’s speech. This means that those handling the logistics know that such a backdrop would have been political suicide for Christian speakers like Mr. Samir Geagea and Amin el Gemayel.
But why even erect that poster in the first place? The best answer I could think of is this: This is a loud message to Mr. Najib Mikati and to the rest of the world that whatever Mr. Hariri is about to say is approved by the Saudi King. In other words, Mr. Mikati has received “official” Sunni ostracism.
A mocking video of Hariri removing his jacket was circulated on YouTube:
A supporter, Elie Fares, gave his reasons for attending the rally on his blog A Separate State of Mind:
1. I’m participating to let the old senile man, accusing me of not existing anymore, know that I am here to stay.
2. I’m participating to let the whole world know that I am not to be taken for granted.
3. I’m participating because I need to bring my country back to where I chose it to go in 2009.
4. I’m participating because people seem to have forgotten how horrible it was when Syrians had control on the country.
5. I’m participating because my view of the best Lebanon does not include armed militias that can do whatever they want, whenever they want and expect you not to do anything about it.
6. I’m participating because I do not approve of political hypocrisy – one that has become all too common today.
7. I’m participating because I refuse the notion that having an opinion in Lebanon makes you part of the “herd.”
8. I’m participating because I don’t want my future to be one involving being stranded on doors of embassies and getting a colonoscopy in airports where my country is blacklisted.
9. I’m participating because while we were the “angels” in this country, it’s high time we be its devils (in a peaceful and organized way, of course)
10. I’m participating because our martyrs, who died to keep this country free and sovereign, should not be forgotten.
11. I’m participating because in a world that is bleak, the concept of justice is one that will keep a light on.
12. I’m participating because I believe it’s high time we take a stand with what we believe in.
13. I’m participating because I want to.
Although Hariri may own a large number of Lebanese mainstream media outlets, he appears to have little sway over a major independent voice in the country: social media.