Ashraf Rifi

Did Ashraf Rifi’s Resignation inspire the Kataeb?

Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel announces the resignation of his party's two ministers from the Cabinet

Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel announces the resignation of his party’s two ministers from the Cabinet (Image source: The Daily Star / Hassan Shaaban)

This is the 22nd post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the months of May and June 2016.

Six months ago, Lebanon watched in denial as the biggest two Civil War enemies became frenemies. As Geagea endorsed his archrival Aoun for presidency and as the Christian marriage sealed an alliance between the biggest two Christian parties, everyone else panicked and started acting weird: Instead of trying to win Geagea back, Hariri decided to widen the gap with the LF even further by officially endorsing Frangieh for presidency. Jumblatt awkwardly re-endorsed Helou, and even speaker Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s most experienced political tactician, struggled to distance himself from endorsing the FPM’s leader (spoiler alert: he eventually succeeded. He always does). The mainstream media started with its predictions, but back then it was way too early to know the impact of such an alliance on the Lebanese political scene. This month, however, saw the very first major consequence of that deal: Kataeb ministers resigned from a government in which they had one of the biggest shares in modern history.

Where do you campaign?

On the 14th of June, two Kataeb ministers resigned from government following a decision by the party’s leadership to leave the executive power. For 12 months, the Kataeb had criticized the government’s handling of the trash crisis without resigning. Last summer saw almost all of Mount-Lebanon and Beirut drown in garbage, but ironically, no Kataeb minister had resigned back then – they just kept voting against the awful solutions the government kept drafting – refusing to put more pressure on the government by resigning, even as tens of thousands of demonstrators protested in disgust against the trash crisis and the trashy solutions the government kept proposing. According to the Kataeb propaganda back then, it was crucial for them to stay in government in order to keep the public informed of the deals happening on the Grand Serail’s table, to be the opposition from within the cabinet, to preserve coexistence in the absence of a president, to prevent Hezbollah and their allies from controlling the cabinet, and last but not least, to be the shield that guards the realms of men, for this night and all the nights to come (Just like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones).

The thing is, Mount-Lebanon as whole, as well as the city of Beirut, are irrelevant for the Kataeb’s electoral policies. The Kataeb party is one of the smallest parties in parliament, and its members/supporters are scattered throughout all the constituencies (mainly the Christian ones), where they form small, irrelevant minorities to the constituency’s main voters. In Beirut III, it’s the FM that dictates the electoral terms. In Beirut II, it’s the Muslim and Armenian parties. In Beirut I, it’s the Tashnag and the LF-FPM alliance (There is no way the Kataeb can get a majority with the previous three parties allied with one another). In the Chouf, it’s everyone but them. In Aley, it’s Jumblatt.  In Baabda, it’s again almost everyone but them (Aoun and Hezbollah won the district comfortably all by themselves in 2009). The same goes for Kesserwan, that the Aounists held against all odds for the past 11 years, even without the help of the Lebanese Forces – so you can imagine the possible scenario now that the LF are by their side.

8 seats = 8 reasons to resign

There is only one constituency where the Kataeb can challenge everyone else in it, and it’s the Metn with its 8 seats. It has more seats than the Christian regions of Beirut, and has more than 50% of the Christian seats of Northern Mount-Lebanon. The Metn is Lebanon’s biggest Christian constituency in terms of MPs, has a very small Muslim minority, and has 4 types of Christian seats (4 Maronites, 2 Greek Orthodox, 1 Greek Catholic, and 1 Armenian Orthodox). Also, (a very known) fun fact: It’s also Samy Gemayel’s home district. The past two years saw Gemayel Jr rise in popularity, and the latest municipal elections are the proof that he will be a force to be reckoned with in Lebanese politics in the years to come. He is becoming more popular by the day, but he isn’t getting popular fast enough. By June 2017, if the kataeb can’t at least win/compete all by itself in at least one Christian district, the FPM and the LF are going to ignore the Kataeb’s demands for concessions in all of the Christian constituencies and they’re going to take control of everything they can take control of. They will treat the Kataeb in the parliamentary elections the same way they treated Dory Chamoun in Deir El Kamar during the municipal elections. After all, one of the obvious non-official goals of the Christian wedding was to create a Christian duality when it came to national politics and to eliminate everything not related to the FPM and LF from the parliament. The LF no longer need the Kataeb to counter the FPM, the FPM never needed the Kataeb anyway, and the Future Movement, the Kataeb’s last ally – at least on paper – isn’t exactly on good terms with Gemayel – blame his remarks against sukleen and the CDR – and has a new Christian bro called Sleiman Frangieh.

The Metn remembers?

To sum things up, the phalangists need to secure 51% of at least one constituency’s voters or they’ll lose everything in 2017. And the only place where that might be possible is the Metn, and it’s a big might. The FPM and the Tashnag won the district both in 2005 and in 2007’s by-elections. In 2009, they did it again, and this time even without the help of Michel el Murr. True, Samy Gemayel – alongside Michel Murr – was the only non-FPMer to make it to parliament in the Metn in 2009, but those were the days when the LF were Kataeb allies. One can argue that the FPM and LF didn’t do so well in their Metn municipal campaigns, but the fact remains that in the Metn, six parties will dictate the rules of the game in 2017: The FPM, the LF, the Kataeb, the Tahsnag, the SSNP, and Michel Murr. This is where it gets complicated: The FPM is friends with the Tashnag, the LF, and the SSNP. The LF is friends with the FPM. The Tashnag is friends with the FPM and Murr. The SSNP is friends with the FPM. The Kataeb, on the other hand, is the LF’s “March 14 Christian rival” (If you still believe in this whole M8/M14 duality), is the SSNP’s historical rival, is the biggest Christian party not supporting the FPM’s Michel Aoun right now, and is less friends with the Tashang than the FPM. The only politician who might stand with them if they face an FPM-LF-Tashnag-SSNP alliance, is Michel Murr (because the FPM and the LF will also probably try to isolate him as well). To make things worse, Murr is even less reliable than Jumblatt when it comes to stable alliances.

In 2017, the Kataeb know that they’ll be alone, with no allies, in a very hostile electoral environment because of an electoral law that currently favors bigger parties / alliances and that tends to eliminate political minorities from being represented in their constituencies (the Kataeb are going to regret their opposition to proportional representation soon enough). According to the laws of Lebanese politics, once you’re totally outside parliament, you hardly ever make it back: Only few politicians have ever managed to make a comeback after losing all of their party seats. Gemayel can’t risk losing it all, not while he’s still rising. The only way he survives the FPM-LF wedding is by securing the Metn, and the easiest way to secure the Metn is by giving the Metnis the impression that the FPM wants to turn the caza’s coast into a dump while the Kataeb were ready to resign their biggest government share ever in modern history just to protest that.

Mother nature?

According to Kataeb discourse, their resignation was about preserving the Lebanese environment – they took similar stances when it came to the infamous Jannah Dam. But in truth, it’s really more than saving mother nature, helping the Lebanese animal kingdom and taking care of the fauna and flora. It’s about electoral survival: The Kataeb ministers didn’t resign when two entire Mohafazas were drowned in trash, and aren’t really eco-friendly in some of their other stances (see here for not-so-eco-friendly dumps, and here for not-so-safe-dams). While it isn’t as “double-standardy” as the other politicians’ stances, the Kataeb are treating the Metn differently for a reason, and the timing of the resignation just isn’t right since if it was really for eco-friendly reasons, it should have happened months ago, not just after an FPM-sponsored dam was going to be built in a Christian region and after dumping was going to resume in the Metn coast. Constitutionally, and according to article 27, every member of the Chamber shall represent the whole nation, and by the laws of common sense, the cabinet serves the entire country, so the Kataeb can’t really say that they can only defend Metni interests because Gemayel represents the Metn. The Kataeb’s officials in parliament and government serve the entire nation by law, yet in a very “clientelistic Lebanese mentality (found in all mainstream Lebanese political parties), they behaved differently when it came to the districts that matter to them electorally .The Kataeb want (need) re-election, and are maneuvering with eco-friendly reasons, which really shows you the level of desperation (no Lebanese politicians has ever done that).

(But on the bright side, that means a struggle for more forests and less trashy trash solutions, just so you don’t say that I’m cynical all the time 😛 ).

Plot holes, plot holes

Another plot hole in the Kataeb’s maneuver is – like I mentioned earlier – that they convinced the Lebanese that they were the opposition from within the cabinet for the past two and a half-years, which is why they refused to resign time after time, especially that there was no Christian president in power. The biggest irony is that they eventually resigned anyway, for lesser reasons (trash crisis in Mount-Lebanon + Beirut > trash complication in the Metn), and in the middle of a debate on a Christian-Shiite rivalry in a Lebanese security apparatus, while there was still no president in power, and while being fully aware that the two caretaker ministers that will assume the Kataeb’s responsibilities in parliament are both Muslims. The Kataeb are definitely playing a long-term survival maneuver, and they’ll clearly let nothing stand in their way (this time, it’s Star Wars I’m quoting).

 Did they really leave?

What makes the Kataeb move look even more like a complicated professional maneuver than an eco-friendly move is the fact that while their decision to leave the cabinet was unquestionable since they officially submitted their resignation to Salam, one of the kataeb ministers who resigned, Sejaan Kazzi, also told the world that there has to be a president who accepts the resignations in order for their resignations to become official (which isn’t true…), as if (at least a part of) the Kataeb leadership wants to give the impression that it wants to leave without actually leaving the cabinet. With the amount of  anger from the party base and leadership regarding Azzi’s remarks (check this hashtag on twitter), it shows you how unconventional yet popular Gemayel’s move is: The last time a minister (not called Rifi) tried to resign because of a government policy, it was Nahas in 2011.

Plot twist: Ramzi Jreij is still out there

Oh, and there’s still Ramzi Jreij in the cabinet, who is pro-Kataeb but not officially Kataeb (so he wasn’t forced to resign by the Kataeb political bureau). In other words, what happens in the Grand Serail will not stay in the Grand Serail – at least not for now – as Ramzi Jreij should still report to Bekfaya every once in a while.

The rise and rise of Ashraf Rifi

I can go on for hours in this blog post about what Amal Bou Zeid’s win in Jezzine means, and overthink the awkward Machnouk comments about Frangieh’s presidency, but May was an electoral month, so nothing really counts, and three huge events are everything one needs to remember from these past 60 days of political chaos: The FM lost Tripoli to Ashraf Rifi and almost lost Beirut to Beirut Madinati, Robert Fadel resigned from parliament, and two Kataeb minsters left government.

The beauty of Lebanese politics is that although it seems that the three events aren’t connected with one another, they’re actually directly related: When Ashraf Rifi politically clashed with Salam and Hariri, and resigned from cabinet earlier this year, everyone saw it as political suicide. And that included myself: “Rifi […] signed with this move his mini-political death warrant“, I said back then. But the Tripoli strongman outsmarted us all. The timing of  his resignation, the causes of his resignation, as well as his political intuitions were so good that he actually managed to defeat – as an underdog, and all by himself – a  huge (HUGE) alliance made of three billionaires (Hariri, Mikati, Safadi), two former prime ministers (Hariri, Mikati), and the heir to the most prestigious political family in the North (Karami). Three years earlier, Rifi was not even a politician, and yet against all odds the list he supported won the municipal council of a city that has more than 8 MPs in parliament, and that victory was partly due to the context in which he resigned.

Inspired by a true story

By their resignation moves, Fadel (more on that in this blog post), as well as the Kataeb, are trying to appeal to their electorates in the same way Rifi did – via resignations in critical moments important to their electorates. Even Mikati tried to do the same strategy in 2013: Remember when he resigned months before parliamentary election because Rifi was isolated?

If a charismatic (in his region at least) newcomer/underdog/micro-Zaim can defeat three billionaires, two prime ministers, and the heir to Abdulhamid Karami, than Gemayel can do the same to the FPM, LF and SSNP in his home district. Two things seem to work in this country: Resignations and sectarianism. If you use both correctly, nothing stands in your way.

How much are you ready to risk?

And if you think about it, the government will be considered resigned the moment a new president is elected and isn’t currently doing much right now, so it shouldn’t be the end of the world even if the Kataeb give up their highest ministerial quota in Lebanon’s modern political history. The Kataeb’s maneuver is a risky gamble tough, especially if the presidential vacancy keeps on getting longer, but the Kataeb party has no choice but to give up its ministers in order to at least try to win more parliamentary seats in the next elections, or Sami Gemayel will soon be as influent as Michel Sleiman is right now. The Kataeb ministers had the perfect excuse/context to resign this June, and they did it smoothly, without making anyone feel it was a maneuver, literally advertising their move on every social media outlet there is (cc the hashtag mentioned earlier). Now we wait 12 months and see if the maneuver will succeed.

1960 or 2016?

The fun/weird part in this whole story is that Robert Fadel’s resignation meant that there might have been electoral redistricting in sight (with the possibility of transferring the Greek Orthodox seat from Tripoli to a wider Northern constituency under PR), while the Kataeb resignations mean that the Metn should remain unchanged in the next elections since the maneuver is adapted to the 1960 (2008) electoral law constituencies. This contradiction is the ultimate proof that even our politicians have no idea what’s happening with the electoral law debate.

757 days since the 25th of May (presidential vacancy). 1116 days since the 31st of May (parliamentary extension) .

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Lebanon’s Youngest Presidential Candidate and a Prison Feud

Meet the latest president of the Kataeb

Meet the latest president of the Kataeb

This is the 13th post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the month of June 2015.

It’s been a weird month: Three important events happened in the thirteenth month of presidential vacancy, but they’re not really related to one another, so let’s check them anyway.

Lebanon’s youngest presidential candidate?

Perhaps the main event of this month was the election of Samy Gemayel as the new leader of the Kataeb party. While last month’s post focused mainly on the succession war that is about to happen in the FPM and on the importance of naming Shamel Roukoz commander of the army for M8’s largest Christian party, the transfer of power in the Kataeb was already underway: Gemayel officially declared his candidacy for the Kataeb presidency on the third of June, and was officially elected to succeed his father on the 15th of June. I could act shocked that such a young leader was elected president of such an old party, but then again, it was always too obvious that the presidency of the Kataeb would eventually be given – even if by elections – to the eldest heir of the eldest heir of Pierre Gemayel. What is shocking here is Gemayel’s speech on the third of June. While announcing his nomination for the top Kataeb post, Gemayel said, among other cliché sentences most Lebanese politicians use (Like ending corruption and seeking dialogue), the following sentence:

“And because it is a Lebanese project, then it is not sectarian, and should be open to all Lebanese sects.”

Actually, there’s more:

“The MP said he would exercise all efforts to show Muslims that the Kataeb, which was once seen as one of the most sectarian collectives in Lebanon, is open to their membership, noting that he was seeking to reform the Christian party into a pluralistic entity.”

A day may come when Lebanese political parties will lose their sectarianism, unite together in secular coalitions, and laugh on the years they fought one another in brutal religious civil wars, but that day was not the 3rd of June 2015. (And yes, I just quoted Aragorn from The Lord of the  Rings)

Samy Gemayel’s speech/press conference was not a call for Muslims to join his party as much as it was his way of saying that he would serve both Muslim and Christian interests if elected president. And when I say president, I mean president of the Lebanese republic, and not the president of the Kataeb party. It is said that when his grandfather Pierre Gemayel wanted to become Lebanese president, he was told that he couldn’t be at the same time the leader of Lebanon’s Christians and the head of state: It would have seemed as if Christians were solely in power. Gemayel’s speech was beautifully written, and it was beautifully written for a reason: He might be the youngest Christian leader among the Maronite four (if he is to replace his father), but he now heads Lebanon’s oldest, most organized (and arguably third biggest) Christian party. His father’s chances were relatively high after Samir Geagea suffered the humilation of losing the first round of the presidential elections to no one in April 2015, but one year after the presidential vacancy, his father is likely to remain a former president. His father’s candidacy is likely to be transferred to him and it seems he’s not playing it like Aoun and Geagea, who are showing themselves as consensual candidates because they ally themselves to Muslim parties. He is playing a much more advanced consensual card: He wants to show that he comes from a party that would gladly accept – and even encourage – Muslim membership, and that not only is he one of the Maronite four, but a truly centrist and non-sectarian politician.

The right last name

Sometimes in Lebanese politics, all you need is the last right name.  The right last name is what Sleiman Frangieh and Kamal Jumblatt used to undermine Saeb Salam in the early 70s, by naming Takieddine Al-Solh in 1973 and Rachid Al-Solh in 1974 as Prime Ministers in order to curb the Salam/Karami influence. And ironically, the right last name is what gave Tammam Salam the upper hand in 2014. Salam had other worthy centrist competitors – even billionaire ones –  yet it is him who currently presides over the cabinet.

Like Salam, Samy Gemayel has the right last name. Like Salam, Samy Gemayel is a member of a coalition, but at the same time leads a faction of the coalition that arguably has the most ties with the other side. The only thing he does not have is a “consensual advantage” over his opponents. We all know that the likelihood of the Kataeb becoming secular is equal to the possibility of aliens forming sectarian parties and colonizing the Sun. And even if he insists on enforcing the decision of making the party wide open to Muslim membership, his authority as a young a leader of the Kataeb will be challenged. So until proven otherwise, Gemayel’s call for the Lebanese Muslims is nothing but a political maneuver he’s using to prove his centrism and become an accepted candidate to the presidency.

The month of leaks: WikiLeaks and TortureLeaks

It has been a tough month on M14. WikiLeaks leaked its Saudi Cables, and while the leaks weren’t very kind to both camps, they were naturally harsher on M14 (since its leaders naturally tend to talk more with the Saudi officials). But the much bigger problem for the Future Movement this month was the leak of torture videos from Roumieh prison. Here’s a brief summary of everything that is politically relevant about that issue:

“I accuse Hezbollah of leaking the videos,” Rifi told a joint news conference with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk. “The people have seen two videos. There are about four videos, and only Hezbollah had access to some of them.”

Machnouk did not seem to support Rifi’s allegations, saying he had “no accurate information” regarding the source of the leak.

[…]

Rifi visited Machnouk at the Interior Ministry in an apparent move to defuse tensions following media reports that accused the justice minister of leaking the footage and orchestrating the ensuing street protests in Beirut, the northern city of Tripoli and other areas in a bid to undermine the interior minister’s reputation.

Rifi dismissed rumors of a feud with Machnouk, saying he enjoyed a “fraternal” relationship with the interior minister.

Machnouk also denied reports of a power struggle with Rifi. “There is no disagreement in the broad lines of main politics or in personal ties. Our friendship has been going on for a long time,” Machnouk said. “We are in agreement that what is happening served only extremism and would lead only to undermining moderation. No one has an interest in undermining moderation.”

The FM has always had very different ways of doing politics, depending on its electorate. In the North and in the rural regions, where the electorate tends to be more Islamist-friendly and more religiously homogeneous – Sunnis are 85% in Donniyeh, 80% in Tripoli, and 66% in Akkar – the FM’s politicians tend to use a more sectarian discourse  (Rifi is a perfect example since it is well-known by now that he intends to lead the FM’s Northern parliamentary fight in the next elections). In Beirut, where the Sunni electorate is less than 50%, more moderate, and actually shrinking, and where a large number of Christian MPs are affiliated with the movement, the Sunni Beiruti FM politicians are by far the most moderates among the Sunnis of their party. The smart double standards of the FM have permitted them to keep their electorate in check for more than ten years now – even Hariri often switches from one side to another depending on the context – but the clash between the two wings of the party was bound happen eventually. Do not be fooled by both politicians’ denial of the power struggle. The power struggle is there and it’s real. And the very fact that, in a joint press conference, Mashnouk refused to accuse Hezbollah while Rifi took pride in blaming M8’s leading party tells us that a mini-war is underway in the Future Movement, and that the relation with Hezbollah will be a key element in this rivalry.

Turns out it was a smart move from Hezbollah to give the FM both the justice and interior ministries after all.

Roumieh and Baabda

So as the FPM tries to make Roukoz commander of the LAF without giving in too much to M14’s demands, and as Geagea tries to disrupt those plans with the declaration of intentions, and as Hezbollah continues its fight in Syria, and as an internal mini-struggle for power starts to unravel in the Future Movement, only one thing is constant: We still don’t have a president, and no politician has ever cared less about that fact.

 399 days since the 25th of May. 262 days since the 5th of November.

How Rifi Destroyed March 14’s Comeback

ISIS Flag

The March 14 alliance excels at ruining political comebacks. When in October 2012 Prime Minister Mikati was on the verge of resigning due to pressure caused by the assassination of General Wissam Hassan, Nadim Koteich of the Future Movement had the brilliant idea of ruining everything by calling these seven words : “Ya Shabeb, Ya Sabaya, Yalla Yalla Al Saraya”What followed was an hour of Chaos, but most importantly five more months of M8 in power.

Justice Minister Ahsraf Rifi made a major political faux-pas yesterday when he requested to legally pursue a group of Lebanese who were seen burning an ISIS flag in Achrafieh.

The example of Faysal Karami

One has to keep in mind two important things: The parliamentary elections are theoretically in two months, and Ahsraf Rifi will likely run in one of the poorest and most conservative districts of the republic. And that’s not all of it: He will be running against a former Prime Minister (Mikati), millionaire ministers (such as Safadi), the nephew of the Sunni community’s most adored Prime Minister (Faysal Karami), and a handful of locally popular leaders. Tripoli will be a fierce electoral battle for Rifi which probably explains his recent moves. Most of Lebanon laughed when former sports minister Faysal Karami was about to take action against Jackie Chamoun who represented Lebanon during the Winter Olympics and happened to have some topless photos – Most of Lebanon laughed, but not most of Tripoli. Faysal Karami was starting his electoral campaign at the time, and that’s exactly the same thing Rifi is doing: By taking action against those who are burning a flag with Muslim scripture on it, Ashraf Rifi wants to look as the politician who is willing to go as far as saving ISIS flags in order to protect everything holy – even if it is on the flag of a terrorist organization.

Is it a long-term maneuver?

The M8 and M14 alliances were preparing themselves for a round of fighting on who gets to negotiate with Islamists who kidnapped the Lebanese soldiers in Arsal. Ashraf Rifi’s recent stance showed him as the less hostile Lebanese politician towards ISIS, putting him in the best position to negotiate with them. On the long run, ISIS will be more likely to concede to his terms than to those of Abbas Ibrahim, which will likely turn out to be a mini victory for M14.

Is it worth it?

The March 14 alliance was enjoying a month of political comeback after Saad Hariri’s return from Paris. M8 tried to counter this by focusing all the attention on ISIS and the concept of direct presidential elections. The maneuver wasn’t too successful until Ashraf Rifi gave them everything they needed, and more. Since the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb, (who usually in such sectarian moments have a talent of defending Christian interests) are silent because it’s their ally in question, the Free Patriotic Movement took advantage of this opportunity and showed himself as the sole protector of Christian interests. The Future Movement also successfully managed to turn himself in the matter of seconds from a moderate party giving a billion dollar to the army to fight ISIS into a party that is defending the Islamic State and its flag. Most importantly, if the elections are truly going to be in November, Hezbollah and the FPM are heading to polls with a huge card in their possession, likely to give them the upper hand in the Christian districts. Yesterday, Ashraf Rifi might have scored a small victory in Tripoli, but the March 14 alliance lost everywhere else.

Apparently, we live in a country where it is legal to extend the parliament’s term for the second time but illegal to burn ISIS’s flag.

 99 days since the 25th of May. 78 days till the 16th of November.

Is Lebanon Turning Into A Military State?

Image from 2011 (Associated Press)

Image from 2011 (Associated Press)

There were days when the director of the General Security wasn’t an officer. There were days when even the presence of a General as a democratically elected president would be criticized. These days are over.

For Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman is a General. His predecessor Emile Lahoud was also a General. The interior minister Marwan Charbel is a General. The head of one of the biggest parliamentary blocs, Michel Aoun, is a General. The new interior minister is likely to be a General. A month ago, a General, Ashraf Rifi, the former head of the ISF, was on the verge of being a Prime Minister-Designate

When Tammam Salam was tasked to form a government, Foreign Policy had a great article on how the same families in Lebanon get to stay in power democratically while the rule of families is being toppled everywhere else in the Arab World. The Frangiehs, the Jumblatts, the Hariris, the Gemayels are few examples. Even when you think it’s not present, you quickly realize that Gebran Bassil is Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, that Marwan Hamade is Gebran Tueni’s uncle, and that  Setrida Geagea is Samir Geagea’s wife

Though Lebanese tend to forget that quickly, political inheritance is not the only thing we have in common with the neighboring Arab countries. We also have ruling generals. True, the Arab spring was made to prevent Jamal Mubarak and Seif El Islam Gaddafi of inheriting power, but it was also  Colonel Gaddafi and General Mubarak that were the targets. In the same way the Lebanese don’t view the election of the same families to the parliament as a wrong matter, they don’t view the presence of Generals in power as a bad thing.

It is also not possible to elect judges, Grade One civil servants, or their equivalents in all public institutions to the Presidency during their term or office or within two years following the date of their resignation and their effective cessation of service, or following retirement.

Article 49 in the constitution prohibits the commander-in-chief of the army of being a president (unless he’s elected two years after he resigns) for a reason. However the constitution was amended several times in Lebanon’s history to let Grade One civil servants serve as Presidents.

The problem of amending the constitution and letting a commander-in-chief of the army be a president is that one day, like all the countries in the world, we might have a coup – as unlikely as it might sound – and the General can pressure the members of the parliament to amend the constitution and elect him, making his rule look legitimate. If the amendment hadn’t been done several times before, the move would have made him an illegitimate ruler. But now that it’s done, each time he gets criticized for being elected under a constitutional amendment, his response would be: “It was done before. Are you suggesting that Fouad Chehab and Michel Suleiman were illegitimate rulers? They were democratically elected by the parliament, under a constitutional amendment. And you’re telling me that there’s an opposition? Do I need to remind you that the Lebanese Forces did not vote for Suleiman  in 2008 and that Raymond Edde was a presidential candidate in 1958?”

But for a coup to succeed in Lebanon, with all the sectarianism and without splitting the army in two armies (or ten, or twenty), it would likely take three centuries. So the main problem of having generals in power isn’t primarily because of a possible coup, but rather because of the nature of the Lebanese system. I’ll make it clearer.

A and B are both represented in the parliament. A and B elect the president, have a say in everything else and can even veto some positions. A and B also have armed wings. On one sunny summer day, A and B clash. The army receives orders to stop the fighting between A and B. There are three possible scenarios:

1) If the officer slightly sides with A, he might get a favor from A. If he sides with B, he might get favors from B.

2) If he stands in the middle, stops the fighting, without actually hunting the armed men down, he gets praised by A and B.

3) If he stands in the middle, stops the fighting and hunts every armed man down, he gets vetoed by A and B.

When Fouad Chehab refused to follow Camille Chamoun’s orders to fight the revolution in 1958, it was scenario 2. When Michel Suleiman did not stick to the orders of the government on banning protests on the 14th of March 2005, it was scenario 2. Emile Lahoud, Michel Aoun and Ashraf Rifi are other examples of the scenario 1 (Who needs scenario 2 when – even if for a while – there’s an A that’s stronger than B?)

That’s why generals become politicians in Lebanon. They take sides, or stand in the middle, depending on the context. But do not be fooled, for there are two types of men standing in the middle: The man who stands between A and B, and the man who stands against A and B (While following the orders of course, that are to stop A and B from fighting)

The “Amn Bel Taradi – الامن بالتراضي”, or consensual security, the fact of stopping the fighting between A and B without actually disarming A and B and punishing them for the instability they are causing, is mainly due to the fact of having officers in power. As you can see, Scenario 3 is missing,  not because it’s too good to be true, but because officers in Lebanon made it to top posts due to the scenarios 1 and 2. So why would an officer risk  his career by going for scenario 3 while he can get easily rewarded and have all the glory he wants via scenarios 1 and 2? Even when he has the political approval from everyone to go for scenario 3, Scenario 2 for an officer stays the preferred scenario, because it doesn’t get him too much problems. The battles between Jabal Mohsen and Bab El Tabbaneh are a perfect example.

When A and B know that there will not be a response from the army, it’s always an escalation of fighting that follows. Scenario 2 usually goes like that:

1) stop a fight by standing in the middle.

2) But the fighting resumes, and it’s a more brutal battle, because the fighters know there is no punishment.

3) Stand in the middle again and stop the bigger fight.

4) Repeat step 2 and 3 several times. Eventually, it’ll be too big to control and it will be more than a small local battle.

It’s not the fault of the army, and  I’m not saying the work some officers are doing in power is bad. Fouad Chehab delayed the civil war 17 years, and Michel Suleiman is probably doing the same thing. But when Generals are democratically given power, it’s for the purpose of keeping things under control. However what happens next is an instability due to the scenario 2 – الامن بالتراضي – that will eventually lead to a total loss of control.

In a nutshell, by bringing neutral generals to power, you think you are doing good, but the scenario 2 – and its consequence, consensual security – will begin, and in order to solve it, you bring more neutral generals to power making things even worse.