Lebanon did not deliver the goods yesterday. Prophecies of an impending civil war were left unfulfilled with one and a half to two million people demonstrating their allegiance to the Gemayel family in one of the largest funerals in history. Those looking for bloodletting had to turn a bit farther east, to Iraq, where one of the worst attacks left at least 150 people dead and several hundred wounded.
The explosion, which came at the end of the day of the Gemayel funeral, highlights the fundamental difference between the two countries: one, Iraq, is out of control, broken, and losing all semblance of a state, and the other, Lebanon - notwithstanding the tragedy and the sectarianism, and in spite of the recent war - continues to clasp the strings that unite it as it sits terrified in the shadow of a civil war.
Yesterday Iraq served as a reminder to Lebanon. Indeed, the massive funeral yesterday was an impressive display of restraint. No less important was the attendance of the Shi'a speaker of parliament, Nabih Beri, alongside members of the government and the Gemayel family.
However, one impressive and well-organized funeral and a murder of a minister from an elite family will not put an end to the political conflict that emerged in recent weeks. The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, who watched the enormous gathering of mourners, is certain he could mobilize a similar number of demonstrators, if not more.
He is also sure he can outdo the rhetoric of Amin Gemayel and Walid Jumblatt, who called on the public to begin a new independence intifada, though the previous intifada in Lebanon, which was sparked by the murder of Rafik al-Hariri and resulted in the eviction of the Syrians, has not died down entirely.
Nasrallah can find consolation in the fact that the Hariri-Gemayel-Jumblatt coalition will have a hard time rallying such huge numbers again, should the time come for another demonstration.
But this is not about a competition of demonstrations. The murder of Pierre Gemayel will only delay the Hezbollah agenda and has already put off its own demonstration scheduled for this week. Hezbollah still aspires to play a greater role in the government and wants more ministers, as well as veto power on critical issues. The group believes it represents the largest portion of the population, and it is willing to take this to elections.
But it is also willing to give up these powers if presented with a satisfactory compromise solution. One of Hezbollah's spokesmen hinted yesterday at such willingness, without specifying his asking price. What is clear for the time being is that even if the organization does not achieve its goals at the negotiating table, it will push for gains by political means.
The question now is whether the Amal and Hezbollah ministers will return to the government they stepped down from and restore its public legitimacy, or whether they will put the country through an exhaustive series of trials.
The key lies in the compromise over the international tribunal, which is supposed to try Hariri's killers. Now, following Gemayel's murder, the coalition will find it even more difficult to give in on this issue, and it is possible that herein lies the solution. If Hezbollah agrees to accept gains in other areas and allows the international tribunal to carry out its task, it is possible that Lebanon will once more manage to extricate itself from a political crisis.
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