x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A tale of two popular Arab revolutions

Chocolates and flowers are the order of the day in much of the world. Roses are also common in Lebanon on February 14. But many are meant to memorialise rather than to woo: They honour the life and death of Rafik Hariri.

Chocolates and flowers are the order of the day in much of the world. Roses are also common in Lebanon on February 14. But many are meant to memorialise rather than to woo: They honour the life and death of Rafik Hariri.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister. The death of the powerful politician and industrialist became a catalyst for change in Lebanon, as allegations of Syrian involvement in his murder led to a popular outcry. As Hariri was a champion of Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, the best way to honour his death, according to many of his compatriots, was to rid Lebanon and its government of Syrian interference.

The so-called Cedar Revolution that swept through Lebanon after Hariri's death eventually led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country, ending three decades of occupation. The movement was the first to have challenged the status quo is the region, and could serve as a model and a warning for Egypt.

Today the achievements of the Cedar Revolution appear limited. What is unsettling is that the crowds who entered Beirut's Martyrs' Square in 2005 bear a certain resemblance to the hundreds of thousands who convened in Tahrir Square over the past few weeks. The solidarity and excitement about the future that are now Cairo's were once Beirut's.

True, the Syrian army has left Lebanon but the militant organisation that is their partner, Hizbollah, has more power over Lebanese politics than at any time in recent memory. What's more, the parochialism and internecine conflicts that dominated Lebanese politics before Hariri's murder still dominates them today. The Syrian army has left Lebanon but the structural problems stemming from Lebanon's confessional system of representation, making it vulnerable to outside influence, remain.

Lebanon's new prime minister, the billionare telecoms magnate Najib Miqati, appears to have broad support. Dismissing him, or his ability to lead the reform of Lebanon's political structure, is premature. He will have his hands full. Within weeks, the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon will announce its findings. Hassan Nassrallah has already used the issue to bring down the government.

Politics in Lebanon are a mess all its own. Still, the Cedar Revolution offers lessons for Egypt. Its people must capitalise on today's enthusiasm to press for lasting and fundamental change to the country's political system. When Egypt's six year reunion comes along, hopefully it will be much farther along than Lebanon is today.w