23 July 2005

 

 

 

The changing face of the Lebanese Left

Democratic Left Movement Vice President Ziad Majed on Lebanon's smallest high-profile party

 

By Jim Quilty

Daily Star staff

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

 

 

INTERVIEW

 

BEIRUT: At the Democratic Left Movement's Corniche al-Mazraa headquarters, Ziad Majed sits in a darkened room with a handful of young partisans. The scene is reminiscent of the classic archetype of conspirators plotting subversion. Maybe it's just cost-cutting.

 

In the year since it was officially formed, the Democratic Left (DLM) has seen its leading intellectual, Samir Kassir, assassinated, won a parliamentary seat and been shaken by the murder of leftist patriarch George Hawi. It's been a steep learning curve.

 

As he relates his version of the movement's history, Majed, a DLM vice president, exudes a mix of principle, pragmatism and Lebanese particularism.

 

Though launched in 2004, the DLM first coalesced following the withdrawal of Israeli forces from South Lebanon in 2000 and its origins go back to 1996.

 

"All of us [in the DLM] contributed individually to the Democratic Forum," recounts Majed. "We had a clear agenda devoted to ending Syrian hegemony, sending the army and state institutions to South Lebanon, rebuilding democracy and ending the security state.

 

"In 2001 the forum, Qornet Shehwan and the [Progressive Socialist Party] organized an alliance [which Chouf MP Walid] Jumblatt left ...

 

"When the Arab nationalists and others launched a campaign against the Iraq war, the forum worked with nonaffiliated youth activists to launch a 'No war. No dictatorship' campaign. We think that the Arab regimes are just as bad as the American war on our region."

 

In the months of anti-Syrian ferment surrounding President Emile Lahoud's extension in September 2004, the DLM leadership again allied with Qornet Shehwan and Jumblatt. The only nonsectarian, leftist group active in the "Independence Uprising," the DLM was a significant element in the opposition's public relations profile.

 

The DLM fell out with the opposition after the massive anti-regime rally of March 14, 2005.

 

"On March 14 no one said what their political program was or what kind of change they wanted. Each party tried to project [its own vision] onto it. This is why so many people felt as if they'd been betrayed or deceived afterward."

 

The DLM wanted to press on to Baabda Palace and Majed believes that - had the Maronite patriarch not opposed it - the momentum of Beirut's largest street demonstration would have forced Lahoud's resignation.

 

"Things returned to politics as usual. ... We tried to play a role in keeping [Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, Jumblatt and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri] united. Then Kassir, Elias Khoury and I wrote articles criticizing the opposition.

 

 

"Elias Atallah is a Maronite but they justified not putting him on the Mount Lebanon list because he doesn't really represent the Maronites. They showcased our secularism, now suddenly they didn't know how to deal with us. So for a time we weren't involved in any list.

 

"After Hariri-Jumblatt lost Aoun, they approached Atallah saying they wanted to reconstruct the March 14 image. They argued that Tripoli has a leftist history and the DLM has a national agenda. So we moved our Chouf candidature to the North.

 

"Kassir was the ideologue of the transfer. Many among the youth weren't satisfied with it. They felt that this is a kind of political opportunism, acrobatics. We had a week of debates.

 

"Usually leftists say: 'One parliamentary seat isn't important. It's important that we keep out credibility.'

 

"I think one seat is important. With one seat you can present a different vision of legislative life, presenting proposals for new legislation - electoral, human rights, women's rights, environmental issues. You can prove that there's another way of doing politics, thus increase your credibility and support.

 

"In Tripoli, leftists - who left politics in the 1980s when [Islamists] took over the city - returned to politics to campaign for Atallah."

 

The election, and an outpouring of sympathy in the wake of Kassir's murder, saw membership - within and outside Lebanon - swell to a few thousand.

 

The DLM combines three demographic groups. President Nadim Abdel-Samad and Secretary Elias Atallah are among the Communist Party (CP) members who began drifting away from that party in the late 1980s - alienated by its authoritarian internal structure and vague position on Syrian hegemony.

 

Then there are the noncommunist leftists - NGO workers, journalists and university professors. DLM Vice President Hikmat al-Eid comes from the Communist Workers' Organization. Khoury and the late Kassir were close to Fatah. Majed himself worked with the South Lebanon Cultural Council.

 

Finally there are the youth groups - CP and non-CP - in many Lebanese universities.

 

Members are strongly unified in foreign policy matters: the just resolution of the Palestine conflict, the end of America's intervention in Iraq and elsewhere, and the rejection of the authoritarian alternatives of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the Baath.

 

The DLM sets itself apart from Lebanon's other leftist organizations in wanting to accommodate a plurality of opinion. It advocates proportionality and has structured itself so that its distinct voices are heard in decision-making.

 

"Marxists, socialists, social democrats, all believe in the same basic program - social justice, secularism, a non-police state ... democracy." The DLM rejects violence as an agent of change. A Lebanese movement with an Arabist conscience, the DLM opposes Syrian hegemony over Lebanon and advocating democracy in Syria.

 

"From the beginning," Majed says, "we've had close contacts with Syria's democratic opposition, especially with [Syrian Communist Party - Political Bureau founder] Riyad al-Turk."

 

Domestically the DLM is committed to ridding Lebanon of the sectarian-clientalist system. "We don't believe [confessionalism] to be ... something inseparable from Lebanese identity or an epiphenomenon of class struggle ....

 

"Confessionalism's relationship with society and politics is complex - touching the economy, personal status, women's rights, and public education.

 

"An electoral law could weaken it, as could decentralization. Democratically elected municipalities are the cornerstone of citizenship. They should provide services, not confessional leaders: it's a scandal that deputies get millions of lira a year to purchase asphalt for their clients."

 

The party needs to workshop its economic policy platform, this being the area where its multiplicity of voices will most diverge. "Some leftist slogans obsess over fair distribution," he says, "without any analysis of the productive systems Lebanon needs to carry out fair distribution."

 

DLM members like Kassir have been critical of the late Rafik Hariri's economic policies, so it may seem odd that this leftist group is allied with the Future Movement, now under the leadership of Hariri's son, Saad.

 

"Before Hariri's assassination," Majed says, "many were opposed to any cooperation with Hariri, Jumblatt or the Lebanese Forces - calling them capitalist, feudalist, fascist.

 

"Others said: 'We're not cooperating with them because we like their political program, backgrounds or profile - we must regain this country's independence in order to prove our leftist identity.'

 

"We have neither a leftist nor a rightist system. We have a security state, a mafia system rife with corruption. This must be eliminated to restore ordinary life.

 

"When Martyrs' Square became the center of activism, the youth most against cooperating with [Future] were the most active and most dynamic. It showed that you can have argument and debate and still be active. I think field activism solves this problem of not having a strong decision-making body that obliges everyone to abide by leadership decisions."

 

The DLM will give Fouad Siniora's Hariri-led government the benefit of the doubt. Issues of national dialogue, Security Council Resolution 1559, the "time bomb" that is the Palestinian refugee problem, purging the security apparatus and the economic crisis, he says, will make the transitional period a very dangerous one for the country.

 

"If they deal with the socio-economic problem by adopting a neoliberal program then we will have problems with them. If they take the social reality of the country, the impoverishment of many sectors, into consideration, I think we can wait a while."

 

Your Comments

 

 

Thu, 27 Oct 2005 08:54:00 +0200

From: "ziad khoury" <ziadk@falcongroup.bz>

 

Very good interview we would like to know more about Mr. Atallah and his achievements .

 

And if we can know about his movement more .