Lebanese Politics

The Electoral Law and the Detente

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Prime Minister Saad Hariri shakes hands with MP Michel Aoun at his Downtown Beirut residence, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (The Daily Star/ Mohamad Azakir)

The amount of political statements and political activity is not necessarily proportional to political productivity. If there would be anything out there to prove that, it would be the two months following the government formation in Lebanon.

Throwback to 2016

Things happened very fast in the Autumn of 2016. The President was elected on the 31st of October, the Prime Minister was named on the 3rd of November, the government was formed on the 19th of December, and it received the confidence vote by the 27th of December. It was – by Lebanese standards – one of the quickest government formations in the past decade. Why?

As I said in December, while postponing the cabinet formation would have seemed natural in the world of Lebanese politics, it would have sent a wrong message to the people: That the President and the Prime Minister do not want elections. Stalling with the government formation could make the President and the Prime Minister look as culprits should a parliamentary extension happen or the electoral law remain the same: The parliament can not legislate without a cabinet in a power in order to pass a new electoral law, and a caretaker cabinet has never in Lebanon’s modern history overseen parliamentary elections. The failure to form a cabinet would have thrown all the blame of a possible parliamentary extension or an election under the 2008 law (known as the 1960 law) on the President and the Prime Minister (since they are the only two persons in the entire republic who sign the government formation decree). Since the Prime Minister and the President are the leaders of the two biggest blocs in parliament and are facing new rivalries , it would seem wise to show at least early positive signs regarding their rule and this summer’s potential parliamentary elections. Now, and with the relatively early formation of the government, all of Lebanon’s MPs would equally share the blame of possible electoral failure 😀.

2017: A fresh start

It’s the 2nd of January 2017. The new Lebanese government is up and running. The Lebanese Forces is in love with the Free Patriotic Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement is in love with the Future Movement, and Hezbollah is in love with the Free Patriotic Movement. President Aoun managed to create the weirdest ruling coalition in the modern history of Lebanon. With the exceptions of the PSP, the Kataeb, and the half-exception of Amal, everyone seemed to be on board with the new status-quo. The last time Lebanon had so much political stability was in 2010. So it was the perfect time to draft an electoral law: The parliamentary elections were 5 months away, the deadline for voting a new electoral law without having to do a “technical” parliamentary extension was theoretically the 20th of February, and aside from the fact that the current parliament had 8 years to find a new electoral alternative (including a 4 year parliamentary extension designed solely for that purpose) and that the new/old establishment had 74 years to fix things electorally, the atmosphere was optimistic. Politicians had 50 days, from the 2nd of January till the 20th of February, to redeem themselves and finally draft a good electoral law and prepare for elections.

Expectation vs reality

Now you would think that the first priority of the new government – being a “unity” one – would be to draft a new electoral law, focus on the May 2017 parliamentary election, and avoid working on all kinds of new major projects before the new parliament gets elected. After all, the parliamentary elections were mentioned four times in the new cabinet’s policy statement. It was without any question supposed to be a cabinet whose sole purpose should be planning elections and overseeing them (the media calls it in Lebanon “حكومة إنتخابات”). Except Lebanese politicians did the exact opposite: After years of inactivity, the parliament finally met in January, but instead of discussing the electoral law – plot twist – it discussed everything but that. 73 draft laws not related to elections.

Earlier that month, the Lebanese cabinet, instead of actually trying to find common ground between its ruling parties, decided that it was easier to live in denial. In its first sitting since being formed in December, Lebanon’s new cabinet passed two  gas and oil decrees defining the blocks and specifying conditions for production and exploration tenders and contracts. It was not the time to pass the gas and oil decrees, and it was definitely not up to politicians who won the confidence of a government elected 8 years ago to decide the fate of billions of dollars of Lebanese resources.

Did I mention that they also passed in the middle of all that, a law that raised the compensation to the families of former lawmakers to 100%? As smooth as Lebanese politicians can be.

Now to be fair, a subcommittee made from representatives of the Future Movement, the FPM, Amal, and Hezbollah was meeting every once in a while to reach a consensual solution regarding the electoral law, but it was also not the time to procrastinate on electoral laws. They had 4 regular years from 2009 to 2013 and 4 extra years from 2013 to 2017 to discuss the ethics of elections, and already had dozens of proposals on the table.

Lebanon needed intensive, continuous parliamentary sessions focused exclusively on the electoral law in January, not a subcommittee formed by 4 establishment parties, whose sole objective seemed to send a message on who gets to make the decisions in Lebanese politics, making the Kataeb and the PSP panic in the process.

Lebanese lawmakers and cabinet members had already wasted the first 30 days doing every unnecessary thing they could find, and just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, they decided for the first time since twelve years, that it was finally time to discuss a state budget. Apparently voting a new fair electoral law and preparing parliamentary elections on time so that the new elected legitimate parliament would draft a new state budget seemed too mainstream for our politicians.

In late January, a warning voiced by President Michel Aoun on his willingness to obstruct the parliamentary elections and keep the legislative body vacant in case a new electoral law wasn’t passed, was criticized by al-Mustaqbal ministers who described the stance as unacceptable. While it is constitutionally possible for a Lebanese President to forbid the parliament from meeting for a while (in case MPs want to use a parliamentary session to extend their terms), there is no possible/legal way for Aoun to cancel an election and impose a legislative vacancy or to force an electoral law without parliamentary approval. On the contrary, Aoun’s threats should be seen as preemptively deculpabilising the presidency should a parliament fail to pass a new electoral law. In other words, Aoun’s warning of escalation is the proof everyone needed that there might not be a new electoral law in the near future after all. In fact, it seems that the FPM are already embracing themselves for that scenario, with their new minister of energy basically campaigning on TV with his electricity and gas and oil projects before declaring his candidacy for the next parliamentary elections.

Just like 2013 (or the Lebanese Political Time Machine)

Fast forward one month.

It was now the 1st of February and since the deadline to vote a new electoral law was theoretically 20 days away, Lebanese politicians decided it was finally time…to go back to 2013. Literally. LITERALLY. LITERALLY. While the speaker was supporting proportional representation and being as pessimistic as 2013 when discussing the possibility of Lebanese politicians reaching common ground, the Future Movement politicians decided that they were going to support a hybrid proposal and reject any law fully based on proportional representation, also just like they did in 2013. Geagea supported the hybrid proposal, just like he did in 2013. While reiterating its rejection of a new extension of the parliament’s term, Hezbollah renewed its call for an electoral law “fully based on proportional representation and a single electoral district or several large electorates.”….just like 2013.

Meanwhile, just like 2013, the Kataeb and the PSP were panicking at the sight of the word “proportionality”,  with Jumblatt engaging in late-night tweets  hinting on how  proportional representation is anti-Taef, which is a well-known defense mechanism used by Lebanese politicians in times of political isolation. Taef mentions nothing about about proportional representation or parliamentary electoral laws, except the fact that the 50/50 Christian-Muslim ratio should be safeguarded until a senate is established. So Jumblatt, just like 2013, was sticking with the 1960 (2008) law.

And instead of pressuring Lebanon’s lawmakers by staying in Lebanon to oversee the electoral law talks, President Aoun decided that it was enough to threaten them with a parliamentary vacancy and took the decision to visit Egypt and Jordan in what is arguably the most critical time of his beginning mandate. Even Mikati was still endorsing the law his government drafted and proposed in the summer of 2013.

It’s as if Lebanese politicians robbed us of 4 years of representation (via the two parliamentary extensions) with the alibi of finding a new electoral law before deciding at the last-minute that they were going to ignore all that.

A pro-Hezbollah president

While Frangieh and Bassil had found a new place where their new rivalry would thrive (the electoral law), the Lebanese President was taking March 8-oriented stances for the first time since has was elected: On the 3rd of February, he urged the international community to facilitate the return of refugees in coordination with the Syrian authorities by establishing safe zones (something Hezbollah has also recently endorsed), and on the 12th of February, he said that Hezbollah’s arms complement, rather than contradict, the Lebanese Army. That statement was not only huge (it’s probably the first time in 10 years that a Lebanese President takes such an official pro-Hezbollah stance), it surprisingly went *unnoticed* among the March 14 leadership, with none of the key politicians of that coalition massively criticizing the President for what he said.

What was even more surprising than the President’s statement, is the fact that *the March 14 parties* spent those two first two weeks praising Hezbollah’s flexibility on the electoral law while also doing the IMPOSSIBLE (Machnouk saying he’s not in confrontation with Aoun) to make sure that the ties with the President are still intact (Hariri also ruling out any rift with Aoun)“preserving the coalition between Future Bloc and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) was more precious than losing some seats in the parliament”. We had to wait for the 14th of February commemoration of the assassination of his Rafic Hariri for the Prime Minister to comment on Aoun’s remarks, and while Hariri had basically no political choice but to criticize Hezbollah’s arms (especially on that particular day), he did not directly mention the presidency’s recent statements, leaving us with this indirect and weak message “We’ve made concessions to preserve stability but we won’t bargain over the STL, our stance on the Assad regime, illegal arms or Hizbullah’s involvement in Syria”. There is definitely a deal to keep things calm in Lebanese politics right now: Just as comparison, two years ago (in 2015), also on his 14th of February speech, Hariri said the” intervention in Syria is insanity and Hezbollah has brought this insanity to Lebanon” and  “Tying the Golan Heights to south Lebanon is insanity as well“.

NO ALLIANCES = NO ELECTORAL LAW.

La Morale? The March 8 and March 14 alliances are officially dead. No one wants to turn against the new President (not when he can block government formations and bring governments down), and the resulting dismantling of Lebanon’s mainstream alliances is turning the new electoral law discussions into a chaotic battlefield. For the past few decades, it was Lebanon’s majority alliances that dictated the rules of elections. Now that the alliances are unclear and we just don’t know where the parties stand, every one of those parties is working on its own to secure the implementation of an electoral law that only serves its interests. Parties, by themselves, cannot turn their draft proposals into official laws. Stable coalitions, on the other hand, could actually make a draft electoral proposal (that actually  helps its stay in power) official by voting for it or at least negotiate with another coalition on a common ground. It’s easier for two sides to negotiate on something than having 27 parties discussing 2727 electoral law formats. So as long as the Lebanese parties do not form clear coalitions, it will be very difficult for them to agree on an electoral law.

Michel Aoun’s path to the presidency progressively brought down the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, and in a way, made the process of finding a consensual electoral law harder than it was to find a consensual President in 2014. It’s valentine in Lebanese politics this month, but the fact that everyone is loving everyone right now is ironically making it harder to agree on something as controversial as an electoral law.

Another possible theory, as I said four months ago, is that there might be a secret part of the presidential deal to extend the parliament’s term one more time or to keep the “1960” law in place.

Right now, and without any new electoral law to oversee the elections happening in three months, two scenarios seem very likely: Either the parliament passes a new parliamentary extension (because two parliamentary extensions are too mainstream), or we head to elections under the 2008 (“1960”) law. Translation? We were robbed of four years of political representation by our politicians thieves.

Don’t forget to make sure your voting registration information is correct so you can vote this May!

This was the 27th post in a series of bimonthly posts covering developments in Lebanese politics. This post is about the months of January and  (the first two weeks of ) February 2016.

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Lebanese Politics – 2016 In Review

hariri-berri-and-aoun-sharing-candy-while-watching-the-independence-day-parade-2016

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri(L), Speaker Nabih Berri, President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Tammam Salam watch the Army parade in Downtown Beirut during Independence Day celebrations, Tuesday. Nov. 22, 2016. (Image source: The Daily Star/ Mohammad Azakir)

 

Lebanon ends 2016 with a Lebanese Forces minister as the official spokesman of a March 8-dominated cabinet led by President Michel Aoun and his Prime Minister, Saad Hariri. So if you want to sum up everything that happened during 2016 in Lebanese politics with only one word, crazy would be the accurate one to use.

But if you want more than one word to summarize this year’s political madness, I suggest taking a look at the Independence Day picture: Michel Aoun  was elected Lebanese President, Saad Hariri was designated as his Prime Minister, Speaker Nabih Berri is helping them share the candy, a new government was formed, they’re all participating in a show/parade, and outgoing PM Tammam Salam has a face expression that represents all of us.

Making a compilation of Lebanese political developments by the end of the year has become a tradition on this blog, and just like 2013, 2014 and 2015, this post is a summary/compilation of all of Lebanon’s political events for this year. The time has finally come to link 2016’s developments with one another. Enjoy the craziness of Lebanese politics, and Happy New Year 🙂!

The Christian Wedding: Ending the political Civil War in East Beirut (January 2016)

After surprising developments in November, Saad Hariri of the March 14 alliance’s Future Movement endorsed Sleiman Frangieh of March 8’s Marada Movement for president, bypassing March 8’s favored candidate, Michel Aoun. Hariri’s support for Frangieh—who had previously indicated he would not stand in the way of Aoun’s candidacy before he announced his bid on December 17—was meant to drive a wedge between members of the March 8 alliance, but little did he know that it was going to  backfire on Hariri’s own March 14 alliance.

At the time, March 14 was endorsing its own candidate, Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces (LF). However, Hariri endorsed Frangieh, seeking to showcase him as a consensual candidate from the very heart of March 8—and attract parties from all sides to a possible deal without granting a victory to Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). Initially, the strategy appeared to work: at first, March 8’s Amal Movement and the independent Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) rallied around the new bid. Meanwhile the FPM was left blindsided as Aoun suddenly appeared a less serious candidate than Frangieh, formerly a junior ally from the weakest of the four main Maronite parties. Moreover, by supporting Frangieh, the Future Movement was trying to lure Hezbollah away from Aoun. They hoped that open support for Frangieh, who has close ties with the Syrian regime, would encourage Hezbollah to switch its votes toward Frangieh and in so doing destroy the Hezbollah–FPM alliance that forms the cornerstone of the March 8 coalition.

But realizing that support for Frangieh would have shattered their ties with the FPM and discredited the party in Christian popular opinion, Hezbollah stood with Aoun. Instead, Hariri’s endorsement of a March 8 candidate drove wedges within his own March 14 alliance. The Lebanese Forces, the leading Christian party of March 14, saw Hariri’s act as a betrayal. Not only was the party humiliated when its ally endorsed a different candidate than Geagea, Frangieh’s strong backing in northern Lebanon would threaten the LF’s influence in its most important region. The LF, and Geagea himself, retaliated by endorsing Aoun—a wartime rival—keeping Geagea’s 2007 promise that if it came to it, he would “preserve his Christian credibility by breaking with Hariri” rather than support a “weak figure” for president.

So on the 18th of January 2016, Lebanon’s biggest Christian rivals since the civil war ended more than 25 years of confrontation, and made (political) peace: Samir Geagea, of March 14’s Lebanese Forces, endorsed Michel Aoun, of March 8’s FPM, as his presidential candidate. For the first time in decades, the biggest two representative parties among Christians had agreed on a major issue. It was an attempt to end what is soon to become a 2 years presidential crisis that has left the country’s main post vacant because of the deadlock caused by the March 8 alliance and March 14 alliance’s disagreement.

The goal of Hariri’s endorsement was to bring down the March 8 alliance, but instead, the three biggest parties of the March 14 alliance were now divided. The Lebanese Forces party was supporting Aoun, the Future Movement was supporting Frangieh, and the Kataeb Party was refusing to support either of them. Aoun, Geagea, and Hezbollah were now on one side of parliament, with Frangieh and Hariri on the other side. In the middle were parties like the PSP, who went back to endorsing their original candidate, Henri Helou, and the Amal Movement, which had yet to make a formal endorsement.

Geagea’s endorsement of Aoun however had a direct impact on Lebanese politics: On the 27th of January 2016, the Lebanese Supreme Council of the Tribal Federation (the National Dialogue guys) met with happiness and joy, and gave the orders to the Lebanese cabinet to end the deadlock. Just like that, what started as a feud over the appointment of Chamel Roukoz in the army command, and evolved into a crisis that almost brought down the government while paralyzing the cabinet throughout all autumn, was suddenly solved within hours. The Lebanese leaders shook their hands in the national dialogue session, and there was suddenly no problem at all. The cabinet was free to convene and do whatever it wanted to do, and as the media acted as if the deadlock was never here to begin with, everyone moved on with pleasure and delight and focused on solving the trash crisis by exporting garbage (:-$) – hint: even that turned out to be an epic fiasco.

The orange and the blueberry (February 2016)

Remember when we said the Amal movement still had to make a formal endorsement?

On the 8th of February 2016, the Lebanese parliament was supposed to elect its president. Unlike the previous 28294294 attempts to elect the head of state, this time it was supposed to be special: For the first time since 2014, the main two candidates were now from March 8 and were both endorsed by parties from March 14. Yet just like all the previous times, March 8’s parties boycotted the session. If the February presidential session that never happened taught us anything, it’s that there might had been a rift among the March 8 parties that was  as big as the rift in March 14.

The lack of quorum meant that Amal had officially told the world on the first week of February they are not fans of a Aoun presidency. True, that information wasn’t near as shocking as the idea of Geagea endorsing Aoun, but deep down every FPM official had hoped that Berri might in the end say yes to the General and help him reach Baabda. So when it became clear that the speaker was more blue than he was orange in his presidential choices (by sending signals that he does not to support the LF-FPM Christian consensual president), Berri had bypassed a Christian consensus on a Christian post (the presidency) and the FPM-LF alliance went on the offense: Minister of public works Ghazi Zaiter was accused of allocating less fund for the Christian areas, while on the other hand, Ali Hassan Khalil, the finance minister, was criticized for replacing a Christian employee with a non-Christian one.

While the Lebanese government was proving once again what an epic failure it is, via the trash exportation fiasco and the no-kissing statement, something else was already cooking. It seemed that Michel Samaha was going out of jail, and while that information briefly united all the previous cadres of March 14 under one banner, another politician thought that it was more of an opportunity to gain momentum within his party: Ashraf Rifi did his first rookie mistake by resigning from the cabinet. He had humiliated Tammam Salam in the cabinet, and had already bypassed Hariri’s stances when he refused to back Frangieh like most of the Future Movement officials. Rifi tried to rise through the ranks as quickly as possible by criticizing the negotiating/compromise qualities of his two bosses (and trying to look as pro-Saudi as possible by resigning in the middle of the crisis between the Gulf and Hezbollah). Bringing back Rifi to the cabinet would show weakness in the Future Movement leadership, give an impression that Hariri and Salam need Rifi more than anything and eventually strengthen Rifi in the northern city of Tripoli, giving him the serious opportunity to overthrow – in an unlikely yet possible alliance with Karami, Mikati, and Safadi – the Future Movement in the next Tripoli parliamentary elections. So yeah, Salam – with an obvious green light for Hariri – signed the formal papers, and what started as a mini-political maneuver turned into a political farewell for Rifi – at least for now.

But the event of the month is as regional as Lebanese politics gets, with Saudi Arabia withdrawing 4 billion $ in military aid for Lebanon and most of the Gulf countries issuing travel bans because Lebanon abstained during a meeting to back a Saudi-initiated resolution criticizing Hezbollah. The Lebanese government took it upon itself to meet for 7 hours while March 14 were united in their common support to Saudi Arabia and asked Lebanon to sign a “we’re sorry we Love Saudi Arabia” petition. It was always  blow to March 14, since the cabinet, in which they more or less have the biggest share (even if it’s a theoretically 8-8-8 one, its president is still pro-March 14) had failed to achieve the only true thing it promised in its policy statement: Use the Saudi donation to arm the army and preserve stability. But it was also a blow for The FPM: They were directly blamed for their new leader’s diplomatic “faux-pas” by Saudi Arabia and March 14, and responded in a very awkward way, saying that “no one could challenge them in their support for Saudi Arabia” (?!?!?).

The blueberry and the pistachio (March 2016)

While January and February were overloaded with political maneuvers, March seemed to be a month of clarity. For the first time since it became clear the presidential battle was featuring Aoun against Frangieh, speaker Berri (finally) officially took a side, and called for the election of Sleiman Frangieh as president. In February, we had received formal proof that Berri wasn’t going to vote for Aoun, but not that Amal was officially standing with Frangieh. In fact, Berri didn’t just endorse Frangieh on the 19th of March: He called upon Hezbollah to vote with Frangieh too. Even Hariri chose to kindly remind the world that he will not vote for Aoun and “threw the presidential file in Hezbollah’s court”.

And as the diplomatic crisis with the Gulf continued this month and Rifi (who saw opportunity in the disorderwas still trying to make the best out of it, the political war against the new FPM leader Gebran Bassil continued: It was the environment minister, Mohamad Machnouk, who was tasked by his ally, PM Salam, to represent Lebanon at the Indonesia summit, which was (more or less) an insult against Lebanon’s foreign affairs minister, Bassil.

To make things worse for the FPM, Nasrallah said the following sentence in his speech on the 21st of March: “General Aoun holds all aspects that entitle him to become president, but supporting him does not mean that we do not approve of another candidate”. In other words, Nasrallah was giving a very, very, very subtle OK to Berri’s earlier call (on the 19th of March) to Hezbollah to endorse Frangieh, while also blaming Aoun for the deadlock (since Hezbollah is “open to another candidate”). Nasrallah also criticized the LF for criticizing them that they’re not supporting Aoun enough. Aoun had officially lost the presidential momentum Geagea had won him in January.

So the FPM decided to take the matter in their own hands, and just like any other smart Lebanese party with more than ten years of experience in Lebanese politics, they simply changed the subject: Out of nowhere, a debate on the naturalization of Syrian refugees started, and fear of “tawteen” calls began once again. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Lebanon got overwhelmed with anti-naturalization calls (see here, here, here, here and here). Whether they had planned this together or not, the three anti-Frangieh Christian parties (Kataeb, FPM, LF) made a joint effort to say the T words as many times as possible this month. Bassil even refused to meet Ban Ki Moon because of the whole naturalization debate. That created a context for the Muslim parties where they had to wait at least two months before rallying behind someone (like Frangieh) who is vetoed by the biggest three Christian parties, or else it would create panic and kill the candidacy of Sleiman Frangieh by giving the impression that they were going against the Christian sentiment at a time when the naturalization of Syrian refugees seemed imminent.

The month that doesn’t count (April 2016)

In Lebanese politics, there are months that “count”, and months that “don’t count” when it comes to political maneuvering. There’s a pattern when it comes to policy making: short periods of “active” deadlocks – full of efficient political maneuvering that eventually give you results – are often followed by even shorter periods of political stability. After the shorter periods comes a longvery long period – of deadlock that is extremely similar to what they call in football a “dead rubber match” (a match that has no effect on the winner and loser of the series, other than the number of matches won and lost). The dead rubber period can be full of maneuvers, or it can simply have no political developments at all. It all depends on the laziness of Lebanese politicians.

This month – just like the ones before – was mostly a dead rubber period, but not because Lebanese politicians were lazy. In fact, they were even more focused than before, concentrating all their efforts on the municipal elections. Municipal elections in Lebanon are an extremely complicated process known to bring rivals together (the example of Beirut) but also create tensions between allies (the example of Zahle), so the whole maneuvering mechanism becomes useless and old-fashioned. So other than Jumblatt and Gemayel, few were the politicians who cared to maneuver on a nation-wide scale.The most important event of the month was Jumblatt’s decision to resign from parliament (spoiler alert: Jumblatt did not eventually resign in the end). The PSP leader’s maneuver was brilliant: He promised to resign only when the parliament meets in a legislative session. And If there’s something Lebanon’s Christian parties agreed on, it’s the fact that legislating in the middle of a presidential vacancy is unconstitutional. It made them unite in November 2015, and only two of the three major parties eventually attended the last legislative session, after making an issue out of it and getting something in return. There has been a lot of talk of a legislative session happening in April, and as Berri was trying to push his agenda of convening the parliament to legislate, Jumblatt’s move – in a way – was meant to put pressure on the other parties to make the legislative session possible.

As Aoun and Geagea were using their new alliance to blame the Muslim ally of their new Christian ally for not supporting their new Christian candidate (you can blame Lebanese politics for that complicated sentence), Gemayel was micro-maneuvering in the last ten days in April by finally naming five presidential candidates. Among the five candidates, you’ll find the name of Michel Aoun’s son-in-law. Yeah, not Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law currently in charge of the FPM, but the other one, Chamel Roukoz. By embracing the candidacy of the son-in-law of one of the two most popular candidates, that happens not to be the son-in-law leading the party, and also happens to be the son-in-law who is a retired general, the Kataeb were trying to turn the Aounists on one another.

The rising threat of the outsiders: The example of Beirut Madinati (May 2016)

For a country that had postponed elections three times in the past 12 years and that had been polarized between two political coalitions competing and eventually sharing power in almost every state institution, the month of May 2016 will be an exception in Lebanon’s modern political history: The Lebanese would be voting for the first time since 2010, and this time – at least in Beirut – there was a third choice available. To put it in the campaign’s own words, Beirut Madinati is a volunteer-led campaign to elect a municipal council of qualified, politically unaffiliated individuals in the upcoming contest of May 2016, and, once in office, to support them in implementing a people-centered program that prioritizes livability in our storied city.

But despite the context of the trash crisis, rising corruption, overall voter discontentment, parliament extending its mandate twice, etc… the math of the Beirut electoral equation was never in favor of any non-political movement: the division of districts, the system, demographics, the sectarian propaganda were all in favor of the establishment parties. So no, the cards were not the best that could be given for Beirut Madinati, or any other movement for that matter, simply because those cards were being played on a table that served only one side. An alliance made of all the ruling parties barely got 60% of the votes, and with Beirut Madinati close to the 30% mark, that was the equivalent to a political nuclear bomb. The Lebanese were in favor of change, and all that was missing was an electoral law that could turn percentage numbers into reality. Now, more than ever, proportional representation was expected to be the Lebanese establishment’s boogeyman.

The resignation game (June 2016)

Remember when I said that Rifi had signed his political death warrant with his resignation from government?

It turns out the Tripoli strongman had outsmarted us all. The timing of  his resignation, the causes of his resignation, as well as his political intuitions were so good that he actually managed to defeat in the Tripoli municipal elections – as an underdog, and all by himself – a  huge alliance made of three billionaires (Hariri, Mikati, Safadi), two former prime ministers (Hariri, Mikati), and the heir to the most prestigious political family in the North (Karami). Three years earlier, Rifi was not even a politician, and yet against all odds the list he supported won the municipal council of a city that has more than 8 MPs in parliament, and that victory was partly due to the context in which he resigned.

With the threat of the FPM-LF alliance on the Horizon, the phalangists knew they need to secure 51% of at least one constituency’s voters or they’ll lose everything in 2017. And the only place where that might be possible is the Metn, and it’s a big might. the Kataeb know that they could be alone on election day, with no allies, in a very hostile electoral environment because of an electoral law that currently favors bigger parties / alliances and that tends to eliminate political minorities from being represented in their constituencies. Gemayel couldn’t have risked losing it all, not while he’s still rising. The only way he survives the FPM-LF wedding is by securing the Metn, and the easiest way to secure the Metn is by giving the Metnis the impression that the FPM wants to turn the caza’s coast into a dump while the Kataeb were ready to resign their biggest government share ever in modern history just to protest that.

So on the 14th of June 2016, and inspired by the resignations of Ashraf Rifi in February and Robert Fadel in May, two Kataeb ministers resigned from government following a decision by the party’s leadership to leave the executive power. For 12 months, the Kataeb had criticized the government’s handling of the trash crisis, refusing to put more pressure on the government by resigning, even as tens of thousands of demonstrators protested in disgust against the trash crisis and the trashy solutions the government kept proposing. By their resignation moves, Fadel, as well as the Kataeb, were trying to appeal to their electorates in the same way Rifi did – via resignations in critical moments important to their electorates. If a charismatic (in his region at least) newcomer/underdog/micro-Zaim can defeat three billionaires, two prime ministers, and the heir to Abdulhamid Karami, then Gemayel can do the same to the FPM, LF and SSNP in his home district.

Two things seemed to work in this country: Resignations and sectarianism. If you use both correctly, nothing stood in your way.

Presidency and oil (July 2016)

“We discussed the oil and gas file and ways to extract it from the Lebanese waters. We have agreed with the AMAL Movement on the points of disagreement which gives the country an opportunity for stability.” (Gebran Bassil, July 1 2016)

“opportunity for stability” is the politician’s nickname of “Lebanese president”, and something was cooking in Lebanese politics. Berri’s 13 votes in parliament were a nice advantage for Aoun’s quest to the presidential palace (here’s a nice table clarifying that), and the calm statements going back and forth from Ain El Tineh to Rabieh (Aoun and Berri were known for their political cold war) meant that a compromise including the oil and gas reserves file might make it easier to end the presidential deadlock.

The rest of the July was cliché: Lebanese politicians arguing about the internet, Hezbollah and the FM playing their usual love-and-hate game, and the supreme council of the tribal federation (again, the national dialogue guys) meeting for three days and deciding that since electing a president, agreeing on an electoral law, organizing parliamentary elections, voting a state budget, and drafting a defensive strategy were too mainstream, they were now going to work on creating a senate and debate its authorities and its electoral law.

Deal or no deal? (August – September 2016)

When Berri gave hints, right after his agreement with Bassil on the oil dossier in June and July 2016, that he was willing to accept a Aoun presidency as part of a bigger deal (He called it “السلة المتكاملة”, which literally means “the complete basket”), he indirectly suggested  a possible deal that also included a  Hariri premiership and a consensual electoral law (package deal confirmed by Nasrallah’s speech in August, that also included Berri as speaker).

Berri’s “blessing” meant that Hariri would be seen in the mainstream media as the one preventing the election of a Lebanese president and a Aoun presidency in particular – going against the candidate of the de-facto Christian majority – which would discredit him and sabotage his alliance with the LF even more. But Hariri was supposed to say no to a Aoun presidency, at least with no clear road-map with what was going to happen with the governmental formation and the electoral law. It was unwise to exchange a 9 month-term premiership with a 6 year term presidency, without a clear plan about an electoral law or a parliamentary election. There were too much unknown variables to have a presidency deal, and Berri’s maneuver was his way of reducing the FPM/LF pressure on Amal (the FPM were boycotting the cabinet and the dialogue sessions) to elect Aoun president by throwing all the blame on Hariri.

However, by the 17th of September 2016, the media was buzzing with rumors that Hariri was surprisingly going to endorse Aoun as his presidential candidate. While it wasn’t clear where the rumors originated from (an FM MP said that very same week that Aoun wasn’t an independent president and that he doesn’t represent the Christian’s public opinion), Berri panicked, and said that he preferred Frangieh over Aoun. Now that it was obvious that Berri wasn’t willing to vote for Aoun even if Hariri endorsed him, the FM leader started one of his smartest maneuvers since November 2015: He began hinting  that Michel Aoun was indeed an option, causing further panic in the Amal camp. According to reports, Berri was willing to accept “half a package deal” involving “an agreement on the electoral law, the finance minister post, creating an oil ministry and retaking the energy ministry portfolio.”

There was no Aoun presidency in Berri’s half-package deal – at least in the press reports,  which might have made Hariri realize that he could harass Berri and sabotage the March 8 alliance by circulating the name of Aoun as next president: By the 30th of September, Aoun was meeting with Hariri (yes, that escalated quickly). Berri tried to mask his strategic political faux-pas and tried to hide his Aoun veto by saying in that week that “he has no personal dispute with any candidate”, but it was already too late, and soon enough, Frangieh was vowing to stay in the race despite everything, as Berri’s sources still said that he would never nominate Aoun.

President Aoun (October 2016)

When rumors of Hariri endorsing Aoun become even more relevant, Berri did something he never does: He used the sectarian card, and accused the FPM and the FM of making a deal behind his back and going back to the “Sunni-Christian duality era”. The FPM however had the momentum both in the political arena (via Hariri’s meetings) and on the ground, via the 13 October anniversary protest. The FPM leaders, real experts in using the sectarian card, smoothly stopped Berri’s “you are turning back on Shias” rants by…not escalating.

It was already too late for anything anyway. Hariri had already figured out his master plan: In fact, Berri was trying to throw all the vacancy blame on Hariri, so when Hariri was sure (probably by the end of September) that Berri wasn’t on board with the Aoun presidency even with Hariri’s approval, and that he was going to take the blame of blocking the Christian consensus on Aoun, the former prime minister conceded the defeat (endorsing Aoun, Hezbollah’s official candidate, is after all a  loss for Hariri) but came up with his brilliant maneuver of endorsing Aoun on the 20th of October 2016 in order to minimize the consequences of his loss: Hariri tried to shatter the March 8 alliance by handing the presidency to Aoun and leaving Hezbollah in the middle trying to mediate between Amal and the FPM. The FM suddenly became closer to all of the Christian parties (of whom he endorsed three figures: Frangieh, Geagea, and Aoun), while also making Amal and the Marada clash with the FPM and Hezbollah.

If Hariri was playing chess, his maneuver would have been called forking: A fork is a tactic whereby a single piece (Hariri in this case) makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. Most commonly two pieces (the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance and the Berri-Hezbollah alliance in this case) are threatened, which is also sometimes called a double attack. The attacker usually aims to gain material by capturing one of the opponent’s pieces.

For Hezbollah, the choice was obvious: Temporarily “sacrificing” the Berri veto was much less scary than the idea of losing the only non-Shiite ally in March 8. So on the 23rd of October 2016, Nasrallah quickly embraced the momentum and confirmed that his MPs were going to end the boycott, attend the 31st of October session, and vote for Aoun. At the same time, Hezbollah tried to absorb the impact of the FM’s maneuver, with key leaders in the party (including Nasrallah) reiterating that Amal will not be isolated by the settlement, softening the blow for Berri.  Hezbollah understood what the FM were doing, but had they stalled and waited for Amal to come around, Hariri would have actually turned  his defeat into a win (by questioning the seriousness of Hezbollah’s support to Aoun).

Now that Hezbollah and the FM were on board with his nomination, Aoun was for sure going to be elected (securing at least more than the absolute majority of the parliament), which meant that Jumblatt had to be part of the settlement even though he opposed a Aoun presidency for years. In Lebanese politics, if you can’t fight it, you join it. And that’s exactly what the PSP leader did by announcing, a few days before the 31st of October session, that he would eventually vote for Aoun after more than 30 years of animosity. Joining a settlement late is better than not joining in at all.

Berri and Frangieh had probably thought that Jumblatt would stick to Frangieh or Helou till the very end, but with the majority of the Lebanese parties siding with Aoun, it was useless to fight a lost battle, or even to try to block the quorum in the 31st of October election (since Aoun already had the support of a little less that the 2/3 of the MPs and that the Kataeb never boycott the sessions which wouldn’t help Berri, Frangieh and the anti-Aoun FM/PSP MPs deny quorum). It would have been humiliating for Frangieh to side with Aoun after Aoun refused to side with him last year, so the Marada leader’s late call for Berri’s bloc to vote white instead of Frangieh can be seen as a compromise between an awkward reconciliation and a useless opposition (from the very beginning) to the new Aoun presidency. The same might be said about Berri saying that he could  block Aoun’s election but wouldn’t: Although it was  technically very hard  to block Aoun’s election by now, Berri’s half-positive stance of not making a major issue out of it might be seen as a late-attempt to join a future consensus on the cabinet and stay in the decision-making process.

Three years of political maneuvering later and 26 years after he was ousted from the Baabda palace, Michel Aoun would gloriously return as President of the Lebanese Republic.

Prime Minister Hariri (November 2016)

The date is October 31st, 2016. Michel Aoun is elected – against all odds – President of the Lebanese Republic after more than two years of a presidential vacancy. A new era begins in Lebanese politics: Michel Aoun, who had spent the majority of the post-Syrian era criticizing the policies of the Future Movement, named Saad Hariri, the leader of the FM, as his Prime Minister after the designated PM’s endorsement of Aoun finally led to the end of the presidential deadlock and the election of the FPM leader as President. Meanwhile, in what was now formerly (?) known as the March 8 alliance, not everyone was excited to see Aoun in Baabda. Hariri’s maneuver of endorsing Aoun without a green light coming from speaker Berri had succeeded: Amal, Berri’s party, led the opposition to Michel Aoun’s election in parliament, and even Frangieh, who was considered for a full decade to be Michel Aoun’s second in command among the Christian leaders of the March 8’s Change and Reform Bloc, refused to vote for Aoun after the FPM leader had refused to end the presidential vacancy by endorsing Frangieh earlier this year.

The result was the election of Aoun as President in the most humiliating conditions ever: Second to him in the ballots’ results was Myriam Klink, and not only was he elected by absolute majority, the second round was also repeated two times because there was an extra ballot casted twice (128 votes counted instead of 127).

That meant that a humiliated President Aoun was going to start his mandate without the support of the two-thirds of a parliament (elected 8 years ago) behind him, while Hariri, as Prime Minister, was expected to gather as Prime Minister designate the votes of the March 14 coalition parties, the PSP, the Marada (since he almost got Frangieh to Baabda in 2015), Amal, and the FPM. Hariri’s maneuver of making Hezbollah choose between upsetting Aoun and angering Berri (by endorsing Aoun) in October also meant – in a way or another – that he had unified all the mainstream parties behind him in the process.

Hezbollah had brought Michel Aoun into Baabda, but it wouldn’t have been a “pure victory” if Hariri would have been named by the entire parliament as Prime Minister while Aoun couldn’t gather the two-thirds of the parliament’s votes even after more than two years of boycotting. So Hezbollah decided to partially ruin the Future Movement’s party and refused to vote for Hariri as Prime Minister although almost all of Hezbollah’s allies within March 8 named Hariri with enthusiasm, happiness and joy (the joy of participating in a cabinet before expected parliamentary elections :$ ). The result was Hariri being nominated for the premiership by  112 out of Lebanon’s 127 representatives on the 3rd of November 2016, 4 days after the election of Aoun as President.

The fourth Cohabitation (December 2016)

Lebanon ends a crazy 2016 with a formation of its 4th all-embracing cabinet since 2005. Although the first three cabinets were a total failure, the deal was done, and you couldn’t put Aoun and Hariri at the head of Lebanon’s executive power without expecting them to share it with everyone else who made the agreement happen. The new cabinet shares were thus mainly given to those in favor of the new FM-FPM alliance: More than a third of the new cabinet was now answering in a way or another to the Godfather of the C&R bloc, who also happens to be the President of the Lebanese Republic Michel Aoun. In other words, while Michel Aoun cannot by the rules of the Lebanese constitution change his Prime Minister by a simple presidential decree like the pre-Taef days, he could now deny quorum by ordering his ministers to boycott the sessions and even dethrone Hariri by another method: Asking his 11 ministers to resign. For the first time since 2005, the FPM were in command of the veto power in the cabinet without the help of the Marada, Hezbollah and Amal to reach the blocking third. Bassil, leader of the FPM, will be his father-in-law’s foreign minister, while the FPM and President got to have the defense and justice ministries, two important ministries, especially when you realize that Lebanon’s two biggest sources of political conflict, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s arms, are directly related to those two ministries. In a way, Hezbollah gets to keep those two issues under control via the supervision of the FPM (still Hezbollah’s ally).

The LF have 4 ministers (and 5 portfolios), probably in order to limit their voting influence in parliament while also making them feel they’re on the winning side although they did not get any key ministry and only managed to hold one important ministry (as opposed to Aoun’s C&R bloc who got 2 important portfolios and 1 sovereign one).  The LF get the important ministry of health, the official spokesman post of the cabinet (who is the minister of information), the prestigious post of Deputy Prime Minister, and the ministry of Social affairs (not that important but nevertheless a very smart choice before parliamentary elections)

The Future Movement now have 7 ministers/votes (including the sovereign interior ministry portfolio that deals with parliamentary elections) behind the Prime Minister (the biggest bloc in the cabinet), and when you add the 3 ministers of Amal, the 2 ministers of the PSP, the Marada minister, and the 3 votes of the Lebanese Forces, you’ll find that the Prime Minister has 16 votes of close allies by him. That’s the 1/2 +1 of the cabinet, enough for Hariri to take decisions without the green light of the President.

As for Hezbollah, they will start 2017 with literally the smallest share in the cabinet in terms of quantity (2) and quality (sports and industry), but oversee the justice and defense departments via the FPM, and, in March 8 terms, are at the core of the majority in the cabinet: While Hariri is indeed the Prime Minister, the C&R bloc have at least 10 ministers, Amal have 3, Frangieh has 1, the SSNP party has 1, and they have 2. The March 8 alliance has the majority of the cabinet with 17 ministers. That makes you think how the decision from Hariri to elect Aoun without agreeing on a package deal first could have been a strategic mistake.

When it comes to M14/M8 comparisons, Hariri is only Prime Minister in name: He will lead a cabinet where the parties who were known as the March 8 alliance in 2009, his rival coalition, form the majority, although his initial alliance had won the 2009 elections. In two words: Lebanese politics.

It is important to note how Berri is playing the long-term game here, giving up the Shiite portfolio in the “important category” and handing it to Frangieh in order to empower a third Christian voice in a cabinet where Christian portfolios are now dominated by the LF and the FPM. In the previous governments, Berri could always count on the ministers of the former President, on the LF ministers or on the Kataeb ones to keep the FPM’s monopoly on the Christian side of the cabinet in check. But this time, the President is Aoun, the LF are the FPM’s main backers, and the Kataeb are outside the government. Frangieh is Berri’s last weapon to annoy Aoun. And in this cabinet, he gave that weapon teeth: Fenianos, the Marada minister, will head the ministry of public works, literally the most important ministry before parliamentary elections.

YEP. The two last words of this post will be the most important two words in 2017: PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. Here’s to a happy new Year, free of parliamentary term extensions, and full of new members of parliament.

2016’s Epic Fail Quotes in Lebanese Politics

Nabil Nicolas Michel Aoun

This real Facebook post from a member of the parliament might be from 2015, but since it’s Christmas and Michel Aoun is now the President, it’s more relevant than ever 🙂 (Image source)

Since 2016 is finally ending, it is time to look back on the wisdom and guidance of Lebanese politicians. As a political blogger, I tend to read a lot of deep quotes, emotional tweets, and profound statements. So in order to welcome 2017, I’m sharing with you 17 of the most epic-fail quotes from Lebanese politics this year.

  • That moment our former President decided that “The Voice Kids” were better rulers than Lebanese politicians…
  •  That moment when a minister in the government asks us to pray because it might be the only solution (solving the issues via cabinet sessions is too mainstream?)
  • When an official statement by the FPM could have been a lyric from a Najwa Karam song:
  • When you take cliché quotes to a whole new level:
  • When you just have to be the guy who gives inspirational quotes:
  • When your childhood dream was to be a medical student:
  •  When a presidential candidate becomes a missionary:
  • When a presidential candidate compares himself to mothers:
  • Those geography skills > 
  • When you discover two words that almost sound the same and decide to use them in one sentence:
  • When you reveal your inner inception:
  • When the Lebanese MPs act like children so you decide to discipline them in the middle of a Presidential election:
  • When you’re not sure if it’s a Assi Hallani song or a Gebran Khalil Gebran quote and it turns out to be a Gebran Bassil tweet:
  •  When Walid Jumblatt actually quotes Gebran Khalil Gebran and becomes so dark and deep…
  •  …because he’s usually supposed to be a French/Arabic scholar in government formations…
  •  …who live tweets the presidential elections from the parliament…
  •  …and congratulates the President with weird emojis and creepy Roman paintings.

You might also like 2015’s epic fail quotes in Lebanese politics.

The New Cabinet’s Policy Statement and What It Means

confidence-session-2016

Prime Minister Saad Hariri addresses Parliament at the beginning of a three-day confidence vote session, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. (Image source: The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Before we take a look at the new cabinet’s policy statement, let’s play a little game. Read those two paragraphs carefully:

  1. “ستقوم الحكومة بالتعاون مع مجلسكم الكريم بالعمل على إقرار قانون جديد للانتخابات النيابية في أسرع وقت ممكن، على أن يراعي هذا القانون قواعد العيش الواحد والمناصفة ويؤمن صحة التمثيل وفعاليته لشتى فئات الشعب اللبناني وأجياله وذلك في صيغة عصرية تلحظ الإصلاحات الضرورية.”
  2. “وترى الحكومة أن في قانون الانتخاب الحالي عيوباً لم تخف آثارها على أحد وكانت سبب شكاوى عديدة عادلة فهي لذلك ستتقدم قريباً من مجلسكم الكريم بتعديل قانون الانتخاب تعديلاً يضمن أن يأتي التمثيل الشعبي أصح وأكثر انطباقاً على رغبة اللبنانيين. وهي تعتقد أن في اصلاح هذا القانون سبيلاً لكفالة حقوق جميع أبناء الوطن دون تمييز بينهم.”

Same same

Both paragraphs are from Lebanese cabinet policy statements. Both paragraphs are very similar, explicitly mentioning the government’s decision to draft a new electoral law. Except that the first paragraph is from Saad Hariri’s 2016 cabinet, and the second one is from Riad Solh’s 1943 (independence) government.

A lot can happen in 73 years. But when it comes to the successive Lebanese government policy statements, it seems that only the promises are here to stay. In other words, those texts have never mattered in Lebanese politics, and until the ruling parties or the political system changes, they will never matter.

Change of priorities?

In the policy statement of Tammam Salam’s governement (2014), you literally felt that Lebanon was going to war. The first paragraphs stressed on the need to unite in those harsh moments. And when it wasn’t about fighting terrorism, arming the army, preserving stability, it was about dealing with the refugees. No specific fiscal plan was mentioned, and the policy statement only promised to support the economy in a very concise number of words.

But only afterwards did we realize why the policy statement was written like that. The political establishment wanted to postpone elections, and the major alibi to proceed with that plan – other than the fact that they hadn’t agreed on an electoral law yet – was the *security situation* (plot twist: It was actually as calm as it is now).

All in all, the new cabinet’s policy statement is as cliché as the past cabinets’ policy statements, with one major exception. While the security situation is barely mentioned in three small paragraphs, the government vowed to draft the 2017 state budget (another plot twist:it should have been voted by Salam’s cabinet), to focus on the economy, to improve the infrastructure and the health sector, to implement laws, to work on decentralization and on education, to focus on the oil and gas sector (:$) and to combat corruption ( :p). How many paragraphs? EIGHT PARAGRAPHS. EIGHT PARAGRAPHS FOR THE LEBANESE ECONOMY. They even mention the word “Macro-economics”!! 0_O

Too much stress to handle conflict

The Hariri cabinet, unlike the 2014 one, also endorsed the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (which was the reason behind the downfall of the first Hariri cabinet in 2011) “as long as it doesn’t have negative repercussions on Lebanon’s stability”. That’s perhaps a micro-win for the Future Movement. As for the other major traditional causes of conflict between Lebanon’s ruling parties – like the defense strategy – the cabinet chose to throw the responsibility on the national dialogue sessions (اما الإستراتيجية الدفاعية الوطنية فيتم التوافق عليها بالحوار), after anxiously insisting that the only way to find any solution would be via dialogue (” وبقدرتنا جميعا على حل أي مشكلة تواجهنا، عبر الحوار، ولا شيء غير الحوار، تحت سقف المؤسسات الدستورية وروح الميثاق”).

Same sentences and double standards

Regarding Hezbollah’s weapons and the resistance issue, the new cabinet copied/pasted the same weird sentence from the previous cabinet (“وتؤكد الحكومة واجب الدولة وسعيها لتحرير مزارع شبعا وتلال كفرشوبا والجزء اللبناني من قرية الغجر، وذلك بشتى الوسائل المشروعة، مع التأكيد على الحق للمواطنين اللبنانيين في المقاومة للاحتلال الإسرائيلي ورد اعتداءاته واسترجاع الأراضي المحتلة”).

Fun fact: That weird sentence was the reason the Lebanese Forces – currently a “pillar” of the new cabinet – did not approve of the previous government.

Hope and elections

But most importantly, the five paragraphs tackling the refugee crisis show where the major priority of the new cabinet lies. The same goes for the four mentions of the parliamentary elections.

In fact, while the main mission of the current government is parliamentary elections, and although everyone in the establishment is optimistic about that, it is important to note how the previous cabinet also had the same major goal, and failed miserably. The current policy statement nicknames the cabinet as “the restoring confidence government”, and don’t be mistaken, it will get that confidence vote from the parliament and perhaps the people: After all, it’s  a national unity government. But don’t keep your hopes up high: Until the establishment parties actually start fixing things, promises of change in policy statements will mean nothing.

Here’s the full text of the policy statement (Arabic):

“لقد اخترنا لحكومتنا عنوان “استعادة الثقة” لأن الثقة هي أغلى ما يمكن أن يملكه بلدنا واستعادتها هي أسرع ما يمكن أن ننجزه بالتعاون مع مجلسكم النيابي الكريم وسائر المخلصين.

حق اللبنانيين علينا أن نعيد اليهم الثقة بالوفاق الوطني، وبدولتهم ومؤسساتها، وحق لبنان علينا أن نعزز الثقة باستقلاله وسيادته وبسط سلطة دولته على كامل أراضيه. وحق دستورنا علينا أن نعيد تأكيد ثقتنا به، وبوفاقنا الوطني المكرس باتفاق الطائف، وبنظامنا الديموقراطي، وبقدرتنا جميعا على حل أي مشكلة تواجهنا، عبر الحوار، ولا شيء غير الحوار، تحت سقف المؤسسات الدستورية وروح الميثاق، وعدم اللجوء الى العنف والسلاح والإبتعاد عن كل ما هو تحريض طائفي ومذهبي والتصدي لكل فتنة. كما ان حق اللبنانيين علينا أن تعود ثقتهم بقدرة دولتهم على تقديم الخدمات الأساسية لهم على امتداد الأراضي اللبنانية بطريقة مستدامة ومتوازنة وإدارة شفافة ونزيهة.

ان مجلسكم النيابي الكريم أطلق “استعادة الثقة” عندما أنهى عامين ونصف من الفراغ بانتخاب فخامة الرئيس ميشال عون رئيسا للجمهورية، ونقف أمامكم اليوم طالبين ثقتكم لاستكمالها، من أجل ترجمة الأمل والتفاؤل بإقرار قانون انتخاب جديد وبنهوض في اقتصادنا الوطني يعيد اليه النمو ويلبي حاجات جميع اللبنانيين ويوفر فرص العمل لهم وللشباب منهم بشكل خاص.

وللوصول الى هذا الهدف، تضع حكومتنا في الأشهر القليلة المتاحة لها سلسلة أولويات وعلى رأسها إقرار موازنة 2017 وإقرار التشريعات الجاهزة أمام مجلسكم النيابي الكريم، وتقديم مشاريع قوانين من شأنها أن تسهل بيئة العمل الإقتصادي في لبنان وتعزيز دور القطاعات الإنتاجية (الصناعية والزراعية والسياحية) وتنظيمها وتطويرها، والتخطيط للاصلاحات والمشاريع البنيوية والإقتصادية والإنمائية دون إغفال الخطط الحكومية الموضوعة سابقا.

كما تلتزم الحكومة تسريع الإجراءات المتعلقة بدورة التراخيص للتنقيب عن النفط واستخراجه، بإصدار المراسيم والقوانين اللازمة مؤكدة حق لبنان الكامل في مياهه وثروته من النفط والغاز، وبتثبيت حدوده البحرية، خصوصا في المنطقة الإقتصادية الخاصة.

كما تولي حكومتنا أهمية خاصة لقطاع تكنولوجيا المعلوماتية والإتصالات لما يمتلكه من قدرة تحفيز للاقتصاد الوطني ولكونه مدخلا أساسيا للاقتصاد الجديد المسمى اقتصاد المعرفة حيث لبلدنا امكانات غير محدودة بما يملكه من رأسمال بشري وقدرة اللبنانيين المعترف بها دوليا على الإبداع والمبادرة والإبتكار، وهو ما يدفعنا لتحسين الخدمات نوعا وكلفة وسرعة في هذا المجال.

بموازاة ذلك ولتحقيق كامل الطاقة الكامنة في اقتصادنا تلتزم الحكومة بدء العمل فورا لمعالجة المشاكل المزمنة التي يعاني منها جميع اللبنانيين، بدءا من الكهرباء وصولا الى المياه مرورا بأزمات السير ومعالجة الملفات البيئية وأبرزها مشكلة النفايات ومشكلة تلوث مياه نهر الليطاني.

ان تحقيق النهوض الإقتصادي لا يكتمل الا بتحسين وتوسعة شبكة الأمان الإجتماعية وتأمين حق الوصول للطبابة والتعليم لجميع اللبنانيين. وفي هذا المجال ستولي الحكومة اهتماما خاصا للشرائح الأكثر فقرا عبر استكمال البرنامج الوطني لمكافحة الفقر وتأمين التمويل اللازم لمكافحة الفقر المدقع على الأخص، وتأمين التعليم النوعي لجميع الأطفال الموجودين على الأراضي اللبنانية.

وفي العموم تؤكد الحكومة ان الإستقرار الماكرو – اقتصادي كان ويبقى حجر الزاوية في سياسة لبنان الإقتصادية، كما المحافظة على الإستقرار النقدي.

دولة الرئيس،الزميلات والزملاء، تتعهد الحكومة بوضع استراتيجية وطنية عامة لمكافحة الفساد وباتخاذ إجراءات سريعة وفعالة في القطاعات الأكثر عرضة للفساد، وأولها رفد اليد السياسية عن الأجهزة الرقابية المعطلة والتي تحتاج الى تفعيل وتطوير في إدائها.

كما ستعمل الحكومة على ملء الشواغر في الإدارات والمؤسسات العامة بأصحاب الكفاءات، بعد أن تسبب الفراغ فيها بالتسيب وتعطيل أعمال المواطنين.

ستعمل الحكومة ما يلزم لإنهاء ملف المهجرين والتقدم بمشروع قانون لتأمين الإعتمادات المطلوبة له تمهيدا لإلغاء وزارة المهجرين.

لقد نجح الشعب اللبناني من خلال وحدته الوطنية أن يثبت انه ليس في لبنان بيئة أو موئل حاضن للارهاب فكان خير داعم للجيش اللبناني والقوى الأمنية في عملها الإستباقي والردعي في مواجهة الإرهاب بإمكانات متواضعة وتضحيات كبيرة.

لذلك فإن الحكومة، إذ تنبه الى ان لبنان لا يزال في عين عاصفة الإرهاب التي تضرب العالم، تتعهد بأن يكون من أولى مهامها تكثيف الجهود والإتصالات لتأمين مستلزمات الأجهزة العسكرية والأمنية عدة وعديدا، لكي تقوم بواجباتها على أكمل وجه حماية للدولة والشعب والأرض من الحرائق المنتشرة حولنا بعد أن ثبت ان الإستثمار الأمني هو الأنجح في مردوده على اللبنانيين.

وفي هذا المجال تلتزم الحكومة العمل على وضع استراتيجية وطنية لمكافحة الإرهاب على كامل الأراضي اللبنانية، اما الإستراتيجية الدفاعية الوطنية فيتم التوافق عليها بالحوار.

تحرص الحكومة على تأمين استقلالية القضاء وتحصينه من التدخلات.

ان الحكومة انطلاقا من احترامها القرارات الدولية، تؤكد حرصها على جلاء الحقيقة وتبيانها في جريمة اغتيال الرئيس الشهيد رفيق الحريري ورفاقه، وستتابع مسار المحكمة الخاصة بلبنان التي أنشئت مبدئيا لإحقاق الحق والعدالة بعيدا عن أي تسييس او انتقام، وبما لا ينعكس سلبا على استقرار لبنان ووحدته وسلمه الأهلي.

وفي جريمة إخفاء الإمام موسى الصدر وأخويه في ليبيا، ستضاعف الحكومة جهودها على كل المستويات والصعد وستدعم اللجنة الرسمية للمتابعة بهدف تحريرهم وعودتهم سالمين.

ستقوم الحكومة بالتعاون مع مجلسكم الكريم بالعمل على إقرار قانون جديد للانتخابات النيابية في أسرع وقت ممكن، على أن يراعي هذا القانون قواعد العيش الواحد والمناصفة ويؤمن صحة التمثيل وفعاليته لشتى فئات الشعب اللبناني وأجياله وذلك في صيغة عصرية تلحظ الإصلاحات الضرورية.

ان الإدارات الحكومة المعنية ستعمل على تنظيم العملية الإنتخابية في موعدها القانوني بدءا من تأمين سرية الإقتراع الى حق الإقتراع لغير المقيمين من اللبنانيين وتسهيل اقتراع ذوي الحاجات الخاصة وغير ذلك من الإجراءات التي تسهل للناخبين مشاركة فعالة في الإقتراع. كما تلتزم الحكومة متابعة اقرار قانون اللامركزية الإدارية بالتعاون مع المجلس النيابي الكريم.

ان الحكومة تلتزم بما جاء في خطاب القسم لفخامة رئيس الجمهورية العماد ميشال عون من ان لبنان السائر بين الألغام لا يزال بمنأى عن النار المشتعلة حوله في المنطقة بفضل وحدة موقف الشعب اللبناني وتمسكه بسلمه الأهلي. من هنا ضرورة ابتعاد لبنان عن الصراعات الخارجية ملتزمين احترام ميثاق جامعة الدول العربية وبشكل خاص المادة الثامنة منه مع اعتماد سياسة خارجية مستقلة تقوم على مصلحة لبنان العليا واحترام القانون الدولي حفاظا على الوطن ساحة سلام واستقرار وتلاق.

وستواصل الحكومة بالطبع تعزيز العلاقات مع الدول الشقيقة والصديقة والتأكيد على الشراكة مع الإتحاد الأوروبي في إطار الإحترام المتبادل للسيادة الوطنية، كما انها تؤكد احترامها المواثيق والقرارات الدولية كافة والتزامها قرار مجلس الأمن الدولي الرقم 1701 وعلى استمرار الدعم لقوات الأمم المتحدة العاملة في لبنان.

أما في الصراع مع العدو الإسرائيلي فإننا لن نألو جهدا ولن نوفر مقاومة في سبيل تحرير ما تبقى من أراض لبنانية محتلة وحماية وطننا من عدو لما يزل يطمع بأرضنا ومياهنا وثرواتنا الطبيعية وذلك استنادا الى مسؤولية الدولة ودورها في المحافظة على سيادة لبنان واستقلاله ووحدته وسلامة أبنائه، وتؤكد الحكومة واجب الدولة وسعيها لتحرير مزارع شبعا وتلال كفرشوبا والجزء اللبناني من قرية الغجر، وذلك بشتى الوسائل المشروعة، مع التأكيد على الحق للمواطنين اللبنانيين في المقاومة للاحتلال الإسرائيلي ورد اعتداءاته واسترجاع الأراضي المحتلة.

اذ تؤكد الحكومة التزامها مواصلة العمل مع المجتمع الدولي لمواجهة اعباء النزوح السوري واحترام المواثيق الدولية، فان الدولة تشير الى انها لم تعد تستطيع وحدها تحمل هذا العبء الذي اصبح ضاغطا على وضعها الاجتماعي والاقتصادي والبنيوي بعد ان وصل عدد النازحين الى اكثر من ثلث مجموع سكان لبنان.

لهذا فان المجتمع الدولي مطالب ان يتحمل مسؤوليته تجاه التداعيات التي اصابت شرايين الخدمات والبنى التحتية من كهرباء وماء وطرقات ومدارس ومستشفيات وغيرها التي لم تعد تستوعب والوفاء بالتزاماته التي اعلن عنها في المؤتمرات المتلاحقة خصوصا في ما يخص دعم وتطوير هذه البنى.

تعتبر الحكومة ان الحل الوحيد لازمة النازحين هو بعودتهم الامنة الى بلدهم ورفض اي شكل من اشكال اندماجهم او ادماجهم في المجتمعات المضيفة والحرص على ان تكون هذه المسألة مطروحة على رأس قائمة الاقتراحات والحلول للأزمة السورية.

اننا نؤكد التزام الحكومة بأحكام الدستور لجهة رفض مبدأ توطين اللاجئين وخصوصا الفلسطينيين ونتمسك بحقهم بالعودة الى ديارهم، والى ان يتم ذلك على الدول المنظمات الدولية الاضطلاع بكامل مسؤولياتها والمساهمة بشكل “دائم وغير منقطع” بتمويل وكالة غوث وتشغيل اللاجئين الفلسطينيين واستكمال تمويل اعادة اعمار مخيم نهر البارد.

ان لبنان الرسمي يؤكد تعزيز الحوار “اللبناني – الفلسطيني” لتجنيب المخيمات ما يحصل فيها من توترات واستخدام للسلاح الذي لا يخدم قضيته وهو ما لا يقبله اللبنانيون شعبا وحكومة.

لا يستوي نظام ديموقراطي ما لم يكن المجتمع المدني بشاباته وشبابه، شريكا في صنع القرار، لذلك فان حكومتنا تتعهد بتعميق روح الشراكة مع المجتمع المدني.

كما انه لا يمكن فصل حقوق المرأة عن التوجهات السياسية والاقتصادية والثقافية للحكومة، لذلك تلتزم حكومتنا العمل على تعزيز دور المرأة في الحياة العامة، بما في ذلك على صعيد التعيينات الادارية وفي المؤسسات الرسمية، لا سيما في المواقع القيادية انطلاقا من النصوص الدستورية ومضامين الاتفاقات الدولية التي تضم اليها لبنان والتوصيات التي وافق عليها وابرزها القضاء على جميع انواع التمييز ضد المرأة.

وستحرص الحكومة على تعيين اعضاء الهيئة الوطنية لحقوق الانسان لتنفيذ الخطة الوطنية الموضوعة لهذا الغاية.

وعلى صعيد تعزيز مشاركة المرأة في الحياة السياسية ستعمل الحكومة مع المجلس اللبناني الموقر على ادراج كوتا نسائية في قانون الانتخابات المنوي اقراره، كما ستعمل على انجاز خطة استراتيجية لشؤون المرأة تشمل اطلاق ورشة عمل لتنزيه القوانين للقضاء على التمييز ضد المرأة والتقدم بمشاريع قوانين جديدة تحقيقا للعدالة والمساواة وتنفيذا للتعهدات التي التزم بها لبنان.

انني اتعهد امامكم وامام اللبنانيين ان اعمل بالتعاون مع فخامة الرئيس والوزراء على ان تكون القضايا الوطنية التي تعني جميع اللبنانيين من دون استثناء في رأس جدول اعمال مجلس الوزراء يليها القضايا التي تعني المناطق الاكثر حرمانا والفئات الاكثر تهميشا.

كما اتعهد ان تقدم الحكومة دوريا تقريرا مختصرا عن اعمالها باستمرار، من اجل مساعدة مجلسكم الكريم على ممارسة صلاحياته في الرقابة والمساءلة، ومن اجل استعادة ثقة اللبنانيين بحكومتهم ودولتهم.

واتمنى ان نصل قريبا الى اليوم الذي تصبح فيه وزارة الشباب هي الوزارة السيادية الاولى التي نتنافس على حقيبتها، لانني عندها سيكتمل اطمئناني الى مستقبل لبنان”

Slicing the Cabinet Pie: Who Won?

aoun-hariri-press-conference-2016

Aoun and Hariri gesture at the end of a press conference at Hariri s Downtown Beirut residence, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (Image source: The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

 

Lebanon’s new Cabinet was announced Sunday after major political powers managed to thaw obstacles hindering the formation process.

Hariri described his Cabinet as a national consensus government, underlining that it will “exert efforts during its short-term, which will not exceed few months. Its first mission will be to reach with the Parliament a new electoral law that abides by proportional representation and the right representation.”

“The Cabinet is an elections government,” Hariri added.

Throwback 50 days

The date is October 31st, 2016. Michel Aoun is elected – against all odds – President of the Lebanese Republic after more than two years of a presidential vacancy. A new era begins in Lebanese politics: Michel Aoun, who had spent the majority of the post-Syrian era criticizing the policies of the Future Movement, named Saad Hariri, the leader of the FM, as his Prime Minister after the designated PM’s endorsement of Aoun finally led to the end of the presidential deadlock and the election of the FPM leader as President. Meanwhile, in what was formerly (?) known as the March 8 alliance, not everyone was excited to see Aoun in Baabda. Hariri’s maneuver of endorsing Aoun without a green light coming from speaker Berri had succeeded: Amal, Berri’s party, led the opposition to Michel Aoun’s election in parliament, and even Frangieh, who was considered for a full decade to be Michel Aoun’s second in command among the Christian leaders of the March 8’s Change and Reform Bloc, refused to vote for Aoun after the FPM leader had refused to end the presidential vacancy by endorsing Frangieh earlier this year.

The result was the election of Aoun as President in the most humiliating conditions ever: Second to him in the ballots’ results was Myriam Klink, and not only was he elected by absolute majority, the second round was also repeated two times because there was an extra ballot casted twice (128 votes counted instead of 127).

That meant that a humiliated President Aoun was going to start his mandate without the support of the two-thirds of a parliament (elected 8 years ago) behind him, while Hariri, as Prime Minister, was expected to gather as Prime Minister designate the votes of the March 14 coalition parties, the PSP, the Marada (since he almost got Frangieh to Baabda in 2015), Amal, and the FPM. Hariri’s maneuver of making Hezbollah choose between upsetting Aoun and angering Berri (by endorsing Aoun) in October also meant – in a way or another – that he had unified all the mainstream parties behind him in the process.

Hezbollah had brought Michel Aoun into Baabda, but it wouldn’t have been a “pure victory” if Hariri would have been named by the entire parliament as Prime Minister while Aoun couldn’t gather the two-thirds of the parliament’s votes even after more than two years of boycotting. So Hezbollah decided to partially ruin the Future Movement’s party and refused to vote for Hariri as Prime Minister although almost all of Hezbollah’s allies within March 8 named Hariri with enthusiasm, happiness and joy (the joy of participating in a cabinet before expected parliamentary elections :$ ). The result was Hariri being nominated for the premiership by  112 out of Lebanon’s 127 representatives on the 3rd of November 2016, 4 days after the election of Aoun as President.

The (not so) long wait

Historically speaking, Lebanese politicians never did anything relevant in December. So when Hariri was named Prime Minister, Lebanon’s Zuamas were expected to stall the process of government formation till 2017: After all, Salam’s cabinet formation took 11 months. While postponing the cabinet formation would have seemed natural in the world of Lebanese politics, it would have sent a wrong message to the people: That the President and the Prime Minister do not want elections. Regardless if the presidency deal included a secret agreement to head to elections under the 2008 law or postpone elections, stalling with the government formation could make the President and the Prime Minister look as culprits should a parliamentary extension happen or the electoral law remain the same: The parliament can not legislate without a cabinet in a power in order to pass a new electoral law, and a caretaker cabinet has never in Lebanon’s modern history overseen parliamentary elections.

The failure to form a cabinet would have thrown all the blame of a possible parliamentary extension or an election under the 2008 law (known as the 1960 law) on the President and the Prime Minister (since they are the only two persons in the entire republic who sign the government formation decree). Since the Prime Minister and the President are the leaders of the two biggest blocs in parliament and are facing new rivalries (The tide is turning for Hariri in the North as Fatfat went to the binding consultations all by himself and Rifi is planning to take Tripoli’s 8 seats in the  next elections), it would seem wise to show at least early positive signs regarding their rule and this summer’s potential parliamentary elections. Now, and with the relatively early formation of the government, all of Lebanon’s MPs will equally share the blame of possible electoral failure 😀 .

The fight over the junior Christian partner

I could overthink every move orchestrated by Lebanese politicians for them to get an extra minister in this cabinet, but it would be irrelevant. There was however, one major battle in the cabinet worth mentioning, and it was about the size of the Lebanese Forces and the Marada’s shares and the portfolios they would get.

(1) The LF-FPM-FM rapprochement, as well as (2) the FPM-Hezbollah alliance, and (3) bypassing the speaker’s opinion in electing Aoun were too much for Amal to handle. There was an isolation in the making for Berri, and the speaker had to thwart the new trio (FPM, FM, LF) from bonding more and possibly dragging Hezbollah into a quadripartite alliance excluding Amal. So Berri used the Frangieh card: inspired by the new *friendship* between the FM and the Marada, Berri empowered Frangieh in his quest to seek an important portfolio in the government, which was kind of illogical since Frangieh had three MPs out of 127 in the parliament, and giving the Marada one of the six important ministries would create disequilibrium in the government, especially that Geagea had asked for a key portfolio in the cabinet and that his request was denied (Hezbollah refused to give the Defense ministry to the LF and Amal wouldn’t give up the Finance ministry). That meant Geagea would have to get more ministries outside the key/sovereign portfolios, since it was probably out of the question for the FPM to give up Gebran Bassil’s foreign ministry and the fourth key minister (interior) had to be a Sunni (traditionally, Christians and Muslims split the different kinds of portfolios equally).

That meant that Frangieh and Geagea were *preying* on the same “important” portfolio territory. There are 6 important ministries, and only 3 of those would be given to Christians (half). The LF wanted at least one and hopefully two of them (since they did not get any key ministry) , The FPM wanted one ministry for the President and hopefully another for the FPM’s bloc, while the Marada wanted their only minister in the cabinet to have an important portfolio in order to save face, especially since Frangieh had been humiliated with the sudden election of Aoun and the latest events of the past year.

In other words, three Christian parties were fighting for five important seats whereas only three seats of that category could be allocated to Christians. The FPM were probably planning to give the LF two of the three ministries as a way of saying sorry for not being able to give them a key ministry (there was apparently a deal – dating to Geagea’s endorsement of Aoun in January 2016 – between the LF and the FPM to split everything in the cabinet). But that would mean the Marada wouldn’t get a share in “the important portfolios category”, as the FPM was supposed to take the third Christian important portfolio (as part of its direct share, or President Aoun’s one). The Frangieh-LF fight over the third important Christian portfolio was in fact the consequence of The FPM-Amal rivalry. The FPM wanted the LF to have the portfolio, whereas Berri wanted it for Frangieh: Giving only 1 portfolios out of the 5 major Christian portfolios (the 2 sovereign ones and the 3 important ones) to the LF would create problems between the LF and the FPM on the long run, as the two parties would not have been treated equally, especially that a relatively minor politician as Frangieh would eventually get a share as important as Lebanon’s second biggest party (the Lebanese Forces).

The speaker eventually managed to give Frangieh an important ministry out of his share in the cabinet (the transport and public works ministry), and the LF also only got one important portfolio (health ministry), but the FPM made sure that the LF had 4 portfolios (although they are split among 3 ministers since Ghassan Hasbani is both Deputy Prime Minister and health minister ) as well as keeping Michel Pharaon (who is close to both the LF and the FPM but has been historically part of March 14) in the cabinet.

In the end, giving Frangieh 1 important portfolio meant that the LF should be given a bigger share, and giving the FPM and the LF 4,5 portfolios each – in case you wondered, the o,5 is Michel Pharaon – meant that it was getting too crowded for everyone else to fit in a 24 ministers-government, especially that the President was also supposed to get his share of ministers and that Berri would have to get an extra share of ministers from the “secondary ministries” in order to compensate the important ministry he gave up to Frangieh. That led in the end to a 30 ministers-cabinet (with 6 ministers of state added in order to make it easier to split the pie)

It is important to note how Berri is playing the long-term game here, giving up the Shiite portfolio in the “important category” and handing it to Frangieh in order to empower a third Christian voice in a cabinet where Christian portfolios are now dominated by the LF and the FPM. In the previous governments, Berri could always count on the ministers of the former President, on the LF ministers or on the Kataeb ones to keep the FPM’s monopoly on the Christian side of the cabinet in check. But this time, the President is Aoun, the LF are the FPM’s main backers, and the Kataeb are outside the government. Frangieh is Berri’s last weapon to annoy Aoun. And in this cabinet, he gave that weapon teeth: Fenianos, the Marada minister, will head the ministry of public works, literally the most important ministry before parliamentary elections.

The final lineup

This final lineup was announced by the secretary-general of the council of ministers on the 18th of December after more than a month of negotiations:

– Yaaqoub Sarraf (Defense Minister, President’s share, Greek Orthodox)

– Salim Jreissati (Justice Minister, President’s share, Greek Catholic)

– Pierre Raffoul (State Minister for Presidency Affairs, President’s share, Maronite)

– Nicolas Tueni (State Minister for Combating Corruption, President’s share, Greek Orthodox)

– Gebran Bassil (Foreign Minister, Free Patriotic Movement, Maronite)

– Cesar Abi Khalil (Energy and Water Minister, Free Patriotic Movement, Maronite)

– Tarek Khatib (Environment Minister, Free Patriotic Movement, Sunni)

– Raed Khoury (Economy Minister, Free Patriotic Movement, Greek Orthodox)

– Ouadis Kedenian (Tourism Minister, Tachnag, Armenian Orthodox)

– Michel Pharaon (State Minister for Planning Affairs, Independent – 1/2 FPM – 1/2 LF, Greek Orthodox)

– Ghassan Hasbani (Deputy PM and Health Minister, Lebanese Forces, Greek Orthodox)

– Melhem Riachi (Information Minister, Lebanese Forces, Greek Catholic)

– Pierre Bou Assi (Social Affairs Minister, Lebanese Forces, Maronite)

– Youssef Finianos (Public Works and Transport Minister, Marada Movement, Maronite)

– Marwan Hamadeh (Education Minister, Progressive Socialist Party, Druze)

– Ayman Shqeir (State Minister for Human Rights, PSP, Druze)

– Talal Arslan (Minister of the Displaced, Progressive Socialist Party, Druze)

– Ghazi Zaiter (Agriculture Minister, Amal Movement, Shia)

– Ali Hassan Khalil (Finance Minister, Amal Movement, Shia)

– Enaya Ezzeddine (State Minister for Administrative Development, Amal, Shia)

– Mohammed Fneish (Sport and Youth Minister, Hizbullah, Shia)

– Hussein al-Hajj Hassan (Industry Minister, Hizbullah, Shia)

– Ali Kanso (State Minister for Parliament Affairs, Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Shia)

– Saad Hariri (Prime Minister, Future Movement, Sunni)

– Nohad Machnouk (Interior Minister, Future Movement, Sunni)

– Mohammed Kabbara (Labor Minister, Future Movement, Sunni)

– Jamal al-Jarrah (Telecommunications Minister, Future Movement, Sunni)

– Mouin Merehbi (State Minister for Refugee Affairs, Future Movement, Sunni)

– Jean Oghassabian (State Minister for Women’s Affairs, Future Movement, Armenian Orthodox)

– Ghattas Khoury (Culture Minister, Future Movement, Maronite)

(Note: I allocated the president’s share and the FPM’s share according to the FPM’s media outlet, tayyar.org ,since many of the ministers part of the president’s share are also close to the FPM, making the separation of the two categories of ministers confusing)

Before we start discussing the names and the portfolios, it’s important to understand how politicians “value” the cabinet’s portfolios

Lebanese politicians separate the cabinet portfolios by importance:

  • The 2 top ministries: The Prime Minister (FM) and the Deputy Prime Minister (LF)
  • The key ( = sovereign) 4 ministries (الوزارات السيادية): The defense (President), interior (FM), finance (Amal), and foreign affairs (FPM) ministries.
  • Then there are the 6 important ones (but that aren’t as important as the first ones) – known in the mainstream media as الوزارات الاساسية – because they traditionally get a lot of funding: The justice (President), telecom (FM), education (PSP), energy (FPM), health (LF) , and transport (Marada) ministries.
  • Then there’s 12 secondary ministries : Economy (FPM) , environment (FPM), social affairs (LF), information (LF), displaced (LDP), tourism (Tachnag), industry (Hezbollah), sports (Hezbollah), agriculture (Amal), administrative reform (Amal), labor (FM), culture (FM).
  • Usually, when we’re talking about 30 ministers-cabinets, 6 state ministers are added to the lot (they aren’t in charge of any portfolio but have each one vote in the cabinet). In our case, and since the Lebanese political establishment found it impossible to split the slices of the cabinet cake with less than 30 ministers available and wanted to avoid the negative connotation that comes with the appointment of ministers of state (who basically do nothing and get paid), it tried to send a good vibe about the new era in Lebanese politics and gave the 6 ministers of state “cool” names: Presidency affairs minister (President), combating corruption minister (President), refugee affairs minister (FM), women’s affairs minister (FM), parliament affairs minister (SSNP), Human rights minister (PSP), and the planning affairs minister (Pharaon = FPM  + LF).It’s a smooth maneuver from the establishment, except the entire idea of adding those 6 ministers to facilitate the splitting of the cabinet cake beats the purpose of combating corruption in itself , the minister for women affairs is a woman, there’s only one woman in the cabinet, and speaking of human rights, most of the parties in the cabinet are led by warlords. Again, smooth as always from our politicians.

So who’s winning?

It’s time to count the shares.

The President’s share is made of 4 ministers, the FPM’s share is made of 4,5 ministers (again, the 0,5 here is Pharaon), the tachnag and the LDP each have 1 minister. That means that the Change and reform bloc get the 1/3 + 1 of the cabinet (10,5 ministers out of 30). That’s the blocking third you’re seeing here, and those ten ministers theoretically answer to the Godfather of the C&R bloc, who also happens to be the President of the Lebanese Republic Michel Aoun. In other words, while Michel Aoun cannot by the rules of the Lebanese constitution change his Prime Minister by a simple presidential decree like the pre-Taef days, he can deny quorum by ordering his ministers to boycott the sessions and even dethrone Hariri by another method: Asking his 11 ministers to resign. For the first time since 2005, the FPM are in command of the veto power in the cabinet without the help of the Marada, Hezbollah and Amal to reach the blocking third. THIS IS HUGE. And we aren’t mentioning here that Bassil, leader of the FPM, will be his father-in-law’s foreign minister, while the FPM and President got to have the defense and justice ministries, two important ministries, especially when you realize that Lebanon’s two biggest sources of political conflict, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s arms, are directly related to those two ministries. In a way, Hezbollah gets to keep those two issues under control via the supervision of the FPM (still Hezbollah’s ally)

The LF have 3,5 ministers (and 4,5 portfolios), probably in order to limit their voting influence in parliament while also making them feel they’re on the winning side although they did not get any key ministry and only managed to hold one important ministry (as opposed to Aoun’s C&R bloc who got 2 important portfolios and 1 sovereign one). This strategy had already been used with Michel Sleiman in 2014 when the former president received more portfolios than seats (Michel Sleiman’s minister of Defense was Deputy PM in 2014 whereas now the LF’s health minister is the Deputy PM). The LF, however, get the important ministry of health, the official spokesman post of the cabinet (who is the minister of information), the prestigious post of Deputy Prime Minister, the ministry of Social affairs (not that important but nevertheless a very smart choice before parliamentary elections), and the half of Michel Pharaon’s ministry 😛 . 3,5 votes out of 30 isn’t so bad after all for a party that has 8 members of parliament out of 128.

All in all, should Aoun’s C&R ministers (including the tachnag misnister, Arslan and the Sunni minister of environment – Tarek Khatib – curiously representing the FPM) join forces with the LF in their quest to dominate the government, they’ll have in common 10,5+3,5=14 ministers, only one minister short of the cabinet’s half. If the FPM-LF alliance holds, the Christian alliance will manage to make out of most of its plans true if it manages to maneuver correctly in the cabinet.

The Future Movement have 7 ministers/votes (including the sovereign interior ministry portfolio that deals with parliamentary elections) behind the Prime Minister (the biggest bloc in the cabinet), and when you add the 3 ministers of Amal, the 2 ministers of the PSP, the Marada minister, and the 3 votes of the Lebanese Forces, you’ll find that the Prime Minister has 16 votes of close allies by him. That’s the 1/2 +1 of the cabinet, enough for Hariri to take decisions without the green light of the President (provided the LF side with Hariri and not Aoun, that Amal side with him against Aoun, and that the 11 ministers who answer in a way or another to the President do not resign and take the cabinet down with them as an objection to the PM’s unilateral moves)

Amal (3 ministers) hit the jackpot for the second year in a row with the finance ministry (did I also mention that the Finance minister is the only minister who has to sign everything?) and can sow discontent in the cabinet by manipulating everyone with the help of Frangieh’s minister and Hezbollah, although they are unlikely to do so since it would be a declaration of war on Hariri – the last thing Berri needs right now.

Hezbollah have literally the smallest share in the cabinet in terms of quantity (2) and quality (sports and industry), but oversee the justice and defense departments via the FPM, and, in March 8 terms, are at the core of the majority in the cabinet: While Hariri is indeed the Prime Minister, the C&R bloc have at least 10 ministers, Amal have 3, Frangieh has 1, the SSNP party has 1, and they have 2. THE MARCH 8 ALLIANCE HAS THE MAJORITY OF THE CABINET WITH 17 MINISTERS. That makes you think how the decision from Hariri to elect Aoun without agreeing on a package deal first could have been a strategic mistake. When it comes to M14/M8 comparisons, Hariri is only Prime Minister in name: He will lead a cabinet where the parties who were known as the March 8 alliance in 2009, his rival coalition, form the majority, although his initial alliance had won the 2009 elections. In two words: Lebanese politics.

The biggest loser in the cabinet however is Jumblatt. The leader of the PSP has lost one of the three Druze ministries to Arslan without being able to do anything about it, while one of his two ministers, Marwan Hamadeh, had earlier defected in 2011 to the side of the Future Movement and isn’t really predictable. Jumblatt wasn’t at the center of the FPM-FM deal or even at the center of the FPM-LF deal, and that made him pay the price. The lack of Druze alternative as well as his lasting alliance with Berri are arguably the only things that got him to stay in the Lebanese cabinet.

Just like the PSP, the Kataeb did not join the new political trend in Lebanese politics, and have thus left a government where they were heavily over-represented (Salam’s one) to take the role of the only party in the Lebanese parliament to be in the opposition…with 5 MPs. It’s a very huge gamble, but it’s not as if they had the choice: One of the main unwritten goals of the FPM-LF January deal was probably to oust the Kataeb from parliament, and trying to blend in next to the FPM and the LF in the cabinet would have only made it worse for the Kataeb. Samy Gemayel’s last hope of survival remains to take over the Metn’s 8 seats this May, and he has been already planning that battle for a long time now.

This was the 26th post in a series of bimonthly posts covering developments in Lebanese politics. This post is about the months of November and December 2016.

Berri on Aoun in WikiLeaks

aoun-hariri-berri-baabda

Image source – National news Agency

This is the 21st post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

There were many shocking political events in Lebanon  during 2016, but between Geagea’s alliance with Aoun, Hariri’s endorsement of Frangieh, Frangieh’s rivalry with Aoun, Hariri’s endorsement of Aoun and Aoun’s decision to share power with Hariri, a very important political developement went unnoticed in the mainstream media, and was probably at the center of all of the previous political maneuvers: The dynamism of the Berri and Aoun’s political ties.

Since President Aoun and Speaker Berri are now (by law) the two most important politicians of the country, and since they’re supposed to be allies (remember the March 8 alliance?), but apparently aren’t (since Berri was the only major Lebanese politician not to vote for Aoun in the 31st of October’s presidential election), this month’s WikiLeaks cable I’m sharing is a 9 year-old one about the 2007 presidential election. In the cable, speaker Berri awkwardly says that “Michel Aoun had the right to be president”, that “Aoun could not just be cut out of the negotiations”,  that “the majority of Christians are with Aoun”, that isolating Aoun “would be like leaving a cat alone in a room by itself”, that “he knows Aoun is irrational”, while also noting “his personal dislike of Aoun”, and “saying Aoun was not his ally but an ally of Hizballah”.

So yeah, this conversation kind of… sums up what awkwardly happened 9 years later… right?

I only kept the relevant parts of the cable that are about Berri and Aoun. Enjoy:

LEBANON: A/S WELCH WARNS BERRI TO HOLD ELECTION
2007 December 21, 15:46 (Friday)
07BEIRUT1985_a

AOUN CANNOT BE IGNORED

———————-

16. (C) Berri said “all Lebanese are now behind Michel Sleiman,” but Aoun had the right to be president because the strongest representative of the Shia held the Speaker’s position, the strongest of the Sunni would hold the prime minister’s seat (referring to Saad Hariri), and under this logic, Michel Aoun, the leader of the Christian party with the largest number of seats in parliament, should be President. He noted that the largest party in parliament is Saad Hariri’s Future Party, followed by Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, then Berri’s Amal party, then Hizballah. He added that Aoun’s party controlled 20 of the 64 seats allotted to Christians; therefore, Aoun could not just be cut out of the negotiations.

17. (C) Berri also thought that A/S Welch’s visit to Lebanon on December 15 and 16 was a “snub” to Aoun, highlighting the fact that A/S Welch is perceived to have purposely avoided a meeting with Aoun, because A/S Welch visited Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, but not Aoun. In Berri’s view, the majority of Christians are with Aoun, and in the future Sleiman would be the only man able to challenge Aoun’s popularity. He noted that many Christians left Aoun’s party after he signed his pact with Hizballah, but these Christians did not cross over and join Geagea’s party, because the Christians know that Geagea is a “criminal.”

18. (C) A/S Welch stated that “Aoun is a problem,” adding maybe it is Aoun’s ambition or the support he receives from outsiders that persuades him to act as irrationally as he does. A/S Welch continued that most politicians can be reasoned with if there is a disagreement between two parties, and that a solution can ultimately be reached, but that such a scenario was impossible with Aoun. “How do you deal with Aoun?” he asked Berri. Berri said that the key was for A/S Welch to visit Aoun. Berri continued that isolating Aoun “would be like leaving a cat alone in a room by itself.” DAPNSA Abrams replied that nothing comes out of a Aoun visit. A/S Welch said that he would not meet with Aoun, but that Ambassador Feltman would upon his return. A/S Welch added that Berri was a skilled politician, and that he should leave Aoun behind.

19. (C) Berri lamented that he could not leave Aoun behind because Aoun is an ally of Hizballah, and Hizballah will only deal with March 14 through its interlocutor, Aoun. He said that March 8 decided to make Aoun its negotiator to give him the ability to take credit for a possible solution. He confided to A/S Welch that he knows Aoun is irrational. Berri also noted his personal dislike of Aoun, saying Aoun was not his ally but an ally of Hizballah. He highlighted the fact that Aoun voted against him for the speaker’s position and tried to convince other Christians in parliament to do the same (Note: Berri also revealed that Aoun admitted to him that his insistence on a two-year mandate for Sleiman was only a bargaining chip to secure other concessions. End Note.) He told A/S Welch that he reached out to Ambassador Feltman for help on dealing with Aoun and that if A/S Welch talked with Aoun, he would feel more accepted and less like an outsider.

20. (C) A/S Welch reiterated his belief that Aoun would not lead March 8 anywhere. Berri then asked A/S Welch to ask Hariri to speak to Aoun, which A/S Welch said he do. A/S BEIRUT 00001985 004 OF 004 Welch noted that if Berri really wanted to move things along, he would use his influence over Hizballah to influence Aoun, who is a “nobody” without Hizballah’s support. Berri said he held no such influence over Hizballah and that Aoun’s power comes from his own popularity amongst the Christians,

FRENCH EFFORTS

————–

21. (C) Lastly, Berri asked A/S Welch about the Paris donors’ meeting for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and inquired whether or not France would be in contact with Syria in order to find a solution to the current political crisis. A/S Welch said that the French did not think they could succeed working with the Syrians any longer. A/S Welch added that the French were very disappointed with the results of their efforts, referring to the now dead French initiative. A/S Welch noted that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was very disappointed at the outcome and that he personally blamed Syria.

22. (U) A/S Welch has not cleared this cable.

GRANT

President Aoun: The Morning After

 

michel-aoun-gives-his-speech-to-the-parliament

Lebanon’s newly-elected president Michel Aoun (C) gives a speech next to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (R) as he takes an oath after he was elected at the Lebanese parliament in downtown Beirut on October 31, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

In case you missed how three years of micro-maneuvering led to a Aoun presidency,  check this summary of the past three years of presidential politics.

Now that Michel Aoun is elected president and that the excessive excitement in the mainstream media is calming dow, it would be interesting to see what the FPM founder’s election means in order to see where we might head next.

A humiliating election

Lebanon’s parliament finally convened on the 31st of October 2016, and while it elected Aoun president, it did it in a humiliating way: Michel Aoun needed only two votes (he got 84 out of the required 86) to win from the first round and that means that many PSP and FM MPs refused to vote for him. While indeed many FM politicians publicly opposed Hariri’s Aoun endorsement (indicating that there might be a rift in the Future Movement because of Aoun’s endorsement), Hariri and Jumblatt did not also pressure their blocs a lot to vote for the General, probably to deny Aoun the luxury of winning from the first round and the extra legitimacy the president could have enjoyed had he won the 2/3 of the votes of the parliament (the 86 votes). Anyway, we’ll know for sure who’s still a Haririst and who’s not after the nomination of the prime minister (first week of November)

To make things even more humiliating for the President, the two votes that denied Aoun the win from the first round were votes for “Myriam Klink” and “Gilberte Zouein”.

Not humiliating enough? the second round was repeated two times because there was an extra ballot casted twice (128 votes counted instead of 127), which delayed the process of Aoun’s election (he was elected on the fourth round after the second and third were canceled), and made the parliament electing Aoun look like a classroom.

A loss for Hariri

As much as it was a humiliating process for the FPM leader, electing Aoun was a defeat for Hariri because he has lost (in the vacant presidency) a key negotiating card with the FPM, and although he is (probably) coming as prime minister under Aoun, he’s going to have to fight for his place in the next parliamentary election, especially if he’s on his own and a proportional law is implemented. He did after all endorse Hezbollah’s candidate, and that isn’t really appealing to his Sunni electorate: You can already see from now a possible Rifi-Mikati alliance forming in Tripoli to dethrone Hariri in the North. Perhaps Hariri was forced to take this path of endorsing Aoun, partially because of Amal’s stances in the summer, and while he might have successfully taken the speaker down with him and unified March 14 (behind Aoun) in the process while trying to disturb the Amal-Hezbollah-FPM trio, he weakened himself before the scheduled parliamentary election (with no electoral law pre-agreed on), and has prematurely abandoned his negotiating card – especially since there was no agreement on a parliamentary extension -at least not publicly. As president, Michel Aoun can directly control and block the formation of the cabinet, and with no agreement on that either, Hariri is going to struggle to form his government, and will have to pay the price – sooner or later – with Lebanon’s political elite but also with his electorate for going forward with a Aoun nomination without having any guarantees – not even anything about Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria: What are they going to write in the ministerial declaration? What about Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and Hariri’s disapproval of it? Who gets the key ministries? Hariri mentioned a settlement in his endorsement speech of Aoun, but electing Aoun without clarifying every microscopical detail about what happens next – a la Doha agreement – would be a major rookie mistake.

Unless

Unless there was a hidden agreement between Lebanon’s political elite that the next parliamentary election would be postponed or that the election would be held under the 2008 (= “1960”) law. That would be the only way Hariri doesn’t lose by endorsing Aoun, since he would have exchanged the presidency with both the electoral law and the premiership. Such a deal is fair for all the sides of the political spectrum (except the Kataeb – who have been bracing themselves for this moment since June), and means that the status quo is going to prevail even though a new president will be in Baabda. While I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, keeping the 1960 electoral law in place was apparently requested by Hariri when he decided to endorse Frangieh in 2015 (according to Frangieh, who also said he refused it), and there is absolutely no reason for this “secret clause” not to be part of the Hariri endorsement of Aoun. Plus, why change the parliamentary electoral law when you’re in power? There are no ethics in Lebanese politics, and this is something that isn’t changing anytime soon.

Not so difficult to implement such a hidden agreement: Stalling and “sacrifices”

If there’s something Lebanese politicians excel at, it’s procrastinating when it comes to the government formation and staying several months trying to distribute the ministerial shares in the Lebanese government. In 2014,  a governmental formation process that was supposed to take 33 days, took 333 days, and the result was postponing the parliamentary election because the caretaker government was not ready or (as some might argue) even eligible to organize elections. That’s exactly what might be happening right now: In his endorsement speech of Aoun, Hariri said that standing behind Aoun was a sacrifice, while in his 23rd of October speech, Nasrallah also used the same word (“sacrifice”) when he said Hezbollah was OK with a Aoun presidency .

In other words, what you saw in the last 10 days of October was Hezbollah and the FM already trying to negotiate the governmental formation by trying to cancel out what the other party has gained in the Aoun-Hariri settlement. That means there is no apparent roadmap for what happens next, and that the government formation – let alone the ministerial declaration – might take ages, especially that the composition of the March 8 and the March 14 alliances is not really the same as 2009 (more on that afterwards): Where does Aoun stand? What about Berri? Where is Geagea? Does he get to nominate the deputy PM as the second in command of the Christian opposition? Who’s in the minority? Who’s the majority? Is Berri in the opposition? What are the shares for every party? Who gets more seats? March 8 or March 14? And What is March 8 and March 14 anyway?

Those few questions can be enough to postpone/ transfer the political deadlock from the presidential vacancy to the governmental formation, and, in the process, either cancel June’s parliamentary election (and extend the parliament’s term) or head to elections under the 1960 law.

March 8 and 14: RIP

Perhaps the most important thing about Aoun’s election is that the majority and the opposition can no longer be grouped into the “March 8” and “March 14” etiquettes. How Aoun will manage to force into the same government coalition the FM, the FPM, Hezbollah, and the LF is beyond me, and while the Kataeb, Frangieh, Mikati and Rifi are the potential backbones of the Aoun opposition, they have really nothing – emphasis on the word “nothing” – in common, making it even easier for Aoun to maneuver within his possible ruling coalition. Where the PSP and Amal are going to stand is still a mystery, although they will probably form an annoying duo opposing Aoun from within the ruling coalition , especially that if they decide to stay in the opposition, an FM-LF-FPM-Hezbollah alliance could literally win every (and when I say “every” here, I mean it) district in elections under the 1960 law. It’s also probably one of the reasons why Berri panicked at the idea of the Hariri-Aoun partnership in the first place. We’ll have a better idea on where we might be heading regarding the government formation after Hariri gets named Prime Minister in the first week of November.

For the Kataeb’s politicians, this might be the beginning of the end, a moment they have been bracing themselves for since June 2016. With their very public opposition to the Aounist presidency, they declared an (inevitable) political war on the LF-FPM alliance, one they can’t win in the parliamentary election – except for the Metn district.

What’s after Aoun?

The awkward alliance between the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement has fulfilled its first purpose: The one of electing Aoun president. But for how long will the LF accept to be the minor partner of the FPM? And who would succeed Aoun as the Christian Zaim after the general retires? According to common sense, Geagea has the seniority, but would the FPM president (Gebran Bassil) accept to give Geagea the supremacy? And if he does, how will Hezbollah react? And if there truly is a hidden agreement to extend the parliament’s term, how will the LF be “rewarded”? And wasn’t the point of their alliance with the FPM to control as much seats as possible in the next parliamentary elections? What if the elections are postponed?

While the FPM-LF alliance is slowly becoming similar the creepy Hezbollah-Amal alliance (who are “allies” despite disagreeing on almost everything), a lot of questions will have to be answered in the coming months. And lots of questions means lots of problems.

Military leaders and bright sides?

Before he was a politician, Michel Aoun was commander of the army. And as Lebanese President, he succeeds another commander of the army, Michel Sleiman, who had previously succeeded 8 years ago yet another commander of the army. When Aoun finishes his term in 2022, Lebanon would have spent 24 consecutive years with a former General as its head of state, setting (I would even say: enforcing) a dangerous precedent: If the past 15 years in Lebanese politics have tought us anything, it’s that military commanders fail at being successful head of states. Aoun, however, is the first president since Taef to actually come from a political party, and is also the first president since ages to actually have a parliamentary bloc behind him as well as allies in the parliament, so perhaps his rule might be different after all.

Just to be clear

There is nothing  democratic about the 2016 Lebanese presidential election. The president will stay till 2022, and was elected by the parliament of 2009. Everyone who wasn’t 21 at the time didn’t participate in the electoral process, and that means that anyone aged 33 or less would have had no say about who rules from Baabda Palace in 2022. And even those who indirectly elected the president by electing in 2009 the parliament that chose him, they picked their representatives in a completely different context: They voted for one of two coalitions that were completely different at the time, in a completely different regional and local context: There was no Syrian Civil War at the time, no Arab Spring, no ISIS. Hezbollah was still fighting Israel, not fighting Israel and in Syria. March 8 and March 14 had only tried to rule together once, between 2008 and 2009, not three times (2008-2009, 2009-2011, 2014-2016). There was no trash crisis, no garbage protests, no alternative political group back then. Moreover, you can’t deny quorum until the parliament elects you, and then come back to say your election was democratic. Especially if the current parliament that elected you as president is unconstitutional  in the first place (and I’m quoting the constitutional council here)

And I haven’t even started criticizing the new president (he might sue me 😛 ).

If Aoun’s election proved anything, it’s that Lebanon is still stuck in its Civil War past and consensual present, and will stay there for the next 6 years.