Hezbollah, Michel Aoun and Lebanon’s presidential drama

Sunday 30/10/2016

Will Hezbollah really accept its own candidate, Michel Aoun, as president of Lebanon or was the whole presidential drama right from the beginning a political manoeuvre to blame oth­ers for the void at the head of the country? The question has become very pertinent now that Future Movement leader Saad Hariri has endorsed Aoun’s candidacy.

Aoun is not qualified to be president of Lebanon. He does not possess the required modera­tion and profound knowledge of Lebanon and the Lebanese in all of their sects and orientations. He lacks the expertise to best under­stand Lebanon’s regional context, especially at a time when profound changes are on the horizon.

Then again, what other choice is there when it is a question of sav­ing the republic, or whatever is left of it, even if the person chosen has the mind of putschist and is not afraid of pursuing the worst-case scenario?

It is scandalous that Aoun has relied on Hezbollah votes to form a majority coalition in parlia­ment. It is even more scandalous that Aoun insists on designating his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, as minister knowing fully well that the latter would not have been able to secure one parliamentary seat in the district where he was run­ning because Hezbollah does not carry enough weight in that same district.

Hariri had no choice but to ac­cept the gamble, especially when Samir Geagea, executive chair­man of the Lebanese Forces party, had publicly endorsed Aoun. In Lebanon, there are basically five significant Christian voting blocs.

The largest Christian bloc is that of the independent voters, those who do not belong to any political formation. Some of these Chris­tians back Aoun and others are fiercely opposed to him. The sec­ond bloc is that of Aoun’s support­ers. These tend to be lower class, uncultured and definitely blinded by their Christian fanaticism. The other voting Christian blocs are the Lebanese Phalanges Party, the Lebanese Forces Party and the Marada Movement Party.

Hariri has stated that he consid­ers the presidential elections top priority for the country. They must take place even if it meant endors­ing Aoun. He also revealed that, after consulting with Suleiman Frangieh, he had a firm agree­ment with Aoun on three main points. The first concerns Aoun’s commitment not to change the regime, meaning sticking with the Taif agreement. The second is a commitment to bring to life former president Rafik Hariri’s develop­ment and construction project. The last point is a promise to keep away from the events in Syria.

It is not clear whether Aoun realised the dangers of embroiling Lebanon in the Syrian conflict but he must have certainly understood the dangers of having 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The problem with Aoun is that he has never understood the con­cept of the “city”. Returning Beirut to its former glory as an economic and touristic beacon in the Middle East is beyond his grasp. He has never been more than a military person dabbling in politics and a politician when military solutions were required.

We have to admit, though, that Aoun has been true to his 2006 commitments to Hezbollah, which provided him with the necessary backing in exchange for a Christian cover for Hezbollah’s sectarian weapon in Lebanon.

It is also legitimate to wonder whether Hezbollah and, by exten­sion, Iran will stop backing Aoun now. In other words, as a perpetual candidate for the presidency, Aoun would have served his purpose in keeping the crisis alive in Lebanon. Now that the Future Movement party has accepted him as the only candidate, the expectation is that Hezbollah would change its tune regarding Aoun unless Hezbollah has other uses for him.

Could it be that Hezbollah and Iran want through Aoun to do away with the Taif agreement and with the equal division of power between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon? The question is legiti­mate.

That the Taif agreement needs revising is legitimate but that it be done under threat is not. Saad Hariri’s wise decision to endorse Aoun placed the onus of the truth on Hezbollah. Does Hezbollah want a president for the republic or does it want to change the republic in pursuit of its old dream?

Still, there is one last reservation: Aoun has a history of dealing with events with the mind of putschist. Perhaps Hezbollah can use him exactly for that purpose once he is in power.