When 13 March is really 14 March

I am something of a student of politics, current affairs and international relations, but understanding the situation in Lebanon – which I have just visited – is something else. It is so complicated and ultimately politics here is a matter of life and deaths with a devastating civil war from 1975-1990 and more recently targeted political assassinations.

Lebanon operates what is called a confessional system of politics where religion rather than economics is the differentiating factor. The 128 seats in the single-chamber parliament are allocated to 18 designated religious groups.

The members of parliament then align themselves into two broad groups which confusingly have similar names: the 14 March bloc and the 8 March bloc. Membership of these bloc can – and has – changed.

The 8 March bloc takes its name from a huge demonstration called by Hezbollah on that date in 2005. Membership of the bloc includes most of the Shia Muslims community led by Hezbollah of Hasan Nasrallah and Amal plus the Maronite Christians led by Michel Aoun and (now) the Druze led by Walid Jumblatt.  The group is supported by Syria and Iran.

The 14 March bloc takes its name from probably an even bigger demonstration which was held on 14 March 2005, exactly one month after the assassination of former Prime Minister and Sunni politician Rafiq Hariri. Membership of the bloc includes the Sunni Muslims led by Rafiq’s son Saad and some of the Maronite Christians. The group is supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States.

A government led by the 14 March group has just fallen because Hezbollah pulled out its ministers from the coalition and a new government has still not been formed.  Which is how we come to today …

Each year since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the 14 March group had held a huge demonstration on that date but this year they are holding it today, one day early, because it is felt that attendance will be higher on a non-working Sunday than on a working Monday. The main objective of this year’s demonstration is to call for the disarming of Hezbollah. This Shia militia claims that it needs weapons to defend Lebanon against any attack from Israel which it did in 2006, but in 2008 it mobilised against the Lebanese state in what was in effect a coup.

See what I mean by complicated?

You can find a report of today’s event here.


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