March 14 announce manifesto 10 years on

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March 14 announce manifesto 10 years on
Mar. 13, 2015 /Wassim Mroueh| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: The brutal assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005, has been described as an “earthquake” in Lebanese history, precipitating a number of dramatic developments in the country that have had lasting repercussions. One of its immediate effects materialized exactly four weeks later, when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from different sects and political groups flocked to Downtown Beirut to demand the truth behind the assassination and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. It was the founding gathering of the March 14 coalition. Despite its early achievements, manifested in the Syrian army’s swift withdrawal and majorities in the Parliament and Cabinet, the alliance has since witnessed a series of setbacks.

Ten years after calling on Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the Lebanese Army, the group now sits in the same government with representatives of the still-armed Shiite party. As it celebrates its 10th anniversary Saturday with a conference at BIEL, the group will announce a political manifesto and launch a National Council in an attempt to re-emphasize its multi-sectarian nature amid rising extremism regionally. “In order to return to the international spotlight, the March 14 coalition must go beyond local politics and re-emphasize the Lebanese experience [of coexistence],” said former MP Fares Soueid, general coordinator of the March 14 General Secretariat. “It is a unique experience, as there is no constitution in the world which organizes relations between Muslims, Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Druze and Alawites in one framework [like the Lebanese Constitution],” Soueid said, sitting in his Ashrafieh office, decorated with portraits of March 14 martyrs.

He explained that the Lebanese should present their model of coexistence as an example to the world for resolving crises of intolerance and sectarian violence, “hence the announcement of a political manifesto and the launch of the March 14 National Council.”Soueid said the manifesto would emphasize the unique Lebanese experience of coexistence, which he says has proven resilient to regional turmoil. Comprising approximately 300 party officials and independent March 14 figures, the National Council (NC) will be run by an openly elected body. “No posts will be allocated to specific sects; candidates of any sect may run for any post.” “It will be the senate of March 14 coalition, a framework which brings together leaders of opinion in Lebanon and from the diaspora to contribute to the drafting of March 14 policies.” Lacking any executive authority, the NC will be a consultative body and meet every two or three months to make recommendations.
“Most importantly, it will bring together all these groups, and present an image which matches that of the March 14 cause: [to create a space where] a multi-sectarian group […] can discuss heated topics of national, Arab or international nature, from a [Lebanese] perspective.”

Soueid contends that over the past 10 years, Hezbollah has been able to make Lebanese politically identify along sectarian lines rather than with the state, a concept that March 14 has tried to abolish by promoting a strong state and pushing its multi-sectarian platform. He acknowledged that the bloc’s decision to join the same government as Hezbollah was aimed at “buying time and postponing a problem.”

“Maybe it reflects wisdom but it strays from the convictions of the March 14 coalition.”Attendees of Saturday’s conference will comprise the general assembly of the NC, from which a preparatory committee will be formed and tasked with laying down the body’s bylaws. But according to university professor Sami Nader, the NC won’t be able to make significant changes, as it will lack any decision-making power. “Is it sovereign or is it just cosmetics? [If] it is really only cosmetics, then it is better not to have it,” Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, a Beirut-based think-tank, said. “We don’t want it [to be] makeup or a fig leaf but a true sovereign institution,” he added. Nader said that while the March 14 coalition has argued that the NC would re-emphasize the multi-sectarian nature of their movement, its constituent parties are currently engaged in dialogues of a sectarian nature. “They say one thing and do the opposite. Two parties from the March 14 coalition are currently taking part in sectarian dialogues,” he added, referring to ongoing talks between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, as well as the Future Movement-Hezbollah dialogue.

Nader said that while the Future Movement maintains that its dialogue is aimed at defusing sectarian tensions, this should strictly be a national responsibility. The university professor said that March 14 should focus on regaining “the spirit of March 14: a popular, peaceful and inclusive movement, away from sectarianism.” Nader said that the NC experience could be successful if its goal was to engage with the political base of March 14, which he said is currently disappointed with the bloc.

“They should go and talk to them. They only visit north Lebanon during elections,” Nader said. “Let them fill this National Council with people from [remote] areas and give them power so that their political base can regain its decision-making powers.” Ziad Daherz, an official in the Future Movement Youth Department who took part in the founding March 14 demonstrations, said that it is the “spirit rather than the body” of March 14 that must be preserved.

He said that the circumstances that accompanied the birth of the coalition in 2005 and impacted its activity have changed, pointing to the Arab Spring – particularly the uprising in Syria – and the rise of new forms of extremism. “Lebanon is affected by these developments, particularly given that a Lebanese faction is taking part in Syria’s war,” Daher said, referring to Hezbollah. “We should not establish a National Council in order to recreate an exact image of the group as it was on March 14, 2005. It should come up with new solutions, which take into consideration the changes that have taken place since 2005.”

Daher stressed that the March 14 movement should seek to preserve the role of youth, which he described as a “main pillar” of the group. Ralph Akel, a political activist who also participated in the founding gathering, said the establishment of the NC was a positive step but that its success would be defined by politicians’ ability to listen to their constituents. “Implementation will show how effective it will be … leaders must be receptive to the spirit of the political base, which supports independence and wants to develop the Lebanese system politically and economically.”Akel added that the coalition needs a strategy that focuses on both politics and socio-economic challenges. “We need a strategy which March 14 supporters can hold [politicians] accountable for implementing.”