This is the 23rd post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the last days of June and the month of July 2016.
Lebanese politicians usually take their break during summer. They stop writing speeches, they stop giving statements, and they stop campaigning. Truth be said, Lebanese politicians are on a break all year round, but in summer it’s usually really something else (it’s probably too hot for political maneuvers). This June and July though have been full of developments.
Revolts in the Kataeb and the FPM
When the transition of power started in the Kataeb and the FPM last year, everyone had underestimated the fact that the new young leaders of those parties would face resistance from their own leadership. Bassil was Aoun’s son-in-law and was more or less anointed by the General (unchallenged after Alain Aoun withdrew from the race), while Gemayel was basically leading a party founded by his grandfather and led by his father. So the potential for revolt in both parties was small, since time had turned those parties (as well as most of the Lebanese parties) into family reunions led by the heir. But both leaders were young, and both saw their party making HUGE decisions within less than a year for them in power: The FPM entered a historic alliance with the LF in January, and the Kataeb decided in June to abandon their biggest share in government since ages in favor of a long-term political maneuver. Big decisions mean consolidating power, and consolidating power means that potential rivals had to be marginalized. One of the Kataeb ministers, Sejaan Kazzi, (arguably) a member of the old guard, refused to resign, and subsequently saw his membership revoked. Gemayel was trying to keep the Kataeb in the game by orchestrating the political maneuver of the year (you don’t get the opportunity to be congratulated by rivals for a bold move twice) and everything Kazzi was thinking about was his chair in the Grand Serail. He publicly defied the young leader’s authority and made him look weak. Expelling Kazzi from the party was the smart thing to do, and the Gemayel leadership did it. On the other side of the political spectrum, in the FPM, tensions have been building up for a while: It is no secret that not everyone likes Gebran Bassil in the FPM, and if Gemayel was brave enough to exit the cabinet and expel a minister from his party, Bassil had to take control of his party too: Right before preliminiary elections that were supposed to be a democratic way to choose the FPM’s parliamentary candidates, three major FPM officials – not big fans of Bassil – were expelled from the party, probably to prevent them from consolidating any kind of power while Bassil is still trying to win the hearts of his father-in-law’s fan base. Not every LF supporter liked the FPM-LF alliance, and not every FPM supporter was a fan of it too, so making sure that there was no rivalry to the young FPM leader in the middle of a weird Christian alliance was a must. Prominent Beiruti FPM official Ziad Abs, Aoun’s nephew Naim Aoun, and other Bassil critics were thus no longer part of the FPM. Not really smooth, but it’s a practical way of keeping the potential FPM parliamentary candidates pro-Bassil. The months of June and July 2016 “party purges” in the Christian parties are the first round of preparations to the 2017 elections: The leader has to make sure that the candidates would not question him before he starts nominating them.
The rest of the August was cliché: Lebanese politicians arguing about the internet, Hezbollah and the FM playing the usual love-and-hate game, and other Lebanese politicians trying to strike an gas & oil deal before a new president gets elected and complicates the procedure of sharing the cake. Speaking of that:
“We discussed the oil and gas file and ways to extract it from the Lebanese waters. We have agreed with the AMAL Movement on the points of disagreement which gives the country an opportunity for stability.” (Gebran Bassil, July 1 2016)
Presidency for oil?
Now this is pure speculation, but Berri’s 13 votes in parliament are a nice advantage for Aoun’s quest to the presidential palace (March 8 + LF =65 votes – here’s a nice table clarifying that), and the calm statements going back and forth from Ain El Tineh to Rabieh recently (Aoun and Berri are known for their political cold war) hints that an agreement on the oil dossier can mean that a compromise including the oil and gas reserves file might make it easier to end the deadlock. Also, we all know that “opportunity for stability” is the politician’s nickname of “Lebanese president”
Bassil’s comments were made following his meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri in the presence of Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, who, in turn, said that Berri is “keen on reaching a common ground over this issue in order to launch works.“
“We discussed political issues and projects and we agreed to continue the coordination and cooperation over these issues” he added.
“these” = something is cooking. Have you ever seen the FPM and Amal leaders so happy and optimistic in their meetings?
Jumblatt also criticized any new term extension for Kahwagi in the army command, a move that should bring the PSP leader closer to the FPM, which is something he shouldn’t be doing if there wasn’t a deal on the horizon. He also praised the FPM-Amal agreement…
Oh, and among other cliché events, the supreme council of the tribal federation (the national dialogue guys) met for three days and decided that since electing a president and agreeing on an electoral law, organizing parliamentary elections, voting a state budget, and drafting a defensive strategy were too mainstream, they were now going to work on creating a senate and debate its authorities and its electoral law – in the absence of a president and with the legitimacy of 127 deputies elected more than 7 years ago who are represented by an assembly of politicians that has no constitutional authority.
So to sum up the first half of this summer, the Lebanese Christian parties were organizing themselves for next year’s parliamentary elections while the political class was complicating the presidential crisis even more by including senate talks and the oil doisser in the potential deal. Complicating the crisis means a longer deadlock and a longer deadlock means a possible parliamentary extension which also means a longer deadlock, which means that the entire revolts and counter-revolts that happened in the Christian parties last month were in vain.
So yeah, again, nice.
Oh, and speaking of deadlocks and productivity, Lebanon’s number 1 presidential candidate right now, Sleiman Frangieh, reportedly said that the only things that work right now are…prayers. And people complain our politicians / candidates have no plans.
Enjoy your summer. You know your politicians are!
Don’t forget to pray,
For three years of dialogue weren’t enough to agree on the name of a president.