The primary goals of the original activists were the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and to replace the Syrian influence with a patriotic Lebanese government, the establishment of an international commission to investigate the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, the resignation of security officials to ensure the success of the plan, and the organization of free parliamentary elections. The demonstrators requested the end of the Syrian influence in Lebanese politics. At the start of the demonstrations, Syria had been maintaining a force of roughly 14,000 soldiers and intelligence agents in Lebanon. Following the demonstrations, the Syrian troops completely withdrew from Lebanon on April 27 2005. The Pro-Syrian government was also disbanded, accomplishing the main goal of the revolution. (For background information on Syria's involvement in Lebanese politics, see the articles History of Lebanon, Lebanese Civil War, and Syrian occupation of Lebanon.)
The opposition has taken, as its symbol, the white and red scarf, and the pro-Hariri blue ribbon. Popular mottos of the movement were Hurriyya, Siyada, Istiqlal (Freedom, Sovereignty, Independence), and Haqiqa, Hurriyya, Wahda wataniyya (Truth, Freedom, National unity).
Some goals whose accomplishment is sometimes cited in order for the revolution to end include:
In the Arab world, including Lebanon, it is better known as Lebanon's Intifada-al-Istiqlal (Independence Uprising). Other names include the Cedar Spring (Rabi' el Arz), in reference to the prevailing season when protests first broke out, and also as an allusion to famous freedom and independence movements like the Prague Spring. The names used by the local media, like the LBC and Future TV, to describe this event include Lebanon Independence (Istiqlal Lubnan), Lebanon Spring (Rabi' Lubnan), or just Independence 05.
On February 14, 2005, the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a truck bomb attack, which killed 21 and wounded nearly 100. Former Minister of Economy and Trade Bassel Fleihan later died as well from injuries sustained in the blast. This attack sparked huge demonstrations that seemed to unite large numbers of citizens from the usually fractured and sectarian Lebanese population. It was the second such incident in four months: former minister and MP Marwan Hamadeh had survived a car bomb attack on October 1, 2004.
Within hours of the assassination, Lebanese prosecutors issued warrants for the arrest of six Australian nationals who flew out of Beirut to Sydney, Australia three hours after the explosion claiming that seats occupied by the men had tested positive for traces of explosives, and that they were traveling without luggage. The Australian Federal Police interviewed ten individuals in Sydney upon the arrival of the flight, and found the men they questioned did have luggage. Although Sydney air port security sniffer dogs trained to find explosives did react to aircraft seats occupied by the men, test swabs taken from three of the men by the Australian Federal Police tested negative for explosives. Within 48 hours, the Australian Federal Police absolved the six of any involvement in the assassination, giving little credibility to claims of the Lebanese officials.
Despite the lack, to date, of any actual substantial evidence implicating any party or individual, the Syrian government has borne the brunt of Lebanese and international outrage at the murder, because of its extensive military and intelligence influence in Lebanon, as well as the public rift between Hariri and Damascus just before his last resignation on October 20, 2004. The day after Hariri's resignation, pro-Syrian former Prime Minister Omar Karami was appointed Prime Minister.
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a recent adherent to the anti-Syrian opposition, emboldened by popular anger and civic action, alleged in the wake of the assassination that in August 2004 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened Hariri, saying "[President of Lebanon] Lahoud is me. ... If you and Chirac want me out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon. He was quoted as saying "When I heard him telling us those words, I knew that it was his condemnation of death." The United States, the EU and the UN have stopped short of any accusations, choosing instead to demand a Syrian pullout from Lebanon and an open and international investigation of the Assassination. Jumblatt's comments are not without controversy; the BBC describes him as "being seen by many as the country's political weathervane" - consistently changing allegiances to emerge on the winning side of the issues de jour through the turmoil of the 1975-90 civil war and its troubled aftermath. He was a supporter of Syria after the war but switched sides after the death of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad in 2000. His account is quoted, but not confirmed, in the UN's FitzGerald Report. The report stops short of directly accusing Damascus or any other party, saying that only a further thorough international inquest can identify the culprit. The Lebanese government has agreed to this inquiry, though calling for the full participation, not supremacy, of its own agencies and the respect of Lebanese sovereignty. (See international reaction below.)
On February 21 2005 tens of thousands of Lebanese protestors held a rally at the site of the assassination calling for an end of Syrian occupation and blaming Syria and the pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud for the murder. In the subsequent weeks, nearly every Monday, a demonstration has been held at Beirut's Martyrs Square (also referred to by protestors as "Liberty Square"), in addition to the constant daily gathering of Lebanese there.
Similar demonstrations by Lebanese immigrants have also taken place in several cities across the world, including Sydney - Australia (where over 10,000 people demonstrated in the city), San Francisco, Paris, Düsseldorf, Montreal, and London.
On February 28 the government of pro-Syrian prime minister Omar Karami resigned, calling for a new election to take place. Karami said in his announcement: "I am keen the government will not be a hurdle in front of those who want the good for this country". The tens of thousands gathered at Beirut's Martyrs' Square cheered the announcement, then chanted "Karami has fallen, your turn will come, Lahoud, and yours, Bashar".
Opposition MPs were not satisfied with only Karami's resignation, and kept pressing for full Syrian withdrawal. Former minister and MP Marwan Hamadeh, who survived a similar car bomb attack on October 1 2004, said "I accuse this government of incitement, negligence and shortcomings at the least, and of covering up its planning at the most... if not executing".
On March 23, Michel Abu Arraj, the Lebanese magistrate responsible for the internal Lebanese investigation of the assassination asked to be excused, citing a heavy court schedule. The Judicial Council of Lebanon is expected to rule on his request shortly. His resignation and the consequent need to replace him may result in a delay in the investigation.
At one point there seemed to be confusion about the extent to which Syria was willing to withdraw from Lebanon. Arab League head Amr Moussa declared that Syrian president Assad promised him a phased withdrawal over a two-year period, but the Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah said that Moussa had misunderstood the Syrian leader. Dakhlallah said that Syria will merely move its troops to eastern Lebanon. Since then, Syria has declared that Resolution 1559 will be fully complied with, and in a matter of months rather than years.
On March 15, upon hearing purportedly leaked information that the United Nations' special investigation may have found that the Lebanese authorities covered up evidence of the murder, Columnist Robert Fisk alleges that Hariri's two sons fled Lebanon, reportedly after being warned that they too were in danger of assassination.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in response to a request by the Security Council, sent a team of Irish, Egyptian and Moroccan specialists, led by Ireland's deputy police commissioner, Peter FitzGerald, to investigate the assassination. Even before the FitzGerald Report was published, Annan has said a further, more comprehensive investigation may be necessary. FitzGerald thanked the Lebanese government for its cooperation before departing. The report cites the Syrian presence in Lebanon as a factor contributing to the instability and polarization that preceded the assassination. The report also criticizes the Lebanese government and intelligence agencies for the handling of their own investigation into the affair, calling it flawed and inconclusive. The Lebanese government in turn has described the report as "alien to reality" and criticized the UN team for not seeking broader government participation in the investigation. The government has agreed to a further, more comprehensive international inquiry, but insisted that any future inquiry would have to work with the government. At a press conference on March 25, Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said the inquiry would be expected to work within an established framework "in co-operation with the state".
On March 3, Germany and Russia (Syria's Cold War ally) joined those calling for Syria to comply with Resolution 1559. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said: "Lebanon should be given an opportunity for sovereignty and development and this can only be achieved by complying with Security Council resolutions that stipulate immediate Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon."
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, stated that "Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, but we all have to make sure that this withdrawal does not violate the very fragile balance which we still have in Lebanon, which is a very difficult country ethnically.
On March 5 Syrian leader Assad declared in a televised speech that Syria would withdraw its forces to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, and then to the border between Syria and Lebanon. He did not provide a timetable for a complete withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.
On the weekend of April 9th and 10th, on the anniversary of the ignition of the Lebanese Civil war, the last remaining Syrian troops left Lebanon, ending their 30 year presence.
The annual Arab summit, which took place on March 23 in Algeria, did not ask Syria to withdraw, which would have given the pullback an Arab endorsement as envisaged in the 1989 Taif Agreement rather than making it dependent on Resolution 1559. Algerian Foreign Minister Abdel-Aziz Belkhadem discussed the consensus ahead of the summit, stating that "we all agreed to demand the implementation of the Taif Accord with respect to international legitimacy". Controversially, the crisis in Lebanon was not included on the agenda for the summit, which almost half of the Arab leaders did not attend.
This Beirut rally called by Hezbollah dwarfed the earlier anti-Syrian events; CNN noted some news agencies estimated the crowd at 200,000, the Associated Press news agency estimated that there were more than 500,000 pro-Syrian protestors, while the New York Times and Los Angeles Times simply estimated "hundreds of thousands". Al Jazeera reported a figure of 1.5 million. The predominantly Shi'ite protestors held pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and placards reading, in English, "No for the American Intervention". A couple of anti-Syrian media sources noted that it was likely that many of Lebanon's approximately 500,000 Syrian guest workers participated in the rally. In addition to demonstrating the extent of popular support for Syria in Lebanon, the demonstration reiterated Hezbollah's rejection of Resolution 1559, whose call for the disbanding of all Lebanese militias threatens the continued existence of its military wing, the force widely credited for the liberation of south Lebanon. Nasrallah also held demonstrations in Tripoli and Nabatiyé on 11 and 13 March.
Ten days after his resignation, Omar Karami was reappointed Prime Minister and called on the opposition to participate in government until the elections slated for April 2005.
On March 13, tens of thousands protested in the southern city of Nabatiyé in support of Syria and opposition to UNSCR 1559, according to reports. The Tripoli protests were canceled.
On March 14, the one-month memorial of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese rallied in central Beirut on Monday chanting "Freedom, Sovereignty, Independence" and carrying a huge Lebanese flag. They flocked from throughout the country, many unable to even enter the city due to heavy traffic. The peaceful rally was considered to be "the largest demonstration ever seen in Lebanon", with estimations of a turnout ranging from 1.2 million to 1.5 million people; the international news media also estimated that it was considerably larger than the earlier pro-Syrian rally. The demonstration was called by the different factions of the anti-Syrian opposition (including the Hariri family and other groupings) and was trumpeted by the different private media, namely Future TV, a private enterprise that is part of the huge media empire controlled by Hariri's family and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation LBCI, generally aligned with the Lebanese Forces Christian party.
The demonstration occurred in Martyrs' Square, the site of Hariri's grave and a center of the newly reconstructed city rebuilt in large part through Hariri's efforts. During the Lebanese civil war, factional infighting between the groups united in Martyrs' Square had turned the area into an impassable moonscape.
The Lebanese protestors demanded an international inquiry into Hariri's murder, the firing of Syrian-backed security chiefs in the Lebanese government, and a total Syrian pullout from Lebanon.
The attacks did not end in 2005. The next year, gunmen killed anti-Syrian MP Pierre Amine Gemayel, and in 2007, Walid Eido was killed by a car bomb in Beirut. Most recently, politician Antoine Ghanem was assassinated when a car bomb exploded, killing him on September 19 2007. He is the 6th Anti-Syrian minister assassinated since Hariri's death.
Other views maintain that Lebanese anger against perceived Syrian hegemony had been simmering for decades, and the assassination of a popular leader was the spark that gave birth to the movement, independently of foreign and regional developments. Lebanese opposition leader and newspaper columnist Samir Kassir, for example, wrote that "democracy is spreading in the region not because of George Bush but despite him." He gave far more credit to the Palestinian uprising as an inspiration to Lebanese activists.
Others caution that very little has actually changed, apart from the mainly "cosmetic" disappearance of Syrian Soldiers from their presence on the outskirts of Lebanese cities, and that Syrian control of Lebanese foreign affairs and trade may yet endure. Some critics argue that the rush to celebrate a supposed 'Revolution' was far too premature.
When Omar Karami failed to form a government, he resigned for good on April 13, 2005, and elections were called for the period of May 29 through June 19, 2005. Saad al-Hariri formed an anti-Syrian bloc that, ultimately, won 72 of the 128 available seats in the unicameral National Assembly.
Following the outbreak of the Israel-Lebanon war in July 2006, the position of the United States was under scrutiny with regard to its professed strong support for the Siniora Government which eventually emerged from the so-called Cedar Revolution. The US, while having engaged in dialogue with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, reproached Syria for its contacts with Hezbollah, while expecting Syria to use its good offices to rein in Hezbollah, but refusing in turn to rein in Israel. This underlined the fragility of the Siniora Government. Some would argue that the US's passivity vis-a-vis Israel in July 2006 demonstrated the limited extent of its commitment to the survival of the Siniora Government. It is arguable also that failure to support Siniora by diplomatically restraining Israel could create a vacuum into which the Syrian influence, which the US professes to wish to counter, could re-emerge. Others, including the Neo-Conservatives particularly identified with US support for the Cedar Revolution, would argue that the US's role in Lebanon is wholly benign.