Many Lebanese believe that the continuous rounds of civil strife in the country follow directly from the division of the political sphere by the two main rival political camps, March 8 and March 14. So some activists have decided to enter politics and pose an alternative in the 2013 elections.
During the Cedar Revolution in 2005 that ousted the Syrian political and military apparatuses from Lebanon, Lebanese banded together to push for a functioning state. But since then, says former MP Mosbah al-Ahdad, nothing has been achieved. Ahdab – who launched the Civil Moderation Gathering in Tripoli earlier this year, a movement calling for more dialogue among the different political factions – says that back in 2005, both the March 8 and March 14 coalitions agreed on the need to build a state. But neither of the camps had a clear vision or strategy, and there was mismanagement on both sides.
“Now there is a vacuum,” he said, “and people have begun to lose hope in the current leadership.”
The situation became more divided following the bomb blast last month in Beirut’s Ashrafieh district that killed March 14 ally and ISF General Wissam al-Hassan. Many have blamed Syria and its March 8 allies for the death.
In response, activists organized a “White March” on October 25 to honor those who have been killed and wounded as a result of the political struggle in Lebanon, and to denounce the country’s current political paralysis. Participants held banners that said “Neither 8 nor 14” and told NOW Lebanon that “it was time for an alternative.”
Nadine Moawad, a women’s rights activist and one of the main organizers of the march, told NOW that the groups and individuals who participated are all active in Lebanon’s civil society community for their efforts to reform and have over time become convinced of the need to take political action to challenge a system they have not been able to change.
Moawad is also one of the activists behind the new political movement “Take Back Parliament,” which plans to run candidates who call for secularism and socio-economic justice in the 2013 elections. The initiative has adopted a “zero-budget” strategy for the campaign and is crowdsourcing the issues the candidates will run on.
Journalist and political activist Malik Mroue agrees that a large number of Lebanese have become fed up with the established political system and are yearning for one that is based on merit. However, he feels the calls for an alternative to March 8 and March 14 are politically “naïve,” because, he believes, there are fundamental differences between the two coalitions. “March 14 at least do keep on saying that they want a proper government and the rule of law while March 8 doesn’t,” says Mroue.
Mroue is among a group of around 30 people who announced a year ago the foundation of the Lebanese Civil Coalition, which also plans to have candidates run in the upcoming elections. The coalition claims to be close to March 14 but a “little more vigorous” and intends to join forces with other civil society groups that call for “the transition into a state” but that are also capable of coming up with ways to achieve it. “Part of the coalition’s aim is for these NGOs to start having teeth and to come forward with a program as opposed to just having a set of demands,” he said.
Another group that wants change but does not want to do away completely with March 8 and March 14 is Badeel 2013. “We are not saying we want to cancel one or the other; both camps have a right to exist. We’re simply saying we want to create a space within the political sphere in Lebanon for people like us who have different ideas and a different approach, and simply believe in democracy,” says Rima Majed of Badeel.
Members of Badeel have agreed on a basic political platform that they think is a viable and acceptable alternative that they can adopt in Lebanon: a secular, democratic state that adopts socio-economic reforms.
“We at some point might propose things that are neither March 8 nor March 14, and at other points propose something that is March 8 or March 14. We are not running for elections to make a statement, but to undergo a political battle and propose an alternative for the country,” said Majed.