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.