Lebanon protests 25.01.11 AP 10
A supporter of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri carries his picture during a rally in the northern port city of Tripoli, January 25, 2011. Photo by AP
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Ousted Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri must distinguish between this week's demonstrations in Lebanon and those of 2005, Ibrahim al-Amin wrote Wednesday in his column in the pro-Hezbollah daily Al Akhbar.

The difference, Amin said, is that in 2005, the crowds represented all Lebanese citizens, united in outrage at the heinous murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But this week, he wrote, the demonstrations were strictly Sunni - a clan, almost a family, affair.

Not many Christians were involved. The Lebanese Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, a firm Hezbollah opponent, did not urge people to join the demonstrations, while Saudi Arabia, Hariri's patron, did not even denounce the appointment of new Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

When Hariri met with his successor Wednesday, as is customary, the defeat was evident on his face. This is a personal and clan defeat, as indicated by the fact that Tuesday's stormy protests did not resume Wednesday. Lebanon as a whole seemed ready for the next stage.

This is the stage when Mikati tries to form a government that will at least simulate a national unity government by including Hariri's Al-Mustaqbal Movement. Previously, Hariri had said he would not take part in any Hezbollah-dominated government, but this resolute stance seemed to be cracking yesterday.

Al-Mustaqbal MP Ahmed Fatfat, for instance, said yesterday that "everything depends on the new government's agenda." A spokesman for one of Hariri's associates laid down the red lines: "The trial of Rafik Hariri's murderers is not negotiable, nor are Hezbollah's weapons inside Lebanon."

But these lines seem flexible. Hariri's supporters will not want to give up their power centers and hand them over to Hezbollah's supporters.

If Mikati fails to persuade Al-Mustaqbal to join the government, which would grant him broad public legitimacy, he can still form a "technocratic" government not formally identified with any party or sect.