On Tuesday, half a million people were demonstrating in the streets of Beirut, chanting and waving flags. If you only gave the TV a quick glance, you probably assumed that they were protesting against the Syrian presence in Lebanon. In fact it was a rally organised by Hezbollah in support of Syria, but for almost a month now — since the assassination of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri — the newspapers have been full of Beirut rising up in outrage against occupation, men and women in the streets dressed in red and white, shouting, ‘Syria Out!’: the Cedar Revolution.
Last Saturday, in Beirut, I set off in search of the revolution. I took a friend for company in case of a hostage situation, and walked west to the Place des Martyrs to show solidarity. Syria may once have been a help to Lebanon — squashing the PLO in 1976, seeing off Israel in 1990 — but after 15 years of Syrian soldiers, and with its President, Emile Lahoud, in Syria’s pocket, Beirut has understandably had enough. It looked as though, with America behind them, the people had found the courage to demand that Syrian troops and their secret service withdraw in accordance with the 1989 UN-brokered Taif accord. And having been on holiday to Lebanon once, I felt entitled to join in.
In the centre of town nothing had changed: women with Yves Saint Laurent handbags and lips outlined heavily in purple sat around in Starbucks; glossy black jeeps raced past houses pocked with bullet holes from the civil war. On every wall there were posters of the late Hariri — looking stern in black, smiling in beige, strolling in his garden — but no sign of an uprising.
We walked on, through what had been Hariri’s pet project, Beirut Central District — a vast, sandstone shopping precinct designed to entice shoppers back to derelict downtown. BCD is a fitting memorial for a billionaire construction magnate who spent his time in office trying to bond with the West: Dunkin’ Donuts, Nike, H