Lebanon News

How will March 14 approach opposition status?

BEIRUT: The March 14 alliance must adopt a more strategic discourse and carefully observe developments in the region if it is to succeed in its mission as Lebanon’s new opposition, a number of analysts argued this week.

Following a series of extensive meetings in Lebanon and abroad to discuss their strategy as the country’s new opposition, the General Secretariat of the March 14 forces announced Wednesday that it will confront what it dubbed “the government of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah in Lebanon” through “political, popular, democratic and peaceful” means.

The General Secretariat’s Coordinator MP Fares Soueid told The Daily Star that the new March 8-heavy Cabinet was an “unconventional” one that mustn’t be confronted through ordinary means.

For the March 14 alliance, traditional opposition strategies such as forming a shadow government are insufficient.

“We will employ big and effective means to ensure that this government collapses,” Soueid said.

Echoing the General Secretariat, one of the pillars of the March 14 coalition, Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea said the alliance will employ “all democratic means to rid the country of this government.”

But International Crisis Group analyst Sahar Atrache is critical of the recent performance of the March 14 coalition and argued it was far from constituting a strategic approach.

“They are sticking to an old mentality and have yet to take into consideration all the rapid changes happening around them in the region,” Atrache said.

“For example, they failed to exploit the feeling of weakness that the Syrian regime or Hezbollah might be experiencing,” she added.

According to Atrache, the discourse of the anti-Syria alliance is short-sighted and mainly based on personal and narrow interests.

“All the lobbying undertaken to convince the international community to cut ties and aid to the new Cabinet is not clever, and definitely not in the interest of Lebanon,” said the ICG analyst. “After all, it is Lebanon and the Lebanese people who will become even more weakened, rather than the new Cabinet.”

But Soueid disagrees, saying the Lebanese will sooner or later grow restless with the Cabinet, headed by Tripoli MP and telecom tycoon Najib Mikati.

“The people are already under pressure and if they feel that their interests are threatened they will turn against this Cabinet,” he said.

The former Jbeil lawmaker also believes that further lobbying ought to be undertaken on the regional and international scenes to discredit the new Cabinet, announced only last week following almost five months of heated deliberations.

Analysts and Soueid agree that the events in Syria will determine the overall situation in Lebanon and the position of the March 14 grouping in particular.

“The March 14 coalition is awaiting regional developments more than anything else to be able to come up with a concrete strategy for the future,” said Imad Salamey, assistant professor of political science at the Lebanese American University.

He explained that the coalition’s components were closely following up on the situation in Syria. “Let’s be very clear, the coalition is seriously hoping that events in Syria will lead to the weakening of their rivals in Lebanon.”

The March 14 coordinator argued that his grouping was not placing any bets concerning Syria but he also seemed confident that the Syrian government will not survive the wave of popular protests that erupted in mid-March. “We are not placing any bets,” Soueid said, “Everybody is watching and observing.”

Atrache said the March 14 coalition ought to be particularly vigilant about the reaction of Hezbollah should its ally President Bashar Assad is ousted.

“One cannot expect Hezbollah’s reaction in case the regime in Syria collapses, it might decide to tighten its grip over Lebanon even more,” she said. “Whether we like it or not, Syria was playing the role of regulator on the Lebanese scene with regards to Hezbollah,” Atrache added.

According to Soueid, dealing with a possible collapse of Syria’s government and the indictment in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were currently subject to intense debate among the various groups making up the March 14 alliance.

Soueid said raising the public’s awareness about the dangers of a Hezbollah-dominated Cabinet, making use of the media, and organizing popular protests were all legitimate means to counter the new government.

He added that deliberations in Parliament to discuss the government’s policy statement and the issuing of the STL indictment were two events to watch, as these will be the first tests to the performance of the March 14 opposition.

Salamey said the coalition, which was surprised by the formation of a new government, is expected to launch battles on three main fronts.

“The coalition will pursue its calls to disarm Hezbollah, will press for the respect of international resolutions, especially those related to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and will step up their campaign to discredit the Mikati government,” he added.

Salamey said the Cabinet lineup was even more surprising to the March 14 alliance. “They were under the impression that President Michel Sleiman, Mikati and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt would play a more balancing role inside the new Cabinet but they were surprised that all key portfolios fell in the hands of the March 8 coalition,” he added.

According to Salamey, the stance adopted by the president was the most disappointing to March 14. “They see that Sleiman, whose election they had endorsed, did not play a neutral and balanced role.”

Atrache, for her part, said the new opposition would also seek to delegitimize the Sunni component of the new Cabinet by promoting the argument that these were not the true representatives of the Sunni community.

“The Future Movement in particular is very much worried about a new Sunni bloc, made up of Mikati, [Economy and Trade Minister Mohammad] Safadi and [former Prime Minister Omar] Karami, emerging,” she added.

Soueid and Atrache also downplayed claims that Saad Hariri’s stay outside Lebanon would affect the performance of the March 14.

“Such talk is nonsense,” said Soueid, “[Yasser] Arafat led a revolution from his plane.”

According to Atrache, while Hariri is away for security reasons, there were other leaders in the March 14 capable of leading the opposition against the Mikati Cabinet.

“[Former Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora for example was always considered as a decision-maker more than Hariri,” said the analyst.

“Of course, Hariri has to be in Beirut for a more effective performance of his group but him staying away will harm the image of the March 14 more than its performance.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 24, 2011, on page 2.




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