Lebanese Politics – 2013 In Review

Halleluja painting by Mhamad Saad

Halleluja painting  (Mhamad Saad)

2013 was a year full of political events. Today you probably don’t remember half of them. In five years, you’ll hardly remember anything. What I’ll try to do in this blog post, is to link everything that happened in 2013 in a way that will let us have a bigger picture of a year that will probably be only remembered for an extension of a parliament, a Syrian spillover, a governmental resignation and a political assassination. But 2013 was way more complicated than that.

The War For The Electoral Law – There Is Hope, Part I(January-February 2013)

2013 starts with hope. A hope that a new electoral law will change Lebanese politics as we know it and create new opportunities. Several draft laws will be discussed (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). 128 Districts, 50 Districts, 37 Districts, 13 Districts. Majority Law, Proportional Representation, Hybrid  propositions. None of them – except the Orthodox Gathering Law, the worst among them all – will make it through the committees. For the next 3 months, the OGL will be the soul of 2013’s first political maneuver. Michel Aoun – with the Shia parties supporting the law and the Sunni ones refusing it – will use the OGL to embarrass his Christians rivals and turn them against the Future Movement. A double political victory for Aoun : Shattering for the first time the very core of a 8 year-political alliance but also confirming his Christian dominance by showing himself as the sole protector of the Christian interests.

A Lebanese Senator Having a Civil Marriage?  – There Is Hope, Part II (February 2013)

February will be a month of surprises. Saad Hariri – in order to bring March 14 back on its feet – will shock the Lebanese with two particular stances. In an attempt to counter the rising influence of Najib Mikati and the increasing power of Grand Mufti Qabbani, he will endorse Civil Marriage in Lebanon and break the foundations of the Taef agreement, by calling for a bicameral parliament, with two sectarian chambers including a senate based on the OGL law. This second political maneuver of 2013 hits two birds with one stone: Hariri makes sure that he is still the master of his sect by going against his rivals before it’s too late, and tries at the same time to mend bridges with his Christian allies by showing a very moderate side and offering a constitutional concession meant to replace the OGL while securing the Future Movement interests.

A Government Falls (March 2013)

Mikati, alarmed by Hariri’s comeback among the Sunnis, will quickly take action. After failing to keep Rifi as the head of the ISF, he will use that opportunity to show that he is the master of his own fate. His resignation would be the third political maneuver of 2013. To M8, he wants to show he’s irreplaceable. He’s also confirming his status as a powerful Sunni leader not controlled by Hezbollah, and preparing himself as a strong Sunni M8 candidate for the parliamentary elections. But his calculations will prove to be wrong.

Tammam, We Have A Consensual  Candidate (April 2013)

Tammam Salam – after a Jumblattist change of strategy –  will reach the premiership. A half victory for M14, since M8 will quickly endorse him to prevent a formation of a unilateral M14 government. Meet the fourth political maneuver of 2013: If you can’t beat them, join them. This particular maneuver will put Salam in a very hard position. He has no relevant popular backing, and can’t act without M8, M14 and the centrists. The vacuum in the executive power will hence last throughout 2013 because of M14’s refusal to enter a government with M8 and the centrists’ refusal to exclude anyone.

Time Is Money – There Was Never Hope (May 2013)

May is the result of the previous 5 months. No electoral law, governmental chaos and inter-sectarian struggles between the Christian and Sunni leaders will make way to a 14 month extension to the parliament’s term. Only Aoun, who had no interest in keeping the status-quo at that particular moment of strength, was against this extension. Since the extension bought time for Hezbollah’s fight in Syria and Kept Berri speaker for one extra year, they won’t oppose it and tensions will rise between the various March 8 sections. Meet 2013’s fifth political maneuver, or how M14 began shattering the M8 alliance by siding with Hezbollah against Aoun in the parliament.

Jihad In Saida (June 2013)

In very odd circumstances, Ahmad Al-Assir’s forces will clash with the Lebanese army. A blow to all the rising Salafis that tried to take advantage of the Sunni political vacuum after Hariri’s self-exile. Three main winners will emerge from the political annihilation of Ahmad Al-Assir: Hezbollah (M8 will be able to make a stronger case in the Takfiri propaganda), the commander of the army (Higher hopes in the presidential race) and the traditional Sunni Zuamas – Mikati, Hariri, Siniora, Karami, Salam (By the  elimination of a potential rising Salafi rival). The sixth of Lebanon’s 2013 political maneuvers hence consisted in throwing out any unwanted newcomer to Lebanese politics by encouraging him to clash militarily and lose.

It’s All About Nabih Berri (July 2013)

In July, Nabih Berri will try three times to use the vacuum in the executive power and the deadlock in the parliament to consolidate his power. First, he will try to pass several laws in the parliament with no government in power – contre l’usage . Then he will try and break the equilibrium by declaring M8 a dissolved alliance in order to see if M14 might ally with him. He will finally try to set up a deal bringing Hariri back to the premiership and giving  M8 in exchange a proper governmental representation. Nabih Berri’s Triple Maneuver is what will mark the most of July 2013.

The Rise And Rise Of Michel Sleiman (August 2013)

Reinforced by  a regional and local context (expired parliament and no government),  Michel Sleiman will find himself more legitimate than ever. He will hence make statements criticizing the Lebanese status-quo and Hezbollah’s weapons, putting him in a confrontation with March 8 and briefly ending his policy of centrism. Lebanon’s eighth maneuver in 2013 (see here and here for more details) would be in Sleiman’s confrontation with Hezbollah in order to raise the pressure on M8 and force them to concede to the governmental terms of M14.

Fakhreddine’s Legacy (September 2013)

September will be the month of upside-downs. The internal war within March 8 will reach its climax with Aoun’s slow rapprochement to Saudi-Arabia, while all Lebanese politicians will endorse the “Fakhreddine / wait and see” Political Maneuver by siding in the middle and waiting for the progress concerning a possible American strike on Syria. No one wants to preemptively side with the losing faction.

Priorities And Confusion (October 2013)

The very fact that no side lost following the September events made it easier for all the parties to keep their same stances. With no peace in the Syrian horizon, the deadlock regarding governmental formation was now combined with the start of presidential campaigns by the Christian leaders. Frangieh will be responsible of the tenth political maneuver in 2013, by asking for a constitutional amendment that is likely to force political parties to agree on a president, hence slightly implying that he might be a strong candidate and that the M8 internal war is so strong that it might split M8 into two factions: One supporting Frangieh and the other endorsing the Aounist candidate. Merging the two cases of governmental formation and presidential made it more harder for politicians to prioritize which issue is more important, hence drowning the whole situation in a more serious deadlock.

The Price Of Proxies (November 2013)

By November 2013, the spillover in Syria was now too important. Lebanon became once again the region’s bloody mailbox due to an explosion targeting the Iranian embassy. In the aftermath, the different responses by the Three allies – Hezbollah, Iran and Syria – showed that the three of them do not share the same unique enemy, and that the Iranian ties to the U.S. were getting stronger. Throughout summer and autumn, Lebanese proxies of foreign powers will launch – in parallel to the direct ongoing war in Syria – an indirect psychological warfare – let’s call that the eleventh political maneuver because it will strengthen the extremist factions in M8 and M14 – in the form of rigged cars and suicide bombings in Tripoli, the Bekaa and the Southern Suburbs of Beirut.

Manipulation And Flames (December 2013)

A twelfth political maneuver, this time by the president, was destined to loosen the demands of the M8 and M14 coalitions in the governmental formation by exploiting the power of an outgoing president  with no apparent successor. A senior M14 / Future Movement member was assassinated and the two words “Liberation war”  in  Siniora’s funeral speech will put the entire political situation in a  whole new level before 2014.

3,2,1,0! It’s 2014.

3, 2, 1 and 0. Remember these numbers very carefully. In a normal functioning democracy, Lebanon should see 3 governments in 2014. One from January till May (the presidential elections), one from May to November (the Parliamentary elections) and the last one should be formed in December after the elections. 2014 is also a big year full of political events.  We have two elections waiting: The presidential elections are theoretically in May, and the parliamentary ones theoretically in November. The parliamentary elections are supposed to come with a new electoral law, which is also interesting. Regionally, a peace conference is expected for Syria, and Iranian-U.S. ties are improving which will likely affect the Saudi/French attitude in Beirut. Will the deadlock change? Who will be the next president? Will we have a president? Who will be the P.M.? What will be the next moves? Who will win the elections? No matter what happens, 2014 will be full of surprises – partly because we already have nothing to be surprised of now.

In a functioning democracy, Lebanon should see 3 governments in 2014. But  – if the deadlock remains – be in the mood for 2, 1 or no government at all, Lebanon.