2013’s Last Political Maneuver

Charles Helou’s Caricature as a Jesuit priest by Pierre Sadek

Pure Chaos. That’s what the past two weeks have been all about. Hezbollah is having a more aggressive tone by the day. This week Nasrallah compared March 14’s Tripoli declaration to a declaration of war. The Syrian regime is accusing the Lebanese cabinet (that is ironically pro-Syrian regime) of interfering in Syrian affairs. Jumblatt lashed out at Aridi after the latter resigned from the caretaker cabinet. Relations are  deteriorating between Future Movement and the president who apparently gave his blessing to the 9-6-6 governmental formula. At the same time, relations between M8 and the president aren’t very good with the rumors that Sleiman might ask Salam to form a de-facto cabinet. Christian leaders are distancing themselves from each other ahead of the presidential elections while awkwardly  unifying their stances against the extension of the president’s current term. Nabih Berri stood up for the president and announced that the latter did not ask him for an extension of his term.

But is it total chaos or something is actually cooking out there? Let’s state the facts again.

The Example Of Charles Helou

It is said that Charles Helou, Lebanon’s fourth president (1964-1970) was rather a weak president. Helou felt that Fouad Chehab was still the one controlling everything, and that he was no more than his puppet in the presidential palace, so he resorted to several tricks by strengthening the anti-Chehabist opposition then by  inciting the two camps against each other, hence slightly reinforcing his position. This “Jesuit” strategy (Charles Helou went to a Jesuit school and a Jesuit University) even led the late caricaturist Pierre Sadek to draw him in his caricatures as a Jesuit priest. Why am I mentioning this? Because Michel Sleiman acted exactly the same as Helou this week.

Back To 2013

Michel Sleiman is stuck between M8 and M14. The designated prime-minister Tammam Salam broke a few weeks ago Rachid Karami’s 43 year old record in forming a government. Today marks the ninth month since Mikati resigned from premiership. We kind of got used to vacuum in power, but 9 months is really, really too much. 9 Months is how long it takes a pregnant woman to deliver a child. Meaning that some Lebanese babies actually spent their whole intra-uterine life while there was absolutely no functioning cabinet. How cool are these Babies ? (In other words, Fi ahla men Lebnen?).

Meanwhile, in 3 months, the parliament will have to convene to elect a president that will replace Sleiman 2 months after that date. Sleiman is causing panic. He’s not officially denying the rumors that he will form a de-facto government of M14 or independent figures, while at the same time telling Fouad Siniora that he has no problem with a 9-6-6 formula. So what really happened this week and why the sudden aggressive stances from everyone? It’s because each camp thinks that the other is far more closer to forming the government. And the Aridi-Jumblatt issue, along with the Syrian regime’s frequent criticism of Jumblatt and of Mikati’s caretaker cabinet indicate that even the Syrians – that supported the Mikati government (at least preferred it on Hariri’s one) in 2011 – want it gone for good.

The President’s Brilliant Maneuver

Now that the Mikati caretaker cabinet is falling apart (topped with the Aridi-Safadi raw), it is a lot more likely for a government to be formed, especially ahead of a probable presidential vacuum. With no elected president to succeed him, Sleiman will transfer his powers to the interim cabinet in power putting him in a far better negotiating position. The only remaining piece of the puzzle – and that’s what the president did this week, à la Charles Helou, is giving the impression to M8 that they are fighting a lost battle because he’s pro-M14, and to M14 that he doesn’t care about them because he’ll do what M8 wants. That should make them both (M8 and M14) more malleable concerning their governmental demands (due to fear of a cabinet solely composed from members of the other camp) and hence accelerate the formation of the government.

Between the Christian leaders’ veto on the extension of the president’s term and their inability to decide on the name of the new president, Michel Sleiman found himself in a stronger position on the negotiation table. If he won’t see his term extended, he’ll make sure to use the M8/M14 rift (along with the probable presidential vacuum) in his advantage regarding the government’s formation.