Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lebanon: After March 13

By Walid Choucair
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 11/03/2011
There is much to say when comparing the political movement being witnessed in Lebanon in recent days to what is being called the Arab Spring, symbolized by the revolt of youth and entire peoples in a number of Arab states. These uprisings have expressed the decades of pent-up oppression, injustice and corruption in regimes characterized by dictatorship or one-party rule.

The new majority in Lebanon believes that the fall of Presidents Husni Mubarak and Zein al-Abidine bin Ali, and the impending fall of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi in Libya, is a victory for the policy of resistance in confronting the United States and Israel, an enhancing of its alliance with Iran and Syria, and a victory for its rivals in the March 14 movement. However, March 14 believes that this huge change supports its policies and general orientations, because it has raised the banner of confronting oppression, injustice and assassination, based on the slogans it is putting forward on the occasion of its call for a mass rally on Sunday, in the heart of Beirut.

Each side can exploit the massive changes underway in the Arab world to its own ends, in Lebanese fashion, benefiting from the vagueness when it comes to the overlapping goals and slogans, and their interconnection with regional interests enjoying influence in Lebanon, as an arena for various struggles. However, it is certain that these changes do not help the March 8 camp, and its Syrian and Iranian backers, because they have allowed the March 14 forces to return to focusing attention on what they have endured in the way of pressure from “the force of weapons,” and the regional backing for these weapons. These weapons led to the majority’s loss of MPs who switched to the other side, under the pressure of the possibility that weapons by Hezbollah would be used, whether under the pretext of confronting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon or another excuse. In addition, Hezbollah’s new allies in the new parliamentary majority, from Prime Minister-designate Najib Miqati to the head of the National Struggle Front bloc, Walid Jumblatt, do not hide the reasons for why they switched camps. They said that they had spared the country “huge civil strife” or a “civil war,” and allowed Lebanon to avoid a “big explosion.” This was an additional pretext for the new minority (March 14) to engage in pointing out the similarities between weapons and regional forces that back them, and the oppressive regimes that are seeing revolts against them in the Arab world. Is it enough for Hezbollah to adopt a policy of ignoring the campaign against its use of weapons to prevent any debate over the real reasons for the domestic changes in Lebanon, to avoid being accused of following a policy of oppression?

Hezbollah, and along with it Syria and Iran, dispatched the settlement that was being prepared by Saudi Arabia and Syria. This agreement would have seen a comprehensive national reconciliation conference for the Lebanese parties, with Arab sponsorship, to cover the entire past. What is the alternative to this reconciliation and settlement, other than bringing down Saad Hariri’s government and seeing Miqati take over? What is the program of the new majority, which we can assume will take power, other than ending Lebanon’s official cooperation with the STL? Can the program of any government be restricted to the STL? How will this presumed political program deal with the repercussions of such a stance on Lebanon’s foreign relations, and how this impacts the economy? Is it enough for the new majority (which has both old and new elements) to compensate for the lack of a cohesive program by preparing to take scattered steps and civil service appointments, and rely on Syrian and Iranian support? Or will all of this render its determination to hold on to power more difficult, and see March 8 resort to the force of weapons to confront this situation?

To the degree that the majority lacks a program, the question can also be posed to the new opposition minority. The political document that was issued on Thursday puts forward general items that exhibit some deficiencies.

March 14 will succeed on Sunday in gathering the masses and regaining a popular spark after having been liberated from the constraints of being in power, which will make it more difficult for its rivals to rule and increase the possibility of weakening and cornering Miqati. However, March 14 also faces the challenge of putting forward a clear program for its slogans. It must prepare for a long-term situation of being in the opposition, until the parliamentary elections of 2013, or succeed in bringing down the government before then. This does not relieve it, after this date, of its responsibility to mobilize its public and address the other camp, by proposing practical steps on ways on various issues: how to end the force of arms on the domestic scene and their influence on political life; how to guarantee the use of these weapons to confront Israel; how to absorb these weapons into frameworks that allow them to be used in affirming the role of the state in this confrontation. These steps must also cover March 14’s vision for using these arms in the context of the Arab-Israeli struggle.

In its new role as an opposition, March 14 cannot dispense with a program that deals with sensitive matters like the parliamentary election law, Lebanese-Syrian relations, completing the implementation of the Taif Accord, ending political sectarianism, rebuilding the state bureaucracy, which is experiencing crisis, fighting corruption, etc.

After the March 13 rally on Sunday, the March 14 camp is being asked to say what will prompt its public to say “yes,” before moving on to “no”s to this or that item.

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