Just one week before the fifth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination, some supporters of the March 14 alliance are still deciding whether or not to attend the planned rally to commemorate him.
“Why would I go to a demonstration when that rally is not making any political demand that fits with my beliefs?” said Bashar Haydar, a Philosophy professor at the American University of Beirut. He has attended every March 14 rally since Hariri’s death on February 14, 2005. But this year, like many other secular supporters who backed the movement, he is questioning what exactly the rally and the March 14 alliance stand for.
In the first set of rallies (called the Cedar Revolution) that immediately followed Hariri’s death, the demands were clear: First, that Syrian troops withdraw from Lebanon as part of the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, and second that a court be established to investigate Hariri’s murder. The largest demonstration that spring took place on March 14, giving the movement its name.
In the years following 2005, the demands were still on the table. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon to investigate the assassination wasn’t established until March 29, 2006. Thus, demonstrators in February of that year still had a platform. In 2007 and 2008, the annual rallies were opportunities to oppose the opposition sit-in in downtown Beirut that paralyzed the government until May 7, 2008. And in 2009, the February rally was important for the upcoming government elections in June of last year.
Now, in February 2010, March 14 supporters are unclear of what exactly the political platform is. “I see there is no political demand, no political message except to show popularity,” Haydar said, highlighting that the rally is about more than just commemorating Hariri.
This lack of clarity is perhaps most evident in recent statements made by Marada Movement leader Sleiman Franjieh, Speaker Nabih Berri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt encouraging all Lebanese to participate in the rally in a symbol of unification.
“It is very important that the rally doesn’t have the same national-unity style of government,” writer and journalist Youssef Bazzi said. “It should be an occasion to push March 14 leaders to be, in language and behavior, in line with the principles of the Cedar Revolution.”
“I don’t think March 14 can afford to have March 8 groups attend,” Haydar said.
Jumblatt’s recent reconciliation with Hezbollah, which has placed him in a politically grey area between March 8 and March 14, leaves many wondering whether or not he will attend. It also leaves the door open for attendance of Progressive Socialist Party members.
“As PSP, we are outside the coalition,” said Rayyan Al-Achkar, general secretary of the Progressive Youth Organization. “That’s why we will not attend officially and we will not have a speech on February 14. But people, our PSP members, if they want to go, it’s up to them. We don’t want to oblige anyone to stay home.”
Attendance of non-March 14 leaders is not the only issue. “The movement is already diluted by [PM Saad Hariri’s recent] visit to Syria, and through the reconciliation with Hezbollah, the unity government, “Haydar said. “All these things diluted the meaning of such gatherings.”
March 14 supporters like Haydar began witnessing what some people who spoke with NOW called a “weakening” of the movement following the parliamentary elections in 2009, when March 14 leaders accepted the formation of the national-unity government. While some supporters understand that March 14 didn’t have a choice in accepting this, others blame the movement’s leaders for the way they dealt with the issue.
“I blame them for the lack of honesty and transparency in behavior and language,” Bazzi said. “This lack of transparency confused the audience of March 14.”
Another matter confusing the movement’s audience is the issue of Hezbollah’s arms. “They do not have a strong position against the arms of Hezbollah,” said one Beirut resident and supporter, who chose to remain anonymous due to the political nature of this article.
But while some secular supporters who spoke with NOW are disillusioned by the recent actions taken by March 14, they aren’t yet certain that they won’t attend. “I’m very disappointed, but I think it’s important to attend the rally just to express a position against the opposition, and also to support the fact that the movement was created in 2005,” the Beirut resident said.
Haydar agrees, but also presents a different view. “It’s not a crucial moment,” he said, adding that there is no danger for the movement in him not attending the rally because with no current confrontation between March 8 and March 14, a smaller demonstration will not make a difference. “I can afford to show where I stand,” he said.