02/15/2010, 00.00
LEBANON

Commemorating Rafik Hariri’s death, demanding answers from March 14 leaders

by Fady Noun
More than 100,000 people gather to commemorate the death of former PM Hariri. Speaking to the crowds, leaders reiterate in measured tones the alliance’s goals. However, banners appear, asking, “What have you with my vote?”
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Each year since 2006, the ‘March 14 alliance’ commemorates the terrorist that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This way, it can assert its presence in a show of force designed to counterbalance the huge power Hizbollah and its armed militias wield in Lebanese politics.

This was achieved as more than 100,000 demonstrations gathered in Martyrs Square. However, the success of the rally did not stop many in the alliance from feeling letdown, disappointed by the impression that their recent electoral victory was snatched away by the imposition of a national unity government at the Doha summit, which gave Hizbollah and its Christian ally, General Michel Aoun, the power to impose their will.

Likewise, the large crowds that came to the rally could not hide the absence of some political leaders, most notably those of the Druze community.

Indeed, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt is playing the neutrality card. Even as he grooms his son Taymour to succeed him, he is jockeying for positions, trying to re-establish ties with Syria “for reasons that are internal to the community”, whilst remaining loyal to Saad Hariri as he was to his slain father. In fact, Jumblatt did visit Rafik Hariri’s tomb to pay his respect but did not attend the public rally that commemorated the attack in which the former prime minister was killed.

The rally saw nevertheless, four of Lebanon’s major leaders address the crowds, namely former President Amin Gemayel, former Prime Minister and Future Party leader Fuad Siniora, Lebanese Forces (Kataeb) leader Samir Geagea, and Saad Hariri himself.

In all four’s speeches, realism and continuity prevailed in both content and tone. Having accepted a national unity government, Hariri and his allies could not do otherwise, but stick to their decision. At the same time, they had to reassert their own fundamental options. In the end, they took a measured approach, reiterating their “Lebanon first” orientation, as Saad Hariri put it repeatedly.

Hariri signalled his support for the new regional balance, which is marked by a rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia. However, the latter is pursuing a (dangerous) strategy designed to separate Syria from Iran. Yet, Tehran’s influence in Lebanon is best exemplified by the current national unity government.

For the alliance, Hizbollah’s weapons remain a thorny issue, but it is no longer demanding its total disarmament; instead, it wants to see them placed under Lebanese, not Islamist command.

As for Hizbollah, it continues to align itself to the current Iranian regime as the public statements by its leaders on regional issues indicate.

Invariably, Syria remains the other major factor in Lebanon’s political life. The Syrian regime continues to interfere in its neighbour’s domestic politics through local proxies, clearly bent on swaying which ways it goes.

But will ‘March 14 alliance’ supporters continue to support the movement’s leaders? When the attack took place in 2005, they had spontaneously taken to the streets in a mass demonstration. Today they still claim ownership to movement. But are they still willing to follow? Nothing is less sure.

Some of the banners seen at yesterday’s ceremony read: “What have you done with my vote?” The message was loud and clear and was meant for the alliance, not the opposition. It is a clarion call for the March 14 leaders to explain themselves, to say what they have done to the Cedar Revolution.

The Syrian army might have left Lebanon, Beirut and Damascus might have established formal diplomatic relations, a new parliament might be in place, but many people are still waiting for Lebanon’s institutions to work from within and not play to the tune of outside forces.

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