Lebanon funeral of Mohamad Chatah a far cry from that for Rafik Hariri

Lebanese show little of defiance with which they met Rafik Hariri's death

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 9:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 12:31am


Martyr's Square, carved from the heart of Beirut by civil war, teemed on March 14, 2005, with hundreds of thousands of Lebanese, angered by the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister, to build a mass movement that would help push the Syrian army out of Lebanon.

On Sunday, barely 1,000 people appeared on the square for the funeral of Mohamad Chatah, who was killed on Friday by a car bomb in central Beirut that many mourners said was the work of the Syrian government and its Lebanese allies. A former finance minister, Chatah was a prominent critic of Syria.

Few traces could be seen on Sunday of the optimism of the March 14th movement, or of its broad, non-sectarian appeal. A forlorn handful of March 14th veterans were there; others, they said, stayed at home because they were depressed and resigned after nearly nine years, dozens more unsolved assassinations in Lebanon and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brutal fending off an uprising.

The handful appeared to be far outnumbered by young followers of militant Sunni sheikhs, carrying the black flag flown by jihadists in Syria. Some had fought there, and others vowed to join what they saw as a coming sectarian war against the Shiite militia Hezbollah, which is backing Assad in his fight to retain power.

"Everyone here is afraid of the Shiites," said Hosni Rahal, an unemployed young man from the northern city of Tripoli.

The only reason he had not joined his friends who were fighting in Syria, Rahal said, was that "if I am going to die in jihad, I want to die fighting in my own country".

It was a measure of the shrunken hopes of Lebanon's democracy movement that the loudest expressions of outrage over the death of Chatah came not from liberals lamenting the murder of one of their most admired figures, but from Sunni clerics who framed the bombing primarily as an attack on their sect.

The protesters of 2005 tried to reach beyond Lebanon's fractured, sect-based politics to create a movement that united some traditional parties with independents who were eager to build a strong sense of Lebanese citizenship and identity.

Popular frustration drew millions into the streets to demand that Syria end its direct control of the country and allow real political freedom. Syria withdrew its troops, and Lebanon elected a government determined to curtail Hezbollah's power.

But in the years that followed, dozens of Lebanese were assassinated, almost all of them from what became known as the March 14th coalition, and Hezbollah fought a war with Israel, emerging stronger than ever both politically and militarily.

By 2008, Hezbollah controlled the government, and the March 14th coalition had fragmented into sectarian fiefdoms.