BEIRUT: Activists called on March 14 coalition politicians Sunday to unite and build a civil state, during the annual commemoration of the coalition’s founding at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center.
The event held in Beirut, where activists, rather than political figures, took center stage, revealed sharp differences in opinion between key March 14 leaders on how to reform the country’s electoral law.
Thanking the youth for their participation during the 2005 protests that led to the movement’s founding, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora vowed to work toward achieving what he called “true independence” and instilling the values promised when the movement began eight years ago.
“After I listened to the speeches of the March 14 youth, I am confident that the March 14 movement will carry on with all of you until we reach true independence,” Siniora told the activists and an audience of 1,000 supporters at the BIEL center.
“We are holding on to the values of March 14 and we are holding on to defend freedom, independence and moderation,” Siniora, head of the Future Movement said in his closing speech.
“These are the values we believe in, with these young men and women, and we will hold onto them until we achieve the freedom we seek,” the former prime minister added.
Siniora was one of the few leaders who attended the conference amid tight security measures. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri did not attend the commemoration for security reasons.
Instead, the coalition aired recorded parts of past speeches made by Hariri, Geagea and Gemayel, provoking applause from the anxious audience, who did not know what to expect since the three took opposing stances for a new electoral law to govern the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Although political slogans and flags were not allowed at the event, a woman and her maid outside BIEL center carried a banner calling on Geagea and Hariri to overcome their recent spat over the electoral law.
“May God unite you and not divide you, Amen,” their banner read.
“This is unacceptable, to see them in dispute. It weakens us in the face of March 8,” the woman, who identified herself as Azar, told The Daily Star.
Geagea’s endorsement of the controversial Orthodox Gathering proposal pitted many in the coalition, and Hariri, against the LF and the Kataeb.
Azar, a supporter of March 14 and the LF, also held a picture of Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir when she arrived to the BIEL center.
“Security here asked me to put Assir’s picture away, but I don’t understand why. What bad things has he done to deserve their dislike?” she said.
Despite differences within the coalition, the opposition brought together dozens of activists to mark the eighth anniversary of the coalition’s founding and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
The event itself was entitled “March 14 is more than a memory, it’s an idea.”
Many of the 14 activists who spoke at the event said that the coalition’s leaders should be held accountable for their actions and criticized whenever necessary.
“We should no longer be silent when leaders take different stances every other day,” said Magalie al-Hajj, an activist from the northern city of Jbeil.
“If the leaders want to join us they are welcome, if not, we will continue our struggle toward building a strong civil state,” Hajj said. “March 14 needs change and the whole situation in Lebanon needs a change.”
The commemoration, which went on for two hours, was also attended by a large number of religious dignitaries and politicians, irritating several March 14 officials and prompting them to leave the event before it began.
Bsharreh MP Strida Geagea and Joyce Gemayel represented absent LF and Kataeb leaders respectively at the event that was organized by March 14’s Secretariat-General.
During the event activists slammed the record of the March 8-led government in the past two years.
Standing between two giant posters depicting Martyrs’ Square swarming with thousands of protesters holding Lebanese flags, the activists said that they would remain committed to the movement’s principles of coexistence among Muslims and Christians and the establishment of a civil state to weaken the political domination of sectarianism in the country.
Activist Elie Fawaz took on the subject of Hezbollah’s arms and reiterated the coalition’s call for transferring the weapons to the Lebanese Army.
“It is difficult for Hezbollah to hand over its arms, but it is not impossible,” Fawaz said.
“It is also difficult to build a civil state, but it is not impossible,” he added.
Carol Maalouf, a journalist and a university lecturer said that March 14 would stand against attempts to keep the Lebanese isolated in their sects.
“When I was in my conservative Christian school, I was only familiar with Muslim names from television shows, but in 2005 when I went to the Martyrs’ Square I met and built a lifetime’s worth of relationships with Muslims and Druze,” Maalouf said.
“The Syrian regime has always tried to keep Lebanese sects in fear of each other, but we broke that fear in 2005 and we cannot go back,” she said.
Activist George Droubi, for his part, said the March 14 coalition had united the Lebanese and devoted itself to a civil state to resolve the country’s confessional political system.
“March 14 diagnosed the major disease in Lebanon, which is sectarianism and it has also found the cure, which is the civil state,” said Droubi.
“Independence and freedom can only be genuine if we get rid of the demons in ourselves, if we free ourselves from the sectarian shackles that divide us,” Droubi said.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Independence Movement leader Michel Mouawad admitted that the coalition was experiencing a crisis, but said that the March 14 coalition would overcome its past mistakes because it was united in its goals.
“Some mistakes in managing our goals have led to problems but the March 14 is doing just fine,” Mouawad said.