The country has been on edge since the Friday attack, which sent political and sectarian tensions soaring across the country after months of building friction around the crisis in neighboring Syria. Sunnis took to the streets in several areas to burn tires and block roads in protest at the bombing, which revived dark memories of a wave of similar assassinations against anti-Syrian figures in 2005-08.
A bigger test of the momentum building behind the opposition’s efforts to force the government out will be the funeral, which is taking place at the downtown location housing the tomb of Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The elder Hariri’s 2005 death, also in a bombing blamed on Syria, forced Syrian troops to leave Lebanon, then plunged the country into three years of turmoil.
The March 14 coalition, named after the date of a huge rally after Hariri’s death, called on citizens to make Sunday a “day of rage” against “the butcher Bashar al-Assad and the black regime that rules Syria.”
Although Syria was blamed for this latest bombing, the opposition is focusing its attention on Syria’s chief Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, whose political and military dominance over the country is deeply resented by many Sunnis and Christians.
The March 14 statement also called for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his government, which it said “does nothing but implement the policies of the killer Syrian regime.”
Mikati told reporters he was ready to resign but said he had been asked by the president, Michel Suleiman, to stay on pending a resolution of the crisis.
“The government is not the issue,” he said. “The government is going to resign sooner or later. Not now, but sooner rather than later. But we don’t want to go into the unknown.”
The crisis has heightened long-standing concerns that the conflict in neighboring Syria is spreading to Lebanon, whose factions have been polarized by the revolt against Assad’s rule.
But the assassination has also revived festering grudges left unresolved by the upheaval of the past decade. The strife ended after Hezbollah fighters swept through the streets of the mostly Sunni West Beirut area of the capital in 2008, routing a fledgling Sunni militia formed by Saad Hariri and asserting the movement’s role as the country’s most powerful military and political entity.
Sunnis have not forgiven Hezbollah for using against Lebanese citizens the weapons it is permitted to possess under the terms of the 1990 peace accord that ended Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. Nor have they forgotten its conquest of areas traditionally deemed Sunni areas of influence.