Lebanese Forces deny undermining Hariri
The weeks following Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s tendering, suspending and withdrawing his resignation have brought home to the Lebanese people that, while many things are permanent, the alliances of their leaders are as changeable as the weather.
While attention focused on relations between Hariri and his sponsors in Saudi Arabia, rumours of divisions between the prime minister and his Christian allies, the Lebanese Forces (LF) party, have been overlooked. Missed perhaps was the talk of what was essentially an alleged palace coup, as the former militia sought to ally with Riyadh in replacing its prime minister with his older brother, Bahaa.
Relations between Saad Hariri and the LF had been cooling for some time, not least because of the perception among LF members that Hariri’s accommodation with Hezbollah and Lebanese President Michel Aoun had become too accommodating.
Gossip of a rift escalated when, a few weeks prior to the Hariri affair, LF leader Samir Geagea flew to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. Sensing an attack, Hariri and his supporters initiated a media counteroffensive, jeopardising an alliance that had endured since February 2005 and the assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafik.
Both sides are keen to talk of peace. LF Secretary-General Chantal Sarkis, via e-mail, said: “Some people want to target the strong coalition between LF and (Hariri’s) Future Movement, which fought for the sovereignty of Lebanon. They are trying to weaken our stand and to change the balance of power. However, their game is exposed.”
Sarkis was highly dismissive of accusations that the LF conspired to undermine Hariri, stating: “Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation was the result of a long accumulation of irregularities on the part of Hezbollah and the March 8 alliance (headed by President Michel Aoun).”
The LF was founded during the Lebanese civil war (1975-90) as a militia dedicated to opposing what it saw as a plot to naturalise Palestinians within Lebanon. After the hostilities, the militia transitioned into a political party. However, its participation in regular political life was marred by several factors, not least the Syrian persecution of Geagea, who was jailed by the occupying forces and released only after their withdrawal in 2005.
The LF has since established itself as a key pillar within Lebanon’s body politic, acting as a self-appointed watchdog within the horse trading of Lebanon’s fractious national unity government. It was Geagea’s political partnership with Aoun that proved critical in the latter’s election as president, establishing an alliance that Hariri would later join as prime minister and laying the groundwork for the current government.
However, this ostensibly robust trinity soon exhibited signs of serious faults, as the LF grew increasingly vocal over dubious economic projects undertaken by the cabinet and refusing to sanction anything it saw as a misuse of public funds.
The LF’s objections were perceived by Aoun and Hariri as a serious check on their ambitions for wide-ranging fiscal reform, stoking mistrust. As Aoun and Hariri worked increasingly closer, the ostracised LF saw a shadow government in the making, overseeing questionable deals, such as the leasing of power-generating ship, telecommunications and gas prospects.
It was those financial deals, allied with Hariri’s unwavering commitment to maintaining his alliance with Aoun, that many feel led to him wilfully turning a blind eye to both the president and Hezbollah’s growing breaches of Lebanon’s dissociation policy.
However, rumours of a potential LF walkout have proved ill-founded, with the tumult surrounding Hariri’s resignation reaffirming its commitment to the political process. The LF intends to “stay in this government and be a nuisance for those who are using the public profit to fulfil their personal profit,” Sarkis said. “We will be the watchdog inside the system to maintain the political balance and to pressure other parties to respect the rule of law, the Lebanese constitution and the dissociation policy.”
Be that as it may, the LF has emerged from this crisis with few friends. The party has been shunned by both president and prime minister. Hariri went so far as to suggest a reshuffle of the cabinet that would see the LF forced out. However, that suggestion is probably best viewed as a means of removing a troublesome stumbling block rather than as punishment for being part of any conspiracy.
For Aoun, despite his claim of being “father to all,” he has yet to intervene in the squabble between Hariri and his LF allies, presumably because anything that would distance Hariri from his traditional allies in the LF would push him towards Aoun and Hezbollah.
Regardless of the outcome of the feud, what is certain is that if Aoun fails in his promises to maintain the policy of dissociation, Hariri might find himself alone, friendless and reliant on the dubious mercies of Aoun and Hezbollah.