Yesterday’s funeral of Brigadier general Wissam al-Hassan was a poignant moment, one that could have created a new-and much-needed momentum for the movement. Killed in a powerful bomb blast on Friday, al-Hassan had many enemies. As the head of the intelligence unit in the Internal Security Forces ( ISF), al-Hassan led the investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik a Hariri. He was close to his son and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He also contributed to the dismantlement of a network of agents which worked with Israel. The ISF also played a central role in the arrest in August of former information minister Michel Samaha, who was charged with planning attacks in Lebanon and transporting explosives in collaboration with Syrian security chief Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk.
March 14 could have banked on that. Nonetheless it did not. Sunday’s demonstration dovetailing the burial of Brigadier General Hassan was shameful for all of those who believed in the Cedar revolution. Since 2005, the movement has slowly withered away, a pale copy of its once former glorious independent self and yesterday was no exception. Many mistakes were made during Sunday’s demonstration.
1/ The use of divisive slogans:
March 14 could have gathered more crowds and followers and secured the presence of all of its current and former members ( including Druze leader Walid Joumblat) if it had stuck to its original message : putting an end to Syrian destabilization of Lebanon. Joumblat’s speech was quite clear in the wake of the Ashrafieh bombing. He immediately accused Syrian President Bachar Assad of the killing of al-Hassan. Prime minister Najib Mikati, a business relation of Assad also indirectly linked the killing of Hassan to the Samaha affair, a strong sign for any astute follower of Lebanese politics. However instead of pointing a finger to Syria, March 14 chose to call for the resignation of Mikati’s government ( of which the Joumblat coalition is a member) and encouraged its followers ( in the voice of an obscure TV presenter) to attack the Serail.
2/ Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk:
Hezbollah’s strength on the Lebanese scene is largely attributed to the credibility its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has garnered in recent years. In 2006, members of Hezbollah, Amal, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) were able to maintain numerous tents scattered around the roads leading to the Grand Serail for a period of over 18 months. The demands of the opposition included setting up a national unity government. In 2011, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened to disrupt the government after claiming to have received advice from the UN-backed special tribunal for Lebanon that several of his members were likely to be indicted for the assassination. He pulled his ministers out of government and on January 18, disciplined crowds of Hezbollah supporters gathered in some Beirut neighborhoods causing fears among the population. March 14 does not have such a level of organization or a disciplined support base. Its promise of an open ended sit-in will need nowhere. Building three tents across from the Serail does not pose a real threat to the current government and will further hurt the movement’s credibility.
3/ A fractioned March 14:
The speeches of March 14 figures on Sunday underlined its many divisions. During the funeral, a pro-March 14 journalist, Nadim Qteish, called on mourners to head to the Grand Serail. There were also rumors that this call was endorsed by one Future MP. At the same time, Saad al-Hariri, the head of the party, urged protestors to demonstrate peacefully. Hariri later declared that “we want to topple the government democratically and peacefully and we are not advocates of violence”. The absence of Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani from the funeral of al-Hassan, a prominent figure of the Sunni community was another black point for the Cedar Revolution. It did not go unnoticed, further emphasizing the dissensions within the Future movement and its wider March 14 family.
4/ The absence of uniting figures
Martyred Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri had been loved by most Lebanese. The same could be said of all the prominent March 14 figures who fell at the hands of the Syrian regime since 2005. Damascus’s systematic targeting of the likes of journalist Samir Kassir, Minister Pierre Gemayel and MP Gebran Tueni was careful and calculated. They wanted to strip the March 14 movement of its brain, voice and beating heart. A successful endeavor : today those have remained at head of March 14 are either absent from the local political landscape for security reasons, or perceived as weak and corrupt. March 14 urgently needs to rebuild its core battalions by choosing new young and credible figures who can appeal to a much disillusioned public…