In 2005, and as the Syrian army was retreating from Lebanon, a quadripartite alliance was formed between Lebanon’s four major Muslim parties (Amal, Hezbollah, the FM, and the PSP) ahead of the parliamentary elections. At the time, the 2000 electoral law was still in place, which meant that the quadripartite alliance could have easily won more than 100 seat in Lebanon’s parliament: The electoral map was engineered by the pro-Syrian elite in a way to reduce Christian influence – only two constituencies had a clear-cut Christian majority, Keserwan-Jbeil and the Metn. The maneuver was obvious: It was a way of reassuring Lebanon’s pro-Syrian parties (Amal, Hezbollah) that they wouldn’t be excluded from the Lebanese equation following the Syrian withdrawal, while at the same time keeping the Christian newcomers in check: Michel Aoun had just come back from Paris, there was increasing pressure to release Geagea from jail, and both of them had been gaining momentum and threatening to challenge the dominance of the quadripartite alliance’s parties. The Kataeb and the LF eventually settled for a couple of seats they won alongside the quadripartite alliance in the Muslim-dominated districts while the FPM, on their own in the opposition, “tsunamied” in the two Christian-majority constituencies and even managed to partially make it through in Zahle. However with the 2006 memorandum of understanding between the FPM and Hezbollah, a new era began in Lebanese politics, shattering the 2005 quadripartite alliance into the March 8 and March 14 alliances: Amal and Hezbollah joined the FPM in the opposition, lost the 2009 elections, but eventually managed to reach power in 2011.
Then came the month of November 2015. For the first time since 2006, several events in Lebanese politics started putting in question the cohesion of Lebanon’s two main alliances, March 8 and March 14. If it wasn’t for a last minute-decision, the FPM and the LF were on the verge of standing against their Muslim allies in parliament. Regardless of the reservations coming from the Christian parties, the four parties in parliament were insisting on legislating in the absence of a president in power and were going through with their plans regardless of the opinion of all of their Christian allies – except Frangieh. This dangerous precedent of trying to isolate the biggest three Christian parties in Lebanon wasn’t going to be the first that year: The same four Muslim parties that allied in 2005 and isolated the Christian parties in early November are now talking about electing Frangieh as president, much to the dismay of the FPM, the LF, and the Kataeb.
The Maronite four
The presidential elections are the most exciting event for the Christian parties, and the failure of their Muslim allies to stand with them – even after one year and a half of vacancy – can be deadly for Lebanon’s two alliances. It was always a possibility that Lebanon’s Muslim parties would eventually support their own candidate to the presidential elections, which is why, and in a desperate preemptive move two years ago, Lebanon’s four Maronite leaders gave themselves the title of “strong presidential candidate”, thus agreeing early on that only one of them would be allowed to be elected president. The maronite four knew that at least one of Lebanon’s Muslim parties would veto each of their names, and that candidates like LAF commander Jean Kahwagi were more likely to be consensual ones so they launched one of the most brilliant maneuvers of 2014 and restricted the acceptable candidates to a group of 4 persons: Themselves.
The Maronite one
So what exactly happened to the Maronite four’s solidarity campaign? It backfired: Samir Geagea ran in the first round of presidential elections and lost…to no one, Amine Gemayel was replaced as president of his party by his son Sami while Gebran Bassil took his father-in-law’s position in the FPM. This transitional phase that suddenly hit two of Lebanon’s Christian parties – accompanied by Geagea’s humiliation in parliament, made Frangieh the second-oldest of the Maronite (de-facto) four and a serious candidate for the presidency. His rebellious attitude towards Aoun in the last two times the parliament convened in – unlike Aoun, he supported the parliamentary extension of 2014 while also dissociating his policy from the FPM’s one in the last parliamentary session – was very marking. His criticism of Aoun’s protests, as well as his commentary on the FPM/LF’s latest achievement (the new citizenship law) did not go unnoticed.
All that time – and while staunchly supporting Aoun’s candidacy – Frangieh was slowly stepping out of the Shadow of the Maronite Four. Only months ago, he used to be the youngest of the group. Now he’s the second oldest (official) leader of Lebanon’s Christian parties and is starting to pose a serious threat on both Geagea and Aoun. When those two leaders decided to start their rapprochement in May, we all thought that it was to counter the rise of Sami Gemayel in the Kataeb. Turns out that this mini-weird-alliance between the FPM and the LF was also made to contain a rising threat to Baabda coming from the North: Sleiman Frangieh.
Tripartite alliance vs Quadripartite alliance?
If the Muslim parties that isolated Aoun in 2005 come back together to elect Frangieh without getting the blessing of any of Lebanon’s Christian parties, it would set a dangerous precedent – perhaps the most dangerous one since Taef: For the first time, Lebanon’s Muslim parties – aka the quadripartite alliance – would be voting for Frangieh and will be – in a way or another – pushing Lebanon’s biggest three Christian parties (FPM, LF, Kataeb) to form a counter-alliance to resist Frangieh’s election. The last time a Frangieh was in power and that the Christians and Muslims were siding against one another was in 1975, so it’s not really good to have that same combination again.
How the Maronite four treaty will backfire
The biggest three Christian parties will count on the fact that their boycott of the election of the top Maronite post will be enough to force the hand of their Muslim allies. You can’t expect the Christian parties to simply let the Muslim parties decide the outcome of the presidential elections without their approval: This would raise questions on the legitimacy of a Christian president “abandoned by his won sect” (That’s the propaganda the three Christian parties would use). Frangieh might be weaker than the others (he’s a local Zaim who only commands three MPs in parliament and who has been overshadowed by Aoun for the past 10 years), but then again, he doesn’t need to prove his legitimacy to anyone: He is one of the Maronite four, and he will use this weapon against the bigger 3 parties every time he can. For Lebanon’s four Muslim parties, Frangieh represents the most legitimate candidate that could be elected without the consent of Geagea, Aoun and Gemayel. When the Maronite four restricted the post to one of them, they had probably never thought that the Muslim parties would eventually support one of their own. Yet in a way, they led the Muslim parties straight to Frangieh: He has the right name and he’s part of the Maronite four. At only
55 50 years old, he’s one of the oldest-serving MPs in the Lebanese parliament (1992-2005, 2009-2017), he’s local (<=> weak <=> even better since he won’t be as defiant as the others), he’s reliable, he doesn’t suddenly change sides, he did his time in the executive power and thus has the experience to rule (unlike Geagea), and he was the only Christian leader to stand by his Muslim ally throughout most of the events. Frangieh was close to winning the game, and his three rivals – while thinking they were protecting themselves from kahwagi or Salamis nomination – gave him the winning cards. Or so it seems.
An M8 conspiracy theory?
According to many of M8’s supporters, Frangieh’s nomination is considered to be a hidden “Aoun” one. They say that Aoun is stalling in order to give the impression that Frangieh is not his candidate thus making his name more popular across the FM. Although everything can be possible in the realm of Lebanese politics, I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories and reverse-conspiracy theories, and only time will tell if this an M14 maneuver to blow up M8 or an M8 counter-maneuver to take the presidency. Aoun might eventually endorse Frangieh as his protege in order to minimize his loss, although one thing is for sure: A new chapter in Lebanese politics is opening up, and Gebran Bassil should be ready to face a serious threat to his power within M8.
Hezbollah’s green light to the Frangieh candidacy is also yet to be given, so almost all scenarios are possible at that moment.
The biggest of all ironies here is that Frangieh (the grandfather) counted on the support of a “Christian tripartite alliance” (consisting of Chamoun, Edde and Gemayel) to be elected president in 1970, while the biggest obstacle currently facing his grandson seems to be another Christian tripartite alliance. For the Frangiehs, the only thing that is constant seems to be the support they receive from the Jumblatts during the presidential elections.
559 days since the 25th of May. 395 days since the 5th of November.