Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri’s declaration this week that his
March 14 movement will enter the opposition serves to clarify the situation in
The country is today openly under the control of a coalition of
pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian forces.
The seemingly permanent Lebanese
political crisis is today overshadowed by more dramatic events under way in
Egypt and Iran.
The state of affairs in tiny Lebanon may nevertheless
offer some clues as to the likely direction of events further
Hariri listed three elements as underlying his
These were: March 14’s commitment to the Lebanese constitution,
its support for the Special Tribunal on Lebanon (investigating the murder of
Rafik Hariri) and its opposition to ‘the predominance of weapons’ (code for
Hezbollah’s private military capacity, held without seeking the consent of other
These have been the basis of the March 14 project since
Hariri’s decision is therefore an acknowledgement of
political defeat. This defeat has come despite his movement’s narrow electoral
victory in 2009.
In his speech, the former prime minister offered ironic
congratulations to the Hezbollah-led forces which have bested him.
congratulate them on a majority that was hijacked by the intimidation of
weapons,” he said. “And we congratulate them on a power that was stolen from the
will of the voters.”
This is a fairly accurate summary of the
The independence intifada, or Cedar Revolution of 2005, was
supposed to husband a new age of representative and constitutional politics in
Lebanon. Of this ambition, there remains the Hariri Tribunal. It remains only
because it is internationally constituted, and therefore cannot simply be
intimidated out of existence by the arms of Iranian or Syrian
The now near-forgotten Cedar Revolution was in many ways a
prototype of the two uprisings just witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt: A youthful,
technologically savvy stratum of the population was at the center of the
(Or at least prominently involved in the events, and favored by
the Western media in its coverage of them.) The demand of the demonstrators
seemed to set them apart from the familiar currents of politics in the Arab
They presented themselves as neither Islamist, nor old-style Arab
nationalist. Indeed in essence their demand seemed to be precisely for their
country to move beyond these narrow definitions, and to embrace the
trans-national possibilities of the 21st century.
The Cedar Revolution
enjoyed its brief moment of triumph in the spring of 2005, with the withdrawal
of Syrian forces from Lebanon.
Iran, Syria and their allies then spent
the subsequent halfdecade patiently working to destroy any chances for the March
14 project to succeed.
The methods employed to ensure this were somewhat
oldschool: proxy political-military organizations and a campaign of
These methods succeeded.
Hariri’s announcement this week
was an acknowledgement of this.
Still, the defeat of the March 14
movement by Iran, Hezbollah, Syria et al was not simply the defeat of the new
world by the old. It wasn’t just Twitter and Facebook versus the clanking,
brutal methods of the mid-20th century.
On the contrary, Hezbollah and
its allies also know about popular mobilization and social media, and are
masters at messaging and propaganda.
In this, they resemble their March
14 rivals – and differ sharply from the old-world Arab dictators just laid low
in Tunisia and Egypt. Yet their ability to tell a story goes hand-in-hand with,
and complements, their readiness to kill.
March 14 only had the
This absence proved their undoing.
Mubarak, of course,
only had the latter, and when his patrons refused to let him use it, that was
the end of him.
Which brings us to the present.
As of now, the
current wave of unrest has brought down two old-fashioned, pro-Western Arab
It cannot be predicted which forces will rise in these countries
in the months ahead. But from a strategic point of view – again as of now – the
net result has been the weakening of the pro-Western regional camp, and hence by
default the strengthening of the pro-Iranian and Islamist
Unrest has now broken out in Iran, the mother-ship which made
possible the victory of Hezbollah et al in Lebanon.
In the past – as the
microcosm of Lebanon and March 14, and the Iranian demonstrations of 2009 show –
the methods of the Islamic Republic and its proxies have been sufficient to
see-off the dreams of young, secular, Western-oriented demonstrators.
meaning of the current wave of regional unrest will thus be decisively defined
on the streets of Tehran.
If, as past experience in Lebanon and Iran
suggests is most likely, the regime succeeds in suppressing the dissent, this
will mean that the pro-Iranian camp can continue to happily observe pro-US
regimes in the region tear themselves apart.
They can rest easy in the
knowledge that they themselves have developed a version of brutal,
authoritarian, ideological rule which can trump any card the protestors can
The resultant collapse of confidence in the US as a guarantor will
play directly into their hands.
If not, then the March 14 precedent does
not apply, and we will be entering a new era in the region.
afoot. Let’s wait and see.The writer is a senior research fellow at the
Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya. His book
The Transforming Fire: the Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict was published in