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    The February 14 Rally is Not Enough

    There is no doubt that this year’s commemoration of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination will be different; it is the last occasion for the Lebanese to embrace what is left of the dream to be independent, sovereign and free. The leaders of the March 14 movement need to step up, outline their objectives and state them clearly to the public.

    True, over the past five years the movement has achieved some of its goals, but it left many promises unfulfilled and missed many chances. For one, the June elections. After years of political assassinations, paralysis of state institutions and internal hostility, the parliamentary elections were a chance for March 14 supporters to sound a rallying cry. But after the alliance’s candidates won the majority in parliament, a national unity government was formed against its supporters’ will.

    Now, five years after the Cedar Revolution, Syria and Iran’s proxies in Lebanon still dominate the nation’s political decisions under the threat of deploying their troops and using their arms.

    So when March 14’s political leaders head to Martyr’s Square this Sunday and repeat the same slogans they’ve said for the past five years, their supporters may not be listening. After years of feeling let down, they need something else.

    A large crowd showing up in Martyr’s Square on Sunday is definitely an important factor in restoring the spirit of the Cedar Revolution and boosting morale, especially after it has been repeated that the March 14 movement has fallen apart. But a big crowd is not enough.

    The gap between March 14’s leadership and its audience has broadened, and the channels of communication between the two have shrunk drastically. The movement’s supporters were mobilized, and they gathered and voted. They put their political hopes above their everyday needs, and they did it wholeheartedly. They agreed to make sacrifices for true independence and proved, when they continued to turn out to vote for March 14 in the student and syndicate elections, that the spirit of the movement did not really die. They have kept March 14 popular, despite their severe disillusionment.

    But the movement’s leaders made too many compromises and they’ve now found themselves saddled with the recent Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, PSP leader Walid Jumblatt’s volte face and a national unity government that does not reflect their victory in the elections.

    Today, all that is left for the alliance are the Special Tribunal and the march on February 14. The tribunal is in the international community’s hands, and the rally is more of a psychological and emotional expression than an opportunity to voice a collective demand.

    To make the best of this awkward position, March 14’s leadership should consider a different strategy, one that instead of further alienating their supporters will bring them closer to the spirit of the movement. To keep the flame burning, March 14 leaders should use the February 14 rally as an opportunity to underline not only the achievements they have made, but also to reaffirm their goals.

    Some goals are more realistic than others. We all understand that the problem of Hezbollah’s arms cannot be resolved internally, at least not now. But what about the Palestinian arms outside the refugee camps? Everyone agreed on that point during the national dialogue. What about border demarcation, the Lebanese political detainees in Syrian prisons and the international resolutions? These are all pressing issues that need to be addressed in a transparent, organized and committed manner.

    After all the setbacks, the March 14 leadership must also admit to the mistakes it’s made and try to engage those it has been largely ignoring, namely the Lebanese Shia, independent citizens and civil society.

    The alliance’s leaders should use their speeches to create a kind of alternative ministerial statement that better reflects the voice of their supporters who elected the current parliament. They should address their achievements, but not concentrate too much on the past. The movement should not be a mere dot on the historical record. They should vow to rebuild the channels of communication and make solid commitments.

    During their summit at the Bristol Hotel last week March 14 leaders released a statement that summarized the accomplishments of the Cedar Revolution. No one doubts these achievements and the thorny road they had to follow to make them. However, the journey is not over and the state building project is not complete. Instead of giving meaningless slogans and empty speeches, they should give explanations, not promises, and focus on their goals, not the past.

    It is a time to resist – to resist blackmail, the terror of arms and the dictatorship of Iran and Syria’s proxies in Lebanon. The people need to be inspired to keep moving forward.

    The question remains, are March 14 leaders inspiring enough?

    Hanin GHADDAR
    Now Lebanon
    09.02.2010

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