The March 8 political coalition is named after the pro-Syrian rally held on that date in 2005, organized by Hizbullah and presided over by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s secretary-general. The March 8 rally was the first street rally by pro-Syrian Lebanese following a series of anti-Syrian demonstrations sparked by the assassination on February 14, 2005 of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister.
The March 8 coalition is dominated by Hizbullah and the Amal Movement, headed by parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri. Long-time rivals for the heart of Lebanon’s Shia community, Hizbullah and Amal formed a strategic alliance prior to the May-June 2005 parliamentary elections to ward off anticipated calls for the dismantling of the former’s military wing. Although the Shia of Hizbullah and Amal comprise the majority in the March 8 coalition, there are also Christians, Sunnis and Druze. The main Christian component of March 8 is the Free Patriotic Movement led by General Michel Aoun, a former Lebanese army commander who returned to Lebanon in April 2005 from self-imposed exile in France where he had spent the previous 14 years. Once one of Syria’s staunchest critics, General Aoun found himself alienated by the March 14 coalition upon his return to Lebanon and instead moved closer to pro-Syrian politicians and parties. In February 2006, General Aoun signed a memorandum of understanding with Hizbullah, heralding a political alliance which helped strengthen the March 8 opposition bloc and diminish the impression that it was chiefly Shia in nature.
Other main figures in the March 8 coalition include Omar Karami, a former prime minister from Tripoli, Suleiman Frangieh, a former cabinet minister and heir to a Maronite political dynasty in northern Lebanon, and Talal Arslan, a Druze rival to Walid Jumblatt.