By Nolan DiFrancesco > Junior > International Studies > Johns Hopkins University
It was an event that shocked the world. A Tunisian fruit vendor lit a fire that spread across the entire Middle East – forcing us all to take a step back and reconsider all that we had known about a region thought to be impervious to change. I watched the events unfold in Cairo and Tunisia with everyone else, via television. I knew that history was being written before our eyes, and I wished I could be there to witness it firsthand.
Little did I know five months ago that in choosing Lebanon as my study-abroad location, I had picked a country that would ironically become one of the more stable locations in the Middle East. Despite its war-torn past and current, iffy political situation, Lebanon is immune to most of the populist uprisings spreading across the Arab world. Why? Simple: Lebanon has already had one.
Six years ago, the Lebanese people took to the streets and changed history. A quarter of the country’s population marched on the streets of Beirut demanding a new government and the removal of the occupying Syrian army in what would become known as the Cedar Revolution. Ever since, the Lebanese take to the streets on that same day (March 14) each year in memory of what they had accomplished.
This year’s rally was momentous for several reasons. While the tens of thousands of people celebrating in downtown Beirut was far fewer than the million of 2005, the message could not have been more important. The people loudly called for the elimination of weapons used by Hezbollah – an organization based in Lebanon that the world almost unanimously condemns as a terror group.
Not surprisingly, this is not the kind of rally you would see in America. That is what makes the experience worthwhile. As I stood in the middle of the crowd and watched the scenes unfold, I knew that this was my piece of history. I did not need to go to Cairo or Tunisia to see what nascent democracy in the Middle East looks like. It was right in front of me.
I think many college students in America are politically apathetic, but not as a reflection on any type of indifference. The American political process is one that often ignores the voices of youth, one that discourages the kind of passion and massive populist action that I am now witnessing in Lebanon. I wish that more Americans could have the opportunity to travel to Lebanon if for no other reason than to gain a new perspective on our own government. For we should never doubt that any group of concerned and passionate citizens can change history.