Year in Review: The Highs and Lows of Lebanon’s March 14

March 14 made many uncalculated moves without realizing that the hands that it played, whether in politics or with the public opinion (Photo: Marwan Bou Haidar)

By: Maysam Rizk

Published Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The March 14 alliance has had an extraordinary appetite for defeat in 2012. Since its exit from power, it went on a losing streak that quickly became routine. From a financial crisis to the alliance’s divisions over Syria, the missteps of March 14 are not in short supply.

Those who are fond of power – and power alone – must find it difficult to be in the opposition. While March 14 ostensibly played opposition politics within the confines of the law and the democratic process, it all the same focused its efforts on returning to what it believes is its rightful place in power.

Along its journey to reclaim power, March 14 made many uncalculated moves without realizing that the hands that it played, whether in politics or with the public opinion, would not be winning ones.

By the admission of several March 14 MPs and political figures, the alliance has received in 2012 some of its harshest blows since its inception in 2005, after its most important politician, former prime minister Saad Hariri, left the government headquarters – and the country – altogether.

The Numbers on the Street

March 14 has for too long bragged about so-called “million-strong” demonstrations that it held in the past, but this year’s measly numbers speak for themselves. From the alleged millions to a few thousand or less, the popular clout that the “Cedar Revolutionaries” have long boasted has shrunk deeply.

Figures in the opposition have acknowledged that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has performed admirably in office, forcing many international actors to recognize his government despite the attempts by the opposition to portray it as being subservient to Hezbollah and Iran.

March 14 has realized that it has made many mistakes that cannot be mended at this stage. One of the most salient reasons that propelled this political alliance towards blundering in this fashion, lies in its debilitating financial crisis. For one thing, this meant that the movement could no longer supply its political pawns and allies with the financial equivalent of “performance enhancers.”

The leader of the Future Movement became preoccupied in his exile with the affairs of his inheritance, and his camp fell into a vicious cycle of internal crises. The stench of differences reeked from the March 14 camp, which calibrated all its moves to the pace of the conflict in Syria.

Impact of the Assassination of Wissam al-Hassan

Ironically, the assassinations and assassination attempts against figures in the opposition provided the group opportunities to regroup and regain some lost sympathy. This started with the attempt on the life of Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces, then with the attempt against MP Boutros Harb, until the unthinkable happened, when top security figure Maj. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, was assassinated.

After Hassan’s assassination, March 14 thought that it had regained control and its ability to direct strikes as it pleased. But the reality was quite different, and the assassination of Hassan soon proved to be a fatal blow that took the political alliance out of the game.

The attempt to exploit Hassan’s assassination as a shortcut to returning to power also proved to be March 14’s biggest blunder yet. The reckless bid to storm the Grand Serail, or government headquarters, quickly squandered all solidarity that the Future Movement had managed to win.
Instead of seeking to rectify its mistakes, the March 14 camp unleashed armed militants affiliated with the Future Movement in several areas of Beirut. This cost the movement a lot of political capital, and alarm bells sounded among its allies.

At the time, many prominent figures in March 14 acknowledged the events’ negative impact on the image of the peaceful uprising that followed the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The context of both internal and external events left the opposition with only one option: to pursue a “boycott” of any dialogue with the government and parliamentary committee sessions.

Despite the inflexibility shown by the opposition in pursuing the boycott, many MPs admit that this decision was made “out of spite.”

Salafis and March 14

It seems that there is a political curse afflicting the March 14 alliance. To be sure, the emergence of extremist leaders such as Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir in Saida and the militant groups in Tripoli has embarrassed the opposition, which is otherwise keen on maintaining an image of moderation.

In the end, the constituents of March 14 saw no way out of this embarrassment other than to defend those extremists while pinning the blame on the faction in power.

Some members of March 14 then turned their gazes to Syria. Here, the alliance was split into two camps, one that supports the Syrian revolution politically, with speeches and statements; and the other that has become engaged in the “jihadi” game. The Future Movement’s involvement in Syria is no longer a secret, as it has been disclosed by Saad Hariri himself, who said that what he has undertaken “a humanitarian duty towards the Syrian people.”

However, Hariri’s involvement in Syria was not welcome news to many of his allies, who insist on the importance of adopting a neutral stance. Hariri’s involvement, through one of his most important deputies, MP Okab Sakr, in arming Syrian opposition groups is perhaps one of the biggest losses suffered by the March 14 alliance.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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