Middle East Features
Lebanon's faiths mingle at Christmas Eve rally
By Pakinam Amer Dec 25, 2006, 0:44 GMT
Beirut - Lebanese anti-government protesters united across religions Sunday for a high-spirited Christmas Eve street party, complete with balloons, drums, fireworks and a two-story-high Christmas tree.
Shiite Hezbollah members dressed as Santa Claus to entertain children, kids in coloured masks cheered, coffee and tobacco sellers hawked their wares and Lebanese flags fluttered in what was also the latest rally against the Western-backed government.
'Our main aim is for this government to step down, and we will not go home until they do. That's why I choose to celebrate here instead of my own home,' said Hoda al-Farjiya, a Christian, sitting under a white tent near Prime Minister Fouad Senior's government palace.
Hundreds of pro-Syrian opposition protesters have surrounded government offices in downtown Beirut since December 1, transforming the elegant area into a makeshift camp to bring pressure on a government they call illegitimate.
The opposition - Shiites and their Maronite Christian ally Michel Aoun - are pressing Seniora, a Sunni Muslim, for a greater share of power.
The anti-Syrian majority sees this demand as a move to block the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.
Many Maronites joined Shiites from the Hezbollah and Amal movements Sunday night. Veiled women wore the Aoun bands; some Christian men wore crosses and miniature pendants depicting the sword of Ali - the Prophet Mohammed's cousin and a Shiite icon.
'In the past we used to say 'This is Christian' and 'This is Muslim.' Now we stand here together and say 'Religion is for God and Lebanon is for everyone',' said al-Farjiya.
'We lived together for the past month, we talked and we became companions. Now we understand each other and we're happy together,' she said.
A veiled woman dressed in black wore a scarf marked with Hezbollah's logo. But her daughter wore a green scarf in support of Marada, a Christian faction.
'I am a Hezbollah supporter but my daughter here is a supporter of the Maronite group,' the woman, Meriam, said of her daughter Fatema.
Meriam, who gave only her first name, planned to attend a Christmas mass at the Lebanese capital's Saint George's Church
'I will stand side by side by my Christian brothers and sisters,' she said.
On Christmas Eve in the two main squares, the night of downtown Beirut was almost entirely coloured yellow, black, orange and green - the diverse colours representing the forces in the main coalition of the Hezbollah-led opposition.
Leaders of Hezbollah and the Sunni-based Islamic Unity whipped up the crowd and the chilly night air with speeches. 'Down with Seniora,' chanted the mixed hordes of Christians, Shiites and Sunnis.
'All my friends and I are here for Christmas. It couldn't be better and I can't hope for more. I'm very happy,' said a 16-year-old curly-haired Marwa, also a Christian Maronite.
Tony a friend of hers explained that they had been decorating for six days, preparing food and even baking cake at the fully-furnished camps.
Osama, who gave only his first name, was one Christian who said he would rather pray with Muslims from his own coalition than with fellow Christians from other Lebanese parties.
'We are all brothers in cause. Not Muslims or Christians anymore but Lebanese,' he said.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur