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    March 14’s Hazy Self-Definition

    This week March 14 again indicated that it intended to oppose a government headed by Najib Mikati if it were shaped by the priorities of Hezbollah and Michel Aoun. Mikati still wants to reach a consensus with March 14. But for now, does the former majority have what it takes to win a confrontation if it were to definitely decide to stay out of Mikati’s government, assuming one will actually be formed?

    In his speech on the sixth anniversary of his father’s assassination, Saad Hariri listed the three principles guiding the new opposition: a commitment to the Lebanese constitution; a commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon; and a commitment to protecting public and private life in Lebanon from the threat of weapons. All this as leaders of the former majority have engaged in sustained self-criticism for having disappointed their political base in recent years.

    Self-criticism can be a good thing, but in this case it may not be enough. Hariri’s speech at the BIEL on Monday, like that of the Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, essentially announced a fundamental philosophical rupture with the new majority over the principles of Lebanon’s social contract. That was to be expected, and it was undoubtedly time for someone to affirm without ambiguity that a sovereign Lebanon cannot conceivably coexist with an armed group that is more powerful militarily than the state. But surely, in order to succeed down the road, March 14 must tell us a bit more.

    The Lebanese constitution, no less than the special tribunal and the implied or overt violence routinely directed by one group of Lebanese against the other, is undeniably of vital importance. Lebanon will remain a dysfunctional country until all three are resolved. However, if March 14 is to have any chance against a Lebanese government controlled by its political adversaries—a government that will almost certainly seek to eliminate the levers still held by March 14 in the system—then it must offer a broader program to its followers.

    It is no longer enough to say that March 14 represents a different vision than Hezbollah and its allies. At this stage this vision needs to be carefully defined, and then transformed into a program of opposition. Though many Lebanese believe in the special tribunal, in the constitution and in the need for the state to provide security to all its citizens, most of them have more immediate concerns: economic stability, the high cost of living, bureaucratic corruption, the quality of their children’s education, the precarious supply of electricity and water, and myriad other problems the state has failed to resolve.

    Neither Hezbollah nor Aoun has offered a systematic agenda for reform, but March 14 hasn’t either. And yet to capture the imagination of the Lebanese, the former majority will need to move beyond the constitution, the tribunal and safety from Hezbollah’s weapons, and address reform in a convincing way. Perhaps March 14’s inclination is to dump the sick Lebanese state into the lap of Hezbollah and Aoun so that they can absorb the blame for the breakdowns likely to occur. But what kind of shallow scheme is that for a political alignment that claims to embody Lebanon’s salvation?

    Control of the state would be a powerful weapon in the hands of Syria, Hezbollah and Aoun. They would use that weapon, even if they anger many people by seeking to marginalize their political foes. That’s because there is legitimacy attached to the state. In 1992, Christians largely boycotted parliamentary elections. But the credibility of parliament survived and the state functioned normally without Christian endorsement. When new elections came around in 1996, many in the community recognized that it would have been better to be in the system than outside of it and went to the polls in droves.

    For March 14 to be seen as a credible alternative to a state controlled by Syria, Hezbollah and Michel Aoun, it must think as if it were in charge of the state. For a time it was—at least of a sizable portion of the state. However, it never managed to stand for something distinct in Lebanese minds, hence the apologies now being issued.

    For all its shortcomings, March 14 has respected the limits of Lebanon’s social contract. It has understood that sectarian intimidation can only elicit the same dangerous aspiration from those on the receiving end. March 14 has quite rightly concluded that the state alone should have a monopoly over the use of force, and that imposed coexistence between the national army and an armed group that is independent of the state, under the rubric “the army, the people, and the resistance,” is bound to fail. And March 14 has understood that Lebanon cannot survive by forever seeking out conflicts regionally and internationally, egged on by supreme egoists whose ultimate political objective is the stifling of pluralism.

    But March 14 can also no longer afford to define itself merely by telling the Lebanese what it stands against. If the coalition’s leaders feel that now is the time to do battle over Lebanon’s future, in government or out, then let them inform their supporters, perhaps even themselves, what a March 14-dominated future would look like.

    Michael YOUNG
    NOW Lebanon
    18.02.2011

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