October 22, 2005

Mehlis Day

Fear and apprehension turned to anger and relief in Beirut after the Mehlis report named Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law as the chief suspect, and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud as a possible accomplice, in the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

The city didn’t explode. I didn’t think it would, but a lot of Lebanese thought it best to stay home. The army heavily deployed into the streets. It is mostly comforting, but also slightly unsettling, to see scenes like this one.

Army on Mehlis Day.jpg

The city could always explode tomorrow or even today. But, again, I’m not particularly worried that it will. Beirut felt like it was going to explode when I was here in April. The fear was that the war would start up again. It didn’t. I think Lebanon has matured more than some Lebanese realize. And Syria is not exactly feeling confident and strong at the moment.

I do sometimes wonder, though, if I am being naïve because I haven’t experienced for myself just how bad things can get here. I also wonder if this entire culture is still wracked with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is accordingly paranoid about worst case scenarios. Perhaps it is a bit of both. Other times, Lebanese people seem war-hardened and completely unflappable. The mixed signals are hard to sort out. I’m less confident than I would like to be. But for what it’s worth I feel no fear whatsoever walking these streets. Things are totally normal almost always and everywhere.

I found a group of students at the American University of Beirut sitting on the steps near the gate reading copies of the Mehlis report in English.

Mehlis Report at AUB.jpg

I walked up to them and asked where they found copies. Was someone on campus distributing them, as was rumored?

“Go to Tayyar.org,” one of them said to me.

“Okay,” I said and turned to walk away.

“Wait,” he said. “Do you want a copy?”

“Yes, please,” I said. “Do you have one?”

“I am going to make a copy right now for myself. I will come back with two.”

“Thank you,” I said and put my hand over my heart.

He came back with two copies.

“How much do I owe you?” I said.

“No, no, it’s okay,” he said as he handed me dozens of typed pages.

Automobile traffic and foot traffic picked up throughout the day. The pall of fear over the city slowly was lifted. I only managed to find one single person who was convinced more violence would follow. But I suppose those most fearful stayed home and were impossible for me to talk to.

There was a rally that night at Martyr’s Square and across the street at the grave site of Rafik Hariri.

Thousands gathered, sang patriotic songs, and shouted “Down with Assad!” and “Down with Lahoud!”

Mehlis Day Rally.jpg

A group of young Druze men took over the Martyr’s Square statue.

Druze at Martyrs Square.jpg

Dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, carried or wore signs that said Justice in Arabic.

Justice Sign on Mehlis Day.jpg

More messages were added to the wall in memory of Rafik Hariri. The young man below is writing And the truth shall set you free.

Writing on the Wall.jpg

One young woman carried a sign that said Lahoud is a big ugly fat bitch and Bachar [Assad] is fucked by our people. Emile Lahoud is still president of Lebanon. This is not your typical Middle East country.

Lahoud is a Bitch.jpg

Not everyone at the rally seemed happy or defiant. Some just looked sad, as though they were reliving the painful day of the assassination all over again.

Sadness at Rally.jpg

But for the most part the mood was jubilant. The truth was out after 250 days. U.N. special prosecutor Detlev Mehlis is a hero in Lebanon.

I Love Mehlis.jpg

The Truth.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 22, 2005 4:09 AM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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