Michael Young in Ottawa: Mixing narratives on Lebanon and the 'Arab Spring'

Summary from video:

Lebanon in 2005 wasn’t probably spark for the Arab spring but there are ingredients that are the same from what we are seeing in other Arab countries now and before 2011.

What happened in 2005?  Iraqi elections, Lebanon’s Beirut Spring.  No one mentions now these two events when speaking about Arab Spring.  But many of the features of these two events are present in the Arab Spring.
In 2005, ten and hundred thousands occupy Martyr Square demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the resignation of the government and the security apparatus. Syria was a key actor in the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

Syrians pulled out of Lebanon after 29 years of continuous presence.  Lebanon earned this.  It wasn’t a revolution, it was an emancipatory movement.

Those who went to Martyr Square represented all walks of Lebanese society except the Shias.

In investigating this moment Young finds in it 4 major salient issues:

1.     Use of public space
2.     Demand for overhaul of instruments of repression
3.     Role of foreign intervention
4.     Aftermath

These 4 salient issues can be found in current Arab revolutions.

1.     Use of public space: The need to secure a public space with symbolic and geographic relevance, under the eyes of media.  In the case of Lebanon, Martyr Square was an easy location, green line, place of reconciliation and the place where Hariri was buried.  It is next to the old city that Hariri built and to An-Nahar newspaper building.  The public will come to visit the tomb of Hariri.  The security cannot prevent them from doing so.  They assemble after the visit and the place becomes difficult to clear, under the watch of the media.  There was a replication of this in Arab revolutions: Tahrir, Pearl roundabout, different and rival squares in Yemen, a whole city in Libya, Benghazi, where a rival government was established.  In Syria revolts proliferated in many cities but took hold in Hama, Homs and Kurdish area.  Public space occupation becomes a tent city and who occupies a tent city?  Young people.  Idealistic, convinced of their position.  It is in this context that frustration is high.

2.     Instruments of repression:  In 2005, senior security chiefs were removed by the government under popular pressure. It doesn’t happen often that security personnel leave office under pressure from street.  When Jamil el Sayyed  was removed, Young called Qasir to congratulate him because of his editorials against the security apparatus but Qassir was assassinated 15 days later and Young is convinced that the two events are connected, the removal of El-Sayyed and the death of Qassir.

Security apparatuses are difficult to change or remove.   Lebanese protesters in 2005 played the differences and the competition between different tools of repression, security apparatus and army, playing on the nationalism of the Lebanese army who avoided attacking protesters.  The army also was playing it both ways, implementing order but not firing on crowd.   The value of any revolution in the aftermath is by the severity order is imposed.
In Egypt and Tunisia the army didn’t fire on the crowd. 

In Libya, it is the balance of power between two armies that was responsible for order.  No accountable security force in Libya, same in Syria, it is the balance of power.

3.     Foreign intervention (outside intervention).  Lebanon didn’t get its due in 2005.  Chirac was for foreign intervention but Bush came late to it.  The trend in the Arab world was against foreign intervention, not against Hezbollah and Syria.  Lebanon's revolution was seen as Bourgeois revolt (Prada revolution).  Those who could protest were relatively rich and educated.  Liberals in the west were more pro-March 8 because they felt the movement was more popular.  In the Arab world today, foreign intervention is being accepted in Libya, in Syria.  Now it’s OK.  It is not what it used to be for Iraq and Lebanon back in 2005, there is no more opposition in the Arab world to foreign intervention.    We shouldn’t underestimate the role narratives play in the acceptance of foreign intervention.  In the narrative, you have to make people (natives) part of the foreign intervention, mix narratives, and inside one meant for the outside, hence the importance of placards in English, and an outside one meant for the  inside.  Make people on both sides want to be part of it.  In Lebanon narratives played an important role.  Here Young mentions the ad agency role in Lebanon's revolution.  Symbolism and colours created a narrative that was both mobilising on the inside and easy for western audience to understand what was going on.  

Lebanese understood how the west wanted them to be!

There is symbolism in Tahrir, in Benghazi.

One thing that became important in Lebanon is the STL functioning under a Canadian prosecutor.  It is the first time the UN investigates in other countries and it will be replicated.  Young said he was disappointed with the STL, accused Brammertz who he called the second prosecutor of derailing the investigation, but says that there might still be possibilities for other indictments, Syria.

4.     Aftermath.  In Lebanon: parliamentary elections, political acrimony, 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, domestic conflict leading to almost armed conflict.

The aftermath tend to shape the perception of the revolution.  It is a mistake to interpret things with such an absolutism and only from the point of view of the aftermath.  The outcome shouldn’t delegitimize the initial impulse if it fails.   Such delegitimisations go like this: ‘if Islamists win, then revolution is undemocratic’  This is currently the problem at the center of Arab revolts. It is a shame to adopt these interpretations because they fall into Arab dictators argument ‘either them or us’.  ‘I am not religious, but Islamists are legitimate, they’re 60% in Tunisia’.  We shouldn’t assume that if Islamists do well then the initial revolt failed.  Instruments of repression are important in the aftermath.  The aftermath won’t be like the Canadian system but at least could have some accountability.  The accountability of the instruments of repression is a question that the west has to ask (and answer?)

Conclusion of the talk:  there is a recurring pattern between 2005 and 2011.  2011 is the second impulse.  We can find some authenticity in this recurring pattern.  Lebanon in 2005 is as authentic as Iraq in 2005 as Tahrir in 2011.
Authenticity bestowed from outside, the tag of inauthenticity for Lebanon in 2005 was made by Arab world.

There are 20' questions at the end of the video.  Questions and answers are interesting.


Anonymous said...

Sophia - the U.S. invasion of Irag was a catalyst in the "Arab spring".

Anonymous said...

Sophia - you were so quick to accuse Israel of selling body parts. Why so quiet on the 10,000 killed by Assad? Your silence is deafening.

Since March 29th 2006