Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lebanon: The March 14 Predicament

By Abdullah Iskandar
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 16/02/2011
Lebanon has moved from the stage of seeking a national coalition government whose task would be to absorb the repercussions of the international tribunal’s indictment into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, to that of domestic defiance with all its political, sectarian and maybe even violent facets.

This is due to the fact that the return of the Prime Minister of the caretaker government Saad al-Hariri to the “roots” which constituted what has come to be known as the March 14 forces, is a decision to engage in a comprehensive political confrontation with the March 8 forces and what they represent on the internal arena, especially on the sectarian level, and what they represent in terms of an Iranian and Syrian extension at the level of the region.

But just like there were previous mistakes in the management of the negotiations to benefit from the momentum of having acquired a parliamentary majority – as it was recognized by the March 14 leaders on the sixth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri – the mistake might be repeated. This could be seen either at the level of the assessment of the domestic balance of powers, and consequently the regional balance of powers, or in the estimation of the extent which could be reached by the other team, whether based on a prior decision or a personal initiative.

In other words, the mission of the March 14 team as an opposition in the face of a government formed by the March 8 team, will have to exceed the mere insistence on general commitments and the defamation of those who turned against it. It must feature attempts to introduce amendments to the domestic balance of power that can only be infiltrated in one direction, i.e. that of the new majority. This renders the mission more difficult, if not impossible.

But in addition to the bad assessment, the March 14 forces are going through the tragedy of their inability to wager on the reliance of the constitution. Indeed, they were shackled when they enjoyed a parliamentary majority supposed to provide them with a political cover in the face of what they dub “the coup.” Therefore, nothing guarantees the non-repetition of this situation if they are able to secure a majority in the next elections. Indeed, since 2005, they have experienced the limits of any electoral victory in the face of the balance of power on the ground. In other words, they tested the extent to which they could rely on the constitution which is interpreted and implemented by the victorious side in this balance, despite all what is said about coexistence and concord.

The principles to which the March 14 forces are holding on are not national ones, despite the fact that they are identical – in form – with what the management of public affairs should look like. In Lebanon, the meanings of the constitution, the state and the elections are political, i.e. express a political opinion rather than be the object of national consensus. In this context, the description put forward by former Deputy Muhammad Abdul Hamid Beydoun for “political Shiism” during the sixth anniversary commemoration, confirms the absence of this consensus over the meanings of the constitution and the state. The duplicity which he talked about – knowing he was one of the Amal movement leaders – was not a political tactic, but a reflection of a deep position vis-à-vis the purpose of the constitution and the state.

In this sense, Hezbollah’s arms are no longer ones used to resist Israel – as this purpose if the object of national consensus – and serve a domestic political task. And although there is talk about guaranteeing the non-use of these weapons on the domestic arena, in case they were to be introduced in the context to a national defense strategy under the supervision of the state, this will not lead to the neutralization of these arms, and consequently the containment of the excessive strength enjoyed by “political Shiism,” before agreeing over the national principles.

This would explain the size of Al-Hariri’s frustration following the failure of the S-S initiative, and following the amendment of the balance of parliamentary votes to assign someone else to form the next government. The issue at this level is not related to “honesty and integrity,” as much as it is related to the meaning of comprehensive reconciliation, its sponsorship, its results and the extent to which it can meet the March 8 team’s political needs. This is what was later on confirmed by the nature of the negotiations to form Prime Minister Mikati’s government, in light of the utter rejection to see its program featuring any talk about the international tribunal.

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