BEIRUT: Last week’s assassination of top security official Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan has given the opposition March 14 parties a chance to close ranks to face security and political challenges ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, politicians and analysts said Sunday. The scene of thousands of March 14 supporters converging on Martyrs’ Square in Downtown Beirut Sunday to participate in Hasan’s funeral brought back memories of the massive rally in the same area on March 14, 2005, after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“The blood of martyrdom unites. What if the martyr was of the caliber of Wissam al-Hasan?” Beirut MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star.
“The March 14 parties have emerged victorious through the blood of martyr Wissam al-Hasan,” said Houri, a member of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future parliamentary bloc who attended the mass rally to mourn Hasan.
Political analyst Paul Salem concurred that Hasan’s assassination would enhance the March 14 coalition’s political position.
“Definitely, the assassination gives a political boost to the March 14 [coalition], especially since the government is in a difficult position,” Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told The Daily Star, referring to renewed March 14 calls for the government’s resignation following Hasan’s assassination.
“It remains to be seen how March 14 parties will translate it into actual gains,” Salem said.
Hasan, the head of the police’s Information Branch who opposed Syrian President Bashar Assad, was killed along with his driver and a woman in a car bomb that ripped through the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh Friday. Hasan, 47, was close to the Hariri family and played a key role in the probe of Rafik Hariri’s assassination.
The March 14 coalition has blamed Assad for Hasan’s assassination and called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign immediately.
Tewfic Hindi, a Lebanese politician close to the March 14 coalition, said Hasan’s killing will give March 14 parties “momentum to close their ranks in order to confront the major upset in the balance of power and security.”
“Hasan had established a security balance in the country through his discovery of a terror plot to destabilize Lebanon,” Hindi told The Daily Star.
“Hasan’s assassination undermined stability in the country and upset the balance of power as well as the security balance, he said.
Hasan was the brain behind uncovering a recent bomb plot that led to the arrest of former Minister Michel Samaha, a longtime ally of Assad. Samaha and two senior Syrian security officials have been charged by Lebanon’s Military Tribunal in a terror plot aimed at destabilizing Lebanon by planning terrorist attacks with explosives in north Lebanon, including “planning to kill religious and political figures.”
Hindi accused the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and their regional allies, Iran and Syria, of trying to change the current balance of power through Hasan’s assassination.
“The March 14 coalition’s new priority is to face the dangerous situation arising from Hasan’s assassination,” Hindi said. “The assassination has ushered in a new era in Lebanon that requires confrontation.”
He added that the March 14 coalition’s direct demand now is the resignation of Mikati’s Cabinet and the formation of a new government.
“A new government must not include any figures from March 8 or March 14 parties. It should include centrist politicians similar to President Michel Sleiman,” Hindi said.
The call for the government’s resignation rang out during Hasan’s funeral in Downtown Beirut. Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora demanded the immediate resignation of Mikati’s government and the formation of a “neutral salvation Cabinet.”
“No to a government that covers crimes, yes to a neutral salvation government ... A government that protects all Lebanese and shifts them to a new phase,” Siniora said, addressing thousands of mourners outside the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque, where Hasan was laid to rest next to Rafik Hariri’s tomb.
However, despite renewed March 14 calls for the government’s resignation, Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, predicted that Mikati would stay in office because he has regional and international support for his Cabinet.
“Hasan’s assassination will not change the balance power on the ground. Mikati is staying in office because he has a regional and international cover,” Khashan told The Daily Star. “Internationally, Mikati’s resignation is forbidden.”
He referred to the meetings the French and British ambassadors in Beirut held with Sleiman Saturday to warn him of a power vacuum if Mikati’s government resigned.
Khashan disagreed with the argument that Hasan’s assassination will bolster the March 14 political standing.
“During the funeral of Wissam al-Hasan, there was a weak Christian presence. I don’t think Hasan’s assassination will strengthen the March 14 coalition,” he said.
Khashan rejected the theory that the circumstances of Hasan’s assassination were similar to those of the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri. “When Rafik Hariri was assassinated, there was no uprising in Syria,” he said. He added that Hasan’s killing came 20 months after the beginning of the Syrian uprising in Syria.
“Many Christians are having a second thought about their position in the March 14 coalition because many of them do not want Assad to go, except for Samir Geagea,” Khashan said.
He added that the majority of Christians in Lebanon, particularly the influential Maronite Church, fear the ascent of Muslim fundamentalists to power in Syria.
“For the Christians in Lebanon the main question is the fate of Christians in the region and Lebanon,” Khashan said.
He said that the March 14 movement’s major goal in 2005 was to get the Syrian Army out of Lebanon.
“But now 20 months after the outbreak of the uprising in Syria, Lebanon’s Christians are worried over the fate of Christians in the region,” he said.
“Many Christians in the March 14 coalition do not see Hasan’s assassination as a loss for the coalition. They see it as a loss for their future plans,” Khashan added.