Monday, February 12, 2007

Young Lebanese form human chain, urge leaders to 'resolve it, solve it'

Young Lebanese form human chain, urge leaders to 'resolve it, solve it'
Small but determined crowd challenges political status quo

By Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Street protests are not a rare occurrence in Lebanon. However, demonstrations without colorful portraits of politicians or sectarian party flags are. This weekend, more than 100 Lebanese took to a former flashpoint in Beirut in a peaceful demonstration to demand an immediate solution to the current political impasse. The rally was part of a growing grassroots movement that is trying to lend a hand - or several hands - to ensuring civil peace and stability and prevent civil war. Launched on Saturday in response to the student clashes that erupted at Beirut Arab University last month, "Resolve it, Solve it" is the latest campaign urging politicians to come together a cut a deal. "We're fed up," said Reem Mobassaleh, 24, one of a dozen of the movement's organizers. "We want to send a message to all politicians - from every party - and have them sit down and figure out a peaceful solution." Nearly three weeks after the Beshara Khoury intersection became a venue for burning tires during an opposition protest on January 23, cars driving by on Saturday saw a different sight: dozens of Lebanese wearing white t-shirts urging the politicians to "resolve it, solve it."

Petitions were passed around to passersby after an online version collected over 1,000 electronic signatures in less than a week. Participants formed a human chain, walking together across the former Green Line, the infamous stretch of road that divided Beirut during the 1975-1990 Civil War. "Compromise is not failure," Mobassaleh said. "It's time that politicians start acting like public servants again." "I was watching the news and seeing all the violence and became sick and tired of it all," said Carmen Geha, 21, another organizer. "From my community work, I know that people here have more in common than they know." The message is not complicated - "We want an immediate and peaceful solution" read one poster - and many share the sentiment, although it fails to propose any practical solutions that could lead to an eventual compromise. "As a Lebanese student, to watch students resort to violence, rather than engage in healthy debate, is frustrating and not the answer," said Ronnie Chatah, 25, a graduate student who was part of the human chain.

Saturday's human chain was the latest in a series of mostly youth-driven alternative political movements challenging the sectarian tradition, including Young Lebanese Citizens, March 11 and Loubnani w Bass. These groups have passed out flyers, hung up posters, held conferences, signed petitions and worn T-shirts but have so far not managed to pose a major challenge to the political status quo. "We're trying to wake up the silent majority," Geha explained. "It's our future and I know there are others who think like us." While Lebanese politicians can mobilize thousands in minutes, the "silent majority" is proving tougher to move into the streets. Uniting these campaigns and pooling resources and supporters might give their message a chance to be heard. Although "Resolve it, Solve it" does not offer any solutions to the political crisis, individual members had some of their own. Geha suggested politicians turn to NGOs for inspiration. "A lot of local groups have been proposing ideas from policies on the environment to election reform. They're worth being looked at," she said. Chatah had a broader outlook and suggested an international conference: "We need to neutralize Lebanon - remove Lebanon from the middle of international politics. I'm here today to send a direct message that we refuse to let this country fall back into civil war."

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