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April 12, 2005

Lebanonwire

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Lebanon's youths fuel "uprising for independence"
by Nayla Razzouk

BEIRUT - While Lebanese opposition leaders gave public voice to the struggle against Syria's domination of their country, it was the nation's youth which kept the flame of the "uprising for independence" alive on the streets.

Since the February murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, young men and women have fuelled the people-power uprising against Syria's military presence and its grip on the state through local former warlords, security services and greedy businessmen.

Although their elders took up arms 30 years ago at the start of the 1975-1990 civil war, today's young generation has surprised many with peaceful protests for 56 days since Hariri's assassination.

Alaa Merhi, aged 23, from the youth organisation of the mainly-Druze Progressive Socialist Party of prominent opposition leader MP Walid Jumblatt, says "the youth went much faster and further than elder leaders could ever go."

"They (the older leaders) keep thinking about wartime massacres. It is not that we want to forget the war, one has to learn from the past. But we cannot keep thinking about the past and forget our nation and its future," said the unemployed graphic designer, adding that he had sent 350 applications out to try to get a job, in vain.

Young people argue about the war and the past, he acknowledged, but added: "But we never argue about the future because we all want a free, democratic and independent Lebanon."

Veteran politicians admit the crucial role played by the youth movement that started with young men and women swarming into Martyrs' Square in the historical heart of Beirut when Hariri was buried there.

Spontaneous and unorganised at first, followers of opposition youth groups, along with older angry members of civil society, slept under the stars for a few nights before erecting tents to declare their determination to stay put.

Politicians indirectly accused the "repressive" Lebanese regime and their political masters in Damascus of the Hariri assassination, but it was the young protestors who first cried out in the open: "Syria out!"

From then on, the younger generation -- free from the burden carried by their elders since the 1975-1990 civil war -- broke every taboo which had been previously unthinkable in Lebanon.

They held pictures of the heads of security services as wanted men, they vowed to bring down the pro-Syrian regime and even made jokes about mighty Syrian leaders for being "lions in Lebanon and rabbits" in front of Israel.

Youth movements from opposition parties were the ones calling for demonstrations, running the protest camp and organising debates to bring together members of once warring factions.

Independent young people, many of them professionals, have been behind the unprecedented mobilisation of a long-dormant civil society which drew logos, wrote catchy slogans, came up with colourful ideas for protests and organised the logistics to feed the uprising.

Prominent opposition leader Elias Atallah said half of the cadres at his Democratic Left movement were under the age of 26.

"The youth has been at the forefront of the movement. It is just the tip of the iceberg, it is a no-way back situation that we are all asked to cope with. The youth is expecting credibility from us."

Abdel Rahman Knio, 25, from Hariri's Future Current, said: "The politicians back us and lead us, but we are the ones who are working on the ground, at the forefront of the movement."

Ziad Tarabay, a youth leader from the outlawed Christian Lebanese Forces, pointed out that "politicians themselves have acknowledged that we have taken the lead."

"We were faster to react and to break obstacles," said the 29-year-old who resigned from work three weeks ago to concentrate on his activism.

"We do not bear the direct responsibility for the war," said the young leader whose close aide constantly answers calls on his phone which rings to the tune of the national anthem.

Under the statue of the martyrs near Hariri's tomb, a man was scolding a group of students for skipping school.

"Let them be," said a photographer. "When we were their age, we used to shut down the school to take up arms and join the war. At least they are skipping school for a peaceful action meant to rebuild Lebanon."

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