In latest political manoeuvre, Aoun’s party revives federalism

Observers see resuscitating the project of federalism as linked to regional dynamics, with the FPM attempting to pre-empt any international and regional developments by presenting this proposal, which may find an echo among some regional players.
Thursday 04/03/2021
Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic movement (right), gestures as he speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, October 22, 2020. (REUTERS)
Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic movement (right), gestures as he speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, October 22, 2020. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT – Leaders of Lebanon’s ruling class recently renewed their calls to modify the current political system, in an attempt to get round the country’s crisis. This move comes at a time when the political and economic situation in the country is worsening beyond control and threatening to create a deadlock for the ruling elite, with no options for manoeuvre.

In recent statements, officials from the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), founded by President Michel Aoun, argued that the current impasse was the result of a bankrupt system that has been based on the Taif Agreement. They said the solution lies in decentralisation or a federal system, an old proposal that was previously presented in the 1920s and repeated in the 1980s in the midst of a devastating civil war that the country experienced between 1975 and 1989.

The campaign to promote this proposal began again on social media to test the public, before leaders of the Free Patriotic Movement announced their endorsement of this project.

Representative Assaad Dargham, a member of the Strong Lebanon bloc, said Tuesday, “Today, we prefer an expanded administrative and financial decentralisation that guarantees the same administrative independence that federalism too ensures.”

“Our current system died and proved to be deficient in a country that Syria was its patron, and the only party capable of resolving disputes,” he added.

The Taif Agreement is based mainly on sectarian quotas, whereby the three presidencies are distributed among Shias, Sunnis and Maronite Christians. This quota system also includes sovereignty institutions such as defense, the army, and the security establishment.

Lebanese political experts say that some crisis-makers have been floating federalism as an option. This, the experts argue, happens whenever these people fear for their influence or want to return to the spotlight.

According to observers, the Free Patriotic Movement now feels isolated even in its Maronite environment. This explains why the party has been resuscitating the fantasy of creating an autonomous Christian region, hoping that by doing so, it can break its isolation and garner the support of the Maronite community.

The head of the FPM Gebran Bassil had previously hinted that he supports the idea of a founding conference, a proposal previously presented by Hezbollah, which seeks to establish a project for a new system based on sectarian triangulation (Sunnis, Shias and Christians).

Though the FPM supports the idea of holding a founding conference, it has reservations about Hezbollah’s triangulation proposal, which includes measuring the influence of each sect. Hezbollah’s proposal, experts say, will weaken Christians and other sects for the benefit of Muslims.

With that idea in mind, the FPM favours projects of a federal system or an expanded administrative and financial decentralisation.

Talk about federalism and decentralisation is not above suspicion, observers say, especially as it comes after Maronite Patriarch Mar Beshara Boutros al-Rai called for a UN-sponsored “international conference” in the face of Lebanon’s economic collapse and political impasse.

Hezbollah considers that the Maronite Patriarch’s call to internationalise the Lebanese crisis is an attempt to undermine its influence in Lebanon, and an effort to create an international pressure to push its fighters to abandon their weapons.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah slammed the proposal and similar calls from other parties, saying such moves would open the door to foreign interference or even to an “occupation.”

Some Lebanese observers say that the FPM  is trying hard to divert attention from Rai’s initiative that has so far garnered significant support from political, popular and spiritual circles in the country.

The Free Patriotic Movement views Rai’s initiative as an admission of the failure of the ruling class and the country’s President Michel Aoun. The party also fears that an international conference will cause embarrassment for its political ally Hezbollah.

Observers also say that resuscitating the project of federalism is also linked to regional dynamics, with the FPM attempting to pre-empt any international and regional developments by presenting this proposal, which may find an echo among some regional players.

Observers note that the proposal of the Free Patriotic Movement is an attempt to evade responsibility, as the core of the crisis in Lebanon today is not related to the current system as much as it is linked to the failure of the political elite that has held power for years.

A large part of the Lebanese public holds the political forces responsible for corruption and mismanagement that drove the country to the brink of economic and financial collapse.

On Tuesday, the Lebanese pound tumbled to a new low in a financial meltdown that has fuelled poverty. The collapse of the pound, which fell to 10,000 to the dollar, has slashed about 85% of its value in a country relying heavily on imports.

The dramatic and unprecedented collapse of the pound led to the outbreak of protests in many parts of Lebanon, amid indications that the country is on the verge of eruption. Observers say that this fate seems inevitable with politicians struggling to preserve their privileges, even as the country heads towards total collapse.

Crushed under a mountain of debt, Lebanon is grappling with a financial crisis that has wiped out jobs, raised warnings of growing hunger and locked people out of their bank deposits.