Where does Lebanon stand six months after Aoun’s accession?
Six months after presidential elections, Lebanon seems to be turning in a vicious circle. The momentum that was on the rise at the onset of the new presidential term has been squandered amid the tensions and divisions regarding the long-awaited electoral law.
The populist slogans that were exploited by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) before electing Michel Aoun president on October 31, especially those that dealt with combating corruption, transparency and the rule of law, proved to be mere propaganda for popular consumption.
The speedy approval by the council of ministers of oil and gas tenders worth billions of dollars and the suspicions looming around the electricity plan dramatically increased public fears that there were enormous under-the-table deals done prior to presidential elections without necessarily abiding by laws and regulations.
The dispute over the electoral law continues. Seen by many major players in Lebanon as an extremely important law as it redefines the political lines between the various forces and specifies the weight of each, there is a countdown as to whether the continued endeavours to reach a new law will succeed before the extended term of the parliament ends June 20.
Undoubtedly, the traditional division of power into two competing camps known as March 8 and March 14 eroded prior to presidential elections when contradictory forces met on the nomination of Aoun and elected him as a local and regional compromise
With Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri situating himself closer and closer to Aoun and adopting the electoral suggestions proposed by the FPM, a non-announced rapprochement is taking place between Hezbollah, Lebanese Forces, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party Leader Walid Jumblatt, though that might seem quite illogical and contradictory.
However, regardless of the internal reshuffling of political cards, Aoun seems to be squeezed to find a way to compromise his 11-year alliance with Hezbollah and his official obligations as a president, especially regarding the anticipated alleviation of sanctions against Lebanese individuals and probably institutions from the Trump administration.
This is a repetition of the scenario that had happened when Hezbollah expressed discontent with the Gulf states prior to Aoun’s first formal visit to Saudi Arabia. This recurrent duality of the Lebanon’s official position and that of Hezbollah is not the first of its kind. During Tammam Salam’s interim cabinet, Lebanon was unanimously boycotted by the Gulf states and a travel ban was issued that left negative ramifications on the ailing Lebanese economy.
The president’s ability to balance between American interests and requirements from Lebanon and Hezbollah, which is deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, will be hardly manageable if the United States develops its strategy in the region to become less lenient with Tehran.
To be clearer, if the United States considers that an Israeli strike on Iran’s ally, Hezbollah, in Lebanon would send a firm message of determination against Iranian regional plots, this would transform Lebanon once more into the battlefield of proxy wars, as it was during its long civil strife (1975-90).
Reverting the Western-Iranian nuclear deal is one thing and launching wars against Iran’s regional allies is something else. Lebanon must locate diplomatic methods to transmit to the Trump administration that it cannot — and should not — pay the price again of international and regional differences. This lies way beyond its capacities.