Is There A Tripartite Alliance In The Making?

Hariri, Berri and Nasrallah

Back In Time… (Picture found on the internet)

An FPM-FM alliance is probably the most logical alliance one can think of in Lebanon. Together, they hold the absolute majority in the parliament. They both started as secular parties, they both have a certain sectarian identity, and they are the parties that least participated in the 1975-90 civil war. Also, they do not have the same electoral clientele, with the FM gathering its strength in the main three cities and the rural Sunni regions, and Aoun mainly controlling the seats of Northern Mount-Lebanon, which means that they will not compete with each other and there will be no rivalry: Aoun is appealing to the Christian electorate and Hariri to the Muslim one.  Aoun can use the extra Sunni votes in Batroun, Beirut, Koura and Zgharta and Zahle to tip the balance in his favor, while Hariri can use the FPM power in several regions especially southern Mount-Lebanon to hold the precious 8 seats of the Chouf. Electorally speaking, if both enter an alliance, they will probably control all the districts except Bcharri, Baalbak-Hermel, Hasbaya-Marjeyoun, Nabatieh, Zahrani, Aley, Bint Jbeil, and Tyre. That’s roughly 90 Members of the parliament under FPM/FM control. 70% of the Parliament. No LF, no PSP, no Kataeb, no Amal, no Hezbollah needed. 70% via the votes of the FPM and the FM, only.

That’s me, in November. (see the full post here)

4 months ago, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement were having their first meeting since 2005. 7 months ago, the transition had already started. 6 months ago, Nabih Berri, in one of his political maneuvers, declared the March 8 alliance dead. The turning point – apparently – was the day the elections were postponed. M14 made M8 abandon Aoun. But what no one saw back then was that M14 didn’t only make Hezbollah abandon Aoun. It forced Aoun to go on a quest to find a new, stronger ally.

We’re not talking anymore about FPM and FM members having a meeting. We’re not talking anymore about small statements or speculations. We are talking about Michel Aoun meeting  Saad Hariri in Rome and the partisan media being shy about it. We are talking about Aoun congratulating Hariri on his stances. We are taking about Ahmad Al Hariri getting confused and changing the subject when Marcel Ghanem asked him if Michel Aoun was the FM’s candidate to the elections.

We are talking about a brutal change in Lebanese politics. But what are the benefits of such a potential alliance between Aoun and Hariri?

Isolate

Here’s a fun fact: The Future Movement doesn’t need Aoun. Within M14, GMA would be a pain in the ass. They’ll have to share power with yet another ally, keep the rivalry between the FPM, the LF, and the Kataeb under control, and eventually – whether they like it or not – deal with a unified empowered confederation of Christian political parties. The FM would have created a stronger Christian bloc within M14. However, here’s another fun fact: Hezbollah without Aoun, is a Hezbollah that’s all alone (Yeah, it rhymes 😀 ). So, the plan from the FM – I believe – isn’t simply allying with Aoun. It’s isolating Hezbollah, or at least, forcing Hezbollah to enter a tripartite alliance with the FPM and the FM where Hezbollah would have to agree to some of FM’s terms. Aoun mentioned two important things in his latest television interview: That he’s on the same political wavelength with Saad Hariri, and most importantly, that he wishes to include the Sunnis in his memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah. Sums everything up I guess?

The road to Baabda

Aoun learned from his lessons in the previous presidential elections. In 2008, they were 2: If you’re a minority, you lose. If you’re not in the middle, you lose. Remember the words “tripartite alliance” in the previous paragraph? Memorize them well. Aoun knows how to count.  The tripartite alliance, with some help from M14’s pro-FM allies, is likely to form Lebanon’s new parliamentary majority. I believe that some parties – risking electoral annihilation from the FM and FPM alliance – would also join that alliance. For the first time, Aoun would simultaneously be:  (1) In the Middle (2) With a parliamentary majority behind him and (3) The strongest Christian leader backed by the Strongest Muslim allies available. Mabrouk: we have a candidate that meets and even exceeds the criteria.

The Rivals from within

Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri both have one thing in common: The rise of rivals. Let me take the simple example of Saad Hariri:  Najib Mikati and Mohamed Safadi are the masters of their own fate in Tripoli and no longer answer to the FM. In Beirut is rising the bey of Beirut Tammam Salam, while in Saida, Siniora is strong enough to question the supremacy of Saad Hariri. In Akkar and the North in general, the FM’s MPs are not hesitating to take more extremist stances in order to appeal to the local population – sometimes criticizing Hariri himself. Michel Aoun on the other hand faces the existential threat of M8 nominating the more loyal Frangieh instead of him. After all, Frangieh has the age factor on his side. Things are not looking good on both sides, and they both need each other in order to remind their junior allies in the upcoming elections that they remain the strongest among all.

The Lebanese Forces in denial

I have been following Lebanese politics for some time now, and as you can clearly see, I rarely comment on the stances or political strategies of the Lebanese Forces. And it’s not because of love or hate. It’s because there is hardly anything to comment on. It’s always the same stances, the same way, in the same tone. And the monotony isn’t only political. Parliamentary speaking, they hold a number of seats that is way too small to change anything. Electorally speaking, they depend on others practically everywhere while no one depends on them. And they have been absent from the executive power for the past 3 years. In other words – excuse my French and geeky medical terms – ils ont un rôle épidémiologique nul.

But something changed lately (see here, here, here). Geagea is refusing to enter a government that includes Hezbollah, and is going against the all-embracing government decision of Saad Hariri. Hariri can’t brutally change sides and flush his alliance with Geagea in the toilet after 9 years. Apart from turning the Christian population against him, it’s ethically bad for him to be seen as the man that might compromise on everything, including his longtime allies. By boycotting Hezbollah’s presence in the government, the Lebanese Forces are making the impossible to force the FM not to enter the government along with M8 so that the FM would never have the opportunity of gaining a more centrist position that would entitle them to be one step closer to an agreement with Aoun.

8-8-8 and the end of M8?

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Hezbollah agreed in January to the 8-8-8 formula. In a way, Hezbollah succumbed to fear: The fear that if Tammam Salam’s attempt (of  forming an independent cabinet) failed for lack of parliamentary confidence, GMA would name Saad Hariri as new Prime Minister (the same way Jumblatt was supposed to name M8’s candidate  in 2013 but named Salam instead). That’s probably why M8 is trying to please Aoun by giving him important ministries in the government such as the Foreign ministry.

Because of the war in Syria, Hezbollah needs a strong Christian ally on his side more than ever, and both Hariri and Aoun realize that. And that is how and why a deal pleasing the three parties might eventually see light: Hezbollah wants to keep his ally, Aoun wants the presidency, and Hariri wants to go back to the Grand Serail.

Reminder: We still don’t have a government.

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