The Late Rise Of Michel Sleiman – Part I

Lebanon's President Michel Sleiman during his visit to Uruguay. ANDRES STAPFF / Reuters

Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman during his visit to Uruguay.

“The evolution of the Resistance was a need during the impotence of the state and the persistence of this Resistance was achieved by virtue of the support granted by the Lebanese people, the State, and the Lebanese Army.
The success of the Resistance in the mission of vanquishing the israeli occupier springs from the courage and greatness of its martyrs and yet, the farms of “Shebaa” which are still occupied and the enemy’s persistence in threatening to violate our sovereignty impose upon us to elaborate a defensive strategy that will safeguard the country concomitantly with a calm dialogue to benefit from the capacities of the resistance in order to better serve this strategy. Accordingly, we will manage to avoid depreciating the achievements of the resistance in internal conflicts and subsequently we will safeguard its values and national position. […]

Moreover, the recent security incidents gave the impression that the Armed Forces did not assume the complete and required role. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the issue of ensuring the minimum level of agreement and securing the required political cover contribute to ward off such incidents in the future. In addition to this, it is essential to reinforce the morale of the Armed Forces on the national level, to equip these troops and to encourage the educated and promising youth to join the Army. ” – Michel Sleiman, from his inaugural speech (25 May 2008)

5 years later:

“It has become urgent to consider and adopt the National Defense Strategy, in light of the ongoing regional transformations and the changes that have affected the main function of the Resistance’s arms as they have crossed the Lebanese borders. Such review must be undertaken on the basis of the conception that I had submitted in that regard to the people and the national dialogue committee which considered it as a basis for discussion, and which was referred to by the UN secretary-general in his last reports to the Security Council; also based on our clear, precise and constant differentiation between resistance and terrorism, and in view of shielding our capability to resist and defend Lebanon exclusively. It is about time for the State, with its Army and higher political leadership, to be the main regulator and the decision-maker for the use of such capability.
In parallel, after Lebanon succeeded in liberating most of its territories from the Israeli occupation thanks to the converging efforts of all its national forces of resistance and deterrence, we will not forget to follow-up on the implementation of the Army armament and equipment program […]
The time is long gone when the Army was forbidden from defending Lebanon and when the state was forbidden from defending the Army. The Army is and will never be a buffer force between small Lebanese armies, militias or armed groups under the pretext of defending some cause that concerns a specific group, sect, neighborhood or region… the Army is the legitimate representative of the Lebanese nationalism and the constant embodiment of Lebanon’s unity and the Lebanese people… the Army has been and shall always be a symbol for every transition from a present governed by concerns and fear to a future freed by determination and hope.” – Michel Sleiman,  from his speech, August 1, 2013
Our President has changed. He’s speaking with a different tone, about things no one in his position would’ve probably dared to even discuss. When a simple idea, very marginal in an inaugural speech becomes the center of one of the last speeches he makes before (supposedly) leaving office, you know something is cooking out there.  (I highly recommend reading the full two speeches to see the difference)
The Last Reform
When you read the president’s promises made on May 25 2008, and you compare them to our current situation, you don’t know whether you should laugh or cry. “Political stability”, “dialogue”, “rotation of power through free elections”, “electoral law which ensures the sound representation”, “independence of judicial authority”, “younger and more competent administration”,” reformative educational policy”, “engaging the Lebanese communities in diaspora”, “activating the economic cycle”, “emphasis on tourism”, “confirming the participation in the establishment of the International tribunal”, “freeing the prisoners and the detainees”, “recovering our sons who sought refuge in Israel”, “defensive strategy”, “forbidding security violations”.
To make it worse, the president back then ended the speech by adding the sentence “Let us avoid drowning in promises”, implying that the promises made on the 25th of May were the least measures that should be taken between 2008 and 2014. When the Lebanese President will stand out of Baabda on the 25th of May 2014 – if his term doesn’t get an extension –  he would be leaving Lebanon in the complete opposite scenario (If the status quo remains the same): No political stability, no dialogue, no rotation of power, no free elections, no electoral law, no sound representation, no independence of judicial authority, no younger administration, no competent administration, no reformative educational policy, no engaged Lebanese communities in diaspora, no economic cycle activated, no tourism, no participation in the international tribunal, no detainees freed, refugees in Israel barely recovered, no defensive strategy, and nothing but security violations. To sum it up, in five years of rule, the president did not only achieve nothing, he also transferred Lebanon from the bad to the worst. It is too late to start any of the reforms, and the last meaningful possible salvation the general can think of for his 6 years and that can be equivalent to all the others  combined is ending his term with a defensive strategy in place and finding a solution to Lebanon’s never ending debate.
The New Camille Chamoun
In a previous post, I compared the genius political skills of Nabih Berri to the maneuverings of Camille Chamoun. Even though Sleiman isn’t as wise as Chamoun, he is at the very end of his mandate in the same position Chamoun was at the beginning of his in 1952. At the beginning of his mandate Chamoun was known for frequently changing his prime ministers without getting lots of criticism for it from the Lebanese in general and the Sunnis in particular. The main Sunni leader Riad Al-Solh was assassinated before Chamoun took power, and the very fact that there was a void in leadership entitled Chamoun to put several persons in office in the first half of his term: Khaled Chehab, Abdallah Al-Yafi, Saeb Salam, Sami Al-Solh, and Rachid Karami. It was possible for Chamoun because none of the leaders was charismatic/popular/old enough to be removed without angering the population. The very fact that he could change the PM at any time – till 1955 – without being questioned put Chamoun in a very strong position in which the PM was very weak and had to rely on the president in case he wanted a longer stay in the Serail. Sleiman is more or less in the same position today: From Paris, Saad Hariri is no longer than an ex-prime minister that is losing popular support by the day to allies and rivals . Mikati is now history. Tammam Salam can’t form his government. Fouad Siniora seems the most practical solution, after trying all the other paralyzed governments. This leads to one equation: 4 mainly  equal Sunni men, with rising dozens are aspiring to enter the Grand Serail. With two prime ministers – a designated and caretaker one – with absolutely no power, and several other alternatives  to them, Michel Sleiman finds himself the only entity in the executive authority, that is irreplaceable (8 months of vacuum in the presidency preceded Suleiman), neither designated, nor caretaking, and that will remain like that for the next 9 months. In 2008 and 2009, Siniora was the strongest one in the executive authority. In 2010, it was Hariri. In 2011 and 2012, it was Mikati. In 2013,  It is no one. Not only there is no PM in power, but even if there would be a PM in power, he could be easily replaceable by many others as there is not one exclusive Sunni leader anymore. Sleiman’s position today is the most stable among his other colleagues, allowing him to speak more freely. There is no government to please, no one irreplaceable (à la Iza Mish Aajbak, Bye Bye) prime minister to work with – let alone the presence of that prime minister in office. Presidents usually start their mandate strong and end weak. For Michel Sleiman, it seems like it’s the opposite.
I am very sorry but I had to split that post to two because it was very lengthy. Part II comes out tomorrow. Stay tuned.