Kataeb Party

40 Years of Kataeb and Resignations

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, June 2016 (Image source: The Daily Star / Hassan Shaaban)

This is the 19th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

There has been a lot of talk recently of a government resignation due to the recent failures of the cabinet when it came to solving the trash crisis and promoting the election of a president. With the recent phalangist decision to leave the government, followed by the FPM’s decision to boycott the cabinet sessions until the other parties give them political concessions, I thought it would be interesting to go back 40 years in time to see how the Kataeb party managed another resignation. The WikiLeaks cable I found isn’t directly relevant to anything happening right now, but shows how a party that resigned from the government in a brilliant political maneuver two months ago and currently isn’t willing to elect Sleiman Frangieh as president, once refused to support the request for Sleiman Frangieh’s grandfather to resign from the presidency after General Al Ahdab made his coup in 1976.

In other words, Lebanon and its parties are weird. Enjoy the cable.

MARONITE SHOW OF SUPPORT FOR FRANGIE BRINGS FEAR OF MAJOR CONFLECT
1976 March 15, 12:32 (Monday)
1976BEIRUT02307_b

SUMMARY: MARONITE OPINION HAS SWUNG AWAY FROM AL-AHDAB TOWARD FRANGIE. IN EFFECT, PUBLIC CHALLENGE BEING GIVEN TO AL- AHDAB AND HIS ALLIES. THIS MAY BE FOR BARGAINING PURPOSES, BUT ALL GROUPS REALIZE A MLITARY CONFRAONTATION COULD COME BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE. END SUMMARY.

1. AFTER SIX-HOUR DEBATE, WHICH WE GATHER WAS MARKED BY MUCH AGONIZING REAPPRAISAL, KATAEB POLITBURO VOTED MAR 14

CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 BEIRUT 02307 151309Z

TO RALLY BEHIND FRANGIE. PARTY ISSUED STATEMENT DURING EVENING SAYING FRANGIE SHOULD NOT RESIGN, SINCE THIS WOULD SIMPLY CREATE POWER VACUUM AND LEAVE COUNTRY TO UNKNOWN DESTINY. AT SAME TIME, PARTY AFFIRMED ITS SUPPORT FOR SYRIAN MEDIATION. KATAEB DELEGATION LED BY KARIM PAKRADOUNI GOING TO DAMASCUS TODAY. DELEGA- TION WILL ALSO REPRESENT NATONAL LIBERALS.

2. NATIONAL LIBERALS LIKEWISE GIVING PUBLIC SUPPORT TO FRANGIE, WITH CAMILLE CHAMOUN THE PARTY’S SPOKESMAN. AS WITH KATAEB, HOWEVER, SOME ANGUISH EVIDENT IN PARTY RANKS. DEPUTY FUAD LAHOUD OF THE PARTY, FOR EXAMPLE, ADDED SIGNATURE TO PARLIMANE PETION CALLING FOR PRESIDENT TO RRSIGN. (THIS PETITION WAS SUBMITTED FORMALLY TO PRESIDENT MAR 14 WITH 70 NAMES, BUT FRANGIE REFUSED TO ACCEPT IT). ANOTHER REPORT HAS IT THAT DANNY CHAMOUN IS STAYING AT ARMY HQ AND SHARPLY DISAGREES WITH HIS FATHER ON FRANGIE RESIGNA- TION ISSUE.

3. MARONITE LEAGUE, WHICH WE ARE TOLD HAD AT ONE POINT VOTED SUPPORT AL-AHDAB BY CLOSE MARGIN, NOW DENYING THIS. LEAGUE EXPECTED TO MEET MAR 15 TO DISCUSS ITS STAND AGAIN.

4. SOME SOURCES SAY THAT MARONITES IN ARMY COM- MAND LIKEWISE PUTTING SELVES AT ARM’S LENGTH FROM AL-AHDAB. COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF HANNA SA’ID RE- PORTEDLY DRIFTING WITH OTHER MARONITES TOWARD FRANGIE. WE NOT YET INCLINED CREDIT THESE STORIES, HOWEVER.

5. NEW SUPPORT FOR AL-AHDAB ALSO COMING OUT. FOLLOWING KATAEB STATEMENT MAR 14, A GROUP OF CHRISTIAN OFFICERS PREVIOOSLY CONSIDERED PRO-FRANGIE SPOKE OUT FOR THE COUP. A SECOND GROUP OF OFFICERS JOINED AL-AHDAB MORNING MAR 15 AND GIAVE FRANGIE UNTIL 1400 HOURS LOCAL SAME DAY TO RESIGN OR FACE CONSEQUENCES.

6. DESPITE ESCALATING ATMOSPHERE, THERE ARE SIGNS THAT KATAEB AND NATIONAL LIBERAL SHIFTS MAY BE FOR TACITCAL PURPOSES. KATAEB’S DECLARATION FOR FRANGIE

CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 03 BEIRUT 02307 151309Z MAR 14

WAS NOT CLEAR-CUT. DISPATCH OF DELEGATION TO DAMSCUS SUGGESTS CHRISTIAN LEADERS WANT SYRIANS TO GET INTO MEDIATION ACT AGAIN. A NATIONAL LIBERAL SOURCES TOLD EMBOFF MAR 15 THAT CAMILLE CHAMOUN REALIZES FRANGIE CANNOT STAY IN PRESIDENCY FOR LONG. MUCH BEHIND-THE- SCENES TUGGING AND HAULING IS EVIDENT ON QUESTIONS RANGING FROOM TEMPORARLY TRUCES TO FRANGIE SUCCESSOR. BUT MEANWHILE SITUATION ON GROUND DEVELOPING QUICKLY TO- WARD ARMED CONFRONTATION. SECURITY IN BEIRUT STREETS AS OF MID-MORNING MAR 15 REMAINS ANARCHIC. EX- CANGES OF FIRE CONTINUE IN AIN EL-MRESSE AND HITEL DISTRICT. WIDER MILITARY CONFRONTATION BETWEEN COUP SUPPORTERS AND FRANGIE SUPPORTERS COULD COME TODAY.

7. MOMENTUM OF AL-AHDAB COUP APPEARS TO BE LOSING STEAM, ALTHOUGH SHIFTS OF SUPPORT GOING BOTH WAYS ARE COMING THICK AND FAST. HIS MAIN ULTIMATE RECOURSE NOW IS LT. KHATIB’S TROOPS, ASSUMING LATTER WILLING. ACCORDING TO UNCONFIRMED REPORT, KHATIB’S FORCES ARE MASSING IN MOUNTAINS ABOVE BEIRUT. STANDING BEHIND KHATIB POLITICALY IS JUMBLATT, WHO CONTINUES TO UTTER A DOWN-WITH-THE-REGIME LINE. THIS RISING TIDE OF LEFTIST REVOLUIONARY RHETORIC IS INDEED THE MAIN SCARE SEEN BY KATAEB AND OTHER CHRISTIANS AND MODERATES,WHO WONDER WITH CONSIDERABLE JUSTICE WHERE THE END LIES TO THEIR STREAM OF CONCESSIONS.

8. PARLIAMENT MEMBERS CONTINUING THEIR CONREASINGLY FORLORN SEARCH FOR A “FORMULA.” SPEAKER ASSAD APPARENTLY TURNING IN DESPAIR TO IDEA THAT SYRINS MUS ENTER PICTURE QUICKLY. IN SHORT, WE HAVE ANOTHER RACE BETWEEN RAPID DETORIATION ON GROUND AND SEEMING SNAIL’S PACE OF POLITICAL NEGOTIATIONS. MAIN HOPE AGAIN SEEMS TO BE “SYRIA EX MACHINA.”

9. THIS REPLACES 0900 REPORT. LAMBRAKIS CONFIDENTIAL NNN

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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) .

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.

The Time For Moderation

1984...

1984…

For a country that took 11 months to get out of the deadlock, the events of the past few days are revealing. Sleiman Frangieh will not run for the presidential elections: It’s official. In his interview with Al-Mayadeen, the leader of the Marada party endorsed the candidacy of Michel Aoun. The FPM leader on the other hand was busy commending Saad Hariri’s speech “characterized with moderation“. On the other side of the political spectrum, Amine Gemayel was praising the Iranian policies in the regions, only days after Hariri promised the Patriarch that the presidential elections would be held on time.

M8 Unified

Although it might be hard to believe, Frangieh’s withdrawal makes sense. For M14, he is the most despised Christian leader out there. For Hezbollah and Amal, he is a minor Christian politician. For the FPM, he is a local ally that mustn’t get stronger under any circumstances, especially that he is more likely to answer to Damascus than to Rabieh in case something goes bad between the Syrian regime and its biggest Christian ally. Frangieh hence has no shot at all to become president in 2014: Even if he runs as the sole candidate backed by M8, his name can never become a consensual one, and M14 pressure on Jumblatt would eventually prevent the latter of voting for the Marada candidate. By running for office in 2014, Frangieh would have angered the FPM, lost the elections, and found himself isolated. Patience is a virtue. Out of the “Maronite four” (Gemayel, Geagea, Aoun and himself), Frangieh is by far the youngest, and the very fact that in 2020 Amine Gemayel would be 78, Michel Aoun 86 and Samir Geagea 67 makes him the perfect candidate for the elections. By then, he would have become M8’s number one, the Syrian crisis would have probably ended, and he’ll get to have  6 years to adapt to any new situation, make new alliances, or switch sides. In 2020, the odds can be in his favor. In 2014, they’re not.

Michel Aoun on the other hand understood the rules of the game (after years of experience). The president is practically always a consensual one, especially in times of crisis. Fouad Chehab was elected for refusing to engage the army in the conflict. Charles Helou was elected because he was one of Chehab’s closest men to the opposition. Sleiman Frangieh was elected for his pro-Nasserist history and his anti-Palestinian tendencies. Elias Sarkis was elected for staying neutral throughout the first year of the civil war. In Lebanese politics, if you don’t compromise, you lose it all: Raymond Edde stayed 50 years in the opposition and never made it to the presidential palace. And for the millionth time (see here, here, herehere and here), this is what Michel Aoun is trying to achieve. Even though he might never become a consensual candidate in the matter of a year’s effort, he can still become M8’s most moderate politician. And how do we know it works? Because his new moderate attitude made Frangieh withdraw for lack of support from M8 and M14, forced the different M8 factions to pamper him more (so he doesn’t defect) and eventually unified M8 behind him while turning him into a more acceptable candidate to M14. After spending most of 2012 and 2013 accusing Hariri of being an extremist politician supporting rogue Islamist militants, he describes Hariri in 2014 of being the voice of moderation. There is no such thing as a coincidence. Everyone hoping to succeed has to be a moderate ahead of the presidential elections. For Michel Aoun, being a moderate means that he’ll have to praise the Future Movement.

M14 Unified

When I say everyone, I include M14’s candidate. And while we’re at it, there will be one,  and only one candidate coming from the ranks of M14. Hariri reiterated in his meeting with the Patriarch on Friday that the March 14 coalition would field one presidential contender. Meanwhile in the Christian camp of M14, the Kataeb – now strong of their huge share in the cabinet – are preparing their comeback. Among the possible candidates for the presidency, there’s LF leader Samir Geagea (head of the biggest Christian M14 party) , popular independent MPs such as Boutros Hareb, and last but not least former president Amine Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb party.

M14 needs a candidate that is in full harmony with its policies while being at the same time acceptable by M8. Samir Geagea, while being the strongest Christian in M14, doesn’t fit the criteria. The majority of independent MPs , although enjoying some support and prestige from the parliament – Boutros Hareb has been in the parliament for the past 42 years – are also too violent for M8.

One has to see it from a very particular perspective. Aoun is popular, was a commander of the army and a former prime minister,  is seen as protector of Christian interests (due to his stances on the cabinet formation and the electoral law), has strong allies, is currently establishing ties with various parties – notably the Future Movement, and is fashioning himself as a moderate. If M14 wants a serious competitor, the first name coming to mind is Amine Gemayel. He leads Lebanon’s oldest and most prestigious Christian party, had the same stances regarding the electoral law and the cabinet, has good ties with most of the parties and is at the core of M14. Also who’s better to compete with Aoun than the president who appointed him as commander of the army and later prime minister?

The Kataeb are aware of their sudden power in the executive power and of the precious value of their leader: Amine Gemayel asked for the elections to be held on time, dismissed any other consensual candidate by requesting the parliament to elect a strong president (hinting at “the Maronite Four”), nominating himself to the presidency and finally starting to laud some of the M8 rivals, namely Iran. Like Michel Aoun, he is showing his moderate side. While rumors on the streets say that Hariri is likely going to endorse the leader of the Kataeb, Gemayel’s relation with Lebanon’s kingmaker Walid Jumblatt isn’t very good (due to civil war-related issues). Since Jumblatt isn’t a fan of Aoun either, we might probably see a third consensual name endorsed by the centrists. The press is circulating the names of Jean Obeid (who apparently also enjoys the support of Berri and Hariri) and the usual “two Maronites” : the commander of the army and the governor of the central bank.

2014 Is Not 2008 (Or Is It?)

Even if the elections are held on time, and even if the M8 and M14 alliances do not boycott the elections and everything goes according to the plan (no lack of quorum), there is still one problem: None of both alliances can secure 65 votes (absolute majority) to support its candidate. While it is more obvious by the day that M14 and M8 would be each supporting one candidate to the presidency, it remains unclear what side Walid Jumblatt and Mikati’s parliamentary blocs would back. If the Jumblatt-Mikati duo decides not to participate in the elections, neither M8 nor M14 will be able to secure the post for its candidate. Without Jumblatt and Mikati, M14 has around 58 MPs while M8 has a bit less than that (around 57).

The constitution stipulates that a 2/3 majority is necessary to elect a president in the first round, while an absolute majority would be needed for all the rounds after that. unlike 2007, when the presence of M8 and M14 in the parliament would have probably ended in an M14 candidate as a president (since they held the majority), the elections of 2014 are different. Even if everyone shows up, the elections would be like a play. The MPs will keep voting for the same candidates, and since no camp can secure 65 votes, the elections can go on forever. In other words, none of the two coalition will take it upon itself to boycott the parliamentary session and get treated with disregard from the public for “paralyzing the states’ institutions”. Because unlike 2008, there is no coalition holding the majority of votes in the parliament which means that the minority coalition doesn’t need to boycott and block quorum in order to prevent the majority of electing a president of its ranks.

While nothing is official or definite, we are approaching the elections with 2 candidates, Michel Aoun of M8 and Amine Gemayel of M14 that are – unlike 2007 – fighting to get the support of the rival camp by playing the moderate card, while the name of the third consensual candidate is soon to be determined.

Reminder: The government didn’t win the confidence vote yet.

Waiting for the Electoral Law- March 14’s Proposal Or the 50 Districts Law

Lebanon’s Approximate Electoral Map According to 14 March Alliance’s proposal (The fifty districts)
PS: The District borders might be inaccurate (Especially in the North (Akkar) and Bekaa (Baalback))

You can check the draft law here

The Lebanese Forces, Phalangist Party and other Christian Opposition Parties proposed in the past few days an electoral Law dividing Lebanon to 50 separate electoral constituencies. The law has two important features: The high number of electoral districts (And thus the smaller sizes of the districts), and the winner-takes all system (Or majoritarian representation). I found it very similar to the 1960 law, except for the shape and number of constituencies. The constituencies aren’t exclusively administrative ones (more…)