Hariri, Arsal, And A Billion Dollar Comeback

Hariri And Salam

Image Credits: Reuters

Future Movement is one weird political party.

Here’s why

August 3, 2014

Following a meeting for the National Islamic Gathering held on Sunday at the residence of MP Mohammad Kabbara, the latter called for a firm conscientious stand in front of God and nation because everyone will have to answer to the people.

The gatherers issued a statement stressing that what is happening in the heroic Sunni town of Arsal is only one link in the chain of the Syrian-Iranian plan to impose submission on the Sunni community.


Kabbara claimed on Sunday that the developments in the Beqaa town of Arsal, where the Lebanese Armed Forces are clashing with Syrian Islamists, are meant to “subjugate” the Sunnis.


The solution in Arsal is political and we must protect our northern Bekaa from the volcano’s lava and we must preserve coexistence,” Rifi said in remarks to MTV.

“The mission of protecting northern Bekaa is the mission of all of its residents and our salvation lies legitimate state institutions,” Rifi added, pointing out that “the statelet” of Hizbullah is to blame for the current situation in the country.


August 4, 2014

Prime Minister Tammam Salam asserted Monday that there will be no political settlement with militants from Syria battling the Lebanese Army in Arsal, stressing that the rival political parties represented in the Cabinet vow unanimous support for the military.


Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni leader with a large following, has accused al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups in Syria of taking Arsal hostage.


In case you were wondering, those were one of the four most prominent members of Future Movement expressing four completely different stances on the Arsal clashes between the Lebanese army and the Islamist militants. Kabbara considered that the Lebanese army and Hezbollah were subjugating Arsal. Hariri however had the exact opposite stance: He accused Al-Qaeda of taking Arsal hostage. Now regarding the Future movement cabinet members, they were also supporting two different ways to solve the crisis. Minister of justice Rifi wanted a political solution while PM Salam was ruling this option out.

One doesn’t have to be an expert to realize that on August 5, 2014 the situation within the Future Movement had reached its worst level since Hariri left Beirut in 2011. The party was out of control, with every member saying something totally and somehow perfectly different from the other.

Here’s what happened next:

August 6, 2014

Saudi Arabia has provided Lebanon’s army, battling jihadists on the Syrian border, with one billion dollars to strengthen security, former Lebanese premier Saad Hariri told reporters in Jeddah on Wednesday.


August 8, 2014

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, considered Lebanon’s most influential Sunni Muslim politician, returned unexpectedly to Lebanon Friday after three years of self-imposed exile.

His surprise return comes at a delicate time for the country after a week of bloody battles between the army and Sunni extremists from Syria have exacerbated the Lebanon’s own simmering sectarian tensions.

The seizure by the militants of Arsal, a mostly Sunni town filled with Syrian refugees and surrounded by Shiite villages, has further entangled Lebanon into Syria’s catastrophic three-year-old civil war.


Let’s rewind 3 years

Hariri left Lebanon in humiliating circumstances. Just after his government collapsed, he was replaced with one of his former allies. He lost the majority in the parliament, and self-exiled himself in France. The self-exile part was horrible. As the FM MPs and officials grew stronger because of his absence, the Sunni void he left in Beirut was slowly being filled by rising Sunni figures such as Mikati and Safadi and by Sunni Islamists, such as Ahmad Al Asir (that everyone forgot about). By 2014, the small victory that was the nomination of Salam to the premiership backfired. While Hariri was skiing in the Alps, Siniora was starting to look like he’s in charge, Mikati and Safadi were becoming strong enough to beat Hariri in the North and Tammam Salam was suddenly one of the most successful Prime Ministers since the Syrians withdrew, successfully coping with an 11 months cabinet formation crisis, a vacancy in the presidency and keeping the middle-eastern chaos out of the country – while making everyone happy at the same time. And to make things worse, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies were getting this week the biggest propaganda boost they had ever dreamed of: (1) Syrian (2) Islamist (3) militants took control of the (4) biggest Sunni town in the Northern Bekaa and (5) attacked the Lebanese army. Meanwhile in the government, the Kataeb were striking power-sharing deals with the M8 coalition while the Lebanese forces were now tempted more than ever to distance themselves from anything that might even be hypothetically linked to ISIS and its Sunni background.

In response to a question whether he blames Hezbollah for the army’s involvement with militants in Arsal, the Lebanese Forces leader said that he did not posses any information that confirmed such a possibility at the time being.


That says it all for Geagea. And just when you think things couldn’t go worse for Hariri, Jumblatt was visiting Nasrallah and Aoun in the same week.

So to sum things up, Hariri was losing everything. His party was out of control, his coalition was slowly drifting apart, he was losing the centrist position of Jumblatt and most importantly, he was politically losing against M8 for the first time since he left the country. It was time to come home.

A brilliant comeback…

Hariri had to solve the multiple issues he was dealing with: He had to

(1) Remind everyone of his position in the FM leadership.

August 4, 2014 (4 days before Hariri came back)

Future bloc MP Samir al-Jisr indirectly challenged fellow party member Mohammad Kabbara’s controversial Sunday stance on Arsal, saying that certain “statements must be avoided” and adding that only Saad Hariri represents the Future Movement’s official line. [...]

The parliamentarian added that “the Future [Movement]’s stance is only expressed by party leader MP Saad Hariri. I personally cannot express the party’s stance, and I believe we all abide by this.”


August 8, 2014 (The day Hariri came back)

“Defending the nation against all types of terrorism can only be through enlisting in the security and military forces that represent the state, whereas claims about supporting the Army through sectarian and factional militias can only lead to weakening the state and the Army,” Kabbara said in a statement.


Mission accomplished.

(2) Confirm his position as the supreme Sunni leader in the country. His first stop was the Grand Serail.

With no prior announcement, Hariri arrived at the Lebanese government’s headquarters in Beirut in a Mercedes with blacked-out windows. He grinned widely as he walked into the building, where he met Prime Minister Tammam Salam.


Mission accomplished.

(3) Make sure that M14 is still alive.

Les forces du 14 Mars ont tenu hier soir une réunion extraordinaire à la “Maison du Centre” à l’occasion du retour au Liban de l’ancien Premier ministre Saad Hariri. L’ancien président Amine Gemayel, l’ancien Premier ministre Fouad Siniora, l’ancien premier ministre Saad Hariri, le chef des Forces libanaises Samir Geagea, un nombre de ministres et de députés et toutes les composantes des Forces du 14 Mars y ont assisté.


Mission accomplished.

(4) End the M8 propaganda by publicly endorsing the Lebanese army and removing the suspicions that Saudi Arabia might be backing ISIS by giving the army a 1 billion dollars grant from the Saudi authorities. (Also, temporarily making use of the rumors  suggested by a “Hariri source” that the United States was behind ISIS’s creation. The rumors don’t mention any Saudi role)

Mission accomplished.

…And fake hope?

There are always three parts in a political deadlock: The first one is just after the crisis. It’s the amount of time till we realize that we’re actually in an endless political deadlock (June 2014, for the current presidential deadlock). The second part is the biggest part of the deadlock . It’s when people forget that it even exists. For example, that’s July 2014 when the cabinet and the parliament ignored the priority of electing a president and carried on with their usual work (for the parliament, it’s doing nothing). This week it’s the happy phase of the deadlock (the third part). It’s when everyone is suddenly so happy because they think things are going to turn out like they want. As a small comparison, it’s like when everyone thought the cabinet crisis ended when there was an agreement to name Salam as a consensual Prime minister. We ended up waiting 11 months to see the cabinet formation. Anyway, here’s why it’s the happy phase:

1) Aoun thinks Hariri is coming home to elect him.

2) Geagea thinks Hariri is coming home to elect him.

3) [Inserts the name of any Lebanese Maronite] thinks Hariri is coming home to elect him.

3) Hezbollah thinks Hariri is coming home to strike a deal.

4) Future Movement thinks Hariri is coming home to reorganize the party.

5) The people who want to elect the commander of the army as president view the Arsal events as a powerful boost that makes him more acceptable, especially in these circumstances.

6) The people who don’t want to elect the commander of the army as president view the Arsal events as a powerful boost in order to keep him in the army where he is essential, especially in these circumstances.

7) Hezbollah views Hariri’s presence in Lebanon as a way of accepting Hezbollah’s de-facto political supremacy.

8) Future Movement views Hariri’s presence in Lebanon as a defiance to Hezbollah.

9) Jumblatt probably believes all of the above.

10) Berri probably doesn’t believe any of the above.

Every possible political party thinks it’s a win if Hariri’s home. Welcome to the happy phase of the deadlock.

Oh, and we’re apparently having our parliamentary elections on the 16th of November. (Yeah, right)

79 days since the 25th of May. 98 days till the 16th of November.

On The Maronite Patriarch And Presidential Elections

Paul Peter Meouchi

Maronite Patriarch Paul Peter Meouchi in a press conference (Image from the 1958 crisis)

On July 23, Patriarch Rai said something very surprising. I couldn’t find any English version of it, so I’m going to quote him in Arabic.

مرّةً أخرى نطالب، مع اللبنانيين المخلصين، رئيسَ المجلس النيابي ونوّابَ الأمّة الالتزامَ بالدستور الذي يوجبُ على المجلس أن ينتخب فوراً رئيساً للجمهورية، أي أن يلتئم يوميّاً لهذه الغاية ولا يكون إلّا هيئة انتخابية لا اشتراعية، بحكم المواد الدستورية 73 و74 و75 الواضحة وضوح الشمس. وكم يؤسفُنا أن يكون نصابُ الثلثَين، الذي لا يفرضه الدستور، بل توافق عليه اللبنانيون قد تحوّلَ عن غايته. لقد توافقوا على حضور ثلثَي أعضاء المجلس النيابي لانتخاب رئيسٍ للجمهورية بنصف عدد أعضاء المجلس زائد واحد، لكي تُعطى هالةٌ للرئيس المُنتخَب، وطمأنينةٌ للناخبين فأصبح نصابُ الثلثَين وسيلةً لتعطيل الانتخاب وحرمان الدولة من رأسها، من دون أن نعلم حتى متى، لكنّنا نعرفُ أن هذا يشلّ البلاد ويقوّضُ أوصالَها ويحطّم آمالَ الشعب ولا سيّما شبابه وأجياله الطالعة. ونتساءل أيُّ قيمة تبقى لنصاب الثلثَين؟ وهل النصابُ هو بعد في خدمة رئاسة الجمهورية، أم جعلها رهينةً له.


What matters most in this paragraph is the part where the Maronite Patriarch says that there is no constitutional basis for the two thirds quorum required to elect the president.

Article 49 of the Lebanese Constitution says that “The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a twothirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The President’s term is six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the Presidency of the Republic unless he fulfills the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.”

There was always a huge debate whether there is actually a quorum regarding the presidential elections in Lebanon, since the Constitution stipulates that a first two-thirds majority is needed to elect a president on the first round, but doesn’t specify if the presence of 2/3 of the MPs is necessary to proceed with election of the president.

So what’s so important about Rai’s opinion on the presidential quorum?

1. It contradicts what his predecessor Sfeir said 7 years ago

August 29, 2007

“There are those who talk of boycotting presidential elections, this is unfair and disastrous for the country,” Sfeir said from Diman on Tuesday. “Elections must proceed in accordance with the Constitution, with two thirds of MPs in the first session, and after that maybe with half-plus-one of MPs,” Sfeir added.

He said if from the first electoral session a simple majority is adopted to elect a president the other side could claim this to be a violation of the Constitution which would prompt them to respond similarly.

“Thus we would get two presidents, two governments, two Lebanons and so on, which would be ruinous for the country as a whole,” Sfeir said.

Sfeir said that in Lebanon a constitutional amendment occurs at every juncture, a harmful process, adding that only the national interest should warrant an amendment.


2. It can be bad for Christians

Political sources said Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s recent speech in which he said that the Constitution did not stipulate that a two-thirds quorum was required to elect a president was an attempt by the head of the Maronite Church to break the presidential deadlock. But the sources added that some legal experts had advised Rai to refrain from starting this debate, as electing a president with a quorum of absolute majority would allow Muslim MPs to impose their preferred candidate.


The Maronite Patriarch, on July 23, supported an explanation of the Constitution that was contradictory to his predecessor’s interpretation, and that could in the future put Christian interests at risk (In case some of the MPs decide one day to elect a Muslim president it wouldn’t be possible anymore for the other MPs to block the elections even if they had more than 33% of the seats).

Let’s put things in context here. The coalition that is boycotting the presidential election sessions is the March 8 coalition which means that the Patriarch’s speech was mainly targeting Aoun’s camp. So  the patriarch was willing to give up what’s best for Christians and Bkirki’s long-term explanation of a controversial constitutional article in order to put the Free Patriotic Movement in  a weaker position. And the Patriarch’s implicit criticism of Aoun on July 23 was only the first move.

“Humanity is the only thing we share with you. Come let’s talk and reach an understanding on this basis … you rely on the language of arms, terrorism, violence and influence, but we rely on the language of dialogue, understanding and respect for others,” Rai addressed ISIS during a speech Wednesday at a dinner of the Episcopal Media Committee.


It’s no secret that the biggest winner with the Islamic State’s rise in Iraq is the Free Patriotic Movement who is gaining from the propaganda more than anyone. The more the Christians will fear the concept of a Sunni Caliphate, the more Aoun would probably win seats in the next parliamentary elections. For a Patriarch who once equated terrorists with atheists, it’s a very weird idea to start talks with the Islamic State and it is probably a (failed) attempt to make the Christian electorate less frightened and thus less friendly to the FPM.

That was move number 2.

July 27, 2014

“March 14 doesn’t want a president aligned with March 8, and March 8 doesn’t want a president aligned with March 14, therefore there is a need to move toward a president who is outside both blocs,” Rai said during Mass in Diman, adding that “there are many Maronite figures who are worthy of the presidency.”


To be clear here, “A president who is outside both blocs” ≠ “Michel Aoun”

As a reminder, Bkirki used to support the election of one of the Maronite Four. So in a way,  it’s a 180° change of policy.

That was move number 3. 

July 20, 2014

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Sunday said he wished the term of former President Michel Sleiman was extended until a new president is elected and urged the international community to help the Christians of Iraq.

Addressing Sleiman during a mass to commemorate the anniversary of Mar Charbel, a revered Maronite saint, Rai said he wished the former president would have stayed in office until a new head of state was elected.

“But what to do, those who support void rejected the suggestion,” Rai said in a veiled reference to the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah. “They opted for shutting down the presidential palace after President Sleiman kept it open.”


That was move number 4. (Actually it was the first move since it was on July 20, but you get the point)

So to sum things up, the Maronite Patriarch criticized the March 8 alliance 4 times in 1 week, using 4 different maneuvers, and even taking a more radical position than the anti-M8 Patriarch Sfeir.

If the Patriarch is truly siding with M14, it’s a big moral defeat for Aoun and Hezbollah. Let’s wait and see.

70 days since the 25th of May.

Two Months Of Vacuum

Image source: The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir

Image source: The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir

There’s nothing more lovable about these presidential elections than rumors. Every day Lebanon wakes up with no president, thousands of rumors see light. Five days ago, news reports suggested that Aoun might be elected as the next president. According to the possible deal,  Aoun leaves office two years after his election (a constitutional amendment shortens his term to two years) and he gets to name the next commander of the army.

Is it a viable deal?

Is it a humiliation for Aoun? Yes, it is. But it’s also a victory. Aoun would be elected as president in a very delicate situation: The Islamic State is making gains in Iraq, Syria is descending further into chaos, and the relative calm in Gaza is coming to end. If Aoun would have been elected in different circumstances, it could have been pure humiliation. Aoun would be forever seen as the man that has given up everything – even the two-thirds of his constitutional term – in order to become president. But in such circumstances, the FPM could be able to picture the deal as a sacrifice rather than a humiliation. Instead of becoming the next Mubarak, Aoun would look like Jesus for the Christian electorate: The politician that committed political suicide and humiliated himself in order to save the country and unify it: Not a political suicide after all. Aoun would reportedly get to nominate the next commander of the army (probably his son-in-law Shamel Roukouz) in exchange of serious efforts to put Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria under control. For Geagea and the Kataeb, it would mean getting rid of the strongest Christian leader and paving the way to the election of an LF or Kataeb politician after Aoun’s retirement ( humiliating Aoun in the process also seems like a nice goal, although Geagea is still vetoing any scenario involving the election of Aoun). For Hariri, it would mean establishing himself as a strong Prime Minister with legitimacy across the political spectrum. For Hezbollah, it would give the party two years to finish whatever they have to finish in Syria, and for Berri and Jumblatt, it would mean two more years as speaker and kingmaker (The parliamentary elections will likely happen right before Aoun leaves so that the new parliament would elect the new president)

Everybody wins. That’s why the deal is practical. What makes it even more viable is that Annahar reported in May that the March 8 alliance pushed for the deal and Al-Akhbar is now saying that  the Future Movement is pushing for it. The main objection to the deal is coming from the Patriarch  (Link). But no one listens to the Patriarch anyway.

Jumblatt’s moves

Last week, Jumblatt mentioned three important stances: He opposed a governmental agreement between the FPM and the FM on the administrative appointments, he agreed with Berri on the need to stage the presidential elections before the parliamentary elections, and he finally said that he might consider withdrawing Helou’s candidacy if Geagea and Aoun agree to withdraw from the presidential race (Jumblatt later denied that he was willing to give up the Helou candidacy). The importance of these stances lies in Future Movement’s response: It was rather aggressive, accusing Jumblatt of trying to create a rift between the FPM and the FM. After all, the deal on the appointments was struck between Fouad Siniora and Abou Saab: If Siniora is reaching deals with the FPM ministers, that’s reason enough for Jumblatt to panic (Siniora is probably the least expected FM official to deal with the FPM – They wrote a book on his corruption when used to be in office)

Hariri’s comeback

However the most interesting stance in the few days was in Hariri’s latest speech (Link).

The first step in the former PM’s roadmap includes electing a new president and ending the vacuum at the country’s top post.

“This is a national priority,” Hariri considered.

“Secondly, (the roadmap includes) forming a new cabinet that is similar to the current one. The cabinet, alongside the new president, will rule in the coming phase and hold the parliamentary elections,” he added.

“Thirdly, Hizbullah’s withdrawal from the Syrian war. And fourthly, setting up a national comprehensive plan to confront terrorism in all its forms. This is a national duty that is the responsibility of the state, not of any sect or party.”

So what’s missing in Hariri’s roadmap?

Instead of focusing on what Hariri said, focus here on what Hariri didn’t say: Hariri says that Hezbollah should stay away from the Syrian civil war, but fails to mention anything regarding the disarmament of the party. In other words, Hariri is offering Hezbollah a deal where they get to keep the weapons (+ gain national and trans-sectarian legitimacy) in exchange of staying out of the Syrian conflict.

On the bright side, Lebanese parties are finally starting to seriously negotiate an agreement regarding the presidential elections.

Syria is bombing the Bekaa, Israel is shelling the south, we’re not having parliamentary elections anymore, and the parliament is having trouble agreeing on a president even after 2 months of vacancy in Baabda. In a parallel universe, this year could have been 1976 or 1989.

Just kidding, we’re still in the middle ages.

58 days since the 25th of May.

Is Walid Jumblatt Making A Move?

Walid Jumblatt Drinking Matte

Everyone is lazy in Summer, especially Lebanese politicians. In 2012, they were  too lazy to draft a consensual electoral law. In 2013, they were too lazy to form a government. In 2014, they’re too lazy to elect a president. But Walid Jumblatt is making an exception this month with his numerous statements and the PSP’s new maneuvers in the parliament and the cabinet. Take a look at them, one by one.

July 3

Cabinet members told Education Minister Elias Bou Saab that his agreement with the head of the parliamentary Future bloc, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, over appointments at the state-run university was not enough and more discussion was required to finalize the issue, sources told The Daily Star.

Ministers allied with MP Walid Jumblatt and the Kataeb Party as well as Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon opposed Bou Saab’s agreement with the March 14 coalition, prompting the Cabinet to postpone debate on the issue to the next session, the sources said.

“The Cabinet discussed the issue of appointing deans at the Lebanese University and employing some members of the teaching board in it. It decided to continue discussing this issue at the next session next Thursday,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporters after a nearly five-hour session chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail.


[Note: The debate was postponed again during the Thursday session]

July 5

“Speaker Nabih Berri agreed with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat that parliamentary elections shouldn’t be staged ahead of the election of a new president.

According to al-Akhbar newspaper published on Saturday, the two officials reject parliamentary elections amid the ongoing situation in the country.

Berri and Jumblat are reportedly preparing the extension of the parliament’s term for two years and a half or even three years.


July 15

I don’t mind … withdrawing the nomination of [Democratic Gathering bloc] MP Henry Helou if the others withdraw their candidates to facilitate a settlement that would end the presidential vacuum,” Jumblatt said in remarks published Tuesday.

He urged the various political leaders to put national interests above their own.

“We should seek to fortify the country politically through putting national interests above all else and this translates into speedy concessions by everyone, all the way to the election of a consensus president who can manage the crisis,” Jumblatt told the local daily As-Safir.”


I don’t like to speculate, and there’s still nothing (yet) to analyze, but Jumblatt is planning something here (Perhaps giving up the Helou candidacy and the cabinet deadlock in exchange for the extension of the parliament term). As demonstrated by his three stances, he currently holds the keys to the presidential elections, the extension of the parliament term, and the administrative appointments. And he’s going to use these three negotiation cards very carefully in order to take full advantage of his kingmaker position.

Reminder: We still don’t have a president – 52 days since the 25th of May.

Double Standards And A ‘Limited’ Constitutional Amendment

Article 49 Lebanese Constitution

“I suggest a limited constitutional amendment that allows the presidential election to be decided by the people directly over two rounds,” Aoun said Monday at a news conference.

Aoun suggested that Christians would vote in a first round, with the top two vote-getters then facing a vote by all of the Lebanese public.

Aoun said a direct election would prevent a presidential vacuum from occurring in the future. Most importantly, Aoun explained, Parliament would need neither a two-thirds majority vote nor a two-thirds quorum with an absolute majority to elect a president.


Aoun also called for a new electoral law under which each religious group would elect its own members of Parliament, saying that under the current law, Christian MPs were being elected by Muslims.


New Month, New Maneuver

For the past 10 months, FPM leader Michel Aoun was negotiating with Hariri. The deal – as shocking as it might seem – probably consisted of electing Michel Aoun as president in exchange for naming Saad Hariri as the new Prime Minister. The result would have been the collapse of the March 8 and March 14 alliances and the creation of a new coalition that includes the FM, the FPM, and the Shiite duo. Walid Jumblatt would become as influential as Wiam Wahab, and the M14 Christians wouldn’t dream of entering the parliament again with the current electoral law.

The deal might be logical, but as I said earlier, It’s highly controversial. Hariri would have to abandon his Christian allies after a decade of struggling, he would have to risk losing certain members of his bloc to the opposition, and more importantly, he wouldn’t be the coalition’s new leader. He would only be its Prime Minister – something that might even change after the parliamentary elections. Hariri would have looked like the man that would risk anything and everything in order to sit on a chair in the Grand Serail. Not a brilliant idea after all.

Michel Aoun’s plan of negotiating with the FM was smart enough to form a government, but it won’t lead to his election as a president – At least that’s what it seems after 10 months of talks. For a man who spent half a year trying to prove that he is a consensual figure, his proposal to elect the president by universal suffrage – making it impossible to have consensual winners – indicates a 180° change of policy.

Double Standards?

The problem with Michel Aoun’s suggestion is that it contradicts itself: Aoun is embracing at the same time the Orthodox Gathering electoral law and a constitutional amendment that permits the president to be elected by universal suffrage. In other words, Aoun wants maximum Christian representation in the parliament (Only the Christians would be entitled to elect the Christian MPs), while abandoning the country’s top Christian post to an electorate that is 62% Muslim – Currently the electorate is the parliament, that is 50% Christian 50% Muslim. True, the Christians in the first round would narrow down the candidates (and hence prevent a surprising arrival of a Muslim Candidate to the last round) but the final decision in the second round would be within the hands of an electorate that is predominantly Muslim.

Michel Aoun knew what he was saying. The March 8 alliance got 55% of the votes in the 2009 elections, that’s why universal suffrage would most probably lead to his election. And since the electorate is mainly a Muslim one, he had to give the impression – at least to the Christian audience – that he wasn’t planning on “giving up” the top Christian post. That’s why, in his “plan to salvage the presidential elections”, he spoke of something completely irrelevant to the presidential elections: The only parliamentary electoral law that allows the Christians to elect 50% of the deputies.

Limited Amendment?  

Imagine for a moment that the Sunnis ask for two parliamentary consultations in order to name the Prime Minister:  The first round of consultations is exclusively with the Sunni MPs, the second with all the others. Imagine changing the rules of electing the speaker of the parliament: In the first round, the voting is exclusively a Shia one. In the second round, all the MPs would vote and choose the new speaker from the list of the remaining candidates. What I’m trying to say here is that Aoun’s constitutional amendment will open a Pandora box of amendments, and will eventually complicate the system even more. And there’s nothing limited about that constitutional amendment: When you elect the president with universal suffrage, you have to change the article related to the presidential elections. Such a move also compromises the whole Taif system since the parliament loses its ability to elect the president and hence becomes weaker and less legitimate, which means that the parliament would have to give up some of its powers to the president too . But the president is not elected by a 50-50 assembly anymore, and he isn’t consensual, while still being a Christian. So how do you solve this riddle without starting a civil war? And there’s also the part where every sect elects its own MPs. And the part where a constitutional amendment needs to be signed by the president. (Reminder: We still don’t have one)

This is not a limited constitutional amendment. This is a change of regime.

41 days since the 25th of May.

Wikileaks And The 2008 Presidential Elections: Behind The Scenes

Doha Agreement

There’s not a lot to comment on concerning the presidential elections, so I thought It would be nice if I made a compilation of interesting cables connected to the 2008 presidential elections that I found on Wikileaks. What makes these texts so awesome is that they give hints on everything that happened afterwards: The May 7 events, Walid Jumblatt’s 2009 shift, Safadi and Mikati’s 2011 shift, the Sleiman-Aoun tensions, and even Michel Sleiman’s 2013 rivalry with the March 8 alliance. Elias El Murr sees his next president (Sleiman) as a coward, and Geagea wants to arm the Lebanese Forces.


Pre-May 7



2007 September 18, 12:48 (Tuesday)

Canonical ID:


The early preparations for the May 7 events?

2. (S) The Ambassador met privately with Samir Geagea in the Lebanese Forces stronghold of Bsharre, a town in north Lebanon, on 9/17 before a lunch with local officials attended by both. Geagea, with his usual intensity, zeroed in on what he insisted were tangible plans, training, and weapons distribution by pro-Syrian forces for a forcible military take-over of Lebanon. Claiming to have inside sources, Geagea said that Michel Aoun, Hizballah, Marada chief Suleiman Franjieh, Druse opposition figures Talal Arslan and Wi’am Wihab, and other pro-Syrians like Zahar Khatib were preparing their followers for militia-type street action to cut March 14 strongholds off from one another. Many things could spark putting this plan into action, Geagea said, but the election of a March 14 president without the presence of two-thirds of the parliamentary members would be the most likely.


3. (S) Geagea said that Hizballah is being careful to avoid direct military support to Aoun, which, if discovered, would discredit Aoun with the Christians and Hizballah (with its claims that its arms are directed against Israel only) more generally. Instead, Hizballah is providing arms to Franjieh. Franjieh then opens his arsenals to Aoun, making the arms transfers, if leaked, appear to be one Christian opposition leader helping another with personal protection. One of the main recipient of the arms from Franjieh is MP Selim Aoun, an Aoun bloc MP on Ily Skaff’s Zahleh list. Selim Aoun is charged with distributing the arms to others in the Aoun camp and has established strategically located cells of 50-70 fighters each. Franjieh is providing some of the training facilities and has recently opened Marada offices far beyond its Zghorta headquarters in order to serve as rallying and training points as well as safehouses. Zahar al-Khatib plays a key training role of Aounist fighters, again in order to keep Hizballah somewhat at arms distance from Aoun.


4. (S) When ordered into action, the cells will immediately cut off roads and communication links, to divide and isolate March 14 groups from one another. As only one example in what he said was a long list of plans, Geagea described how Walid Jumblatt’s fighters would be bottled up. In a detailed account, Geagea said that Aoun forces in Kahali (along the Damascus highway, above Aley) have operational plans to join forces with Arslan’s anti-Jumblatt Druse forces in Aley in order to sever the Damascus highway just above Beirut. Hizballah, helped by Selim Aoun’s forces in Zahle, will cut off the Biqa’ valley end of the road. At the same time, Arslan’s people will join with the PFLP-GC and Hizballah to cut the southern highway out of Beirut south of the airport. This will prevent Walid Jumblatt’s Druse fighters from being able to reach Beirut from the Chouf and west Biqa’. Hizballah, while part of this, will attempt to stay in the background, using, for example, orange shirts in the Zahleh area to imply that the Aounists are more numerous than they are.


5. (S) Geagea expressed deep frustration with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). G-2 (army intelligence) chief Georges Khoury is aware of these plans. Not only has Geagea shared his information, but Khoury has his own confirmation. But the LAF is doing nothing. If the LAF would raid a single safehouse of Selim Aoun, for example, it would put a chill through the entire operation. But the LAF has too many Aoun sympathizers within its officer ranks to move against what Aoun is doing. Geagea claimed to have pushed for Zahar Khatib (once close to Jumblatt but now a staunch ally of Syria) to be pulled in for questioning, as a fall-back to questioning Aoun’s followers. But the LAF refuses to move. 6. (S) The Ambassador suggested that the LAF may be looking at weapons distributions by Aoun, Jumblatt, Franjieh, and Geagea himself as all part of the same pattern of increased personal protection and preparedness. Shaking his head, Geagea said that, were the LAF to look into the weapons distribution by Aoun and Franjieh, they would see offensive, not defensive, plans. If the LAF would call in some of Aoun’s weapons distributors, such as Selim Aoun, for questioning, then all of the arms dealing would decrease. Geagea asked for USG pressure on the LAF to respond to the growing threat: “they (the March 8-Aoun forces) already have an army, Hizballah. Now they’re building another army (the alleged arming of Aoun forces). They can’t have the LAF, too.” (We note that Georges Khoury has recently expressed anger and bitterness about March 14 complaints regarding LAF performance; Geagea’s comments are surely among the type that annoy Khoury.)

“He expressed concern, however, about whether Mohammed Safadi and the Tripoli MPs would be with March 14 when needed.”


7. (S) The Ambassador asked Geagea about the presidential race. Geagea repeated the familiar two-pronged March 14 strategy: to welcome unconditional dialogue to seek a consensus candidate, while simultaneously shoring up March 14 ranks in preparation of electing Nassib Lahoud with an absolute majority (but without two-thirds quorum) if attempts to find a consensus candidate fail. He expressed concern, however, about whether Mohammed Safadi and the Tripoli MPs would be with March 14 when needed. The Ambassador asked, realistically, who would be acceptable consensus candidates for March 14. Maybe Charles Rizk, Geagea said, but certainly not LAF Commander Michel Sleiman. He expressed some concern about whether Saad Hariri might be willing to do a deal regarding Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, whom Geagea dismissed as too close to the Syrians. 8. (S) The Ambassador asked whether Geagea thought Boutros Harb’s current, exaggerated courtship of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri might make Harb acceptable to the March 8-Aoun forces. Unlike Saad Hariri’s concern (reftel), Geagea said that he was not worried about the constant verbal bouquets Harb throws Berri’s way. While he judged Harb to only have 10-15 percent chance of getting Berri on board, it was worth trying. If Harb can be elected as a consensus candidate with two-thirds quorum, then everybody is better off. Harb starts out his presidency with sufficient credibility and backing to work. Nassib Lahoud, on the other hand, is a better candidate, “the best,” Geagea said (reversing his previous ranking, which put Harb above Lahoud). But Nassib, despite his fortitude, would be at a great disadvantage in taking office, if half the country questions his legitimacy and the March 8-Aoun forces militarily take over sections of the country. Better to have Harb, if he can win consensus.

Read the full text here.



2007 December 7, 17:09 (Friday)

Canonical ID:


“That man needs to see a doctor!”

4. (C) The Ambassador asked Sleiman about Aoun’s other public pronouncements and demands, such as the proportional split of the cabinet according to parliamentary bloc representation. “That man needs to see a doctor!” Sleiman said, wiggling his forefinger to the side of his head as if indicating mental illness). Aoun claims to want to strengthen the president. But, instead, Aoun wants to deny Sleiman one of the few absolute powers accruing to the president — the ability to co-sign with the PM the cabinet formation decree, naming ministers and portfolios. Sleiman indicated that he would use that signatory authority in order to place some of his own people on the cabinet. He said that, in his view, his ministers should, by swinging between March 14 and March 8 blocs within the cabinet, be able to provide the decisive cabinet votes.

Read the full text here.



2008 April 8, 15:59 (Tuesday)

Canonical ID:


The Sunnis are arming themselves, the army has no morale, and a  fiber optics network creates problems

8. (S) The second issue Jumblatt raised was Saad’s reported training of Sunni militias in Lebanon (allegedly 15,000 members in Beirut and more in Tripoli). In establishing his own “security agencies” in Beirut and Tripoli, Saad was being badly advised by “some people,” Jumblatt said, such as ISF General Ashraf Rifi. In his meeting with Jumblatt, Hassan admitted having knowledge that members of Saad’s Future Movement were being trained. Hassan reportedly opposed such training, but “people around Saad” (i.e., Rifi) were telling him to go ahead. (Note: The Jordanians have refused to train Internal Security Forces (ISF) members hand-picked and vetted by the Embassy to participate in a DA/ATA-funded Terrorism Crime Scene Investigation program, reportedly because they don’t want to be involved in training “Saad’s militia.” End note.) Jumblatt said Saad’s militia would cause significant damage to March 14, especially because Geagea’s Lebanese Forces and Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada were in line to train their own forces.

9. (C) Meanwhile, the LAF has lost its morale after the January 27 clash with Shia protesters. Jumblatt also decried the casualties inflicted on innocent civilians every time celebratory — and illegal — gunshots are fired following a major political speech.


10. (C) Jumblatt’s last agenda item was the recent report on Hizballah’s (illegal) fiber optics network in Lebanon. According to fellow Druze and Telecom Minister Marwan Hamadeh, under whose auspices the report had been prepared, the report had not yet officially been presented to PM Siniora, because the “security apparatus” was hesitating to make it official. Jumblatt said that LAF G-2 Intelligence Director George Khoury and ISF General Rifi were talking about coordinating the report with Hizballah security chief Wafiq Safa, who reportedly warned that any action taken against the network would be considered an “act of war.” Jumblatt provided Charge with a copy of the map indicating the location of the network.

11. (C) Jumblatt expressed perplexity at Siniora’s failure to push on the report. (Note: LAF Commander Sleiman asked the same question in his conversation last week with the Charge. End Note.) Defense Minister Elias Murr reportedly was blaming Khoury for the delay.


12. (C) Jumblatt complained that March 14 (in part due to Saad’s absence) did not yet have a unified position on cabinet expansion, nor on how to respond to Speaker Berri’s call for a new National Dialogue. Pulling out a power point presentation prepared by the March 14 Secretariat, he confirmed, however, that the Secretariat was consulting with March 14 leaders on the way forward. One of the Secretariat’s ideas was to hold an international conference SIPDIS for Lebanon, though it was not clear how, where, or who would host such a conference. He agreed with the Charge that March 14 needed to be proactive, especially to combat the “Lebanon fatigue” that was spreading not only in the international community, but also in his hometown Chouf region, where the people he met with were fed up with the situation.

Jumblatt Says Sleiman’s statement is stupid


13. (C) Never one to mince words, Jumblatt called Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander Michel Sleiman’s recent announcement that he planned to retire August 21, three months before the end of his commission, “stupid.” Jumblatt interpreted the announcement as a warning to both the majority and opposition to hurry up with the election. It’s as if he’s asking us to beg him to stay, Jumblatt said, adding, “He’s a nice guy, but not too bright.” He called the As-Safir newspaper editor who had interviewed Sleiman “a bad egg.”

Read the full text here.

Post-May 7



2008 May 13, 21:32 (Tuesday)

Canonical ID:


“These are Sleiman’s three C’s; caution, coward, collusion.”

2. (C) Charge, accompanied by Defense Attach and PolOff, met with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Elias Murr at his residence in Rabieh on Sunday, May 11 at 10:00 a.m.


3. (C) Murr set the stage for our early Sunday morning by telling us about his newest neighbors. Evidently, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun has received 200 new body guards to protect his residence in Rabieh which is not far from Murr’s home. These fighters had infiltrated into Rabieh on dirt tracks that were not guarded. Now, according to Murr, his nine year old daughter asks him, “who are those dirty men with beards outside?” (Comment. If Murr were really in distress about this new development, it is unlikely that he would still have his two children in the house while his ex-wife was out of the country. End Comment.) 4. (C) In addition to the 200 fighters around his house, Murr told us that he knew of an additional 400 fighters that had infiltrated the Dikwayne areas of the Metn. Murr assessed that all of these forces were being brought in to intimidate Amine Gemayel’s Phalange Party and to prepare to cut the main highway leading north out of Beirut. (Note. Defense Attach noted a significant increase in the number of LAF armored vehicles deployed on this highway on the morning of 11 May. This was the first time Defense Attach has seen armored personnel carriers on this highway in the last two years. End Note.)


5. (C) Murr, clearly upset with the LAF’s lack of performance, told Charge that Sleiman was a “coward.” Charge recalled USDP Edelman’s question to Sleiman about a lack of LAF action leading to questions of either caution or collusion on the part of the LAF. Murr agreed saying , “these are Sleiman’s three C’s; caution, coward, collusion.” (Note. Former President

Read the full text here.



2008 May 12, 21:34 (Monday)

Canonical ID:


Geagea wants to arm the Lebanese Forces…via Rifi!

10. (C) Geagea noted that the current situation is not terrible, but that March 14 needed something significant to “hold Hizballah back.” He offered, “We could turn a defeat into a victory.” He told the Charge that the focus needs to shift to a more long-term look at how to defeat Hizballah.

11. (C) Privately, Geagea followed up on his previous requests for ammunition for his LF fighters (Ref D), and informed the Charge that he had seen Internal Security Forces (ISF) Director General Ashraf Rifi earlier in the day. Geagea reported that he is working with Rifi on buying ammunition at list price from other countries for himself and Walid Jumblatt. (Comment: We visited Rifi at 1300 today, May 12, and then saw him later in the afternoon at his close friend Saad’s residence, septel. It looks like Geagea is moving along with his preparations to arm his fighters. End comment.) COMMENT

12. (C) Geagea approached us to ask that we urge Saad and Jumblatt to ease their pressure on Siniora to agree to withdraw the Cabinet’s decisions. While Siniora has been resolute in upholding the Cabinet’s decisions, to the point of choosing to resign rather than concede on this issue, it is interesting to note that we were told by several interlocutors that Siniora had walked into the May 5 Cabinet meeting believing the head of airport security Wafiq Chucair should be investigated before a transfer decision was made. Always thinking strategically, Geagea appeared indifferent as to whether the Cabinet withdrew its decisions or not, and was more interested in moving beyond the “issue of the day” so that the bigger problems (Hizballah) can be tackled. 13. (C) We hear Saad Hariri and Geagea when they say that they do not want the Arab League delegation to be in “listening-mode” during their visit. We agree that the delegation can be most helpful if it brings a serious program to table. Geagea and Siniora have started thinking along these lines by suggesting that the Cabinet’s decisions be discussed in a National Dialogue. To make this visit effective, we suggest the delegation draws up a firm program prior to its arrival. End comment. SISON

Read the full text here.



2008 May 26, 14:04 (Monday)

Canonical ID:


A Resistance In The Past Tense

10. (C) Most of our interlocutors deemed Sleiman’s speech, which they believed he drafted himself, as “unexpectedly” strong. One contact said Sleiman had been overheard to say “they won’t be expecting this” just moments before entering the plenary. Caretaker FM Tareq Mitri noted as significant Sleiman’s references to the “resistance” in the past tense, as assessment shared by Justice Minister Rizk and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan, who believed it was a deliberate nuance that merited attention. Seated at dinner with the Charge and Pol/Econ Chief, Internal Security Forces (ISF) General Ashraf Rifi, Surete Generale head Wafiq Jezzini and Lebanese Armed Forces G-2 (military intelligence) Director BG Georges Khoury expressed surprise that Sleiman’s remarks had been as hard-hitting as they were. All three believed he had drafted the text himself.

“This is how it starts. Remember this moment. Walid is moving toward Hizballah.”

15. (C) Following the election, Speaker Berri hosted a dinner in honor of the Qatari Emir at the Biel convention center, where Patchi chocolates were placed at each plate with the words “Thank you Qatar” inscribed on the wrapping. While many of the foreign dignitaries had departed, the Lebanese were out in full force. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt created great consternation at the Charge’s dinner table when he walked across the room to greet FM Mottaki. Surete General Gen. Jezzine told the Charge, “This is how it starts. Remember this moment. Walid is moving toward Hizballah.” Jumblatt later pooh-poohed the encounter, telling the Charge FM Mottaki did not even know who Jumblatt was.

Read the full text here.

Understanding Lebanon’s Electoral Demographics With 40 Maps

Electoral map of Lebanon according to the modified 1960 law of 2008

Electoral map of Lebanon according to the modified 1960 law of 2008

Lebanese like four things: Speculation, religion, percentages, and rankings. What is the fastest growing sect? In 25 years, what religious group will be the biggest? What religious groups are shrinking in size? Where? Every Lebanese citizen asked himself at least once these questions. Perhaps because of a trans-sectarian fear of becoming a minority, or perhaps because of simple curiosity. For a country with no census since 1932, the closest thing officially available and that is constantly updated is the electoral data. The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) created an amazing and extremely useful website, lebanonelectiondata.org where you’ll find visualizations on trends in voter registration by confession, gender, as well as white ballots cast and voter representation in parliament. The amount of information offered is too huge but it’s also extremely organized and simple.

All the following maps are taken from the website, and in case you’re interested to know the exact percentage for every district – the maps are based on the modified 1960 electoral law of 2008 – don’t hesitate to check their website (simply click on the district of your choice in the interactive map). And for those of you who prefer Excel tables instead of maps, you can find what you’re searching for here.

A- Confession Trends

a- Maronite

Maronite 2005-2009

Map 1: Maronite influence change between 2005 and 2009

Maronite 2009-2013

Map 2: Maronite influence change between 2009 and 2013

Maronite 2013-2014

Map 3: Maronite influence change between 2013 and 2014

b- Greek Orthodox

Greek Orthodox 2005-2009

Map 4: Greek Orthodox influence change between 2005 and 2009

Greek Orthodox 2009-2013

Map 5: Greek Orthodox influence change between 2009 and 2013

Greek Orthodox 2013-2014

Map 6: Greek Orthodox influence change between 2013 and 2014

c- Greek Catholic

Greek Catholic 2005-2009

Map 7: Greek Catholic influence change between 2005 and 2009

Greek Catholic 2009-2013

Map 8: Greek Catholic influence change between 2009 and 2013

Greek Catholic 2013-2014

Map 9: Greek Catholic influence change between 2013 and 2014

d- Armenian Orthodox

Armenian Orthodox 2005-2009

Map 10: Armenian Orthodox influence change between 2005 and 2009

Armenian Orthodox 2009-2013

Map 11: Armenian Orthodox influence change between 2009 and 2013

Armenian Orthodox 2013-2014

Map 12: Armenian Orthodox influence change between 2013 and 2014

e- Armenian Catholic

Armenian Catholic 2005-2009

Map 13: Armenian Catholic influence change between 2005 and 2009

Armenian Catholic 2009-2013

Map 14: Armenian Catholic influence change between 2009 and 2013

Armenian Catholic 2013-2014

Map 15: Armenian Catholic influence change between 2013 and 2014

 f- Protestant

Protestant 2005-2009

Map 16: Protestant influence change between 2005 and 2009

Protestant 2009-2013

Map 17: Protestant influence change between 2009 and 2013

Protestant 2013-2014

Map 18: Protestant influence change between 2013 and 2014

 g- Christian Minorities

Minorities 2005-2009

Map 19: Minorities influence change between 2005 and 2009

Minorities 2009-2013

Map 20: Minorities influence change between 2009 and 2013

Minorities 2013-2014

Map 21: Minorities influence change between 2013 and 2014

h- Sunni

Sunni 2005-2009

Map 22: Sunni influence change between 2005 and 2009

Sunni 2009-2013

Map 23: Sunni influence change between 2009 and 2013

Sunni 2013-2014

Map 24: Sunni influence change between 2013 and 2014

i- Shia

Shia 2005-2009

Map 25: Shia influence change between 2005 and 2009

Shia 2009-2013

Map 26: Shia influence change between 2009 and 2013

Shia 2013-2014

Map 27: Shia influence change between 2013 and 2014

j- Druze

Druze 2005-2009

Map 28: Druze influence change between 2005 and 2009

Druze 2009-2013

Map 29: Druze influence change between 2009 and2013

Druze 2013-2014

Map 30: Druze influence change between 2013 and 2014

k- Alawite

Alawite 2005-2009

Map 31: Alawite influence change between 2005 and 2009

Alawite 2009-2013

Map 32: Alawite influence change between 2009 and 2013

Alawite 2013-2014

Map 33: Alawite influence change between 2013 and 2014

B- Gender Trends

Gender Voter registration 2009

Map 34: Influence by gender based on the 2009 voter registration

Gender Voter Turnout 2009

Map 35: Influence by gender based on the vote turnout of 2009

Gender Voter registration 2013

Map 36: Influence by gender based on the 2013 Voter registration

Gender Voter registration 2014

Map 37: Influence by Gender based on the 2014 voter registration

C- Vote Power (Number of registered voters/Number of MPs)

Vote Power 2009

Map 38: Vote Power in 2009

Vote Power 2013

Map 39: Vote Power in 2013

Vote Power 2014

Map 40: Vote Power in 2014

Les Grandes Lignes

This is too much data to analyze, and basically every map can be reviewed on its own. However there are general observations common to most of the maps:

(1) Female voters are by far more influential than male voters. If you take a look at maps 34,35,36 and 37, you’ll hardly find any green. According to map 35, the only districts where  the men were the majority of voters in 2009 are Aley, Beirut, Tripoli, Saida, and Keserwan.

(2) Christian percentages are mainly dropping everywhere (maps 1→21). And even when the percentages of a certain Christian sect in a certain district is rising, it usually reflects a much bigger drop by another Christian sect. For example, the Maronite percentage in Koura is the only one that became more important (the green spot in map 2), but this is only because the Greek Orthodox percentage of Koura is dropping even more (maps 4 and 5). Another interesting fact is that the Greek Catholics are having higher percentages in the Christian heartland (Northern Mount-Lebanon and the Southern parts of the North) while their percentages are massively dropping everywhere else (maps 7, 8 and 9). It could indicate that some Greek Catholics are changing their place of registration (which is the hometown) from the mixed districts to the Christian heartland.

(3) On the Muslim side, there’s an interesting trend among Shias and Sunnis. If you look at the maps 23 and 26, you realize that the Sunnis are becoming more populous in the Shia-majority districts (Look how much the south is green in map 23) while the Shias are having higher percentages in the Sunni dominated districts (Take a look at Beirut, Saida, Zahle, West-Bekaa and the Chouf in map 26).

(4) If you check maps 38→40, you’ll notice that the districts that are the most underrepresented are the Muslim and rural ones (mainly Akkar and the South).

(5) So to sum things up, on the long run, most of the districts tend to become more religiously mixed. For example take a look at the Greek Orthodox in map 5. The Greek Orthodox are having lower percentages in their heavyweight districts like Akkar, Marjeyoun, Koura, Tripoli, Aley and Beirut. Their percentages are however rising in the other districts where they are barely present (especially in the Christian heartland).