Parliamentary Elections

Six Months Of Vacuum

A Lebanese Staghound securing the presidential palace in Kantari, Beirut (1958)

A Lebanese Staghound securing the presidential palace in Kantari, Beirut (1958)

It’s already been six months since Michel Sleiman left office. And this month has been the most active one so far: The parliament approved its 2 years and seven months extension, the Future Movement hinted at the possibility of a presidential breakthrough, Aoun responded with an innovative counter-attack, and most importantly, there are renewed talks about the electoral law.

How the FM tried to break the vicious circle

Two weeks ago, one of the most shocking and unexpected maneuvers of the year broke the five months status-quo we had since Michel Sleiman left office: The Future Movement – via an interview with a Beirut MP – hinted that Sleiman Frangieh could be an accepted presidential candidate. The maneuver was surprising, yet brilliant:

If the FM – according to MP Shab’s hints – are seriously considering Frangieh’s candidacy, it would make Hezbollah look like a hypocrite in case they insist on Aoun or a consensual candidate, and it would create problems between the Marada and the FPM and between M8′s Christians and M8′s Muslims. A Frangieh presidency might seem like a March 8 victory, but on the long run, it will probably lead to the downfall of that alliance.

Such a maneuver from M14 would kill two candidacies with one stone: Aoun’s candidacy and Kahwaji’s candidacy. And in the process, it would kill the M8 alliance.

How Frangieh responded

So to sum things up here , Frangieh in his interview ended the Future Movement’s maneuver while it was still in its early stage and proved that he wouldn’t go behind his allies’ back in order to secure the presidency for himself. But he also indirectly gave the names of M8’s three presidential favorites: Aoun, Obeid (rumored to be Berri’s favori), and Kahwaji (rumored to be Hezbollah’s favori) while at the same time blacklisting two other possible consensual names: Georges Khoury (Who used to be the head of Lebanon’s intelligence service), and the governor of the central bank (Riad Salameh).

How Aoun responded

Aoun however was more subtle in his counter-attack. While he didn’t directly comment on M14’s maneuver, he said (in an interview with MTV) that he was ready to face off with Samir Geagea in parliament provided that there was no other candidate running in the presidential elections. The maneuver here is pretty much obvious: As demonstrated by the first round of the presidential elections, Samir Geagea could never get more than 50% of the votes needed to be elected. Walid Jumblatt, among other non-affiliated M8 politicians would never elect him as president. While Michel Aoun would also never get more than 50% of the votes (since the Jumblatt and Mikati blocs are hardly going to prefer him over Geagea), Michel Aoun – via his face off proposal – would have made sure that other presidential candidates would be surely gone from the race: Two names quickly come to mind here: Sleiman Frangieh and Henri Helou.

By making sure that it would be either Geagea or himself in Baabda, Aoun would have achieved a big win here and would have stopped two major M14 maneuvers from happening: The first one – electing Frangieh – was a long shot and its main goal was shattering the M8 alliance rather than securing the election of Frangieh – and it didn’t work anyway. The second maneuver is M8’s biggest fear: Should there be quorum, if M14 decides to support Jumblatt’s candidate – Henri Helou –  then he would become Lebanon’s next president since M14’s votes alongside Jumblatt’s ones are more than 65.
Aoun – and by getting everyone else to agree to his face off deal – Would have ruled out the possibility of M14 showing up to vote for Geagea but instead voting for Helou and electing him as president.

The FPM was trying to hit two birds with one stone: Keeping Frangieh outside the presidential race – independently of what Frangieh has to say- and at the same time preventing M14 from voting for Helou and electing him as president. This is why M8 won’t let the parliament meet to elect the president: It’s not because they fear that Geagea would be elected (Which is surreal). It’s because they fear that M14 would change their mind at the last minute and elect Helou after a deal with Walid Jumblatt. What confirms this theory is Jumblatt’s rejection of Aoun’s proposal (He called it undemocratic):

How the Lebanese Forces responded

The Lebanese Forces had two interesting reactions on the maneuvers of this month: The first one was their sudden interest in the electoral law and their reinvigorated support to a law they had previously agreed to (in May 2013) with the PSP and the FM. This is probably a reminder to the PSP and the FM that they are still an integral part of M14 and that they can give them concessions other parties would never give (Like on the electoral law). The second one was their approval of Aoun’s face-to-face competition with Geagea. After all, how can it harm the Lebanese Forces if Frangieh and Helou are out from the presidential race?

How vacancy in the presidency is in favor of M8

Now that the stances of every party is becoming clearer by the day, it would be interesting to see the bigger picture here, that is a lot similar to 2007 and 2008: March 8 is blocking the presidential elections because it gives them a tactical advantage: If they let it happen, there’s a possibility that M14 could eventually rally around Helou and elect him as president. Once Helou is elected president, M14 could – with the help of Jumblatt – form a government that is purely M14 and pass an electoral law that has the consent M14 (and M14 only). And the very fact that such a draft law already exists (It’s the one the LF mentioned) scares M8 even more. While M8 are more or less sure by now that Aoun’s chances are next to nil, Hezbollah’s ultimate goal of electing a consensual candidate that isn’t hostile towards its politics is becoming more likely. The delay in the presidential elections also gives M8 another advantage: By blocking the election of any president whatsoever, M8 could extort M14 into agreeing to their own terms: Just like 2008, the war for the presidential elections is the minor one. The main issue here is the deal that would include the name of the Lebanese president, and not the Lebanese president himself. There has been a lot of talk lately about a possible dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement: While the dialogue in itself is likely to be useless, what is really important here is the FM’s precondition that the dialogue should start by solving the presidential deadlock before anything else: M14 wants to prevent M8 – via the preconditions of the dialogue – from asking for a deal (including the name of the president among other things). On the other hand, M8 needs guarantees that it wouldn’t be ousted from the next Lebanese government, and that an electoral law wouldn’t be voted without its consent. Deep down, the Aoun candidacy isn’t the will. It’s the way. After all, the only power M8 has (politically) is their “presidential blocking third”. So if they want to survive till the next parliamentary elections and if they want to make sure that their blocking third in the government is still there, now would be the smart time to take advantage of their number in parliament.

185 since the 25th of May. 21 days since the 5th of November. One million years till the next parliamentary elections.

On Independence And Constitutions

Beirut's Martyrs' Square during celebrations marking the release by the French of Lebanon's government from Rashayya prison on November 22, 1943

Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square during celebrations marking the release by the French of Lebanon’s government from Rashayya prison on November 22, 1943

Independent Lebanon is 71 years old today. But then again, if you think of it, we’re barely 7 years old: During the first two years we were still technically under the occupation of the French army. Then, up until 1958, no one really understood what was happening. The next seventeen years were basically buying time so that we don’t have a civil war, which we had anyway from 1975 till 1990. And then there were another fifteen years of Syrian tutelage, followed by 10 years that were more or less similar to the first fifteen ones in terms of democracy and productivity.

And this post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t know how to elect a president. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t know how to make a decent fair electoral law.

This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still postpone parliamentary elections. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still have no control over the security situation.

This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still wait for other states to solve our problems. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t have a sustainable economy.

This post is about a Lebanese parliament that after 71 years of independence still doesn’t know how to follow the simple rules of the Constitution.

You’d think that after 14 parliamentary elections (since 1943) , we would have a parliament that actually knows how to handle a Constitution. Here’s a small compilation of the major constitutional violations that happened (or are still happening) in the past 10 years.

I – “Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic” (Yeah, right)

PREAMBLE
(INTRODUCED BY THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF SEPTEMBER 21, 1990)
A) Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country. It is a final homeland for all its citizens. It is unified in its territory, people, and institutions within the boundaries defined in this Constitution and recognized internationally.
B) Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its affiliation. It is a founding and active member of the League of Arab States and abides by its pacts and covenants. Lebanon is also a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Government shall embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.
C) Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.

II – “The people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these powers through the constitutional institutions.” (That’s why we don’t have elections anymore)

D) The people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these powers through the constitutional institutions.

III – “The political system is established on the principle of separation of powers, their balance and cooperation.” (That’s probably why it takes us eleven months to form a government)

E) The political system is established on the principle of separation of powers, their balance and cooperation.

F) The economic system is free and ensures private initiative and the right of private property.

IV – The even what?!?

G) The even development among regions on the educational, social, and economic levels shall be a basic pillar of the unity of the state and the stability of the system.

H) The abolition of political confessionalism shall be a basic national goal and shall be achieved according to a staged plan.
I) Lebanese territory is one for all Lebanese. Every Lebanese shall have the right to live in any part thereof and to enjoy the rule of law wherever he resides. There shall be no segregation of the people on the basis of any type of belonging, and no fragmentation, partition, or settlement of non-Lebanese in Lebanon.
J) There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the ‘pact of mutual existence’.

V – I bet you didn’t even know that we’re supposed to (constitutionally) have a senate (Majlis Chuyukh). But right. Who cares.

Article 22
With the election of the first Chamber of Deputies on a national, non-confessional basis, a Senate shall be established in which all the religious communities shall be represented. Its authority shall be limited to major national issues.

VI – There is no quorum. There. Is. No. Quorum. You do not need 66% of the parliament to be present to elect the president. I repeat, you do not need 66% of the parliament to be present to elect the president.

Article 49
(As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927, And by the constitutional law of may 8, 1929, And by the constitutional law of January 21, 1947 And by the constitutional law of September 21, 1990)
[…]
The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a twothirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The President’s term is six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the Presidency of the Republic unless he fulfills the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.

Did you read the word quorum? Because I didn’t. And if the Constitution wanted to say that there was a quorum, it would have said it clearly and mentioned directly the word “quorum”. Like in this article:

Article 65 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of September 21, 1990)

[…]
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. […]

Even the patriarch said that there was no 2/3 quorum.

VII – How did we elect Michel Sleiman again? Because, unlike what the legend says, the Constitution was not amended in 2008.

Article 49

[…]

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

 Really, it wasn’t.

VIII – I don’t mean to be rude, but did “the Chamber meet automatically”? Because last time I checked, we still didn’t have a president.

Article 73
(As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927, And the constitutional law of may 22,1948, And the constitutional law of april 24,1976)

One month at least and two months at most before the expiration of the term of office of the President of the Republic, the Chamber shall be convened by its President to elect the new President of the Republic. However, should it not be convened for this purpose, the Chamber shall meet automatically on the tenth day preceding the expiration of the President’s term of office.

IX – The Chamber shall meet immediately and by virtue of the law to elect a successor. Immediately. Immediately? Immediately. Immediately!

Article 74 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927)

Should the Presidency become vacant through the death or resignation of the President or for any other cause, the Chamber shall meet immediately and by virtue of the law to elect a successor. If either Chamber happens to be dissolved at the time the vacancy occurs, the electoral bodies shall be convened without delay and, as soon as the elections have taken place, the Chamber meets by virtue of the law.

X – “And NOT a legislative body” (In other words, the parliament shouldn’t have been allowed to vote on the extension law)

Article 75 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927)

The Chamber meeting to elect the President of the Republic shall be considered an electoral body and not a legislative assembly. It must proceed immediately, without discussion of any other act, to elect the Head of the State.

XI – General Budget? What was that again?

Article 83

Each year at the beginning of the October session, the Government shall submit to the Chamber of Deputies the general budget estimates of state expenditures and revenues for the following year. The budget shall voted upon article by article.

XII – No Comment.

Article 95

(As amended by the Constitutional Law of November 9, 1943 And by the constitutional law of September 21,1990)
The Chamber of Deputies that is elected on the basis of equality between Muslims and Christians shall take the appropriate measures to bring about the abolition of political confessionalism according to plan. A National Committee shall be formed, headed by the President of the Republic, it includes, in addition to the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister, leading political, intellectual, and social figures.
The tasks of this Committee shall be to study and propose the means to ensure the abolition of confessionalism, propose them to the Chamber of Deputies and to the Ministers council of ministers, and to follow up the execution of the transitional plan. During the transitional phase:
a. The sectarian groups shall be represented in a just and equitable manner in the formation of the Cabinet.
b. The principle of confessional representation in public service jobs, in the judiciary, in the military and security institutions, and in public and mixed agencies shall be cancelled in accordance with the requirements of national reconciliation; they shall be replaced by the principle of expertise and competence. However, Grade One posts and their equivalents shall be excepted from this rule, and the posts shall be distributed equally between Christians and Muslims without reserving any particular job for any sectarian group but rather applying the principles of expertise and competence.

And there are probably millions of other direct or indirect constitutional violations. They’re not as obvious as the ones here, but still, we see them almost every month.

But hey, look on the bright side: We’re so awesome and independent that we elect the president without having to rely on a Constitution.

 182 days since the 25th of May. 18 days since the 5th of November.

Five Months Of Vacuum (And Another Parliamentary Extension)

Same shit, different day. Image dates back to the first parliamentary  extension. (31 May 2013)

Same shit, different day. Image dates back to the first parliamentary extension. (31 May 2013)

We are officially not heading to parliamentary elections.The parliament approved today a second extension to its term for two years and seven month (31 months). That’s 943 days. 943. Again, 943.  Most of the MPs voted for the extension while The FPM and Kataeb boycotted the session. While the extension move was very expected, several signs, especially in late August and the beginning of September hinted at the possibility of parliamentary elections happening this fall. But Lebanese politics are highly unpredictable. So what really happened these last two months?

This week Future Movement showed Berri that they could still bypass any of his vetoes regarding the presidential elections by endorsing M8’s “hidden candidate” (Jean Kahwaji). And Berri responded by reminding them that he too is unpredictable and that no matter what happens, he still holds the keys to the Lebanese parliament and could postpone for them the elections in case they wanted to. And in the process, the Lebanese Forces discovered that they were yet again left alone with no real power.

That was the situation in the first week of October. Then, on the 13th and 14th of October, three separate events proved that we were about to enter a turning point in Lebanon’s presidential/parliamentary politics.

(1) Hassan Nasrallah’s remarks while he was visiting the Bekaa were at the same time too violent about ISIS and awkwardly silent about the parliamentary elections. If Hezbollah genuinely wanted the elections to happen, Nasrallah would have publicly and clearly supported the demands of his Christian ally. The Bekaa speech would have also been a good occasion to start the electoral campaign, since the parliamentary elections were supposed to happen in the next month. But Nasrallah completely ignored the subject and instead chose to keep the anti-ISIS media war alive. The comments were 100% about ISIS and 0% about the elections or even broad Lebanese politics for that matter (No mention of the presidential elections either).

And there are two obvious reasons for that: Hezbollah’s top priority right now is the war next door, and exactly like the first extension’s context in 2013, the parliamentary elections would lead to two things:

A bad result:  A stronger Michel Aoun with a bigger parliamentary bloc (Making him more Hezbollah-independent which means that it would be easier for him to shift alliances or strike deals with his rivals).

A worse result: M14 wins the elections.

In both cases, it is more convenient for Hezbollah to keep the status quo, especially that the FM had previously threatened to boycott the parliamentary elections. Which means that Hezbollah would have had to deal with a political crisis, Sunni uproar, a non-representative parliament and possible Sunni-Shia clashes. (All this because Aoun might or might not have gained 7 extra seats.)

(2) The second development is about Amal and the FM. High ranking officials from both parties engaged in talks and the meeting was described as “positive” and aimed at extending the legislative term with “the minimum damage.” Two of the biggest blocs in parliament were already pro-extension.

(3) Hariri had previously hinted that M14 was ready to drop Geagea’s candidacy, but it didn’t seem that serious until he met with the Maronite patriarch and publicly endorsed the election of a consensual candidate. The maneuver was simple: By throwing Geagea outside the presidential race and endrosing a consensual candidate, M14 appears to the Lebanese public as the coalition that is spending most of the effort regarding the presidential elections. It puts pressure on Michel Aoun to back down but also gives the impression that the consensual candidate – once elected – would be an M14 sympathizer (since Aoun would be the last candidate to withdraw). Jean Kahwaji wouldn’t be “M8’s hidden candidate” anymore, but rather “M14’s proposed consensual candidate”. Properly speaking, it won’t be a win for M14, but it would definitively be defeat for Aoun.

Is A ‘Consensual War’ Starting?

Some rumors indicate that Jean Obeid might gather more support than Jean Kahwagi. Apparently, Obeid’s candidacy has the approval of Berri, Hariri and Jumblatt, which might mean that we could be heading (after the extension) to a “consensual candidate war”, with Obeid being supported by the “quadripartite alliance” Berri/Hezbollah/Mustaqbal/PSP (minus Hezbollah), Kahwagi being supported by Hezbollah, and Aoun being supported by himself while his Christian rivals seem to have no idea of what’s happening.

Baabda > Nejmeh Square

Throwing Geagea outside means however that the abandoned Lebanese Forces would have wanted to take their revenge somehow. The Lebanese- and especially the Christian electorate – are mainly against extending the parliament’s term. The wise thing to do from the Lebanese Forces would have been to embrace their electorate’s demands and piss off their Muslim allies by calling for elections and voting no for the extension. But that’s not what happened today. The FM and Berri’s biggest fear was that Christian MPs would boycott the extension session (making it invalid because of the lack of Christian support and creating constitutional problems). The very fact that the LF didn’t do that means something very important: Although they might not want the extension, they still value their allies’ importance. The LF needs the FM for the  presidential elections. Even the FPM – indirectly, with the Yes votes of their smaller ally, the Marada (4 votes) – gave a “Christian cover” for the extension and partially satisfied  Hezbollah’s political needs: For the LF and the FPM, abandoning your Muslim ally means losing the quest to Baabda. The Nejmeh square quarrel can obviously wait. For the Kataeb who don’t have a presidential candidate at the frontline of the presidential elections ( which is mainly about Geagea and Aoun), the wise thing to do was to please the Christian electorate and boycott the extension session. (Their alliance with Mustaqbal isn’t very relevant right now since they have no presidential candidate for the FM to support)

Retracing The Steps That Led To The Extension

The rest of October was rather quite similar to these two days. Even at the height of a political offensive by M14, Hezbollah reacted calmly – indicating its desperate need to eliminate something as simple as the idea of a Sunni-Shia political/military crisis – by “rejecting to engage in Spat with Mustaqbal despite a sharp rift“. On the other side of the political spectrum, the FM continued their presidential maneuver. The LF were once again indirectly bashed by their allies when Saad Hariri, approximately two weeks after his meeting with the Patriarch, declared the end of Geagea’s candidacy one more time. The first days of November were also similar. The most important stance was Hezbollah’s one, when Nasrallah (1) praised the FM for their stances on Tripoli’s events (indicating a rapprochement due to their similar stances on the extension) and (2) publicly – and probably for the first time – said that Aoun was Hezbollah’s candidate (Implying that Aoun was no longer a consensus candidate and indirectly ruling him out from the “Consensual candidate list” – something that should please the Mustaqbal party)

The Scary Part

What is scary here isn’t that Lebanese politicians lie and steal and deceive and postpone elections. That, we already know. What is truly scary here is that 25 years after Taef, we are starting to witness an obvious rapprochement between the Christian parties while a rivalry between the Muslim blocs and the major Christian ones is becoming more apparent by the day. Every time there’s an important law debated in parliament – Such as the electoral law or the extension law – the rift is yet again Christian/Muslim instead of M8/M14: 10 years after the creation of these alliances , it seems that they were more based on an electoral than ideological ground.

If there was one beautiful thing about the March 8 and 14 alliances, it was that they were religiously diverse. And now – with ISIS on our gates and with vacancy and dysfunction everywhere in the political establishment – is literally the worst time to lose that.

Clashes, Again

The war for the extension was until now political. Then, on the third week of October, clashes erupted between the Lebanese army and Islamist militants in Tripoli. It was the best thing that could have happened to the pro-extension parties. That, in addition to the other security issues, such as the Arsal fiasco, were more than enough to say that the government couldn’t handle organizing elections in such a context (which is total bullshit, since in the 1990s the parliamentary elections happened even when Israel was occupying the South). Just look at that headline:

North Lebanon mufti cancels Christian-Muslim summit over clashes

Now forget about that headline for a while, and read the following paragraphs (sorry, couldn’t find an English version)

            انطلاقاً من الأوضاع الأمنية التي يمر بها الوطن والتي تؤثر بشكل واضح ومباشر على الحياة الطبيعية في مناطق واسعة وفي معظم المحافظات اللبنانية حيث انتقال الحوادث والإشكالات من منطقة إلى أخرى سبّبت سقوط الشهداء والجرحى لا سيما في مدن رئيسية تشكل عقدة المواصلات الأساسية بين المناطق اللبنانية من الشمال إلى الجنوب إلى البقاع.

            وبناءً على ما لهذا الأمر من أثر مباشر على قدرة الجيش والقوى الأمنية التي تسخّر كل قوتها وانتشارها لضبط الأوضاع مع تكرار الإعتداءات على الجيش ووقوع خسائر في أرواح جنوده وضباطه مما شكّل تحدّياً لدوره أدّى إلى سحب ونقل قواته من مهامها الأساسية في الجنوب إلى مناطق أخرى.

ونظراً لانعكاس هذه الحالة وتلازمها مع تصعيد سياسي وانقسام يأخذ في كثير من الأحيان أبعاداً مذهبية وطائفية حادة تنذر تداعياتها بالفتنة التي أصبحت معالمها تنتقل من مكان لآخر وبأشكال متعددة.

وبالاطلاع التفصيلي على أوضاع أكثر من منطقة لبنانية تظهر أن سلاح الفوضى يعبث بأمنها حيث يتجرّأ المسلحون على هز هيبة الدولة واستقرار حياة الناس وصولاً إلى إطلاق الصواريخ على المناطق التي تشكل امتداداً للعاصمة وكذلك مدينة طرابلس مع ما لهذا من انعكاس على صورة لبنان إضافةً إلىسقوط عشرات القتلى ومئات الجرحى، والقصف الصاروخي المتكرر على مدينة الهرمل.

هذه الأوضاع الأمنية المتردية أدّت إلى أن العديد من الدول العربية والأجنبية نصحت رعاياها بمغادرة لبنان أو على الأقل عدم المجيء إليه إلا للضرورة القصوى.

وبما أن مجمل هذا الوضع الأمني والسياسي المتوتر يعطل بشكل كبير إمكانية القيام بتحرك إنتخابي وتنظيم الحملات التي تسمح للمواطن وللمرشح بممارسة حقه في إطار القوانين والأنظمة وتعطل قدرة التواصل بينهما في أغلب المناطق وخاصة في المدن الكبرى ومنها وإليها.

وتزامناً مع عدم الاستقرار الأمني هذا تأتي مشكلة غياب الاستقرار السياسي مع وجود حكومة مستقيلة.

كل هذا انعكس وسينعكس مع استحقاق الانتخابات بشكل سلبي على القطاعات الاقتصادية والتجارية والسياحية المتعثرة وبما يؤدي إلى شلل إقتصادي يدفع اللبنانيون ثمنه مباشرةً.

وبما أن معظم هذه الأمور السياسية والأمنية تتسم بصفات الظروف الاستثنائية والقوة القاهرة بأشد مفاهيمها. 

ولو سمحت الظروف لأي كان بالاستماع إلى وزيري الدفاع والداخلية وقادة الأجهزة لعرف بدقة حجم الصعوبات والأزمات التي يواجهونها والتي تتطلب المساعدة من الجميع.

وبمـا أنـه صـدرت في لبنـان قوانيـن مـددت مـدة ولايـة المجلـس النيابـي لأكثر من مرة وهي القوانين رقـم 1/76 –3/78 –14/80 –9/83 – 3/84 – 11/86 –  52/87 – 1/1989 .

وبمـا أن القوانيـن المذكـورة أعـلاه مـددت ولايـة المجلـس النيابـي تحـت وطـأة الحـرب والقـوة القاهـرةوالظروف الاستثنائية فإن اقتراح القانـون الذي نحن بصدده مـا هـو إلا لمنـع الحـرب واستدراك الفتنـة ونتائج الأزمـات الخطيـرة المحدقـة بنا.

In case you didn’t understand a word, those were the compelling reasons (الاسباب الموجبة) that came with the previous extension law of 2013 (find the full text here). According to the text, the main reasons for the extension were that the security situation is unstable (There was the Qussair battle at the time) , that there is no political stability (Mikati’s government was a caretaker one at the time) and that there is no agreement on the electoral law.

The main rhetoric used here is a preventive one: “The parliamentary extension is to prevent war” and is based on the fact that the previous extensions were made in times of war. You know, because since we didn’t have elections during the war, we shouldn’t have elections in order to prevent the war (what a logical sentence! – credit goes to our politicians)

Now read the headline again:

North Lebanon mufti cancels Christian-Muslim summit over clashes

That headline is the Christmas miracle. The political class that wasted most of the 17 previous months on forming a government that could have been formed in 17 minutes instead of agreeing on an electoral law, and that successfully postponed the presidential elections and established vacancy in Baabda, now received what it had always wanted: Clashes, sectarianism and terrorism, all in a combo package.

The other Christmas miracle was the decision of two Lebanese universities last week to postpone their student elections because of the security situation. Take it from the politicians’ point of view: If the universities can’t even hold elections in this context, how can the government organize them?

By the end of this week, the three extension requirements were met. It was finally time to pass the parliamentary extension: (a) There was no political stability (no president), (b) there was no new electoral law to use (apparently 17 months aren’t enough to write a couple of consensual articles on a piece of paper), and (c) There were severe security breaches.

Mabrouk, maddadna.

Is it politically correct to say 3a2bel el miyye?

165 days since the 25th of May. One million years till the next parliamentary elections.

Lebanon’s New Presidential Favorite?

Empty frames (presidential vacuum)

Visual vacuum: Portraits of ex-Lebanese President Michel Sleiman at state-run facilities replaced with empty frames. (Image source: The Daily Star, Mohamad Azakir)

Other than the fact that we still don’t have a president and that the parliamentary elections are in a month, Lebanon had two very busy weeks. Let’s take a look at some of these stories.

28/09/2014 – Army Repels Jihadist Infiltration Attempt as Gunmen Try to Spread Chaos in Lebanon (Naharnet)

The Lebanese army clashed with jihadists trying to infiltrate Lebanese territories at dawn Monday, leaving many dead and injured among their ranks, Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) reported.

The infiltration attempt was made on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal, which last month witnessed bloody clashes between the army and militants from al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group.

28/09/2014 – Hariri: Syrian National Coalition Complaint on Army’s Arsal Raid Should’ve Mentioned Captive Troops (Naharnet)

Head of the Mustaqbal Movement MP Saad Hariri criticized on Sunday the Syrian National Coalition’s complaint to the United Nations Security Council over the Lebanese army’s treatment of Syrian refugees in the northeastern region of Arsal, deeming it as a “misstep” and saying that it disregards the ties between the Lebanese and Syrian people.

He said in a statement: “The Syrian National Coalition has the right to defend the refugees’ humanitarian rights … but the interests of the refugees and Syrian revolt also requires them to raise their voice and demand the release of the Lebanese soldiers and policemen abducted by Islamists in August.”

29/09/2014 – Saudi Arabia asks for clarification on weapons deal for Army (The Daily Star)

“For reasons that I cannot explain today, the Saudis have put conditions on the destinations of the arms,” Lebranchu said. When pressed what she meant by “destinations,” Lebranchu said that the already complex file would only be further complicated if she discussed the details publicly.

Moreover, the Saudis had not registered their specific concerns regarding the arms deal with the French by Friday evening as Lebranchu concluded her trip to Lebanon.

“If the Saudis have a problem [with the accord] … it would be helpful if they identified it quickly so that we could respond,” Lebranchu said. “We need to get this file moving.”

She was confident that the Saudis would express their precise concerns in the near future.

30/09/2014 – Iran to donate military equipment to Lebanese Army (The Daily Star)

Iran will donate military equipment to the Lebanese Army, a visiting Iranian official said Tuesday after talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

“Given the role Lebanon is playing in fighting extremist takfiri terrorism in some border regions, Iran has decided to donate military equipment to the Lebanese Army, as a token of love and appreciation for Lebanon and its brave Army,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran.

 

01/10/2014 – Jumblat Calls for Exchange between Arsal Captives, Roumieh Prisoners to End Abduction Ordeal (Naharnet)

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat called on Wednesday for a swift exchange between the Arsal captives and Roumieh prison Islamist inmates, holding former Internal Security Forces personnel responsible for the “self-rule” at the facility.

“The government and crisis cell should follow up any exchange process with the kidnappers,” Jumblat said in an interview with An Nahar newspaper.

He denied any previous knowledge of the conditions set by the jihadists, who kidnapped a batch of soldiers after withdrawing from the northeastern border town of Arsal in August.

Note: Jumblatt had previously refused the idea of an exchange deal on the 7th of  September.

05/01/2014 – Lebanon to get Russian helicopters, air defense (The Daily Star)

“There are talks on buying Russian arms and special equipment by Lebanon,” the World Tribune quoted Machnouk as saying during his visit to Moscow in late September to discuss weapons supplies to Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces.

He said a delegation from the army would visit Moscow later this month to discuss proposals.

Any deal would most likely be financed by the $1 billion Saudi donation that was announced by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in August.

Political sources last month told the The Daily Star that Hariri was working to revive 2010 arms negotiations with Moscow. The Russian ambassador confirmed at the time that talks were taking place without going into detail.

08/10/2014 – Lebanese Army receives new US arms delivery (The Daily Star)

he United States delivered a new batch of aid to the Lebanese Army Wednesday as part of Washington’s efforts to bolster the military’s capabilities to confront Syrian border violence.

The National News Agency reported that senior Army officers were handed ammunition at Beirut’s International Airport in the presence of representatives from U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Lebanon.

The Army has received several deliveries of U.S. military equipment, including arms and ammunitions, in the past weeks under the U.S. military assistance program.

08/10/2014 – France says $3 billion Lebanon arms deal to go ahead (Reuters)

“All the work is done and the President (Francois Hollande) indicated yesterday to Mr (Saad) al-Hariri that the conditions to fulfil the contract had been met,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament.

“This is a necessity. The Lebanese army is the last barrier that exists against the security threats this country faces.”

08/10/2014 – Envoy: Iran’s Military Gift to Lebanon Ready for Delivery (Fars News Agency)

thali made the remarks after a meeting with Lebanese Democratic Party Leader Talal Arslan, where he expressed the hope that the gift would be sent to the Lebanese army through legal procedures in the Muslim Arab state, the Egyptian al-Bawaba news reported.

The envoy did not reveal details or the nature of the aid, but said the gift would help Lebanon meet all its Army needs  in its current war on terrorism.

Iran hopes the weapons can support Lebanon in its fight against the terrorist groups, he reiterated.

Meet Lebanon’s Top Presidential Candidate

I think that I’ve made my point by now. In less than 10 days, every possible country in the world suddenly volunteered to arm the Lebanese army. Faisal Kassem’s media campaign backfired, and by the end of this week, Jean Kahwaji had become Lebanon’s man of the month. At the same time, the Lebanese army was also getting credit for its achievement in keeping a relative peace in the Bekaa and for taking control of the situation. The credit came from everyone, except Berri. Although the speaker had earlier expressed his “frustration and defended the army against critics” (30/09), on the third of October the speaker indirectly attacked the army’s command by blaming the army for the delay regarding the controversial wage hike draft law. The speaker knew what he was doing. The Lebanese army was getting stronger and stronger in the context of a presidential vacancy. On one hand, the world’s greater powers are (probably) competing to gain the sympathy of the LAF leader via the arms deals, and on the other hand,  most of the M14 forces are endorsing Kawhaji’s moves. Jumblatt’s endorsement of the exchange deal with the Arsal militants made M8’s initial veto on the issue meaningless. Kahwaji, who is traditionally seen by the Lebanese media as being sympathetic to the March 8 Alliance (and particularly Hezbollah), was becoming at the same time stronger and more popular among M14 (proof: Kahwaji headed to Washington, Riyadh to discuss support for Lebanese army). That makes it a lot easier for him to become Lebanon’s next president,  and a lot harder for Berri to enforce some of his demands in a possible deal on Kahwaji’s candidacy. After all, if everyone agrees on Kahwaji, Berri becomes as influential as Talal Arslan.

Berri’s Maneuver

This is probably why Berri made two very interesting moves this week: In the first one, the parliament speaker attacked the army and blamed it for freezing the wage hike efforts (and hence tried to make Kahwaji  unpopular). In the second one, he declared that he was going to vote against the elections in case the Future Movement takes the decision to boycott the polls. And since the FM already took that decision, it means that Nabih Berri will vote against the elections. Which also means that:

1) There’s now at least more than 65 MPs against the elections.

2) The speaker can still enforce whatever terms he wants regarding the presidential elections by effectively deciding the outcome of the extension law vote since he – as it seems – is now in control of the swing votes in the parliament (regarding the Extension/ Temdid law) and can change his decision at any time (He just proved to everyone that he is unpredictable).

The Lebanese Forces In Denial (Again)

58+8=64. That means that exactly half of the parliament wants to stay in the parliament, while the other half wants parliamentary elections (which means that we will go to elections since an extension law needs 65 votes to pass). As striking as it might seem, the decision to keep the same parliament or to change it lies within the Lebanese Forces .

Probably for the first time since prehistory, the Lebanese Forces are in a position where they are actually in charge of taking a major decision (Going to elections in the context of a presidential vacancy). And they can use this rare moment of power in order to force the M8/M14 coalitions into a deal that might be favorable to their interests.

That was the situation in September. But since Berri decided that he was going to boycott the elections after all, the majority in the parliament is now against elections – regardless of what the LF think. The Lebanese Forces hence lost their bargaining chip which might explain their recent aggressive stances and their very weird decision to sue regular citizens (If we were a normal country, such an irresponsible decision, especially in the context of an extension of the parliament’s term would have led to a revolution. Emphasis on normal.)

So in other words, this week Future Movement showed Berri that they were unpredictable and could still bypass any of his vetoes regarding the presidential elections by endorsing M8’s “hidden candidate”. And Berri responded by reminding them that he too is unpredictable and that no matter what happens, he still holds the keys to the Lebanese parliament and could postpone for them the elections in case they wanted to. And in the process, the Lebanese Forces discovered that they were yet again left alone with no real power.

 141 days since the 25th of May. 36 days till the 16th of November.

Four Months Of Vacuum

Baabda Palace during its construction, 1969

Baabda Palace during its construction, 1969 (Image source)

Four months is nothing. It took the Lebanese parliament 13 months to elect Rene Mouawad in 1989, and 7 months to elect Michel Sleiman in 2008. Before the Salam cabinet crisis (Lebanon’s longest governmental vacancy ever, 11 months), the longest period of vacancy regarding the executive power was 7 months (Rachid Karami, 1969). So, proportionally speaking, the next president should be elected in the matter of 13*11 /7 = 20 months (16 months from now). That’s January 2016. Cool, no?

The presidential elections are old news

No one cares about the Lebanese presidential elections anymore. It’s not a priority. ِAs it turns out, the Lebanese parliament is perfectly comfortable at legislating and the government is even more comfortable at ruling now that there is no president in power. A change or a vacancy in the presidency isn’t scary for Lebanese politicians. What’s truly scary is a change in the Lebanese parliament. Change the parliament, you change the status quo. So if you think that a president is going to be elected before  they strike a deal regarding the parliamentary elections (and the electoral law), don’t. The vacancy in the presidency is yet another alibi to use in case the parliament wants to extend its mandate (other than the 1960 law alibi that was used in 2013). It’s also a valuable negotiation card to use when things go bad for one of the two coalitions.

The Lebanese Forces en force (It’s payback time)

Rewind to February 2014. The only party that was left out of the Salam cabinet was Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces. True, it was their decision to stay out of the executive power, but the FM acted like they couldn’t care less at the time, which gave Michel Aoun a nice advantage two months before Sleiman left office.

The Lebanese forces have 8 MPs in the parliament (That’s more than what Jumblatt used to have in 2012). That number is relatively low and means nothing, unless you use it – à la Jumblatt – to manipulate both coalitions in order to serve the party’s interests. The Future Movement needs an extension of the parliament’s term now more than ever. The Lebanese Forces, on the other hand, have nothing to lose if they participate in the elections. Out of the 8 seats, 3 are from Zahle (friendly Sunni electorate), 2 are from Bsharri (Geagea’s hometown and the LF’s e stronghold), 1 is from the Shouf (friendly druze and Sunni electorates), 1 is from Koura (friendly Sunni electorate, although relatively less influential than in the other cases) and the last MP is from Batroun. So in the worst case scenario, under the 1960 electoral law, Geagea loses 2 seats out of the 8 (And he’s not even using the 8). Best case scenario: Geagea goes to elections, asks for more “sovereignty” from the Future Movement regarding the Christian seats in the constituencies where the Sunni electorate is present – almost 1/3 of the FM bloc are Christian MPs – and tries to control the Metn and Keserwan seats by defeating Aoun there. Although his chances are slim, it does seems tempting to defeat the main presidential contender (Aoun) in the middle of a presidential vacancy, no?

A possible deal

Here’s the situation, as of this week. Hezbollah is still relatively silent about the parliamentary elections (Nasrallah spoke last tuesday, but only about ISIS – willingly ignoring the subject of parliamentary elections). However Berri and his party want elections, and the same goes for Michel Aoun and his party. Which means that we should assume that their common ally, Hezbollah, is likely to go to elections should both of them head to polls. To sum things up here, M8 has around 58 MPs who are in favor of the elections and are likely to vote against extension. The centrists (Jumblatt & co)  are likely to vote against elections.  In M14, the FM and its proxies are against the parliamentary elections, and the Kataeb seem to have a similar opinion. The FM have even threatened to boycott the elections. The only party that is going against the current here is the LF. According to the LF’s George Adwan, they are going to vote against the extension. 58+8=64. That means that exactly half of the parliament wants to stay in the parliament, while the other half wants parliamentary elections (which means that we will go to elections since an extension law needs 65 votes to pass). As striking as it might seem, the decision to keep the same parliament or to change it lies within the Lebanese Forces .

Probably for the first time since prehistory, the Lebanese Forces are in a position where they are actually in charge of taking a major decision (Going to elections in the context of a presidential vacancy). And they can use this rare moment of power in order to force the M8/M14 coalitions into a deal that might be favorable to their interests.

So let’s sum things up: We’re a country that has no president, no elections, no functioning cabinet, a self-extending parliament that doesn’t meet anyway, and whose students pass without official exams.

Also, Samir Geagea might be the new Walid Jumblatt.

127 days since the 25th of May. 50 days till the 16th of November.

Are We Heading To Parliamentary Elections?

نعم للتمديد لاني خروف

Found in the streets of Ashrafieh

In the last ten days, the Lebanese media was mainly preoccupied by two stories.

Here’s the first one, published by the pro-M8 newspaper Al-Akhbar:

US President Barack Obama surprised his visitors, the delegation of Eastern Christians patriarchs, on Thursday when he told them that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “protected the Christians in Syria.” Obama met with the delegation in the White House for 35 minutes, during which the patriarchs presented a paper in which they exposed the situation of Christians in the Middle East and the threats and challenges they are facing, due in part to the expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

Sources told Al-Akhbar that the highlight of the meeting was when Obama said the following phrase: “We know that President Bashar al-Assad protected Christians in Syria.”

Obama then used the term “the Syrian government” instead of “regime,” which is usually used by the US to describe the government in Syria.

Here’s the second one, published by the pro-M14 newspaper Al-Mustaqbal:

Hezbollah has established a new largely Christian armed group in Jezzine that has been compared to the Resistance Brigades in Sidon, drawing members from the party’s ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, security sources told The Daily Star. The Christian Resistance Brigades, as they have been dubbed, was created on the pretext of preparing for the threat posed by ISIS to Christians in the Levant.

However, the sources insisted that Hezbollah deliberately recruited Christian youth from the FPM in order to create an acceptable façade for the group, which is in fact controlled by Hezbollah.

Jezzine MP Ziad Aswad, a member of the FPM, couldn’t be reached for comment.

According to the sources, more than 60 members have been trained and divided into subgroups tasked with discreetly guarding the towns of Jezzine, Ain Majdaline and others at night.

Each member reportedly receives a monthly allowance of $500 and is supplied with a rifle, military clothing and ammunition.

Until now, between 60 and 70 rifles have been provided for the members of the Jezzine Brigades, the source said. Hezbollah is reportedly aiming to recruit at least 200 members, who are expected to patrol the Christian towns and villages of the area.

The decision to establish the brigades was made during a series of bilateral meetings between Hezbollah and the FPM at the house of an FPM official, identified only by his initials as N.N.

The two parties, according to the sources, have agreed that the FPM-affiliated brigades would take the responsibility for guarding the district’s Christian towns.

(Daily Star)

Is There A Media War?

Although contradictory statements and random arming procedures shouldn’t be something alarming in a country like Lebanon, the two stories are most probably closer to fiction than reality because

(1) If – according to Al-Akhbar’s suggestion – Obama was going to change stances vis-à-vis the Syrian regime, then why is it that he refused to cooperate with it against ISIS? Even if Obama became so protective of the regime, how is it that the M8 media previously helped circulating information that the U.S. armed ISIS? Something’s not right here, and it is highly unlikely that out of nowhere Obama would reveal that he is pleased  with Assad’s policies in Syria.

(2) Let’s take the second story from a completely different point of view. Imagine that tayyar.org wrote an article with the following sentence: “Future Movement handpicked 200 members of the Lebanese Forces, from Bcharre, to patrol the villages in case something goes wrong. They are even arming them with 70 rifles.”

So what’s wrong with the story of Hezbollah arming Jezzine’s Aounists? Everything.

(a) Hezbollah is arming his Christian ally in the region where it is the least needed. Hezbollah is already in control in Jezzine and his decision to share power with someone else would only complicate things for him.

(b) Hezbollah is arming the FPM with 70 rifles. I’m no expert here, but 70 rifles are relatively easy for anyone to buy in the Lebanese black market. So why would the FPM need Hezbollah in order to arm itself with 70 rifles? It’s not as if they were buying Katiouchas or Khaibars…

(c) There is no relevant reason to why the FPM would arm themselves, especially in Jezzine. Most of the Muslims in the caza are Shias, and if Hezbollah truly wanted to arm them in order to benefit from their help afterwards, it would have been smarter for him to arm the Christians of a region were he doesn’t have any foothold such as the North or the Chouf.

(d) According to this Wikileaks cable, a similar story from 2007 tells us that Hezbollah would never directly arm Aoun.

SAMIR GEAGEA ON AOUN’S ARMS, PRESIDENCY

Date:

2007 September 18, 12:48 (Tuesday)

Canonical ID:

07BEIRUT1435_a

2. (S) The Ambassador met privately with Samir Geagea in the Lebanese Forces stronghold of Bsharre, a town in north Lebanon, on 9/17 before a lunch with local officials attended by both. Geagea, with his usual intensity, zeroed in on what he insisted were tangible plans, training, and weapons distribution by pro-Syrian forces for a forcible military take-over of Lebanon. Claiming to have inside sources, Geagea said that Michel Aoun, Hizballah, Marada chief Suleiman Franjieh, Druse opposition figures Talal Arslan and Wi’am Wihab, and other pro-Syrians like Zahar Khatib were preparing their followers for militia-type street action to cut March 14 strongholds off from one another. Many things could spark putting this plan into action, Geagea said, but the election of a March 14 president without the presence of two-thirds of the parliamentary members would be the most likely.

HIZBALLAH ARMS ALLEGEDLY GO TO AOUN VIA FRANJIEH

3. (S) Geagea said that Hizballah is being careful to avoid direct military support to Aoun, which, if discovered, would discredit Aoun with the Christians and Hizballah (with its claims that its arms are directed against Israel only) more generally. Instead, Hizballah is providing arms to Franjieh. Franjieh then opens his arsenals to Aoun, making the arms transfers, if leaked, appear to be one Christian opposition leader helping another with personal protection. One of the main recipient of the arms from Franjieh is MP Selim Aoun, an Aoun bloc MP on Ily Skaff’s Zahleh list. Selim Aoun is charged with distributing the arms to others in the Aoun camp and has established strategically located cells of 50-70 fighters each. Franjieh is providing some of the training facilities and has recently opened Marada offices far beyond its Zghorta headquarters in order to serve as rallying and training points as well as safehouses. Zahar al-Khatib plays a key training role of Aounist fighters, again in order to keep Hizballah somewhat at arms distance from Aoun.

So why Is There A Media War?

the M8 media wants us to think that Obama likes Assad, and the M14 media wants Saida’s Sunnis and Jezzine’s M14 Christians to panic and become paranoid of scary rifle-armed FPM proxies. And they are both probably making up stories that help their strategies. This brings us to the main question: If the parliament is going to smoothly postpone the elections and re-extend its term, why on earth are we witnessing one of the most aggressive media wars since 2012? Why would the media outlets be bothering themselves with bashing the other side of the political spectrum if it leads to nothing? I mean, Obama is about to join the Baath party and 200 FPM members from Jezzine are about to invade Saida with 70 rifles, so there must be something worth this.

Are We Heading To Parliamentary Elections?

The sudden aggressive stances attributed to the parties’ mouthpieces tell us that we might eventually be having parliamentary elections (Here’s the full list of candidates by the way). After all, October 2014 is nothing like May 2013.

May 2013:

The political maneuvering Michel Aoun has done with the Orthodox Gathering Law for the past few months clearly made him more popular among Christians than the Christian M14 parties. If 2000 to 3000 votes change side in each Christian district, the FPM will have the ability to win several more districts than 2009 like Batroun, Ashrafieh and Koura. 10 extra MPs on M8’s side mean that the majority changes in the parliament. And that makes one understand why the Future Movement are currently Ok. with an extension of the Mandate. Hezbollah doesn’t have time for elections with what is happening at Qussair, and an extension to the mandate also means that Berri gets to stay speaker for 6 extra months and even 2 extra years (Who knows). And why the big No from Jumblatt to elections? 68 MPs on the side of M8 without the Jumblatt votes make Lebanon’s kingmaker as powerful as the Kataeb. The man who was responsible of the last two governmental changes in 2011 and 2013, will not stay as influential as he is now if the Status Quo changes and an alliance gets able to hold more than 64 MPs without him.

October 2014 is different. The rise of the Islamic State and Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria boosted M8’s popularity in Lebanon, especially among Christians. Michel Aoun – who used the Orthodox Gathering Law in May 2013 to gain the upper hand in the Christian scene – is now using ISIS’s presence for the same reasons. Unlike 2013, if M8 wins the elections it will probably get to choose the next president – making it worth it this time for the Shia duo to proceed to elections. Things aren’t so messy anymore for Hezbollah in Syria, and Berri – with M8’s probable win – would probably stay speaker anyway, and this time for 4 years. And how can we be sure that M8 has the upper hand? Saad Hariri was perhaps one of the first politicians to publicly back the parliament’s extension, the Future Movement is panickingour FM minister of interior doesn’t want elections and is handling the issue very badly, Hezbollah is suspiciously silent on the matter while Michel Aoun actually made the effort and visited Jumblatt in Clemenceau, probably in order to ask for his support. And the fact that Aoun met Jumblatt might suggest that everyone else in M8 is already Ok with the idea of elections.

And here’s the cherry on the top: The March 14 Alliance is actually giving up its parliament boycott after a meeting between Berri and the LF’s Adwan. In other words, M8 probably blackmailed them into giving up some of their stances (and in exchange, agreed to the parliament extension?)

We might or might not go to parliamentary elections, but if we go to elections, M8 will probably be in command, and if we don’t, M8 will still probably be in command.

Reminder: We still don’t have a president.

117 days since the 25th of May. 60 days till the 16th of November.

Three Months Of Vacuum

Presidential Palace Sign

It has been a tough month for the March 8 Alliance. In the last week of July, the Maronite Patriarch launched four consecutive maneuvers against Michel Aoun and his party, taking stances even bolder than his anti-M8 predecessor Sfeir. And just when the Islamist-Lebanese army clashes in Arsal were starting to give a propaganda boost to Hezbollah, Hariri decided to come back to Beirut and turn this Hezbollah opportunity into an opportunity for his party and the March 14 alliance by showing himself as the moderate politician coming home to save the republic. He didn’t only come back to Lebanon at a critical time: He also managed to steal from Hezbollah the moment they had been waiting for. In the aftermath of the Arsal clashes, Hezbollah was supposed to look like the good guy and ISIS the bad one, hence justifying the Hezb’s intervention in Syria. Hariri’s comeback and the relatively quick and bold intervention by the army in the Bekaa threw Hezbollah out of the equation and showed Future Movement instead of Hezbollah as the good guy. The week after that, Hezbollah had to suffer another blow when the user behind the Free Sunnis of Baalbak twitter account was caught and turned out to be a sympathizer of the party. So in order to improve their position, the FPM and Hezbollah launched a political counter-attack on the March 14 alliance.

Contre-attaque no.1

Hezbollah, like most of the time, decided to avoid entering in a direct media confrontation with the March 14 alliance and decided to shift the public’s attention to ISIS: The Islamic State was the main theme in Nasrallah’s speech on the 14th of August. The timing was perfect for Nasrallah: It was on the July 2006 ceasefire day, the target was ISIS, and in the background Israel was dropping bombs on Gaza. It couldn’t get any better than this for Hezbollah.

Contre-attaque no.2

This other counter-attack is courtesy of FPM leader Michel Aoun. While Hezbollah was busy redirecting the public’s attention to ISIS, Aoun was playing it smart by insisting on the only proposal the Maronite patriarch hadn’t violently criticized: The direct presidential elections. The constitutional amendment was proposed by the Free Patriotic Movement in early July but was quickly thrown off the table after almost everyone criticized it. The Free Patriotic Movement might have played a losing card yet one more time, but at least this time it would mean distracting the people from M14’s recent gains. And the M14 coalition fell right into the trap: They stopped mentioning Hariri’s billion dollar comeback and instead decided to get into a media war with the FPM regarding a constitutional amendment that has -1000% chance of passing. The importance of Aoun’s proposal is that it buys him some time: The parliament cannot discuss a constitutional amendment in an exceptional session, so the direct presidential elections bill will have to wait till October 15 (when the parliament starts to hold normal sessions). That date is only two weeks short from November. And what’s happening in November again? The parliamentary elections.

In other words, if Aoun decides to hang on to this bill and wait for it to fail in the parliament in late October it would mean that Lebanon will enter November with no president and a soon-to-be-expired parliament. If Aoun, backed by his allies, decides to vote against an extension of the parliament’s term (It’s highly unlikely that Berri or Jumblatt would give up their positions in the parliament so Aoun will have to ask help from the March 14 Christians to stop an extension of the parliament’s term) the Free Patriotic Movement would have put the M14 alliance in a tough spot: Vote for him president or face a total collapse of the president-less and parliament-less Lebanese regime (since most of the political class doesn’t want parliamentary elections before presidential elections). This direct presidential elections proposal is Michel Aoun’s passport and alibi of doing nothing till the 15th of October. The maneuver depends on the cooperation of the other Christian parties and it will most probably fail, but it’s Aoun’s last bullet in this presidential race.

Jumblatt. Walid Jumblatt.

While the March 8 and 14 alliances were acting normal again by escalating their stances against one each other, another politician was using his old techniques again:  On the last week of July, Walid Jumblatt met Nasrallah. On the first week of August, he met Aoun. On the 18th of August, he met Frangieh. And just when everyone thought that he was once again siding with the M8 coalition, he decided – on the same day he met Frangieh – to issue the following statement: “The Arab Druze must decide between a narrow and temporary sectarian affiliation that is being manipulated by the Syrian regime and a wider Arabic belonging”. And that, dear reader, is how you confuse everyone.

Is Ashraf Rifi the new Abbas Ibrahim?

September and October will be two very important months for the Lebanese parties. The fate of the general and presidential elections will depend on who will have the upper hand by the beginning of autumn. That mainly depends on what will happen with the Lebanese soldiers Kidnapped by the militants in Arsal. During similar events in the past, it used to be Sûreté Générale director Abbas Ibrahim who negotiated with the militants in order to release kidnapped Lebanese (Like in the case of the Lebanese who were taken hostages by Syrian rebels in Aazaz). Since Ibrahim was rumored to be closer to M8 than to M14, his successes were usually considered as mini-victories for the March 8 alliance. However this year the ministries of defense, interior and Justice are in the M14 camp which means that the M14 alliance will most probably use the security ministries  in order to negotiate with the militants instead of Ibrahim.

Here’s an early example:

Commenting on the Arsal clashes between army troops and jihadist militants earlier this month, Rifi assured that the kidnapped soldiers and Internal Security Forces members will be freed “without any exchange for detained Islamists.

(Link)

The March 8 and 14 alliances are likely to fight on who gets to negotiate with the militants. The party that succeeds in the negotiations gains the upper hand for the next few weeks, boosting the alliance’s position in the very critical months of September and October.

The dilemma

The main issue in Lebanon today is whether to (1) organize the presidential elections before the parliamentary elections or (2) the parliamentary elections before the presidential elections .

(1) means that there should be an agreement on a president soon or else the parliament will have to extend its term for a second time until there has been an agreement on a president. That being said, the parliament will have to give free candy in order to pass the extension without any trouble (Free candy is what Lebanese politicians give to the people so that they ignore their mistakes. For example, when the parliament extended its term for the first time, the free candy was the law on domestic violence that the parliament  passed after the extension). In our case, the yummiest free candy would be approving the wage hike for the civil servants just after the extension. (That way calling the parliament illegitimate would mean calling the long-awaited bill illegitimate)

(2) means that the parliament – that couldn’t agree on an electoral law for the past 6 years – is going to agree on an electoral law in the matter of a month and a half and then we’ll happily head to elections in November. There’s only a few thousand problems:

a) It would be a miracle if they would agree on a law.

b) Even if that miracle happens, a president is still needed to sign the law.

c) constitutionally speaking, the miracle can’t happen because the parliament theoretically (that rule has been broken before) cannot legislate with no president in power.

d) The majority of the parliament refuses to the go to elections based on the 2008 modified electoral law.

e) That means that we need a new electoral law.

f) bringing us again to (a)

We’re now a country with no elections, with an expired parliament, with a caretaker cabinet, with no president, and whose students pass without official exams.

95 days since the 25th of May. 82 days till the 16th of November.