Michel Aoun

Is the Frangieh Scenario Possible?

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (R) chats with Lebanese Christian politician and leader of the Marada movement Suleiman Franjieh (L) as Head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc Mohamed Raad (2nd L), MP Assaad Hardan (C) and Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri listen to them during a new session of the national dialogue between political leaders at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, near Beirut April 15, 2010. (Photo: REUTERS/Dalati Nohra)

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (R) chats with Lebanese Christian politician and leader of the Marada movement Suleiman Franjieh (L) as Head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc Mohamed Raad (2nd L), MP Assaad Hardan (C) and Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri listen to them during a new session of the national dialogue between political leaders at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, near Beirut April 15, 2010. (Photo: REUTERS/Dalati Nohra)

This is the 15th post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the month of November 2015.

Accordingly, [Future MP] Shab foresees serious negotiations taking place within “weeks, not months” to agree on a candidate “who can navigate a Sunni-Shiite conflict and who has the confidence of both parties […] someone with a certain degree of legitimate representation, but who is also agreeable to both sides.”

Asked by NOW who might fit that profile, Shab cited the leader of the 8 March-aligned Marada Movement, MP Sleiman Frangieh. When NOW queried how Frangieh, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, could be acceptable to 14 March, Shab hinted at a hypothetical agreement by which Frangieh’s presidency would be paired with Future leader MP Saad Hariri as prime minister.

(2014)

Around the months of October and November of every year (since the presidential debate started in 2013) , Lebanon gets the impression that Sleiman Frangieh might be elected president. This year is no exception: On Wednesday, Frangieh said that “Change and Reform bloc MP Michel Aoun is the March 8 camp’s presidential candidate, but if the March 14 camp makes a proposal, then we are willing to consider it.”

In what might be the most exciting political event this year since Aoun was isolated in government and Roukoz was thrown outside the army, several events (since the twin suicide bombings happened) hinted at the possibility of Sleiman Frangieh being elected president:

(1) Hezbollah Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, addressed local political forces “to search for a true political settlement” (Link)

(2) The Future parliamentary bloc Tuesday welcomed Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s call for a political settlement in Lebanon, urging a concrete plan to be put into action (Link)

(3) According to information also obtained by LBCI, a meeting over the issue of the presidential vote was held Saturday in Riyadh between Hariri, Mustaqbal bloc chief ex-PM Fouad Saniora, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, and Hariri’s advisers Nader Hariri, Ghattas Khoury and Hani Hammoud.

Hariri had on Saturday described the vacuum at the presidential post as “the biggest insult to the Lebanese people on their national day of independence.”

According to media reports, the ex-PM held talks last week with Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh, who belongs to the rival March 8 camp. (Link)

(4) Raad: Let’s debate and reach some understanding. (Link)

(5) Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi Monday criticized the idea of electing a candidate with links to Syrian President Bashar Assad as Lebanon’s next head of state. (Link)

(6) Change and Reform Parliamentary Bloc Member, Deputy Nabil Ncoula, stated Monday that “a full package does not imply the elimination of General Michel Aoun, but actually highlights the need for a genuine partnership based on respecting true representation.” (Link)

(7) Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh stressed Monday that the country’s new president must “reassure” all of the Lebanese political and social components (Link)

(8) Head of the Change and Reform bloc MP Michel Aoun noted that Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh has the needed characteristics to become president, adding that he is willing to back his bid for the presidency, reported As Safir newspaper on Tuesday.

His visitors told the daily that the lawmaker is “willing to give his blessing to Franjieh’s candidacy if he garners the necessary votes at parliament.”  (Link)

(9) Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his March 14 ally Kataeb leader Sami Gemayel have agreed that all efforts must be put toward electing a president, a statement released by Hariri’s media office said Tuesday (Link)

(10) The Future Parliamentary bloc on Tuesday held its weekly meeting chaired by its leader, Fouad Siniora, and called for doubled efforts that would lead to a comprehensive national compromise which could preserve the national pact, devotes the Taif as a reference and finally solves the crisis of the presidency. (Link)

The speculations started as soon as the Frangieh-Hariri meeting happened and the positive statements by Lebanon’s rival politicians made the possibility of the deal more likely. Both Hezbollah and the FM seem to be willing to settle the issue for good, and for the first time in three years, we could say that the presidential negotiations are finally – in a way or another – underway. Frangieh might seem as an odd choice to fill a consensual position, but then again he might be the best solution available for M8 and M14 as part of a bigger deal tackling the name of the next prime minister, the composition of the cabinet, and the electoral law.

 The Christian exception of Sleiman Frangieh

There are three types of Christian leaders in Beirut. There’s the Samy Gemayel type, willing to defy the greater (Muslim) ally in case the decisions aren’t in his party’s interests. Then there’s the Geagea/Aoun type, who usually stalls and negotiates, before (almost always) agreeing to a compromise with the greater ally. Finally, there’s the Frangieh type, who always – always – stands with the Muslim ally when things get messy. The last two years have been a perfect example: When the parliament’s term was extended in 2014, Frangieh was the only Christian leader -alongside Geagea – to approve of the extension. When Berri wanted to call for a legislative session last week, the only Christian leader who was willing to participate from the start was Frangieh. True, the FPM and the LF eventually participated in the legislation, but they were challenging to deal with. Frangieh also stood against Aoun several  times (although he was still supporting Aoun’s candidacy all the time): Note Frangieh’s criticism of (1) the Aounist 2015 demonstrations and (2) the latest legislative session which was the fruit of the FPM-LF cooperation.

In other words, and for Lebanon’s Muslim parties, Frangieh represents a rare type of politicians in Lebanon: Not only is he predictable, he’s also the better type of predictable: The one who will stand with you, not against you when things will matter. March 8’s problem with a consensual candidate coming from outside its ranks can be summed up by the example of Michel Sleiman, who stood with M14 in the second half of his term. True, the commander of the army might be the strongest consensual candidate right now, but Hezbollah and Amal need a politician they can trust, and Frangieh fits in that role perfectly. On the other hand, Frangieh is by far the most pro-Syrian Christian leader, which raises the ultimate question on how M14 might bring him into the presidential palace. Scroll up, and read quote number (6). That’s the FM’s way of saying that they might accept him as a candidate in exchange of a compromise: A staunchly M8 president means that the prime minister must be staunchly M14, which puts Hariri, the leader of M14, as the only candidate for the premiership. A staunchly M8 president also means that there would be a slight M14 counterbalance force in the government, hence guaranteeing M14 a majority (or at least the half – like in 2009) of the seats in the executive power. The only piece of the puzzle that remains is the electoral law, and it could be solved soon: There’s a committee in parliament that has been recently tasked with drafting it – the irony is that Geagea and Aoun were the ones that asked for it in exchange of their participation in this month’s legislative session, not realizing that they were unknowingly boosting Frangieh’s chances in the presidential war.

The Frangieh-Aoun conundrum

In 2013, Frangieh warned of a presidential vacuum as the conflict over Syria continues and suggested that Lebanon adopts the 50 percent plus one vote formula to secure the office. That (very dangerous political statement) meant that Frangieh was not only a natural presidential candidate (by being one of the Maronite Four), but that he was also somehow able to secure more that half of the parliament’s votes. Lebanon did not overthink that sentence back then, but since March 8 have less than the half of the seats, that was a clear sign that Frangieh had the support of the centrists (but probably under their terms – there was a different context back then, Sleiman was still in Baabda, there was a governmental vacancy and there were high tensions between M14 and M8).

Although Frangieh’s name was always on the table, he kept on denying that he was March 8’s first candidate for the elections. Aoun had the seniority, the bigger party in the coalition, and the official support of his allies. Every time he was approached on the subject, Frangieh insisted that he would run as M8’s candidate only if Aoun withdrew. Aoun’s candidacy was most likely doomed to fail, and Frangieh knew that standing against the candidacy of the president of his bloc and the leader of the biggest Christian party early on would turn M8 against him, perturb his alliance with the FPM, and discredit him within M14. His biggest ally was and still is time: The more the vacancy persists, the more his M8 allies would start looking – under pressure from M14 – for a candidate other than Aoun that might be accepted by M14. That moment seems to have arrived this week (But then again, we also thought that it had arrived in 2014 😛 ). The more Frangieh says he’s with Aoun, the more Aoun would be eventually forced to endorse him as his alternative/protégé, which explains why – even as the whole country speculates that Sleiman Frangieh has become the prime presidential candidate – Frangieh’s man in the cabinet (culture minister Rony Araiji)  still confirms that Aoun is still M8’s candidate.

The golden question: Why Frangieh is so important to M14

I explained it last year (when we had the rumors that M14 was about to endorse Frangieh), and I’ll explain it again: If March 14 endorses Frangieh, it would be highly tempting for Hezbollah and Frangieh to abandon the Aoun campaign. For Hezbollah, Aoun is silver but Frangieh is gold. Frangieh – unlike Aoun who has 18 MPs representing solely the FPM – doesn’t have a big bloc (4 MPs, including himself and Emile Rahme who is much more pro-Hezbollah than he is pro-Frangieh). Frangieh also has a limited electorate that he can rely on. And by limited, I mean it in a geographical, demographic, and sectarian way. Most (If not all) of Frangieh’s popular base is Christian, mostly Maronite, from the Zgharta Caza (Which is one of the smallest in terms of parliamentary representation with 3 MPs) and some of the surrounding villages in Koura. Frangieh doesn’t have foothold outside the North, belongs to a feudal family – and most importantly – faces continuous competition from other renowned political families established in Zgharta (Such as the Mouawads). In other words, Frangieh is too weak and can be manipulated by Hezbollah / Future Movement while Aoun (as a comparison) is much, much harder to keep under control. If Aoun switches sides, his ~ 22/23 MPs would be enough to change the status quo and throw a party outside the cabinet – be it Hezbollah, or even the FM. Frangieh can’t do anything with his 3 MPs (Yes, 3, because once he’s elected he loses his seat 😛 – And it’s actually 2 since you can’t really count Rahme as a loyalist). Frangieh won’t have his own base in the parliament to rely on, which means that he will fully be dependent on Hezbollah or the FM in everything concerning the legislation. Even if Frangieh wants to call for demonstrations, it wouldn’t have any impact unless Hezbollah joins him. Aoun wouldn’t need Hezbollah at all on the popular level (the 2015 summer demonstrations prove it) –  in fact it would hurt him since the counter-propaganda would make it look as if his supporters aren’t Christian – making him an “illegitimate” Christian president. Frangieh is also a lot more pro-Syrian than Aoun is, and the Frangiehs have historical family ties with the Assad family that are almost 50 years old. Which means that even if every single MP in M14 endorses Frangieh, he would always be a friend of Syria – and thus closer to Hezbollah. Aoun, on the other hand, is a lot more unreliable so he might be a pain in the ass in case he decides to switch sides or go against the Syrian regime.

La morale: If you’re Hezbollah, and have to choose between Frangieh and Aoun, you’ll choose Frangieh every time. Every time.

Le piège (sowing discontent level: Future Movement)

If the FM allows and even supports the election of Frangieh, it would have given Hezbollah its golden candidate. It would have also looked like it would have won the elections, since it was the one who proposed Frangieh’s name first. The only problem here is that for Hezbollah, it would mean abandoning its now declared candidacy of Aoun or at the very least putting M8’s biggest two Christian parties, the FPM and the Marada, in direct confrontation. It would also mean that Nabih Berri’s opinion would be marginalized, and that the FPM would probably exit the March 8 alliance (and perhaps join a common Christian Front with the LF/Kaaeb who should also be in theory pissed because of the Frangieh election). In other words, Hezbollah would have won the presidency, but would’ve lost the integrity of the March 8 coalition. What’s the point of having a 100% loyal president if you can’t even influence 15% of the MPs when you want to form the government or vote for laws?

Hezbollah had a plan: Support Aoun till the end, and eventually settle – with Aoun’s blessing – on a non “Maronite Four” consensual candidate that has a friendly attitude towards Hezbollah, such as LAF commander Jean Kahwaji. Kahwaji’s election would have also been part of a bigger deal that should have been even more rewarding to the M8 alliance.

The only way for Hezbollah to keep the M8 coalition alive and make way for Frangieh would be if Aoun endorses him at the same time as M14 gives its green light. And that was what Frangieh – by his relentless support to the Aoun candidacy – has been doing for the past 2 years. Aoun had said many times that he would support Frangieh, but now things are starting to get serious, and an official stance from the FPM is still required to go forward with such a settlement.

As one of the blog’s readers suggested on twitter, the Frangieh scenario might in fact be back in play. We’ll have to wait and see…

550 days since the 25th of May. 386 days since the 5th of November.

Chamel Roukoz and a Struggling Lebanese Government

Chamel Roukoz. the newcomer to Lebanon's crowded political arena

Chamel Roukoz, the latest newcomer to Lebanon’s already crowded political arena

This is the 14th post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the months of August, September and October 2015.

If I haven’t written any monthly analysis post since July 2015, it’s for a reason: In the summer of 2015, Lebanese citizens decided to protest and ask for their rights. The parliament was unconstitutional, parliamentary elections had been cancelled twice, presidential elections had been postponed for lack of quorum for the past year, and the government was an epic failure. Lebanon was arguably facing one of the biggest refugees crisis since World War II, and as if the electricity and water shortages and the corruption weren’t enough, a new garbage crisis had become unbearable. And what was the cabinet fighting (and in a way, still fighting) about? If Michel Aoun’s son-in-law was going to become commander of the army or not. BECAUSE PRIORITIES. There was nothing to analyze there. September 2015 was almost the same, with the government not responding to the basic protest demands (such as an environmentally friendly trash solution) being the extra cherry on the top.

But this month was (politically speaking) awesome. Forget for a moment that there is a protest movement in Beirut today. Sit back and relax. It’s time to enjoy the complexity of Lebanon’s politics.

Ending the war for Chamel Roukoz

Perhaps the most important events these past few weeks were the ones related to Michel Aoun’s sons-in-law, Chamel Roukoz – the commander of the Lebanese Army’s special forces – and Gebran Bassil. For Roukoz, the matter might seem at first a bit complicated, but it’s actually quite simple: Aoun wanted to appoint Roukoz as commander of the army when LAF commander Kahwagi’s term was about to expire. At some point, there were rumors that Aoun would be ready to give up his presidential candidacy and discuss a consensual presidential candidate in case Roukoz would have been made as commander. The fact that Kahwagi was – and still is – the strongest consensual candidate out there (Lebanon’s last two presidents have been army commanders) only made the possibility of a deal more likely: (1) Kahwagi becomes president, (2) a vacancy happens in the army command, (3) Roukoz becomes commander of the army. Even some rival parties opposing Aoun’s FPM indirectly hinted about the possibility of a Roukoz-Kahwagi deal. Yet today, that very deal is history. At the time, the FPM felt that it had the upper hand: It could have kept blocking the presidential elections forever, and at the same time, the government wouldn’t have dared to keep Kahwagi for another year without consensus on the extension of his term, especially since Aoun had been playing the sectarian card and calling for “Christian rights” for some time now. At least that’s what the Aounists thought.

Yet motivated by an indirect green light by Berri and an absence of veto from Hezbollah (probably in order to avoid an unnecessary – especially in the current circumstances – political clash with an army command the party of God has no problem with), M14 responded to Aoun’s maneuvering by extending Kahwagi’s term. It was a clear message to Aoun that M14 weren’t going to succumb to his blackmail in the cabinet, that the FPM would only be awarded the army command in case they halt their presidential quest, and that the FPM would not see Roukoz appointed as commander without something else in exchange. M14 was trying to force the deal on Aoun: By then, the only way through for Roukoz was by vacating the army command and the fastest way to vacate the army command was by electing the commander president.

The FPM saw it as a declaration of war and escalated their discourse while calling for protests in the name of Christian rights (For the FPM, that meant electing Aoun as president and appointing his son-in-law as commander).  When it was finally clear to everyone that Berri doesn’t care about the FPM interests in the army, that Hezbollah had bigger problems than a local feud about two generals, and that Aoun had no intentions of giving up the presidency for the army command, Roukoz – who had reached the age of retirement – did not see his term as commando regiment commander extended. In the  early days of October even potential compromises on keeping the status-quo in the army were dismissed. On the 15th of October 2015, only days after an FPM rally in Baabda, and weeks after another FPM rally in which Gebran Bassil was introduced as the new FPM chief, Chamel Roukoz spoke to a group of protesters that gathered  to support him at a rally and told them that he “was promoted to the rank of Lebanese citizen“. Congratulations, Lebanese citizens: Your politics just became slightly more complicated.

Divide and conquer

Rewind four months. By June, the FPM had  managed to maximize their dominance in Lebanese politics: The Lebanese Forces gave them the Christian upper hand when Geagea signed the declaration of intent in Rabieh, and the Kataeb, who had just finished a transfer of powers, were isolated by their exclusion from the declaration of intent talks and were in no postion to compete. The FPM had only one head, its second-in-command was the no.2 in the cabinet, and it was fighting to control the army command and the presidency.

Now the FPM has a godfather (Aoun), a president (Bassil), two vice presidents, an isolated nephew (Alain Aoun), a son-in-law who might as well be more popular than all of the above, and currently looks like a Neapolitan mafia (the amount of sons-in-law in the party is too damn high) where no one knows who’s in charge. For the FPM, October 2015 was one of the worst months since the 2009 elections: A potential negotiation card  for the presidency was lost, the war they had started in the cabinet ended in a humiliating defeat, a key asset in a key institution (army) was lost, the FPM’s most popular / influential ally in the Bekaa – Elias Skaff –  passed away last week leaving a vacancy that other parties in Lebanon’s west could quickly fill – especially that Skaff’s sons are young, and that Skaff himself had been already outside power for too long (6 years is huge for politician who served as an MP from 1992 till 2009). Elias Skaff had distanced himself from the FPM since the 2009 elections, but then again, he was the only local ally the FPM could have reached out to in the Bekaa before the upcoming parliamentary elections. To make things worse, instead of figuring things out in the summertime internal elections, the FPM is now in a pre-chaotic state. Who gives the orders in the FPM? Aoun? Bassil? Who does the FPM answer to? Bassil? Aoun? What to do with Roukoz? Bring him in since he’s too popular? (Or keep him outside since he’s too popular?) Can the FPM nominate Roukoz instead of Aoun to the presidency? What would that make of Bassil? These are dangerous times for the FPM. They are losing to M14, losing support within M8, losing to rival Christian parties, and – most importantly – facing the biggest administrative crisis in the history of the party (and they’re in denial about it). The pro-Roukoz protests happened way too early after his retirement, and that means that the former commander of the maghaweer might be onto something which would pose a threat to Bassil’s already weak fan base. Even the rumors – saying that Roukoz might be appointed as Lebanon’s ambassador in France – hint at a potential Roukoz-Bassil political clash. And the best way for Aoun – and the FPM – to avoid that clash would be by separating both men by thousands of Kilometers until Gebran Bassil gains a bit more ground within the FPM. So to sum things up, M14 didn’t just humiliate the FPM. By refusing to keep Roukoz in the army and in the shadows of Lebanese politics, they gave the FPM the ingredients necessary to start a succession war.

Changing the discourse

Another interesting thing about the transfer of power within the FPM is the change of discourse. For years, the Aounists have talked in a secular and “anti-corruption” way. Now they no longer focus a lot on the corruption talk and instead take a more sectarian approach. Deep down, it’s a natural transition: They can’t really blame the parties in power for the corruption with the same intensity – especially since they have been in power more than any party for the past 7 years and that the new FPM president wasn’t even elected and isn’t exactly what you call a role-model for an anti-corruption discourse (M14 keep accusing him of corrupt measures during his time in government) – so they had to take the sectarian way (“Christian rights”) in order to counter the rising threats from the LF, the Kataeb and from the more popular underdogs within or even allied with the FPM. The shift, that slowly started around 2013 (remember the Orthodox gathering electoral law?) became the cornerstone of the FPM’s new political strategy. In the end, the fastest way to win the heart of your sect (and party) back is by boosting your supporters’ ego and telling them you’re here for them (and their rights). The whole “reforming the system and rooting out corruption from within” doesn’t work so much anymore, especially with the recent waves of anti-government protests.

Bring the government down (or not)

Anyway, enough of FPM politics for today. Time to focus on the recent dynamics of Lebanon’s cabinet crisis. The Lebanese cabinet is made up of most of Lebanon’s parties, and hence sums up the awkwardness of Lebanese politics:

(1) The FPM clearly isn’t planning on ending the boycott on the government that refuses to comply to their demands and that threw Roukoz outside.

(2) Marwan Hamade of the PSP and the FM’s highest ranking minister (interior, Machnouk) in the government threaten to bring the government down after criticizing and accusing M8 of obstructing the cabinet’s work.

Then, (3) Hezbollah, via Nasrallah, tells the FM that they’re too cool to care about the Mustaqbal maneuvers, and defends the premier while also sending the following message to M14: “if you want to leave, leave“(♫♫♫)

Then, (4) Jumblatt, fearing on his kingmaker role that he might lose in case the government falls (Michel Sleiman is no longer in power which – if the cabinet resigns – leaves him all by himself in the so-called “Lebanese center”) sends Abou Faour on the offensive to undermine Hamadeh’s stance.

Then, (5) THE KATAEB CRITICIZE THE PREMIER. I would like to note here that the Kataeb’s share in the cabinet is the one of the biggest (if not the biggest) share they have ever had in a government – especially for a 5 MPs party – so throwing it all on the prime minister can be compared to digging your own grave. Oh, and they also undermined the FM by hinting that Mustaqbal adopted their “M14-ish” line of thought, and not the other way around. In a parallel universe, that was the Kataeb’s way of saying to the Christian electorate that they care about their feelings too and that they – unlike Aoun – are ready to piss off the Muslim boss (in the name of “Christian rights”?). Beat that, FPM!

(Meanwhile, the Lebanese Forces have decided to leave politics and focus on drug awareness campaigns, because Lebanese Forces).

Finally, (6) the premier, who probably knows – like everyone else – that no one is ready to bring down a government in which they thrive on the status-quo, took it upon himself to end this “my dad is stronger than yours which is why I will bring the government down” discourse and indirectly told everyone that (his dad is Saeb Salim Salam which makes him stronger than everyone) if they won’t calm down and try (or at least pretend) to figure out how to solve the trash crisis, he will be the one who will bring down the government. That wasn’t the first or even second time he made such a resignation threat. Maybe third time’s the charm?

Welcome to Lebanon’s rejuvenated politics: As the FM and Hezbollah start another round of political clashes, Jumblatt and Berri are trying to keep the cabinet – under pressure from everyone in power and everyone outside power – from collapsing. On the other side of the political spectrum, in the Christian autonomous political kingdom where the sun and moon never meet, things are changing fast: The FPM is the new LF. The LF is the new Kataeb. The Kataeb are the new FPM. And most importantly, the FPM lost their war and now plan on moving on with two heads and a different discourse.

Time will tell if their strategy will work. But for now, enjoy the deadlock (and the big dumpster the world calls Lebanon).

520 days since the 25th of May. 355 days since the 5th of November.

A Tale of Two Burgers and Three Men

Image from December 2014. Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun meets with Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army website, HO)

Image from December 2014. Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun meets with Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army website, HO)

No words can describe how much these last three weeks were insane in Lebanese politics: As if the Aounist July protests weren’t enough, Lebanon suddenly woke up two weeks ago on threats of resignation from the premier, rumors of resignation of March 8 ministers from the cabinet, Aoun saying that he would vote for Frangieh (probably in order to contain Frangieh who has been criticizing his political overlord lately), Future officials attacking one another, the Kataeb criticizing everything anyone can think of, the Future Movement telling the Kataeb (and the FPMtwice (the second time was via MP Hout) that a federal system will never be implemented in Lebanon and March 8 blocking the cabinet’s policy-makingAll of that was accompanied by lots of trash-talking (Jumblatt making the issue sectarian was by far the most interesting headline) and Lebanese army billboards on the occasion of the 70th army day implying that the army was the Lebanese parties’ common denominator ( ≈ presidential campaign for the commander of the army ≈ Wallahi I’m consensual, vote for me).

The bomb

Last Thursday, it was announced that the defense minister had extended the term of the commander of the army, Jean Kahwagi. The decision was a major blow to Michel Aoun who has been seeking to appoint his son-in-law Chamel Roukoz as commander for years. When Kahwagi’s term was about to expire in September, Aoun saw it as an opportunity to both put Roukoz in charge instead and weaken Kahwagi, the main consensual presidential candidate who is  also rumored to be at the same time Hezbollah’s “hidden candidate“. In fact, since mid-May 2015, the FPM has been maneuvering over and over and over again in order to bring Roukoz to the army command without having to give anything in return. Last month tayyar.org even misquoted the constitution as part of their propaganda to secure both the presidency and the army command.

How it was made possible

In the past 10 years, decisions to bring governments down were taken for far simpler reasons: In 2006, March 8 wanted the blocking third. In 2010, Hezbollah didn’t want to fund the STL (that its government eventually ironically funded). In 2013, Mikati didn’t want to throw a general outside the ISF. If you think of it, the army command is as big a deal as all of those. So the million dollar question here is why haven’t the FPM ministers not resigned yet?

While the FPM ministers’ resignation seemed like the typical move, the fact that Aoun wasn’t on board with Berri lately (Berri lashed out at the FPM that same week, told us that he wouldn’t vote for Aoun in the presidential elections, that toppling the cabinet was a red line and that the government paralysis hurts citizens) meant that Amal’s 2.5 ministers wouldn’t resign along with the FPM officials. In other words, a Hezbollah-FPM double resignation wouldn’t have been enough to collapse the cabinet (you need at least 9 ministers) and we would have ended up with a cabinet with both Shia AND March 8 representation (the Amal ministers), which means that Hezbollah couldn’t have said that it was anti-constitutional like they did in 2006. Moreover, 80% of the government would have been either M14 or centrists. That means that an angry resignation move like this one cannot be supported by Hezbollah and will only throw Aoun outside a cabinet he has Gebran Bassil in it as number 2, ultimately weakening him before the internal FPM elections in September.  Things aren’t looking very good for Bassil and Alain Aoun has been talking too much for a regular MP as he prepares to confront Gebran Bassil in the FPM’s internal elections (really,  he has been talking too much).

So to sum things up, Berri’s genius declaration of war on the FPM gave Salam and the FM the green light to go through with their plans to extend the top security officials’ terms. And now both Salam and Kahwagi owe Amal.

A game-changer

The move to throw Roukoz outside the army command and isolate Aoun in the government was humiliating, but do not be mistaken: The Roukoz deal is not off the table. The March 14 alliance knows that if it desires to end the deadlock, it would have to give something to the March 8 alliance and the FPM in return. Before the Kahwagi extension, an opportunity to make a deal was made available: The cabinet would make Roukoz commander of the army, and in exchange, the FPM would make it easier to bring a consensual candidate into Baabda palace. Aoun however did not see an opportunity to make a deal but rather a chance at winning the army command for his son-in-law while continuing his push for the presidency. And after several weeks of stalemate and confrontation the Grand Serail, it was clear to almost everyone that a deal favorable to M14 ending the Aounist campaign for the presidency was not going to happen soon, which led to last week’s controversial decision to give Kahwagi one more year as commander of the army. While it wasn’t very explicit at first, the anti-Aoun maneuver in the cabinet is getting clearer by the day. This is not 1973 anymore and Aoun cannot simply ask the cabinet to dismiss a commander of the army and expect it to comply only because it would give him the upper hand in Lebanese politics. There is one, and only one (fast) way left for Aoun to vacate the army command before the summer of 2016 (when Kahwagi’s new term expires): Agree to make Kahwagi president, which would leave room in the army command to bring in Roukoz. Deep down, March 14’s maneuver of extending Kahwagi’s term wasn’t about ending any chance of making a deal with the FPM. It was actually their way of enforcing one.

We’re (not really) almost there

I do not always (nor do I like to) make predictions, but expect the March 14 politicians to start floating the name of Kahwagi as presidential candidate: His election would weaken the FPM (yet still give Aoun a half-victory via the Roukoz appointment) and at the same time please Hezbollah (since Kahwagi never really stood against the party of God during his stay). By being the ones suggesting the deal, March 14 would also look like the real victors. This is the kind of deal that makes everyone happy, and we all know what that means. If this was the presidential vacancy of November 2007 – May 2008, I’d say we’re somewhere around January (yalla, arrabit :-P). We have a rough idea of what’s going to happen with the presidency and the army command, yet we’re still in the blue on everything else (that was agreed upon in the Doha agreement back in 2007): We still need an agreement on an electoral law (good luck with that), a clear date for the general elections, a post-vacancy cabinet formula and last but not least a mini-road-map  to guide the government through the transitional period.

The FPM in denial

As Aoun heads towards the internal elections with weakness caused by his recent defeat in government, he knows that he still has the ultimate option, his plan A since May 2014 and now his plan B since August 2015: He could continue to block the presidential elections – where Berri’s cooperation matters not – while at the same time try one last time to mobilize the masses in the name of Christian rights. His latest move was saying that it was his efforts in 2004 – and not the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 – that led to the Syrian withdrawal. Aoun – who now knows for sure that he can no longer trust the allies (a rebellious Berri and an overreaching Frangieh) of his ally – is taking his discourse to a whole new level. The war for Chamel Roukoz is becoming more and more desperate: (1) Aoun, in denial, said that he didn’t want Roukoz in first place (?!?!), (2) called for demonstrations (while defying Kahwagi and the army) to protest the non-appointment of Roukoz while his other son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, (3) literally said that the FPM “rejected dhimmitude and was fighting for the Christians of the world” (no comment).

Desperate times require desperate measures.

Two Burgers

The only thing hotter than Lebanon’s weather right now is its political tensions, and the only thing more rotten than Beirut’s streets right now is its deadlock: This is officially the longest presidential vacancy Lebanon has ever seen, the longest parliamentary term extension Lebanon has ever seen and the longest period of time without general elections since the Civil War. And August’s garbage crisis isn’t making things any easier.

Three men walk into a bar and ask for two burgers: a large one (with large fries, a Pepsi and a McFlurry) and a smaller one (with small fries only). The first man wants the large burger for himself and the smaller burger for the second man who happens to be his son-in-law, while the third man, currently savoring the small burger, wants to eat the larger one. The cherry (or in this case, bacon) on the top? No one has a clue how a burger is paid for.

Solve the burger riddle and you would have solved the longest deadlock Lebanon has ever seen.

(Meanwhile, everyone else is starving)

445 days since the 25th of May. 281 days since the 5th of November. Not that anyone cares anymore.

Aoun’s Jockeying

Michel Aoun

Free Patriotic Movement protests are just the latest of Michel Aoun’s tactics to secure the presidency and empower his party.

The following analysis was first published in Sada on July 28, 2015.

Following a political feud in the cabinet regarding the nomination of the next Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) commander, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun called for protests, and party supporters rallied in Beirut on July 9. The presidency, the most important Maronite-allocated post in Lebanese politics, has been vacant since May 2014, and the term of the LAF commander—another important Maronite post—expires in September. Although Aoun has framed the deadlock over both appointments as an assault on Christian rights, his call for protests is really a key gambit in his quest to empower the FPM and his allies within the party.

When the FPM and Lebanese Forces party signed their “declaration of intent” in June to elect a strong president, this gave Aoun the upper hand over other Christian parties. Because Chairman of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea visited Aoun in Rabieh to sign the declaration, he was branded the junior partner. The declaration—basically an agreement to agree on an agreement between the two parties—also preemptively ended any rising threat that any Kataeb party or Hezbollah–Future Movement (FM) presidential deal would exclude the FPM.

The Kataeb, distracted and vulnerable during the current transfer of power from party leader Amine Gemayel to his son Sami, is not in a position to threaten the FPM’s supremacy among the Christian electorate, which has become increasingly friendly to other members of the March 8 alliance as Hezbollah’s reputation as protector against the Islamic State grows. With two traditionally Maronite posts up for contention and three Christian parties in disarray (the FPM and the Kataeb are focused on internal organization, and the Lebanese Forces is weakened amid revelations that Geagea asked for Saudi financial support), Aoun’s call for protests and public mobilization seemed like a wise political gamble.

Had the FPM conceded the presidency in 2014 when the office had just been vacated, they would likely have only received an electoral law friendlier to the March 8 alliance and perhaps a better share in the next cabinet—and so had little reason to do so. But since May 2015, when the post of LAF commander came onto the negotiating table, the FPM has had the opportunity to win the best political deal on the two posts. Its position is strong enough that it could concede the presidency to March 14, if it so chose, in return for claiming the LAF command, the lesser of the two posts. They can alternately use their “blocking third” parliament veto powers on the presidential elections to gain concessions on a continued push for LAF command appointment. The March 8 alliance could also abandon their presidential ambitions in exchange for all three demands: a modified electoral law, the blocking third in the cabinet, and the army command. For the FPM, that also means the opportunity to empower Aoun’s popular potential successor, his son-in-law and current commander of the LAF Special Forces Chamel Roukoz, by making him commander of the army.

Most importantly, a tradeoff deal between the presidency and the army command post could make the FPM the strongest Christian player in politics, because the Future Movement would be conceding to the FPM as opposed to one of its own March 14 Christian allies like the Lebanese Forces or Kataeb party. Aoun and his supporters could use this political win to boost his standing before internal FPM elections in September. The two primary candidates seem to be Baabda MP Alain Aoun, Michel Aoun’s nephew, and Gebran Bassil, another son-in-law of Aoun’s and current minister of foreign affairs. There were rumors that Aoun might push for a consensus deal within the FPM by making one of the candidates president and the other vice president, but that remains to be seen.

If both candidates lock horns it might cause a major rift within the FPM, especially as the two are high-ranking politicians influential among the party’s electorate. Should Aoun fail to appoint Chamel Roukoz as commander of the army, it could create an atmosphere of failure ahead of the internal elections, possibly weaken Aoun and his favored candidates, and disrupt the transfer of power in the FPM. Hence, Aoun sought to use the July 9 demonstrations to pressure the cabinet into appointing Roukoz as soon as possible. The closer Aoun is to September, the more likely he will accept a presidential–army command power-sharing deal with March 14, in order to avoid any distractions ahead of the FPM elections. And this is likely why the FM is blocking any discussion about the army commander post until August.

According to the March 14 logic, if Aoun refuses to concede the presidency in exchange for the LAF command, the cabinet could proceed to appoint another LAF commander and deny Aoun the chance of appointing Roukoz for another few years. This would weaken Aoun before the internal elections and deprive him of the army command, while at the same time allowing March 14 to depict him as the man responsible for blocking the election of a president. For them, Aoun has to compromise or he’ll lose both posts.

By Aoun’s thinking, if he pressures the cabinet to appoint his son-in-law as commander of the army now, he won’t have to give up his presidential ambitions later, as a compromise deal over the presidency and LAF command post will no longer be on the table. The March 14 alliance would no longer be able to deny the FPM the LAF command, leaving the FPM little to lose if they keep pushing for the presidency. It would also weaken Aoun’s main rival for the presidency, Jean Kahwaji, whose presence in the army command remains his largest asset.

As such, Aoun is using every tactic to pressure the cabinet. He argued that Prime Minister Tammam Salam was abusing his powers when he refused to put the appointment of a new commander of the army on the cabinet’s agenda. Constitutionally speaking, the Sunni PM sets the agenda in the cabinet meetings (article 64), although the Maronite president is allowed to “present any urgent matter to the council of Ministers from outside the agenda” (article 53). In the absence of a president, Aoun took it upon himself to protect the Christian interests by proclaiming that the FPM—as the largest Christian party represented in the cabinet—is allowed to assume the president’s authority during the cabinet session. March 14 has responded by pointing out that Aoun is ultimately to blame because he is blocking the election of any non-Aoun president.

Aoun’s demonstrations also had a low turnout, and a confrontation between the FPM supporters and the army near the Grand Serail didn’t help. The next day, Aoun verbally attacked the army command over the incident, and while army commander Jean Kahwaji did not respond directly, an indirect response came from his son Joe on Twitter, pointing out the FPM’s double standards in praising General Roukoz when the FPM and the army are on the same page and criticizing Kahwaji when they aren’t.

So although the protests might appear as a wise political maneuver, they are a defeat for Aoun in the streets, the cabinet, and the institution over which he wants greater influence. Aoun is even losing ground within his bloc. One of his closest allies, Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, criticized Aoun’s political moves in the days following the protests, saying that he supported Aoun’s quest but disapproved of the means (the demonstrations). And although Hezbollah publicly stated that they stood with their March 8 Christian allies, the fact that they did not take part in the protests is telling. By refusing to make a popular move against the current commander of the army, they perhaps sought to save face with Kahwaji, who is also the strongest consensus presidential candidate. One thing is for sure: the FPM is heading into a turbulent period in the next few weeks, and as a main party of the March 8 alliance and the Lebanese fabric, they are dragging both their coalition and the country with it.

Ramez Dagher is a Lebanese political blogger at Moulahazat.

When Tayyar.org Misquote the Constitution

Tayyar.org constitution article

Here’s a lovely screenshot of the article

Since the expiration of the term of Former President Michel Suleiman, and the Parliaments failure to elect a successor, the constitution stipulates that all ministers in the government must unanimously agree to a law in order for it to be considered as passed.

I understand Lebanon has other more important things to focus on these days (like a garbage crisis, militants on our eastern border, a refugee emergency, and a cabinet that might fall and paralyze the whole country with it), but this is bad. This very, very, very bad. Tayyar.org, the FPM’s main media mouthpiece, published yesterday an article (link) in which they said that the constitution stipulates that all ministers in the government must unanimously agree to a law in order for it to be considered as passed.

The constitution doesn’t even mention what happens with the cabinet voting mechanism when a presidential vacancy happens (by all means, look for yourselves, and if you find anything, tell me). In fact, for the voting mechanism, the constitution only stipulates that:

5. The Council of Ministers shall meet periodically in a special seat, and the President of the republic shall chair its meetings when he attends. The legal quorum for a Council meeting shall be a two-thirds majority of its members. It shall make its decisions by consensus. If that is not possible, it makes its decisions by vote of the majority of attending members. Basic issues shall require the approval of two thirds of the members of the government named in the Decree of its formation. The following issues are considered basic: The amendment of the constitution, the declaration of a state of emergency and its termination, war and peace, general mobilization, international, long-term comprehensive development plans, the appointment of employees of grade one and its equivalent, the reconsideration of the administrative divisions, the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, electoral laws, nationality laws, personal status laws, and the dismissal of Ministers.

(Article 65)

and for the presidential vacancy, the article that we can relate to is this one:

Should there be a vacancy in the Presidency for any reason whatsoever, the Council of Ministers shall exercise the authorities of the President by delegation.

(Article 62)

I usually come across brainwashing in most media outlets and I often choose to smile and ignore them, but this is huge (I’m not picking sides here). This is the constitution we’re talking about, and quoting articles that don’t exist  is the worst kind of brainwashing there is. It’s already bad enough that the different parties interpret the constitution in different ways and barely stick to its rules, the last thing we need right now is a made up constitutional article to be used as a political maneuver.

Not cool, Tayyar.org. Not cool.

Oh and by the way Tayyar.org, they’re called decrees, not laws.

431 days since the 25th of May. 267 days since the 5th of November.

Christian Rights and Political Maneuvers

Free Patriotic Movement protesters shout at soldiers in Downtown Beirut, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Azakir)

Free Patriotic Movement protesters shout at soldiers in Downtown Beirut, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Azakir)

It has been two busy weeks for the Christian leaders. Two very busy weeks. In September, and in case things stay the same, the second most important Christian-allocated post, the Lebanese army command, becomes vacant. And the idea of having the presidency and the command of the army vacant is making all the Christian leaders change their tactics this month with their political maneuvers.

The first “Christian right”: Surveys, polls and strong presidential candidates

One of the very first political maneuver we saw this month was the LF and FPM’s decision to go through with an initial deal of polling Lebanese Christians in order to see who is the most popular Christian leader. For a country that didn’t even do a census since its independence and that postponed its parliamentary elections twice in the last three years, the idea of a census is both ridiculous and useless: Parliamentary elections would be far more accurate, include all Lebanese, and actually produce a parliament that would fairly represent the Lebanese. The only thing a poll could give us are results that no one will trust and that will be used by the winning Christian leader to spam us with till the rest of his life (because, as Geagea and Aoun believe, the strongest Christian leader should become president). Both leaders think that they could use a win in the poll in order to pressure Lebanon’s parliament to elect them. You know, since a parliament that extended his terms twice, postponed democratic elections, and barely convenes, will be surely pressured by a 4600-person poll made by Statistics Lebanon.

“Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, an ally of Aoun, said that while he supported the poll, its outcome would not affect his voting choices. He said that he would vote for Aoun no matter what the result.”

So to be clear here, no one cares about the poll, and the poll doesn’t matter. In fact, quasi-replacing the elections with a poll is an insult to our intelligence.

The only relevant reason the poll was proposed by Aoun and endorsed by Geagea is that both leaders want to keep the monopoly of Christian leadership to themselves. The increasing threats of a new young influential president of the Kataeb and an aspiring feudal leader from the north probably pushed the two Christian leaders to go through with the poll. While the poll won’t get us anywhere regarding the presidential deadlock, it would be a smart maneuver by Aoun and Geagea to acknowledge the supremacy of one another as Christian leaders in their respective camps. So in other words, the agreement to ask the Christians “who is more popular, Aoun or Geagea” was actually a treaty between the FPM and the LF to confirm Sami Gemayel and Sleiman Frangieh as minor players. And how do we know that? Gemayel voiced remarks on the initiative.

The second “Christian right”: Federalism, decentralization and presidential elections

The Kataeb’s response came quick. The two major Christian leaders were trying to isolate Gemayel by using a Christian right known as “strong Christian president” as an alibi. Gemayel’s response was very accurate as he responded with another Christian right: “Federalism”. Gemayel played his cards well here: The two major Christian players have major ties with Lebanon’s main Muslim parties, and they cannot risk losing support from them by openly supporting such an initiative. One of the main characteristics of the Taef constitution – and in order to suppress the Christian wartime separatist sentiment – is that it confirms the unity of the state, indirectly forbidding any attempt of federalism, while on the other hand promoting “decentralization”. Like most of the articles of our clear constitution, you can interpret that word in many ways. Among Muslim parties, federalism is a big no-no. Sami Gemayel is offering the Christians something the FPM and LF could never support (If they would like their presidential candidacies to remain intact). Gemayel is quickly understanding the rules of the game: When to play the sectarian card, and when to keep it on hold.

99%

Gemayel and Geagea also tried to undermine Aoun’s intiative of Christian polling by confirming that they were still allies on the second of July.

We agree with Kataeb on 99 pct of matters

(The 1% are probably the constitution, the electoral law, the presidential elections, the cabinet formation, the parliamentary elections and everything else that matters in this life and the other)

99% = Pissing off the FPM?

The third “Christian right”: Protests, sons-in-law and early deals

But the most important event this week was the FPM’s decision to take the streets in order to ask for Christian rights.

But what were the protests about? No one precisely knows. The parliament extension? The presidential elections? The new commander of the army? The fact that Salam is trying to be in charge? Christian rights? The poll?

According to Aoun,

“They are eradicating Christian existence in the East through the use of swords, and are trying to abolish our presence through politics.”
“For this reason we are preparing for a popular movement to confront all that is happeningWhat is going on inside the cabinet, as well as prolonging of the Parliament Council’s term, are actually intended for two aims, namely to take control of the government’s decision and to control Christian representatives’ positions, namely the Presidency and Army Command.”

I don’t know if that made things clearer, but Aoun’s protests, which turned out to be a big failure, and were accompanied by a mini-clash with the army and a faux-pas by Gebran Bassil in the cabinet  – video – (although some might praise the FPM’s number 2 and consider standing up to the PM in the council and screaming on one another a great achievement) were intended for one purpose: Separating the presidential elections from the appointment of the new commander of the army.

As I said in a post last month, the appointment of Shamel Roukoz as commander of the army means that Kahwagi, who will no longer be commander of the army, will slowly lose momentum as a presidential candidate in favor of other candidates, while at the same time Roukoz seems the man to fulfill the legacy of Aoun. Once Roukoz becomes commander, he will likely be the FPM’s potential candidate for the presidency – while maintaining a consensual image. That would mean that if the FPM plays its cards well in the next general elections and Roukoz succeeds as commander, the FPM could be looking in 2021 at a party whose Roukoz is leading its men in the executive power as president, and whose Bassil is leading its MPs in parliament, while Aoun would remain the “Godfather of the party”.

The problem however for the FPM is that it does not wish to make concessions in order to bring Roukoz into the army command. The more the FPM waits till September (that’s when Kahwagi’s term expires), the more Kahwagi’s term is likely to be extended, and the more the FPM will be in a weaker position to appoint Roukoz. The FM will ask for concession in exchange for backing Roukoz, and we all know that the concession is going to be Aoun dropping his candidacy.

This is what all of  these maneuvers have been about. Aoun wants the cabinet to discuss the commander of the army’s appointment from now, in order to avoid any deal that could be forced upon him in September. This is why he is also calling for the demonstrations, and trying to prove that he is the most popular leader with the Geagea polling deal. He wants the appointment of Roukoz as soon as possible and is playing the sectarian card by saying that Salam is abusing his powers via refusing to discuss the matter. Constitutionally speaking, it’s the Sunni PM that sets the agenda in the cabinet meetings (article 64) although the Maronite president is allowed to “introduce, from outside the agenda, any urgent matter to the council of Ministers” (article 53). But there is no president right now which gives the FPM the chance to play a double sectarian card: The FPM leaders are arguing that the PM doesn’t want to discuss the Maronite commander of the army, and is refusing to let the biggest Christian party in the cabinet use the authorities of the Maronite president (Ironically, it’s the Aounists who are boycotiing the election of the Maronite president). Anyway, Aoun doesn’t want to be put in a position where he’ll have to choose between his presidential candidacy and the appointment of his son-in-law as commander of the army, and the panic of these last few days is only a small sample of what we’re about to experience in the next couple of weeks (Aoun actually used the English word  “unpredictable”).

With a double vacancy in the Christian posts on the horizon, expect the Christian parties to become hyperactive. Everyone wants to win the Maronite lottery, and they’re going to use every Christian right (whatever that means) they can find in order to maneuver and gain the upper Christian hand by mid-September.

Even Frangieh undermined his major ally’s demonstration, and that means a lot: (1) He wants a piece of the cake too, and (2) Aoun and Geaga were right to be cautious and contain their minor allies. The Maronite patriarch’s say should also be emphasized: He undermined the poll, and warned Aoun against the protests. A major inter-Christian fight on the Maronite posts is about to begin, and the Muslim allies’ opinions are surely going to matter: Just look how Berri remained silent on the stormy cabinet session.

Meanwhile in Arsal, terrorists were fighting over cherries.

413 days since the 25th of May. 249 days since the 5th of November.

Aoun-Geagea: Is It Truly a Declaration of Intent?

FPM leader Michel Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea speak during a joint press conference in Rabieh, Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

FPM leader Michel Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea speak during a joint press conference in Rabieh, Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

“A declaration of intent” (اعلان النوايا), they called it. Because you know, as the Lebanese say, “المهم النية”.

Surprise. For the first time since 2005, Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea met. Live. Face to face. Without having to shoot at one another like the good old days of the late eighties.

But if you have been following Lebanese politics for the past 9 months, the meeting between the leaders of the two main Christian parties shouldn’t be surprising. Both parties were having talks since Hezbollah and Mustaqbal started their dialogue earlier this year (Aoun even tasted Geagea’s truffles in January!), the talks were making good progess in April, and the declaration of intent was actually finished a month ago. In fact, if you remember correctly, the fear of an FPM-LF rapprochement led the Kataeb, Michel Sleiman, and other minor Christian politicians to unite under one front in March. So no, it should not be that surprising to see Kanaan and Riachi telling us that the FPM and the LF are intending to continue the dialogue and work within the constitution in order to protect their interests.

What is weird here is the timing of the declaration. When they finished it last month without directly announcing it, it was assumed that both parties were waiting for M8 and M14 to agree on the major issues such as the presidential elections. It’s still too soon to be sure why that specific timing was chosen, but it seems right now that Geagea was trying to sabotage a potential rumored Aoun-Hariri deal on the way: letting Aoun name the commander of the army in exchange of conceding to some of Mustaqbal’s terms such as M8 lifting its veto on some centrist presidential candidates. Only yesterday, I was talking about how important it is for Aoun and the FPM that Roukoz becomes commander of the army.  If you read the declaration, you’ll find out  that it revolves around one main idea: protecting the Christian interests, and at their core, the election of a strong president (look for the sentence in bold in the original text). And in case you still don’t know what a “strong president” means after 12 months of presidential vacancy, let me enlighten you: Strong = Aoun and /or Geagea.

Aoun looked like the bigger party yesterday, since it was Geagea the one who visited him in Rabieh, but don’t be fooled by the formalities, since in the end, the leader of the Lebanese Forces succeeded in bringing back the “strong president” rhetoric to life, thus pushing Aoun away from the idea of a consensual president and a Roukouz deal with the Mustaqbal and the PSP. Yesterday, it wasn’t a new alliance between the LF and the FPM that was starting. It was the consensual candidate – Roukoz deal that was being put off the table, At least for now.

Anyway, here’s the original text of the declaration (directly from the source), if you would like to waste five minutes of your times on a text that could be summed up with the sentence “We agree to find an agreement”

لما كان الحوار هو الوسيلة الفضلى لتبادل الآراء وتفاعلها من اجل صياغة رؤية مشتركة حول القضايا والمواضيع ذات الاهتمام المتبادل على جميع الصعد السياسية والاقتصادية والادارية والاجتماعية،

ولما كان التيار الوطني الحر والقوات اللبنانية قد عقدا أكثر من لقاء وبحثا أسس التفاهم في ما بينهما، فوجدا أن التنافس السياسي أمر مشروع وواجب لارساء قواعد الديمقراطية وبلورتها في نظام للحكم.

ولما كان حزبا التيار الوطني الحر والقوات اللبنانية قد أجريا مراجعة للعلاقة التي سادت بينهما خلال أكثر من ربع قرن وذلك من أجل تنقية الذاكرة من مناخات الخصومة السياسية التي طبعت تلك العلاقة، والتطلع بالتالي نحو مستقبل يسوده التنافس السياسي الشريف و/أو التعاون السياسي.
–  التزام نهج الحوار والتخاطب السياسي البناء والسعي الدائم للتوافق على ثوابت وقواسم مشتركة
– تأكيد الايمان بلبنان كوطن نهائي سيد حر مستقل وبصيغة العيش المشترك وبضرورة التمسك بالمبادئ الواردة في مقدمة الدستور بصفتها مبادئ تأسيسية ثابتة
– اعتماد المبادئ السيادية في مقاربة المواضيع التي هي على ارتباط وثيق بالقضايا الاقليمية والدولية على أن تؤخذ في الاعتبار امكانات الدولة اللبنانية والمعادلات الاقليمية والدولية
– الالتزام بمرتكزات وثيقة الوفاق الوطني التي اقرّت في الطائف والتعهد باحترام أحكام الدستور كافة دون انتقائية وبعيداً عن الاعتبارات السياسية والابتعاد عن كل ما من شأنه التلاعب بأحكام الدستور أو اساءة تفسيره
– التأكيد على أن وثيقة الوفاق الوطني قد طبقت منذ اقرارها وخلال عهد الوصاية وحتى اليوم بشكل معتور مما يوجب تصويب المسار من خلال العودة إلى مرتكزات الميثاق الوطني واحكام الدستور المتعلقة بالمناصفة الفعلية وصحة التمثيل النيابي الفعال والشراكة الصحيحة بين مكونات المجتمع اللبناني كافة بما يحفظ قواعد العيش المشترك وترجمة ذلك في قانون انتخاب يؤمن القواعد المشار اليها اعلاه وفي انتخاب رئيس للجمهورية قوي ومقبول في بيئته وقادر على طمأنة المكونات الأخرى والايفاء بقسمه

وبالتزامات الرئاسة بما يؤمن الشراكة الفعلية الميثاقية والمصلحة الوطنية العليا
– العمل على تعزيز مؤسسات الدولة وتشجيع ثقافة الاحتكام الى القانون والمؤسسات الشرعية لحلّ أي خلاف أو اشكال طارئ وعدم اللجوء إلى السلاح والعنف مهما تكن الهواجس والاحتقانات
– دعم الجيش على الصعيدين المعنوي والمادي بصفته المؤسسة الضامنة للسيادة والأمن القومي وتكريس الجهد اللازم لتمكينه وسائر القوى الأمنية الشرعية من التعامل مع كل الحالات الأمنية على الأراضي اللبنانية كافة بهدف بسط سلطة الدولة وحدها على كامل الأراضي اللبنانية
– ضرورة التزام سياسة خارجية مستقلة بما يضمن مصلحة لبنان ويحترم القانون الدولي وذلك بنسج علاقات تعاون وصداقة مع جميع الدول ولا سيما العربية منها مما يحصن الوضع الداخلي اللبناني سياسياً وأمنياً ويساعد على استقرار الأوضاع وكذلك اعتبار اسرائيل دولة عدوة والتمسك بحق الفلسطينيين بالعودة إلى أرضهم ورفض التوطين واعتماد حل الدولتين ومبادرة بيروت 2002
– الحرص على ضبط الأوضاع على طول الحدود اللبنانية السورية بالاتجاهين وعدم السماح باقامة منطقة عازلة في لبنان وباستعمال لبنان مقرا او منطلقا لتهريب السلاح والمسلحين ويبقى الحق في التضامن الانساني والتعبير السياسي والاعلامي مكفولا تحت سقف الدستور والقانون والمصلحة الوطنية العليا
– احترام قرارات الشرعية الدولية كافة والالتزام بمواثيق الامم المتحدة وجامعة الدول العربية
– العمل على تنفيذ القرارات السابقة التي تم الاتفاق عليها في طاولة الحوار الوطني
– ايجاد حل لمشكلة النزوح السوري والمتعاظمة والتي أصبحت بمثابة قنبلة موقوتة أمنيا واقتصاديا وسياسيا واجتماعيا لا سيما مع تفاقمها مع مشكلة اللاجئين الفلسطينيين وذلك عن طريق تأمين عودة النازحين إلى المناطق الآمنة داخل الأراضي السورية
– ضرورة اقرار قانون جديد للانتخابات يراعي المناصفة الفعلية وصحة التمثيل بما يحفظ قواعد العيش المشترك ويشكل المدخل الأساسي لاعادة التوازن إلى مءسسات الدولة
– الالتزام بوثيقة الوفاق الوطني لجهة اعتماد اللامركزية الإدارية والمالية الموسعة ونقل قسم كبير من صلاحيات الادارة المركزية ولا سيما الانمائية منها إلى سلطات لامركزية منتخبة وفقاً للأصول وتأمين الايرادات الذاتية اللازمة لذلك
– الالتزام بأحكام الدستور المتعلقة بالمالية العامة وبأحكام قانون المحاسبة العمومية التي تحدد موازنة الدولة وشموليتها وأصول ومهل اعدادها وتقديمها إلى المجلس النيابي وكذلك اعداد الحسابات المالية وتدقيقها وتصديقها وفقاً للأصول وكذلك الالتزام بضرورة تحديد سقف للاقتراض لا يمكن تجاوزه الا باجازة جديدة من المجلس النيابي وبضرورة ترشيد الانفاق والحد من الهدر والانفاق غير المجدي ومحاربة الفساد المستشري وإعمال قانون الاثراء غير المشروع وانشاء المحكمة الخاصة بالجرائم المالية
– التأكيد على التمسك بالمبادئ الكيانية المؤسسة للوطن اللبناني والتي هي سبب وجوده وجوهر رسالته في التسامح والتنوع والتعايش الفريد القائم على المشاركة الكاملة في الحكم والعمل المشترك من اجل اقرار القوانين المحققة لذلك وفي طليعتها قانون استعادة الجنسية وقانون تملك الأجانب كما العمل من أجل الحؤول دون القيام بأي اجراءات تخالف المبادئ المنبثقة من الصيغة اللبنانية ومن الميثاق الوطني.

وإذ يعتبر الطرفان أن اعلان النوايا هذا، يهدف إلى وضع المبادء الديمقراطية ومعاييرها كأساس لتنظيم علاقتهما، يؤكدان على ابقاء المبادئ الدستورية والميثاقية فوق سقف التنافس السياسي، كما يؤكدان على ارادتهما ورغبتهما بالعمل المشترك والتواصل في جميع المجالات والمواقع الممكنة لتنفيذ التزاماتهما المنوه عنها اعلاه ويعتزمان العمل على تفعيل انتاجية اتفاقاتهما حيث يتفقان، والتنافس من دون خصام حيث يختلفان، كما يتعهدان بالتواصل الدائم والتباحث المستمر للتفاهم على كافة المواضيع ذات الشأن العام والوطني.

375 days since the 25th of May. 211 days since the 5th of November.