Yesterday, we were on the verge of a Christian-Muslim confrontation in parliament. For the first time in Lebanon’s modern history, Lebanon’s biggest three Christian parties in the parliament were going to stick together on an important matter: Boycotting legislative sessions in the absence of a president in power. Within days, the Sunni-Shia (or Future Movement – Hezbollah) rivalry in the country was replaced with a Christian-Muslim one, bringing back the memories of the civil war.
But today is a different day: The FPM, LF and FM just made a deal to eventually participate in tomorrow’s legislative session. Welcome to the incredible world of Lebanese politics.
The bait worked…
Nabih Berri gambled and won. In order to secure the legitimacy and quorum for his “legislation of necessity”, the speaker tried to lure the Christian parties by adding to the agenda a draft law that would grant citizenship to the descendants of Lebanese expatriates. For ages, that was one of the main requests of the Christian parties (they believe that most of the expatriates are Christians which would strengthen their position ahead of parliamentary elections). But the Christian parties (until today – November 11) were still planning on boycotting the session despite Berri’s “bait”, each for its own reason:
For the LF and the Kataeb, boycotting the legislative session means that they’re pissing off the leadership of the March 8 alliance and that they too – and not only the FPM – are ready to stand up for Christian rights (= the priority of electing a Christian president before legislating in this case).
For the FPM, their boycott of the session is probably a mini-retaliation on Berri for letting the extension of Kahwagi in the army command pass and for not standing with them on the Chamel Roukoz issue. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
But in the end, the FPM and the LF eventually decided to show up on Thursday’s session, probably because the speaker wasn’t intending on adjourning the legislative session and because the Muslim parties were going to participate in it despite the Christian uproar. The Christian parties – probably after working things out with the FM (The FM and the FPM all by themselves could form a parliamentary majority which means that the citizenship law would probably pass) – eventually decided to take advantage of the presidential vacancy and get a pro-Christian law in exchange of securing the legitimacy of the legislative session. It’s a practical deal: Berri’s session doesn’t get too questioned in terms of legitimacy (imagine laws passing in the absence of 2/3 of the Christian MPs and a Christian president), and in exchange, the two major Christian parties (the LF and the FPM) send a message of pseudo-Christian unity while strengthening their position ahead of possible parliamentary elections. If the Christians would have planned on continuing their boycott, the session would have probably happened anyway and then the Christian parties would have to confront their Muslim allies and explain themselves in front of their electorates on how they let their allies bypass them on such important decisions. Getting a law granting citizenship to the descendants of Lebanese expatriates via a deal is the easier/smarter solution for both the LF and the FPM, especially since the Muslim parties won’t oppose them because of the presidential vacancy which puts them in a stronger position. In other words, the FM, PSP, Hezbollah and Amal were successfully blackmailed by the LF and the FPM after trying to blackmail them.
…And everyone won..
By striking the deal with the FM, the FPM managed to send a message to its Muslim M8 allies that if they aren’t going to stand with them in the future on important matters (like the Roukoz crisis), a rapprochement with the FM isn’t out of the question. It’s also a mini-humiliation to the speaker since the agreement is being circulated by the media as an FPM-FM-LF deal that wasn’t sponsored by the speaker .
For the LF, the deal puts them in the middle (since they were the ones who brokered the deal), and finally gives purpose to the FPM-LF declaration of intent. For the first time since they exited the executive power in 2011, the Lebanese Forces seem to have a role, and it’s an important one. “We passed the most important law for the Christians” will be used before the parliamentary elections (I’ll remind you when it happens).
For the Kataeb, they send a clear message that they’re the only ones who care about the constitution and the Christian rights since they refused to compromise, although they suffer a mini-defeat by being abandoned/ignored – for the millionth time – by the LF-FPM duo. More than ever, the May 2015 declaration of intent seems to be directed at thwarting the slow but steady rise of the Sami Gemayel’s Kataeb.
Berri eventually wins since his plan on holding the legislative session eventually went through.
…Except the Constitution. The only loser seems to be the Lebanese constitution
Have you met article 75?
The Chamber meeting to elect the President of the Republic shall be considered an electoral body and not a legislative assembly. It must proceed immediately, without discussion of any other act, to elect the Head of the State.
But then again, it seems that no one cares.
536 days sincwe the 25th of May. 372 days since the 5th of November. 82 days since the 22nd of August.