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Sara Assaf

Here’s to March 14

March 14's National Council should be an opportunity to fix past mistakes and revitalize the movement's base

A banner that reads "Born to be free" is seen amid a sea of Lebanese flags as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese people pack Martyrs Square in Beirut

14 March 2005

 

 

The Syrian Army was still in Lebanon, Samir Geagea was still in jail, Michel Aoun was still in exile, Amin Gemayel was still in France, Walid Jumblatt was still under threat, and Rafiq Hariri's blood was still fresh on our minds.  

 

So we went to the streets to protest against all those surreal and tragic facts. It was a beautiful, sunny day; a Beirut Spring was blossoming, and Lebanese felt empowered for the first time in a long time since the civil war. We wanted Syria out. And we got it.

 

Those who went to Martyrs’ Square felt a sense of pride and victory, and March 14 quickly became an iconic brand that every mainstream Lebanese wanted to associate with: it was a synonym of freedom, dignity and sovereignty after years of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon; a liberal coalition that rallied people from various regions, religions, and backgrounds under one patriotic umbrella. On top of this unconditional popular backing, the newly-formed March 14 coalition enjoyed the approval of the international community and regional financial support, as well. Things were moving on the right track, and notions like “free elections” and “rule of law” were materializing again in Lebanon.

 

 

14 March 2015

 

Ten years later, Samir Geagea is out of jail but lives under forced self-detention, Michel Aoun is back from exile but is now part of March 8 Alliance, Amin Gemayel is in Lebanon but his son Pierre has been assassinated, Walid Jumblatt is miraculously alive but has let go of his anti-Hezbollah stands, and Saad Hariri succeeded his father but lives outside of Lebanon for security reasons. And most importantly, 10 years later, the March 14 coalition is still officially there but its stamina has faded and it is simply not able to rally its political base anymore.

 

Many factors played a role in this unfortunate path, the first being the anti-revolution plan that Hezbollah fiercely implemented from the start. The March 14 coalition had to cope with an armed political party the paramilitary wing of which is more powerful than the Lebanese Army and which has received constant political and financial support from Iran and Syria. Hezbollah’s plan began with the targeted assassination of many March 14 figures. It then went on to provoke a massively destructive war in 2006, militarily invaded west Beirut in 2008, overthrew Hariri’s government in 2011, and used internal sectarian tensions and security threats to tip the political balance in their favor whenever it felt it needed to.

 

And so, after years of big slogans, false promises and undue concessions, March 14 people now look at the quasi-failed state Lebanon has become with indifference and lack of faith. No political event provokes their reaction anymore—political assassinations, parliament mandate extensions, the absence of democratic elections and even a presidential vacuum; it doesn’t seem to matter. This same public, who actually made that March 14 day in 2005 and who voted for the March 14 Alliance during subsequent parliamentary elections, has now retreated from politics and most of them consider the March 14 Alliance to be as unethical and harmful to the country as March 8.

 

One would expect that the March 14 Alliance would today undergo an objective reevaluation of its performance over the last 10 years, and come up with the self-evident conclusion that it could have performed much better despite the tricky and risky context surrounding it. It needed less concessions and more sacrifice; less corruption and more reforms; less opportunism and more coordination; less panic and more planning; less traditionalism and more modernism; less talks and more action; less fake and more real.

 

No matter how much it is criticized by its public and bashed by its opponents, however, the March 14 movement still exists and must exist because it remains the only hope for a better Lebanon. A quick look at the local and regional context today clearly shows how much a pluralistic, liberal, state-driven coalition is essential to counter radical Shiite terrorism on one side, and the radical Sunni terrorism on the other.

 

So on its10th anniversary, March 14 decided to finally launch its National Council along with a new political manifesto, albeit amidst some skepticism from its political base. This Council is supposed to have a national dimension, meet every two to three months, debate and issue recommendations, and act as a “non-binding mentor” for the March 14 coalition.

 

Although the concept of having a National Council is more than positive, it is important to note here that a larger copy of the March 14 General Secretariat format cannot polish March 14’s faded image or get popular endorsement anymore. The new Council has to portray a more contemporary and inclusive image of Lebanon—one in which female activists, young bloggers, and people from remote areas have their place and value in the debate.

 

For the Council to succeed, it will have to rally opinion leaders with a valid background, who are by default not interested in joining static organizations where regular power transfer is absent. Thus, democratic elections within this National Council are necessary to ensure legitimacy and give incentives to people to join them and engage in the political life of the March 14 Alliance.

 

A last point to ponder is, as experience has shown us, that all March 14 parties had to shift from March 14’s original principles along the way—each in its own time, and this is only normal. Since the National Council will only issue recommendations that are non-binding to March 14 political leaders, it might be more suitable for it to be dominated by independents rather than partisans, with the aim of being a guardian of the 2005 March 14 values and aspirations. Let this new National Council become a fresh and vibrant think-tank that will engage new partisans, stir new debates and conceive new solutions for the challenges ahead.

 

Here’s to March 14…

 

Hoping that our next 10 years will be better than the 10 previous ones.

 

 

Sara Assaf is a Lebanese political activist. She tweets @SaraAssaf

A banner that reads "Born to be free" is seen amid a sea of Lebanese flags as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese people pack Martyrs Square in Beirut's downtown 14 March 2005.

No matter how much it is criticized by its public and bashed by its opponents, however, the March 14 movement still exists and must exist because it remains the only hope for a better Lebanon still has."

  • Beiruti

    Nevertheless, March 14 remains vital and essential. All parties need a place to go when they are tired of killing one another. It has to remain as the safe harbor for the State and its institutions, even now when those institutions are in a state of suspended animation. But for March 14, the institutions of state would be dead and buried and who knows what would rise in their place. If the problem is Hezbollah, the solution is Iran. And Iran is not solved without the US. It is therefore incumbent upon the Lebanese Expatriates in the United States to become involved, to make Lebanon an agenda item in the P5+1 talks with Iran over their Nuclear Development Program. If a deal is reached, one of the conditions must be the disbanding of Hezbollah in Lebanon. They can move to Syria or some other Iranian outpost in the Middle East, but Lebanon is special and it should be allowed to resume its national life under its national state institutions. For the US, it is the only hope for something civil in the Middle East, the creation and thriving of a liberal democracy in an Arab state.

    March 14, 2015

  • Beiruti

    As is the case with most moderate movements, whether in Israel, Palestine or in regional Middle Eastern states, there are not enough of them and they are not, like their extremist counterparts, willing to kill members of the other side in order to prevail. They bring their pens to a fight where the extremists bring their AK-47s. As long as your adversary is a brutal extremist willing to use any means to advance their political agenda including assassination, street warfare, starting wars, and the like, you cannot win this contest by such means as the pen. Gebran Tuieni was brilliant as a journalist. He moved a lot of people and was the chronicler of March 14, but he was no match for the bomb that killed him. This is the problem and has always been the problem. March 14 was born and found Hezbollah in the crib with it. How to deal with Hezbollah? Negotiate with it? A waste of time to negotiate with an armed party willing to resort to arms to unilaterally get your way. March 14 should have seen the writing on the wall on May 7, 2008 when push came to shove and Hezbollah used force of arms to win a political argument.

    March 14, 2015

  • RM2015

    ....., there's really no hope for Lebanon at this point. The Christians, in particular, will sooner or later be exterminated, the Sunnis silenced--and Hezbollah will reign supreme.

    March 13, 2015