LEBANON’S 14TH OF MARCH MARCHES INTO OBLIVION:
By Ghassan Kadi
18 February 2016
On the 14 of February 2005, Lebanese ex-PM Rafiq Hariri was killed in a massive car bomb in downtown Beirut. His son Saad Hariri was quick to accuse Syria of the murder, rallied around him massive support, both political and demographic and successfully managed to get the Syrian troops out of Lebanon.
And thus the 14th of March Coalition was created; an unlikely alliance that was based on most of the former Lebanese traditional enemies of the Civil War that dismembered Lebanon and destroyed its stature and economy to the point of no return.
By “traditional enemies”, what is meant is the dipole of political hierarchy that controlled the traditional Lebanese power brokers during the periods of the French “Grand Liban”, independence, and golden age of Lebanon. These are primarily, and in order of prominence, the Maronites, Muslim Sunnis and the Druze.
Here, it is worthy to note that when the Lebanese Civil War began in 1975, the Sunnis and the Druze sided with the PLO against the Western-allied Maronites. The irony here is that after those archrivals have finished hammering each other, they realized that by weakening themselves, they found themselves surrounded by a new rising demographic power; The formerly forgotten and underprivileged Shia. So they inadvertently and reluctantly realized that unless they united, they could not curb the rise of the Shiite Hezbollah and Syrian presence, and later on influence.
In other words, in as much as Lebanese political Sunnis, Maronites and Druze leaders loathed each other and still do, they were united by their hatred to Syria and the Shia.
At best, the 14th of March Coalition was a marriage of convenience. And when convenience was not alone enough, Hariri money weighed in and bought support.
Many corrupt Sunni aspiring leaders and would-be leaders had a “loyalty-for-rent” banner written all over them. They knew pretty well that the leaderships of traditional Sunni legacies such as Karameh, Salam and Saad formed regional monopolies in the Sunni strongholds of the major Lebanese cities. For those aspiring leaders to have a chance, they had to jump on a new bandwagon. Saadi Hariri’s aspirations to become Lebanon’s first ever unrivaled Sunni leader of the whole of Lebanon was seen by those aspiring hopefuls as a chance from heaven. And why wouldn’t they? He offered them not only political positions, but also money, lots of money, supporters, money to buy support, and even money to buy votes.
Lebanese dual citizens were flown in from as far as Canada and Australia to partake in Lebanese parliamentary elections if they were to vote for the Al-Mustakbal (ie Hariri) candidates.
Songs were written and recorded portraying Saad Hariri as the one who is believed by his people as their saviour. They were played everywhere in Sunni stronghold. For a price, they were played on vendor’s stalls, shops, taxis, public arenas, sporting arenas, you name it. If Hariri did not worry about some kind of religious recrimination, he would have had those songs played at mosques.
His portraits, ranging from all sizes, all the way from passport photo size to meters in length and width were displayed in every corner of the Lebanese Sunni major cities and towns. Even Facebook has thousands upon thousands of members who use Al-Hariri father or son photos as their profile photo in a cult-like manner.
Saad Hariri ran American-style election campaigns spending bottomless funds, and managed to buy his way into establishing himself as a rightful heir to his father on the Sunni front. But he went a step further by setting himself as the leader of the 14th of March Coalition, proclaiming himself as the populist leader of not only the Lebanese Sunni Muslims, but also the coalition that includes Maronites and Druze. No one before him has reached this echelon.
From 2005 onwards, the whole of the pro-14th of March Coalition area, especially the Sunni areas, had Saad Hariri coming out of everyone’s ears.
For Hariri to bolster his popularity beyond his ability to buy support, he had to capitalize on the sectarian hatred of the Sunni-Shiite divide. In reality, his entire hatred to Assad and the Syrian “regime” is only based on sectarian grounds.
It is easy to capitalize on hatred and bigotry. It is easy to buy support from people who can be bought. All the way from the northern Akkar region of Lebanon, east to the town of Arsal, including the coastal city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, training camps and logistic support units were set up for the Jihadis, funded, trained and supplied by Hariri and Saudi monies.
As a leader and statesman however, Saad Hariri is not short of being joke. He cannot even read speeches that are written for him. During an address he once gave to parliament, he was making so many mistakes that the leader of the house sarcastically asked him if he would like someone to get up and read his speech on his behalf. He stumbles in every sentence and makes vocal expressions that clearly indicate that he didn’t even practice reading those speeches, and that reflected his utter arrogance, because apart from being who he is, he is also a dual Saudi-Lebanese national, and rich Saudis have the attitude of believing that everything, including respect and loyalty, can be bought with money.
But that tower that Hariri built for himself was not any less fragile than a house of cards.
It didn’t take long for the Druze leader Jumblat to leave the 14th of March Coalition. Jumblat remained rather close to Hariri and other leaders, and took a position in the middle.
However, as the “War On Syria” started to take a turn in favour of the Syrian Government back in late 2013, and as the Bandar Bin Sultan plan of engaging American and NATO troops in Syria failed, Bandar’s own position began to shake until he was pushed into an early retirement.
The new king Salman and his son Mohamad Bin Salman represent the Sudiri faction of the Saudi royals, and they do not like the heritage of the previous royals and their friends; including Saad Hariri.
As a matter of fact, Hariri’s major company (Saudi Oger) is in deep trouble and in debt to the tune of 7-8 billion dollars. Hariri was promised a bail out by the previous king Abdullah and a big contract that could get him out of trouble. The new king and his son do not seem to be interested at all in helping out Hariri. They are hanging him out to dry.
Furthermore, employees of the Lebanese Al-Mustakbal news agency which is owned by Hariri have not been paid for many months and most of them are expecting retrenchments without receiving long service payments let alone salary arrears.
Some argue that Hariri’s wealth has shrunk from a few billions to little over a few millions, and with this shrinkage, he is no longer able to master and muster those who were once subordinate to him.
As Lebanon lurks in presidential vacuum and remains without a president for twenty months, unable to agree on a nominee who can win enough votes, Hariri nominated Suleiman Franjieh, a close personal friend of Bashar Assad and a member of the pro-Hezbollah 8th of March Coalition. That was done in an attempt to eliminate the chances of the bigger political enemy; Michel Aoun.
In a sheer surprise to Hariri, his ally and former nominee Samir Geagea, the leader of the right-wing Christian militia Lebanese Forces, drops his nomination and jumps in bed with Aoun endorsing him. In effect, by doing so, Geagea has left the 14th of March Coalition.
A few days later, more fractures appear in that once mighty and all-inclusive coalition. Even small players like Tripoli’s MP Khaled Daher has revolted and left the coalition. Daher by the way is a Muslim Brotherhood man and was instrumental in smuggling arms and fighters into Syria from Northern Lebanon. This begs the question, who did Daher shift his loyalty to? To put it more bluntly, who has bought his loyalty? There can only be one bidder here; Daesh.
And just two days ago, the Lebanese minister of justice, the staunch Hariri man retired General Ashraf Rifi who was the chief of Lebanese Internal Security, who played a huge role arming the Sunni militants in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in Tripoli for nearly a whole decade, has also decided to resign from his position in the cabinet. His resignation is seen as the end of his honeymoon period with Hariri and the 14th of Match Coalition.
In hindsight, the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon was no only pushed for by the 214th of March Coalition, but Saudi Arabia played a major part. The then King Abdullah has personally asked President Assad to withdraw his forces in order to restore peace and unity in Lebanon. That was a major step in weakening Syria’s sphere of influence. Had Syrian troops stayed in Lebanon, Hariri and his cohorts would not had been able to use Lebanese soil to smuggle Jihadists and munitions into Syria.
As mentioned above, Daher and Rifi were both instrumental in supporting Sunni fighters against the Syrian Army and forces loyal to Hezbollah. The funds they spent were sponsored by Hariri and Saudi Arabia.
Hariri played big and played dirty, and now he is falling on his head.
With friends like Geagea, Daher, Rifi and Mohamad Bin Salman, Hariri does not need enemies. What he bought with money slipped through his fingers when his funds dried out. His huge portraits all over the streets and major highways in Lebanon, captioned by the word “Al-Hakika” ie The Truth, the only truth time has revealed is the emptiness of his substance.