Roots of Internet-organized Revolutions: The Cedar Revolution of Lebanon

The Cedar Revolution or Independence Intifada (shaking off), was the culmination of a series of events ending in the car bomb assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri along with 21 others on February 14, 2005.   The Lebanese had grown increasingly weary of the Syrians, since their military occupation of nearly 30 years.  Hariri’s assassination, widely seen as the work of the Syrians, was the boiling point for the Lebanese public.

Just a week after the attack, tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens gathered at the site of the bombing, to protest against Syrian control of their country. The protesters held the pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, and Syria itself, accountable for the murders; they began shouting anti-Syrian and anti-government slogans— an unknown occurrence in Lebanon previously.

Two hundred fifty thousand people came to the funeral at the Martyr’s Square in downtown Beirut, the largest public space in the city. Opposition parties began organizing street mobilizations.  Marches took place near Hariri’s grave every night as well as open demonstrations and vigils around Beirut. The protestors wore red and white scarves, held placards with the image of the Lebanese cedar tree, and chanted slogans.  The Christians and Muslims of Lebanon were united in cause.

Despite Lebanon’s bloody political history, the Cedar Revolution chose a path of nonviolent civic engagement to achieve four main objectives: 1. resignation of the ruling Lebanese government 2. military withdrawal of the Syrians 3. resignation of the heads of the intelligence services, and 4. an international UN tribunal to investigate Hariri’s death.*

The protestors used cell phones, email, and public announcements to mobilize people to attend the demonstrations and vigils that took place at various locations around Beirut every day. This activity reached a climax in late February and early March as many businesses shut down to join the marches. The government banned the protests but they continued on, and the troops and police were unable or unwilling to enforce the bans.

According to Phil Seib in Reconnecting the World: How New Media Technologies May Help Change Middle East Politics:

Regional/international coverage—such as is provided by Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, among others—could provide information to Lebanese audiences with less concern about political repercussions that might deter some indigenous media organizations. By showing the size and energy of the protests, such coverage helped fuel the demonstrations and encouraged broader pressure for Syrian withdrawal.

Patterns of ICT Usage in Lebanon (2004)**, indicates that “Nearly 65 percent of all individuals surveyed indicated some level of use of computers…and over 79 percent of computer users in Lebanon use the Internet to some degree. At this rate, Lebanon ranks highly among developing countries and especially among its peers in the Middle East and North Africa region.”

On February 28, pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned turning the tide towards democracy.  Days later on March 2, Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad announced the complete withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.  Hezbollah, the largest Shi’ite party in Lebanon and a supporter of the Assad regime, organized a demonstration on March 8, attracting half a million supporters.  Five days later, the opposition gathered an estimated 1.2 million Lebanese, more than a quarter of the country’s population, to Martyrs’ Square. They used the Internet, television, and SMS to create the mass mobilization.***

*https://tavaana.org/viewcasestudy.jsp?pageId=2071502000341264606266439&lang=en&restrictids=nu_repeatitemid&restrictvalues=2071502000341295633894832#_edn3

**http://www.pca.org.lb/docs/FINAL%20-%20Patterns%20of%20ICT%20Usage%20in%20Lebanon.pdf

***http://www.lokashakti.org/encyclopedia/movements/710-lebanons-cedar-revolution

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