Lebanon: The Revolution Comes to March 14

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During the seventh anniversary celebration of the “March 14 Revolution” in Biel, last month. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Nader Fawz

Published Sunday, April 1, 2012

After a scandalous seventh anniversary celebration of the “March 14 Revolution,” the once ruling majority is trying to put its internal house in order.

Successive scandals have served to expose these parties in terms of their following, influence, and capacity to wage political battles. This has prompted their leaders to pause and ponder the cause of their constantly declining fortunes. The leadership – meaning the Future Movement, Lebanese Forces (LF), and the Phalange party – considered the coalition’s condition, and came to a conclusion: “change is needed.”

This change was set in motion on Wednesday at the weekly meeting of the March 14 general secretariat. MPs Marwan Hamadeh and Dory Chamoun, and former MP Elias Atallah were tasked with “carrying out all the necessary contacts, within and outside the March 14 forces, in order to put into effect the mechanisms necessary for reform within March 14.” These mechanisms were agreed to in 2010, but were put “on hold.”

It’s serious, then. The Cedar Revolution has mechanisms for “reform” and aspirations for “change.” But what implanted this idea in the leading organizational and political minds of March 14? The answer is clear: the BIEL scandals.

In this regard, one could go back to March 12 and 13.

The hours preceding the commemoration of the seventh anniversary of the “revolution” were disastrous for the coalition, or at least for the event’s organizers. A row broke out between the Democratic Left and its allies, specifically with the March 14 secretariat, ostensibly over the political paper that was set to be presented at the rally. Insiders attribute the quarrel to the discovery by Atallah that the secretariat’s coordinator, former MP Fares Said, had been excluding him from political meetings held at Beit al-Wasat.

The March 14 leadership troika tried to find an accommodation, but failed. This was partly due to the fact that the leadership of the Democratic Left has changed and is now in the hands of a younger generation. It was also partly due to personal reasons related to Atallah.

This crisis did not prevent the anniversary commemoration from going ahead, though it left its mark on the mood of those who attended. But what really spoiled things for the March 14 leadership, regular visitors to the secretariat say, was the BIEL event itself. The political message sent out by the rally was weak – a rehash of the Future Movement political document, with a lowered political ceiling. The TV cameras present showed empty chairs being removed from the venue to make attendance not appear as low as it was and reactions to the speakers representing “civil society” were more negative than the organizers could have imagined.

The effect was quickly felt within March 14. A heated discussion erupted among opposition supporters about whether the event should be assessed as a success, failure, or miserable failure.

This debate extended beyond the confines of Beirut and reached the home of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris. Within hours of the event concluding, the climate there became incendiary. Hariri’s advisors found something to occupy themselves with other than twittering, the health of the ex-premier’s broken leg, and maneuvering for position in his corporate restructuring plan. They spent hours in earnest deliberation among themselves and decided that what is happening is “unhealthy and an end must be put to it,” according to sources privy to the discussions.

More than one week after Hariri’s team began its appraisal, the advisors issued their recommendations. Hariri discussed these with his main allies via his agent in Beirut, the head of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, Fouad Siniora. He encountered no objections from LF leader Samir Geagea, sources say, but rather encouragement. The Phalange party, for its part, deemed the opportunity for a serious discussion with its allies about the organizational state of March 14 as essential. The Phalangists, principally Sami Gemayel and his entourage, stated their views on the way the secretariat is run, and explained why they have been boycotting it since withdrawing from its meetings in 2010.

Amid this climate, the sources add, Hariri took it upon himself to pin responsibility for the BIEL fiasco on Said. He called him last week and castigated his performance in running the March 14 secretariat. He blamed him, among other things, for alienating the Democratic Left movement, and for the failure of the BIEL event. Hariri said this was due to both the choice of speakers, and the poor mobilization for a rally that was designed primarily to target March 14’s “civil society” supporters, i.e. the constituency which the secretariat and its coordinator are supposed to be in charge of engaging in.

Hariri concluded his call by declaring that there would be change at the secretariat, and that shortcomings in the performance of its job would no longer be tolerated. Informed sources say Said left Beirut for his home village, Qurtba, where he spent several days “reflecting on and considering” the situation.

Meanwhile, former MP Samir Franjieh was sent an invitation at the end of last week to go to Paris for an exchange of views with Hariri. He returned to Beirut on Monday after agreeing with him on the outlines of a plan for reorganizing the opposition coalition. This was approved at hastily-arranged meetings in Maarab, Bikfaya, and Sadat Tower (where the offices of Geagea, Gemayel, and Siniora are respectively) before being put to Wednesday’s weekly meeting of the secretariat.

Said denies having had the telephone conversation with Hariri, although Future Movement officials confirm it took place. Said accompanied his denial with an affirmation of his optimism about the reform process that is being launched, and jokingly added: “If you publish the story, I’ll sue you.”

Said speaks with confidence about what the March 14 camp needs to do to keep pace with the Arab Spring and the Arab people’s “march of freedom.” Nevertheless, there are concerns within its ranks that the restructuring of the secretariat is being managed by its three big constituent parties – the Future Movement, the LF, and the Phalange.

The secretariat is supposed to be its own master, representing both party-members and independent supporters of March 14. Its old/new self-image is that of a national council, a forum “for the engagement that is necessary between civil society and the political leadership of March 14, in which the non-partisan sectors of March 14 are involved in decisions and recommendations.” In other words, the big parties are themselves managing the process by which they are supposedly to share decision-making with independent figures who have no representative status or electoral clout.

Ideas have been exchanged between Sadat Tower, Maarab, and Bikfaya. The opposition “national council” that is taking shape seems set to be one in which any of the coalition’s components will be able to express whatever thoughts or views it wants, but at the same time its views will have little impact.

This move by the three parties is linked by some to the approaching parliamentary elections. They feel a need for a unified and coherent collective voice with which to assert their presence to voters and wage electoral battles.

As for the secretariat trio – Hamadeh, Chamoun, and Atallah – it will be for them to decide what mechanisms were agreed to in 2010 and get the partners to discuss them again. In addition, they must arrange discussions with syndicates and professional bodies, plus intellectual and journalistic circles, in order to hear what they want and think of this new structure.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Neither Mar8 or mar 14 matter. Only march 10 (khameneis birthday)matters

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