March 14’s Only Meaningful Statement
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Commenting on the recent clashes in Saida, Secretary General of the Future Movement Ahmad al-Hariri said, “The battle with these people – with the Syria-Iran axis – will be settled in Syria, not Lebanon. The battle will be settled in Syria because Hezbollah will not be humbled until matters in Syria run their course.”
This may be the only meaningful statement that he and the March 14 Alliance have ever made since 15 March 2011, the day the Syrian crisis began.
In clear language, Ahmad Hariri expressed the true stance of his faction’s leaders. Here is its essence: We, March 14, have no choice but to wait for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad in Syria in order to ensure that we can defeat Hezbollah in Beirut.
Hariri has admitted, on behalf of the collective thinking of his group, to the fact that his camp is powerless to do anything about what it sees as the “Hezbollah problem.” This betrays not just March 14’s inability to take action on its own, but its ruling subservient logic that necessitates reliance on foreign backing to pursue its goals.
March 14 has never stopped clutching to its “savior” foreign powers. In truth, Hariri’s position may help explain March 14’s decision to boycott the government and the national dialogue, and to refuse to take part in any initiatives until Assad is toppled in Syria.
Furthermore, March 14’s wagers are not bound by any particular timeframe. For one thing, there is nothing this faction can do other than to wait. This is what Hariri explicitly stated in his advice to Lebanese Salafi cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir and his followers.
The dispute between Hariri’s group and Assir is not over Hezbollah or its arms as much as it is about the methods of confronting the Resistance movement. Relations between the two sides have turned sour because Assir believes he can fulfill this task regardless of the outcome of the Syrian conflict.
Here, the Salafi cleric is saying things that the Hariri family and other factions in March 14 do not like to hear, namely that they are not qualified to lead, and that they prefer to rely on foreign support instead of Lebanese public opinion to achieve their goal of confronting Hezbollah.
Although Assir is aware of this – and the fact that the Future Movement and al-Jamaa al-Islamiya constantly seek to undermine him – he prefers to snipe at Hezbollah instead.
Just as March 14 has been in agreement with the Salafi leader and his supporters over the goal of overthrowing the regime in Syria, the two sides now share the same views on another issue related to the bid to create new facts on the ground in Lebanon.
Assir has decided unilaterally that all displays by Hezbollah and its allies, such as banners and signs, are provocative, and must therefore be removed. To this end, Assir has benefitted greatly from the climate that accompanied his activities over the past few months.
Nevertheless, he seems to believe that current circumstances allow him to make a move, which is why he started a new battle, of which the first spark were Sunday’s incidents in Saida.
The Salafi cleric does not want to sit waiting in Lebanon until Assad falls, because he is convinced that Hezbollah is complicit with Assad, and must therefore be fought just like Assad. In fact, this is the crux of the whole matter.
Future Movement leaders abroad have a different assessment of the Lebanese political landscape. The West believes that any full-scale escalation would allow Hezbollah to seize control of the country and produce new dynamics from which Assad could benefit.
Meanwhile, Arab Gulf states hold the view that a major deterioration in Lebanon would turn a large part of the country into an operations base for supporters of the armed opposition in Syria.
Between these two ideas, the Lebanese government is in a state of unprecedented weakness, making it difficult to reconcile actual capabilities with desires. But will the Future Movement attempt to calm things down?
No, God forbid. At the very least, its leaders want to keep the street on a razor’s edge. They believe that deliberately fueling tension can mobilize the street to be ready for any fallout that would follow Assad’s fall.
The Salafi cleric does not accept subservience to March 14, a faction he believes does not deserve to lead. For this reason, Assir interprets his popularity among Future Movement supporters to be a form of protest against the latter’s leadership. Assir believes himself to be a partner in decision-making, rather than a mere enforcer of higher decisions.
The most important element in this whole debacle is the fact that the faction that is on the other side of the divide – Hezbollah – is unwilling to play these kind of games. Indeed, this fight is not a priority for the Resistance movement. Sadly, the incidents in the neighborhood of Taamir can happen again, with innocent casualties from every side.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.