BEIRUT: Supporters of the March 14 alliance who gathered Tuesday at an exhibition hall in Beirut to mark the assassination of slain statesman Rafik Hariri were as enthusiastic as the coalition’s officials about the prospects of change in neighboring Syria. “We are now one party,” said Saad Chatila, 52, about the Syrian opposition and March 14 as he left the rally at BIEL marking seven years since the assassination of Hariri.
Orchestral music played behind video clips of Rafik Hariri before his assassination. The crowd grew silent as shots from the site of the 2005 explosion were played across the screen. Cheers broke out as the scene turned to the beginnings of the popular rallies that united the country after Hariri’s death and chants met the images of the political rise of Rafik’s son, Saad.
But this year there was a new addition to the coalition’s autobiography: footage of the uprisings in Syria, which began 11 months ago. When shots of protesters waving the Syrian opposition flag hit the giant screens, the crowd of several thousand hit a fever pitch of clapping, cheering and chanting.
Charting a new course for the coalition, the rally’s commemoration of the dead shared the spotlight with a policy of support for the Syrian opposition, who are demanding an end to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule.
The exhibition center was adorned with March 14’s traditional signage. Massive fists gripping olive branches bracketed two jumbo screens and a Lebanese flag in the front of the room.
An adjacent wall featured a compilation of the faces of politicians and journalists who were assassinated as Syria tried to maintain control of the country.
Speaking under the massive banners and introduced with music, the coalition’s leaders like Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amine Gemayel drew deafening cheers whenever the terms independence and unity were uttered.
Speakers also wished the Syrian people would enjoy independence and freedom sometime in the near future, sparking applause from the audience.
“We are behind them you know; it’s our right to support them and our obligation,” said March 14 supporter John Chamoun, 56. “The aims [of the two movements] are the same.”
Some party supporters have blamed March 14’s own missteps for limited political gains, while others say that despite the end of the occupation, Syria still just has too much influence in the nation to make any change.
Chants for the protesters continually punctuated the proceedings and the crowd sang for Syrian revolution “ ... whether you like it or not, Assad.”
March 14 leaders forecast the end of the Assad regime, pledging their support for protesters as chants continued to resonate in the hall.
The rally was a message for the Syrian people, said Rafik Awkal, a 19-year-old student at the American University of Beirut facultyof Science and Technology.
“They [March 14 and the uprising] are strongly tied together against Assad,” he said.