BEIRUT: Thousands of Free Patriotic Movement supporters gathered in Martyrs' Square in Downtown Beirut Friday for a massive demonstration aiming at exerting political pressure on the government to accede to the party's demands.
Hundreds of cars converged on the capital’s Central District, carrying supporters waving the party’s orange flags. A large stage, screen and sound system had been placed in the square in preparation for the anticipated day.
The event included a number of performances by artists including Zein el-Omr, who made a passionate speech hailing the group's founder Michel Aoun, saying he does not only represent "a Zai'm (leader), but also a nation, a people."
Demonstrators carried pictures of Aoun and banners praising him.
“At your service, oh General,” one large banner read.
“We dream of a free president, a legal parliament that does not extend its own term, deputies that represent the people and a judiciary that protects its nation," said Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who has recently won the party's presidency by acclamation, using a rhetoric inspired by Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech.
“We want a just media, around the clock electricity and water, transportation systems, telecommunication services and social security for seniors.”
“Our dream will win over the nightmares,” Bassil added addressing the crowds, emphasizing that his party “will not alienate Muslims, but will also not accept the alienation of Christians.”
He promised that he would seek the “return of all the refugees and displaced people to their homelands, so that Lebanon survives.”
“The FPM is gathered today in Martyrs' Square, but we will soon exhort its supporters to join us in the popular square of Baabda,” he said, implying that his party would soon be celebrating the appointment party leader Michel Aoun as president.
Aoun also made a brief speech from his residence in Rabieh that was televised for the crowd.
“I am proud of you today, like I was yesterday and I will be tomorrow,” Aoun told protesters, describing the demonstration as a “gathering of glory.”
“I hope this will be the beginning of [a pathway toward] reforming our country and bringing it back to its glorious past.”
The demonstration also attracted a number of Hezbollah supporters, one of whom was waving the party's flag.
However, another demonstrator was seen wearing a shirt with the sharpened red cross logo, which was used by Lebanese Forces' militia during the civil war, on the back and LF's modern crest, a cedar tree in a red circle, on the front.
The demonstration was the latest in a series of street action by the party, demanding greater respect for Christians’ share of power in the government and that the Cabinet appoints a new Army commander, among other demands.
"Only elections can clean up" was chosen as the slogan of this demonstration, referring to the garbage crisis in the country.
Aoun had made three public calls to mobilize supporters for the demonstration last week, saying that the movement also aims to pressure to the government to adopt a new electoral law and a number of administrative reforms.
The protests began after a clash between FPM’s ministers and Prime Minister Tammam Salam in the Cabinet, after which the party announced that it would prevent the body from making any decisions before a new Army chief was appointed.
The mobilization for the protest included fierce attacks against the You Stink campaign, a recent movement launched by civil society activists against the political establishment, whose protest last Saturday was attended by tens of thousands in the same square.
You Stink have insisted on opposing all political parties in the government including the FPM, prompting scathing media attacks by the party's activists and officials.
When asked why he did not attend the “You Stink” protest, Fares, a student from Kesserwan said “the FPM has been active since the 90s and was raising similar demands, and no one supported its demonstrations or causes.”
Other FPM supporters said that “they took the streets with You Stink activists several times since both movements are aiming to fighting corruption.”
“I do not approve of the You Stink movement because I do not want to topple the regime and cause chaos in the country. I just want parliamentary and presidential elections,” said Chakib, who came to the protest from the Chouf district of Mount Lebanon.