In Death, Hariri Unites the Lebanese

The Independent


Never has a Lebanese government been so shunned by its people. Never have the Syrians faced such united opposition from the people they claim to “protect” with their 15,000 troops and their intelligence services.

Rafik Hariri’s family angrily turned down the offer of a state funeral from their pro-Syrian Lebanese President. Instead, the funeral of the murdered former prime minister yesterday turned into an independent march in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christians who were fighting to the death in the civil war walked together in shared mourning and friendship.

There was not a gun in sight. Not a shot was heard. Down to the Martyr’s Square–the old front line which divided this country for 15 years of war–they walked, shouting: “Syria Out, Out, Out.” Young women of both faiths, old men and youths and turbanned Muslim clerics, even some of Hariri’s old political enemies, gathered round the great Sunni Muslim mosque which Hariri himself had built. The badly burned body of the billionaire tycoon who reconstructed much of Beirut, murdered along with six bodyguards and his medical attendant on Monday in a car bomb attack, was carried through the streets of west Beirut in an ambulance. It arrived in the square to the sound of Muslim prayer calls and Christian church bells.

Repeatedly denying that they had any hand in Monday’s crime, the Syrians warned that Lebanon’s unity would be endangered if the Lebanese allowed Hariri’s death to turn into a political demonstration. But his murder in fact united the Lebanese against the Syrians.

From the streets of Ashrafieh came young men and women, walking under the banners of the old civil war Christian Lebanese forces–the Phalange who fought so bitterly against the Sunni Muslims and the Druze–but yesterday they marched beside their Sunni and Druze fellow countrymen. Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, walked among them, he who had only a few hours earlier warned the Lebanese government that if its officials turned up they would be “pelted with stones and eggs by the people”. Thus were Syria’s protégés and their colourless ministers humiliated.

But Arab society is not based along straight lines. The Syrian Vice-President, Abdul-Halim Khaddam, was an old friend of the Hariri family and he was welcomed by them to join the cortege. Amr Moussa, the Egyptian secretary general of the Arab League was there. Many Gulf Arabs–Hariri also held Saudi citizenship–flew into Beirut for the funeral. In death, it seemed, he had awoken something in the Lebanese that they were only now discovering: that they didn’t have to be frightened of each other. Hariri held a unique position in the post-war society he did so much to revive: he never possessed a militia. Unlike so many, he had no blood on his hands. He was a ruthless businessman, a formidable enemy. But he was clean.

It was in the nature of the loyal operation he ran in Beirut that his family insisted that the bodyguards who died with him should be part of the same cortége and that they should lie forever beside his catafalque by the Mohamed al-Amin mosque, still unfinished. Mourners climbed the scaffolding hundreds of feet in the air to watch this moment of Lebanese history.

Could the Syrians, who sent their army into Lebanon in 1976 at the request of a Christian president, have dreamed of such a day? Could they have imagined that former Druze and Christian militiamen–who had slit each others’ throats in the mountain war of 1983–would stand together in prayer for Hariri and in mutual antagonism against Syria. By his death, some said yesterday, Hariri had saved Lebanon.

But we should not be so romantic. Lebanon faces a traumatic period of crisis. Who knows if other bombs are now being prepared? Walid Jumblatt is frank about the shadow of death under which he lives after announcing that the Syrian Baath party murdered his father, Kemal, in 1977. He and Hariri had discussed a week ago which of them would be murdered first. Now we know.

But America and France–President Jacques Chirac flew to Beirut yesterday to pay his condolences–will also press harder now for enforcement of UN resolution 1559 which calls for the total withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon.

Will it really go? And will its intelligence men go with them? And will the newly “independent” Lebanese then rule themselves with wisdom–or with the same old fearful, corrupt disdain which characterised their pre-war society? Will grief or anger govern post-Hariri Lebanon?

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared.