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    March 14’s “No to Arms” Campaign Is Negative Advertising which Doesn’t Reflect a Vision for Lebanon

    March 14’s new ad campaign against Hezbollah’s arms (and its first main message as Lebanon’s new opposition) is all over Beirut’s ubiquitous billboards, and signals March 14’s attempt to draw the dividing line between itself and the new majority, led by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement.

    However, the big لأ (No) on a red background is today an empty signifier, devoid of content – In another era, 3 or 4 years ago it might have had a mobilizing effect, but after 6 years of mostly simplistic empty rhetoric and questionable political tactics, most people (especially non-party members) are exhausted, and new communication methods are required to reach out to them. Just saying no to arms without a proper context and without making linkages between what Hezbollah’s arms represent and how they affect people’s welfare, does not seem to be a successful strategy, especially if they intend to rely on it for the 2013 elections. Of course Hezbollah’s arms make many feel insecure, but the financial insecurity felt by many families is a more immediate concern.

    Today most people have come to accept Hezbollah’s arms, whether they support their existence or not. Hezbollah’s military parades and Nasrallah’s fist-waving on TV are such regular features in our lives, that they don’t engender outrage anymore. And this has been one of the major successes of Hezbollah over the past couple of years; to repeat carefully timed images and words so many times, that they become part of the landscape, internalized by people to an extent that they are not a mobilizing factor against the party anymore.

    So March 14 has to come up with new political capital, and it has to do so quickly. The 2013 elections are just two years away, and with a soon-to-be-formed March 8 government headed by a politically ambitious prime minister and comprised of political parties who most likely intend to use public positions for electoral gain, March 14 needs authentic new language.

    Since the collapse of his government, Saad Hariri has acted mostly like a wounded animal accusing Mikati and others of betrayal, as if the premiership is his inherited right.  If March 14 wants to ride the trend of change and revolution blowing through the region and thus reinvigorate itself politically by reaching out to as many people as possible, it has to take a long hard look at itself. Political maturity and courage has finally come to the Arab people as they revolt against authoritarianism, political inheritance and state corruption; the Arab citizen is being shaped as we speak, free from the chains of subjectivity. Yet in Lebanon most  political parties  are internally undemocratic, as leadership is passed from father to son (to grandson) or to son-in-law, and there is a prevalent patriarchal attitude when it comes to dealing with supporters.  It is these failing political structures within March 14 which are inhibiting it from coming up with anything new – a limited (both in number and talent) circle of decision-makers recycling tired old slogans, imposing their messages on the people, instead of reflecting people’s political and socio-economic concerns  in their messages.  Moreover, the No to Arms campaign is essentially negative advertising; it tells us what March 14 is against, and not what it is for (let’s try to forget the I Love Life campaign), which indicates that it lacks a vision for Lebanon.

    In recent days, March 14 has shown signs of self-evaluation and has signaled its intention to change tactics and decision-making structures, but whether this also indicates a change in political focus beyond Hezbollah’s arms is unclear. There have been extensive comments elsewhere on where March 14 should go from here so I won’t go into them (see for example comments by Democratic Renewal Movement Secretary General Antoine Haddad). If it chooses to take this advice, then it is in tune with the rest of the Arab world. If it ultimately resorts to its old tactics of meaningless rhetoric and the cynical treatment of citizens then its future is uncertain.

    2 responses to “March 14’s “No to Arms” Campaign Is Negative Advertising which Doesn’t Reflect a Vision for Lebanon”

    1. Fouad Hamdan says:

      You are right when it comes to criticizing M14’s ad campaign which reflects a rather outdated and paternalistic mindset. Very refreshing lines, especially because they come from Tajaddod and from withing M14!

      The Arab region is changing because, among other things, its peoples have lost the fear from dictators of all shades and because they want their dignity back. Arabs want to be citizens that are taken seriously by rulers they chose in free and fair elections. Arabs have developed intellectually and politically, their leaders did not because deep inside they are and will never be democrats.

      The mindset of most M14 and M8 leaders is in my opinion non-reformable as they mostly belong to family dynasties and warlords that, along sectarian lines, believe parts of the country and some of its citizens belong to them. Yes, belong.

      I seriously doubt the ability of M14 leaders to come up with a smart strategy on how to disarm Hezbollah peacefully and mobilize people for a cause and vision. Can anyone tell me what is M14`s vision?

      Tajaddod should lead and develop a strategy to end sectarianism and a vision for a Lebanon that deserves a pole position among nations in the 21st century.

      The sectarian system is the root of all our problems. It would be wonderful if Tajaddod Youth plays a leading part in the nascent movement to pull it down.

    2. Doreen_K says:

      Thanks Fouad for your comments! Just one technical note – Tajaddod is no longer part of March 14, it withdrew around the time of the 2009 elections.

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