|Saad al-Hariri addresses supporters on the fifth anniversary of his father's assassination [AFP]
A rally marking the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, on Sunday was partly staged to revitalise the waning Lebanese anti-Syrian front, but its conflicting political speeches all but officially declared the end of the March 14 coalition.
Calls for unity and continuity of the March 14 movement sounded more like a denial of the new political reality than a reassertion of a political programme.
Re-emerging Syrian influence, the persistence of Hezbollah's role and internal divisions have all dealt steady blows to the alliance that was brought together by opposition to Damascus.
'Ending the dream'
Even before the crowds started converging on Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut, the signs of disillusionment were tangible among its supporters and members.
|There was a tangible sense of disillusionment among those gathered in Beirut [AFP]
Many from the ranks of the Christian parties, al-Kataeb and the Lebanese Forces, along with some politicians from the Future Movement of Saad al-Hariri, the son of Rafiq and the current prime minister, were already disgruntled by the composition of the country's national unity government which they believe does not reflect the movement's 'clear win' in last June's elections.
They feel defeated by the government's inability to strip Hezbollah of its arms and the failure of the international tribunal investigating al-Hariri's murder to point a finger at Damascus.
By repeating the unifying call for "an independent and free Lebanon", March 14 leaders tried to lift the spirits of their supporters, but an unsigned editorial on the Lebanon Now website stridently announced the defeat, if not the death, of the movement:
"Now it's all over. War, blackmail, civil violence, regional horse-trading and even bare-faced hypocrisy have put an end to the dream.
"Hezbollah is still armed, the drums of war are once again beating, the speaker of parliament was reelected by the very politicians his gunmen tried to topple, the tribunal is going nowhere fast and, last but not least, the arm of Syrian influence once again reaches into the very heart of Lebanese power."
'Lebanon first' rebranded
"The end came in 2009 when, on polling day, millions of Lebanese voters said 'yes' to prosperity, democracy and sovereignty and 'no' to the forces for whom violence is the final option, only to have these votes ripped up in their face," the editorial declared in clear defiance of al-Hariri's message of unity and reconciliation.
The tone of the editorial did not simply reflect the enduring political and sectarian schisms: it is the voice of a trend inside the March 14 camp that aggressively advocated pro-Western policies that separate Lebanon from pan-Arab causes.
Many supporters of this trend rallied under the slogan 'Lebanon First' - a similar banner to that used in the past by Egypt and Jordan to justify their separate peace treaties with Israel.
But on Sunday al-Hariri for the first time tried to reclaim and redefine the slogan he had originally endorsed by placing it within a pan-Arab context.
"Lebanon first means solidarity against Israeli threats," he told the crowd.
Leading the Sunni street
The Future Movement, clearly distancing itself from its more right-wing allies, has recently started using pan-Arab slogans and songs to mobilise its supporters.
|Walid Jumblatt, left, prayed with al-Hariri but left without making a speech [AFP]
On Saturday night, fleets of cars roamed Beirut neighbourhoods with songs about the unity of Arabs - Christian and Muslim -in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine blasting from loud speakers while Future Movement activists appealed to "the Christian and Muslim residents of pan-Arab Beirut" to join Sunday's rally.
This new language is a fall back to an earlier era when the most popular and respected Sunni leaders were distinguished by their political pan-Arab identities rather than by their sect.
Al-Hariri, who has become the newly anointed leader of the Sunni street, appeared to be altering tone in line with the emerging regional alliances and renewed Israeli threats to Lebanon and Syria.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, led the way, when immediately after the elections, he openly defected and moved closer to Hezbollah.
The unpredictable politician dramatically changed his language from advocating US interference and intervention to calling for support for the resistance - Hezbollah - and an alliance with Syria.
Jumblatt's leap shook the March 14 movement, partly due to his strong standing among Lebanon's Druze but also because he reverted to the legacy of his father, Kamal Jumblatt, who once led the Lebanese National Movement, a coalition of leftist and Muslim organisations which was allied with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) against the right-wing, mostly Christian Maronite, parties.
Jumblatt, who refrained from making a speech as it could have angered his former allies, arrived in al-Hariri's car only to leave after the prayer service.
But the two men were obviously in agreement that they could not jeopardise the new reconciliation with Syria - even though Damascus has so far refused to forgive the Druze leader's implied call in a 2007 interview for the US to invade Syria.
Redrawing the political map
After all it was the rapprochement between al-Hariri and the man he accused of killing his father, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in December that completed the reshuffle of Lebanon's political cards.
|Calls for unity sounded like a denial of the new political reality, author says [AFP]
But that move was already set in motion by Barack Obama's decision to engage rather than isolate Damascus, and the regional realignments that ensued.
Reconciliation between Syria and Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the March 14 coalition, made it nearly impossible for Lebanon to continue a consistent campaign against its stronger Arab neighbour.
Al-Hariri is both a personal and political protégé of the Saudi royal family, which had secured Syrian support for his father to become the prime minister of Lebanon in the first place.
Once again Syria and Saudi Arabia, or what is referred to in Beirut as the S-S alliance, largely define the political map of the country.
But it is also March 14's failure to go beyond unified opposition to Syria that has ensured its undoing.
For while it is true that resentment of the Syrian regime's influence and fear that it will regain control runs deep, even among Hezbollah supporters, a coalition based on betting on US support and separation from the Arab world cannot survive in a country still in serious conflict with Israel.
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs. She has been writing about the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for the past 20 years and has interviewed all of the key leaders of the movement.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.