“Resorting to the street will not solve the crisis” – F. Siniora, 2006
The ceremony that started as a farewell to Gen. Wissam al-Hassan on Sunday morning ended with an unorganized riot, a trial to storm Government Palace (Serail) and street violence. By the time this blog post is being written several parts of Beirut were already closed and a mini street war was already taking place.
The dramatic change took place
after journalist Nadim Koteich asked the masses gathering in DT Beirut to move towards Serail and force Mikati to resign.
Though Koteich’s short speech was the direct trigger for some youth participants in the farewell gathering to start attacking police and defense lines protecting the Serail, Koteich should not be blamed alone for the consequences. Had it not been the highly instigating speeches of several political figures who claimed PM Mikati responsible for the death of al-Hasan, Koteich would not have called on the crowd to seize the Serail, nor would people have responded. The masses were emotionally ready to pour their rage on Mikati as if he were the real murderer!
March 14 Loosing Focus: Is it Mikati or Syrian regime that they blame?
After their meeting on Friday and accusing Syria and its allies in Lebanon of ordering and carrying out the assassination, March 14 leaders started gradually shifting their attack from President Assad and Hezbollah towards the moderate prime minister. Even when Mikati declared that al-Hassan assassination is related to his role in discovering Smaha-Mamlouk plot which actually meant Mikati was accusing Syria and its allies of the murder (a brave declaration indeed from the man in power), March 14 leaders were more fiercely attacking him and demanding he resigns. None of them further talked about the role of Syrian regime. The battle of March 14 moved from the Syrian Muhajereen Palace to the Government Palace in DT Beirut. Whether it was an arbitrary loss of focus or a planned trial to exploit circumstances and make some political advantage, the results were grave for both March 14 and the country as a whole.
“Political Gap = Security Gap” Equation
It is well known that any political gap or instability in Lebanon means a security gap or instability in parallel. The country lies on an intersection of opposite interests of local and global powers. Many sides would be interested in chaos. The clashes in some parts of Beirut this night are the best proof. Why should March 14 provide such gaps for “unknown militants” to accomplish their plans? Until few days ago March 14 figures were saying Syrian regime is willing to export terror to Lebanon. If this is true, March 14 leaders made him a big favor by allowing turmoil to start.
On the Edge of the Extreme
Mikati has been trying his best to be moderate and stand on the same distance from both political camps. His, Suleiman’s and Jumblat’s political positions are equally moderate, while Hezbollah, Aoun and their allies stand nearer to the Syrian regime. But in sectarian Lebanon where attacking political figures of other religious groups would be fatal, Mikati not his cabinet was the easiest target for al-Mustakbal. Ironically, radical sheikh al-Aseer was welcomed in martyr square yesterday while Mikati was pictured as the traitor of Sunnis. You not allowed to stay moderate when the religious group you belong to goes to the extreme.
The Best Scenario is the Worse
Even if Mikati resigned, can Hariri guarantee he or any other al-Mustakbal figure to be chosen to head the cabinet? Even if Hariri himself returned to Serail, will he be able to rule? How would he deal with Hezbollah arms? If he can force Mikati to resign, will he be able to stop assassinations, protect his allies and the Lebanese people?
If you compare photos of yesterday’s crowds and photos taken in 2005, the
deterioration of March 14 would be clear. In 2005 Lebanese flags covered the wide Martyr Square; yesterday black flags of Salafis and flags of political parties were supreme. In 2005, March 14 stood as a patriotic movement with a reformation project. It was an alternative, not an equivalent to the sectarian reality. Unfortunately this doesn’t not apply to March 14 we saw yesterday. The crowds March 14 gathered yesterday were so diverse and leaders lacked common political view. Even Koteich’s speech was denounced by al-Mustakbal leaders.
March 14 has to refocus and regain trust of disappointed moderate citizens. It would be beneficial for March 14 leaders to reread their speeches of 2005-2006 and learn from their younger selves.