Tens of thousands?
I was surprised to see the BBC, CNN International, and the AFP describe the number of participants in this exceptionally massive demonstration as “tens of thousands.” After the demonstration, I was able to get in touch with a couple of journalists and a prominent director of a media outlet who all explained to me that the media, and in particular the international media, was trying to move away from what they called, the “war of numbers.” They recounted how both sides of the Lebanese political spectrum have been trying to boost their credibility and popularity in terms of numbers. The media, has therefore decided to neutralize this war of words by not providing numbers, simply because the numbers are not important. According to this director, both sides have showed that they both have supporters and their own form of legitimacy from this grassroots support. Hence, the numbers no longer matter.
However, I have to ask, is it fair for the media to decide to neutralize this political discourse? Isn’t the very decision to neutralize it a form of participating in the discourse and taking a political stand? If the media is actually interested in helping calm political and social tension on the streets, then it is going to have to constructively participate in disseminating accurate information and facts and let the people decide for themselves how such information should be treated.
Standing amongst the protesters near An Nahar, I was disappointed to witness three occurrences. I saw a group of young Sunni enthusiasts waving their Lebanese flags and chanting in a circle “Allah ma’al Sunnieh” (God is with the Sunnis). I then saw a group of young Lebanese Forces carrying crosses along with their Lebanese Forces flags around. Finally, I counted at least two dozen young men and women with Palestinian scarves. These Palestinians seem to believe they only have one choice: either to side with Hezbollah who claims to support the liberation of Palestinian land or to state their allegiance to the Sunni-ruled government. Given that most Palestinians are Sunni, they have chosen to side with the latter.
A move towards nationalism?
However, amidst this sectarian reality, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the opposite trend is also solidifying itself. Many Sunni men and women, and especially veiled women, took it upon themselves to carry around Lebanese Forces flags in lieu of their Lebanese flag. I also saw a group of Sunni sheikhs walking around with Lebanese Forces flags. The Sunnis have come to the conclusion that they owe much to the Head of the Lebanese Forces Dr. Samir Geagea. Without his support and conviction, the Christian card would have been lost a very long time ago. After returning home and watching the coverage of various news channels and newspapers, it was interesting to see how many featured Sunni participants carrying the Lebanese Forces flag. It was even more interesting to note that indeed, FPM leader General Michel Aoun can no longer say that he owns the Christian voice. Today was proof that the Lebanese Forces have taken ownership of a vast number of Lebanese objectives, whether they be Christian or Sunni.