March 14 coalition.
The angry anti-Syrian demonstrations staged in 2005 by the March 14 coalition, which established after the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, ushered in a new revolution in Lebanon. The March 14 coalition was led at that time by major political figures including current Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain premier, Druze chieftain and MP Walid Jumblat, and Christian Maronite leaders Amin Gemayel and Samir Geagea. But the once allied leaders of the coalition seem today to be drifting away from each other, especially after Jumblat, Syria's arch foe, announced last summer that he was distancing himself from the grouping. The coalition may seem to be disintegrating after Jumblat's defection but some March 14 sources disagree.
Minister of Labor Butros Harb told ASHARQ AL AWSAT in an interview (April 24) that despite Jumblat's decision to leave the March 14 alliance, the coalition's heart is still beating. Harb, who is close to March 14, emphasized that the coalition "is still intact and has achieved a number of its goals." He added, "I acknowledge that the (March 14) movement has encountered some setbacks like Jumblat's withdrawal. But I thought that Jumblat would not embrace after his departure a set of principles that would clash with those followed by March 14."
Harb, a presidential aspirant, explained that Jumblat's new outlook on the role of the Lebanese army, authority and the resistance, which is headed by the Shiite militant group Hizbullah, in addition to how Jumblat perceives Lebanese-Syrian relations "not only contradicts March 14 principles but also his old radical viewpoints" when he was still part of the coalition.
Monitoring Jumblat nowadays, especially after his visits to Damascus in March 2010 and earlier this month, gives a clear image of how he has transformed from Syria's fiercest opponent to one of its loyalist friends. After the 2005 murder of Hariri, a large number of Lebanese people took to the streets in Beirut calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops, which had been present in Lebanon since November 1976. Muslims and Christians yelled unanimously in 2005: "Syria Out, Syria Out". But now, after five years of cold relations, Lebanon and Syria are heading towards a new phase.
Harb told ASHARQ AL AWSAT that since tensions between Lebanon and Syria started to thaw, the anti-Syrian March 14 alliance began to open up gradually to Syria, but in a way careful not to make it appear as if the coalition was allowing the return of Syrian influence to Lebanon. "From my own viewpoint, there are some attempts to bring back the old ways by which Syria affected Lebanese politics, but if this truly happened, then we would have to declare the demise of March 14, its principles and its martyrs," Harb told ASHARQ AL AWSAT. March 14 lost a number of its members in a spate of assassinations from 2005 to 2007. Syria has been widely blamed for the murders, including Hariri's 2005 assassination, although it strongly denies having anything to do with the killings.
Jumblat, whom Harb described as a "radical" thinker when he was still a major pillar of the March 14 movement, has recently been exchanging criticisms with his old March 14 friends. In an interview with the pan-Arab daily ASHARQ AL AWSAT on April 24 Jumblat said that Christian politician members of the pro-government March 14 coalition "are friends of Druze chieftain Walid Jumblat, not allies." (See MER 24/4/2010). Coordinator of the March 14 General Secretariat, Faris Soueid, snapped back saying that what Jumblat said "represents his own views which are based on the new course he has chosen for himself since he decided to mend relations with Syria and has taken a friendlier approach towards Hizbullah." Soueid told the Kuwaiti daily AL SEYASSAH on April 23 that remarks by Jumblat are his own views and do not affect the coalition (see MER 24/4/2010).
For his part, Christian leader and head of the National Liberal Party (NLP) Dory Chamoun commented angrily on Jumblat's remarks about the Christian members of March 14 coalition. ASHARQ AL AWSAT (April 23) quoted him as saying, "According to us (March 14 Christian leaders) Lebanon comes first, but to Mr. Walid Jumblat, he comes first and not Lebanon." He added that Jumblat's remarks "do not deserve more comment than this."
On April 23, the Beirut leftist daily AL AKHBAR published remarks by Jumblat on his former ally Christian leader of Lebanese Forces (LF) Samir Geagea. Jumblat criticized Geagea's anti-Syrian attitude, saying that he reminds him of former Christian leader of the Phalange party and President-elect Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated in 1982. Syria was also blamed for the killing of Gemayel. During the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war Israeli-backed militias, among them the Phalange party, clashed with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) headed by late Yasser Arafat, which was fighting Israel from Lebanon. In 1982, with cover from the invading Israeli army, Christian militias, including the Phalange, entered the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila on the outskirts of Beirut and massacred a large number of Palestinian civilians. AL AKHBAR quoted Jumblat as saying, "The way Geagea speaks, reminds us of 1982-1983. Back then the main problem was the Palestinian arms and what used to be called the international left-wing."
He added, "Today their (a reference to Geagea and other anti-Syrian leaders) problem is Hizbullah's weapons. I wish they could understand the importance of these weapons and the importance of drawing up a defense strategy for Lebanon in which the resistance's (Hizbullah) arms play a role."
Some Lebanese pro-government groups, including the Phalange and LF, consider Hizbullah's weapons to be illegal since they are not under the control of the Lebanese government. They have been calling for the disarmament of the Shiite militant group but their calls are far from realistic, especially in view of Hizbullah's ever-expanding power which is strongly supported by Syria and Iran, who reportedly provide the group with arms and training.
"Geagea is revealing himself day by day and his language is worrying. He does not want to learn from past experiences," AL AKHBAR quoted Jumblat as saying. "I can't understand him anymore. If he continues acting in this way then I don't know how it would be possible to preserve the Christian presence in Lebanon," Jumblat added.
The March 14 coalition had four demands when it was founded in 2005: Withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, elections (in 2005) to be held on schedule, the resignation of four Lebanese generals who were accused of involvement in Hariri's killing and the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to investigate the assassination of Hariri. All four demands were fulfilled; Syrian forces were pushed out of Lebanon in April 2005, the 2005 elections were held on time and March 14 movement won the majority in the parliament, the four generals resigned, were imprisoned and later released for lack of evidence in 2009 by STL which also was established in March 2009. Today political circumstances have evolved, and to catch up with the changes political groups may need to modify their ways of playing the Lebanese political game.