The Lebanese opposition movement, led by Hizbollah, the Communist Party and the predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, has called on its supporters to begin a street campaign to oust the US-backed government of Fouad Siniora.
The government has issued dire warnings that the protests would unleash a new civil war.
But the opposition has called its bluff and announced “surprising and random” protests due to begin on Tuesday as Socialist Worker went to press.
Since Israel’s assault on Lebanon this summer, the increasingly unpopular government—an alliance of sectarian warlords known as the March 14 coalition—has been arming its followers.
On Monday night supporters of Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, were attacked by right wing thugs in the Christian neighbourhood of Ashrafieh, east Beirut.
These attacks come after fist fights broke out at the St Joseph University in Beirut following a victory by the opposition in the student elections.
The US has announced increased military aid for Siniora’s government.
Rumours are rife that Jordan, a key US ally in the region, has been shipping arms to right wing groups.
The Lebanese government has been using a proposed tribunal into the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005 to turn the heat on the Syrian regime—the prime suspect in his killing.
But the tribunal is a thinly disguised attempt by the US to pressure Syria into abandoning its support for the Iraqi and Palestinian resistance.
The call for demonstrations and protests come a week after Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon’s minister of industry and a scion of one of the country’s most powerful Christian families, was shot dead in a Beirut suburb.
The original protests were postponed after the killing, which was used by right wing forces in Lebanon and their backers abroad to attempt to discredit the anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East.
John Bolton, a leading neocon and US ambassador to the United Nations, used the assassination to accuse Syria and Iran of planning a coup in Lebanon.
Meanwhile the European Union has thrown its “full support” behind the Siniora government.
George Bush and Tony Blair were quick to denounce the killing and have promoted Gemayel as a “democrat”. He was nothing of the sort.
Pierre Gemayel Jr was a leading figure in the Phalange party, which dominated Lebanon’s Christian right for decades—though its influence today has waned considerably.
The Gemayel clan are a powerful right wing family who have been at the centre of the most terrible atrocities in Lebanon over the last half century.
Gemayel’s grandfather, also named Pierre, drew inspiration from the Nazi party in 1930s Germany to found the Phalange. It conducted murderous campaigns against the left, the Palestinians, people from different religions and political rivals.
The elder Pierre declared on the eve of Lebanon’s 1975 civil war that he would rather see the country destroyed than changed.
His wish came true when he and his supporters plunged the country into a sectarian bloodbath to defeat the left and the secular nationalist movement.
This sectarian system was drawn up in the 1930s by France, then Lebanon’s colonial master.
It was designed to ensure the dominance of Lebanon’s Christian minority over the country’s other religious groups and to concentrate power in the hands of a few powerful clans.
This system was amended in the early 1990s, but its sectarian and oppressive character remained intact.
Israel’s defeat this summer at the hands of the resistance opened up a space to finally tear down the system through mass demonstrations.
The March 14 coalition has used the privileges afforded to it by Lebanon’s rotten sectarian political system to block any changes.
The opposition, which represents the majority of Lebanese people, is demanding new elections or a bigger say in the present government.
Lebanese society remains one of the most unequal in the world.
A decade of neoliberal attacks has driven vast swathes of the population into poverty, irrespective of religious sect.
This has bred deep discontent across the country and a hunger for real change.
The death of Pierre Gemayel Jr is the fifth assassination in Lebanon since the killing of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Other victims include a prominent journalist and a long time Communist leader.
Their murders have not been solved, nor have their killers explained the motives for their acts.
The main losers in this campaign of killing remain those at the bottom of Lebanese society—those who most wish to see real change in the country.