Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New March 11 bloc restricts political message to 'enough is enough'

New March 11 bloc restricts political message to 'enough is enough'
By Hani M. Bathish
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: An independent movement opposed to the continuous escalation and provocation of Lebanese political life has emerged and is set to be launched at a public gathering on March 11, under a banner of rejection of politics as usual. Its moniker? March 11. One of the movement's founding members told The Daily Star that the idea behind the gathering was to "give voice to those who are largely ignored, those who have been harmed the most by the political bickering and violence, those who lost their jobs, those whose shops and businesses closed down and all the Lebanese people who want to live free of fear." March 11's message is that "enough is enough" and it is a message aimed at the international community, those in power and politicians on both sides of the political divide, according to Merhi Abou Merhi, CEO of Abou Merhi Cruises in Beirut. "We want to let out a collective shout, get the people's voices out to the politicians," Abou Merhi said. "The situation deteriorated very quickly in the past two weeks, no one is happy, not even the supporters of March 8 and March 14." Abou Merhi claimed that the gathering "is not political in any way" and only aims to show that the majority in the country is neither March 8 nor March 14, but those who have suffered in silence as a result of the escalating crisis. "We are opposed to closures and any side that forces closures. Who will reimburse business owners when they close? Will the government forgive them their taxes, or will a landlord forgo the rent or workers forgo their salaries? No one will show mercy to business owners," Abou Merhi said.

He said the group's action will be civilized and peaceful and that it is working with supporters to organize a gathering on March 11 if the crisis is not defused by then. "We will gather to show how many we really are. You cannot get the message across to politicians except through the same methods they understand and fear: the voice of the people," Abou Merhi said. "Many people talk to me over the phone and tell me they are with me but cannot openly show it. Either they or someone in their family holds a certain position they do not want to risk losing. We, on the other hand, are independent. We are saying in a loud voice: 'Enough is enough, it is impossible to continue down this road.'" The businessman said he hopes that the number of those who respond to the call and gather on March 11 will not be too great, as those who come will likely be those who have suffered the most as a result of the deteriorating political situation. "Regrettably, I feel they will be many," Abou Merhi said.

The shape and form that the actual gathering will take and its location will be announced during a press conference that March 11 plans to hold this week. "We will also hold meetings with religious leaders and confessional leaderships to inform them of the actions we will take," Abou Merhi said. The most important element of the gathering, Abou Merhi said, is that it has no political aims; it is rather "just a conduit to give voice to those who have no one to speak for them." The campaign includes billboards put up across the country, as well as radio and television advertisements. Abou Merhi said he has "no personal political aspirations whatsoever." "Those who support us include businessmen, doctors, university lecturers, lawyers, expatriate Lebanese, in fact a sizable number are Lebanese who have lived abroad and have come back to live and work in Lebanon. It is our right to get our voice out," Abou Merhi said. The gathering has no political program. In fact it should conclude on March 11 if the crisis is resolved by then, Merhi said, but if is not, the organization will continue to work toward resolving the crisis. "The gathering is a campaign to create awareness of the low level of political performance in the country," said Rabih Saba, business consultant for Abou Merhi Cruises.

Saba said the gathering is not a political party or a "third party." "All we are saying is there is a silent power, a major chunk of people who are not fanatic about either March 8 or March 14, who go to work every day, and come home to their families, and they are tired of living under constant tension," Rabih said. The gathering says it represents "all fathers who dream of a bright future for their children, all workers who have lost their jobs due to the situation, all students who dream of going to their school or university in peace, and everyone who sees Lebanon as a country for coexistence, life and dialogue." The group also aims to be a bridge across which the March 8 and March 14 forces can meet.

To learn more about the organization and its upcoming plans, check out www.11march.org.

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