Saad Hariri

Hariri, Arsal, And A Billion Dollar Comeback

Hariri And Salam

Image Credits: Reuters

Future Movement is one weird political party.

Here’s why

August 3, 2014

Following a meeting for the National Islamic Gathering held on Sunday at the residence of MP Mohammad Kabbara, the latter called for a firm conscientious stand in front of God and nation because everyone will have to answer to the people.

The gatherers issued a statement stressing that what is happening in the heroic Sunni town of Arsal is only one link in the chain of the Syrian-Iranian plan to impose submission on the Sunni community.

(Link)

Kabbara claimed on Sunday that the developments in the Beqaa town of Arsal, where the Lebanese Armed Forces are clashing with Syrian Islamists, are meant to “subjugate” the Sunnis.

(Link)

The solution in Arsal is political and we must protect our northern Bekaa from the volcano’s lava and we must preserve coexistence,” Rifi said in remarks to MTV.

“The mission of protecting northern Bekaa is the mission of all of its residents and our salvation lies legitimate state institutions,” Rifi added, pointing out that “the statelet” of Hizbullah is to blame for the current situation in the country.

(Link)

August 4, 2014

Prime Minister Tammam Salam asserted Monday that there will be no political settlement with militants from Syria battling the Lebanese Army in Arsal, stressing that the rival political parties represented in the Cabinet vow unanimous support for the military.

(Link)

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni leader with a large following, has accused al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups in Syria of taking Arsal hostage.

(Link)

In case you were wondering, those were one of the four most prominent members of Future Movement expressing four completely different stances on the Arsal clashes between the Lebanese army and the Islamist militants. Kabbara considered that the Lebanese army and Hezbollah were subjugating Arsal. Hariri however had the exact opposite stance: He accused Al-Qaeda of taking Arsal hostage. Now regarding the Future movement cabinet members, they were also supporting two different ways to solve the crisis. Minister of justice Rifi wanted a political solution while PM Salam was ruling this option out.

One doesn’t have to be an expert to realize that on August 5, 2014 the situation within the Future Movement had reached its worst level since Hariri left Beirut in 2011. The party was out of control, with every member saying something totally and somehow perfectly different from the other.

Here’s what happened next:

August 6, 2014

Saudi Arabia has provided Lebanon’s army, battling jihadists on the Syrian border, with one billion dollars to strengthen security, former Lebanese premier Saad Hariri told reporters in Jeddah on Wednesday.

(Link)

August 8, 2014

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, considered Lebanon’s most influential Sunni Muslim politician, returned unexpectedly to Lebanon Friday after three years of self-imposed exile.

His surprise return comes at a delicate time for the country after a week of bloody battles between the army and Sunni extremists from Syria have exacerbated the Lebanon’s own simmering sectarian tensions.

The seizure by the militants of Arsal, a mostly Sunni town filled with Syrian refugees and surrounded by Shiite villages, has further entangled Lebanon into Syria’s catastrophic three-year-old civil war.

(Link)

Let’s rewind 3 years

Hariri left Lebanon in humiliating circumstances. Just after his government collapsed, he was replaced with one of his former allies. He lost the majority in the parliament, and self-exiled himself in France. The self-exile part was horrible. As the FM MPs and officials grew stronger because of his absence, the Sunni void he left in Beirut was slowly being filled by rising Sunni figures such as Mikati and Safadi and by Sunni Islamists, such as Ahmad Al Asir (that everyone forgot about). By 2014, the small victory that was the nomination of Salam to the premiership backfired. While Hariri was skiing in the Alps, Siniora was starting to look like he’s in charge, Mikati and Safadi were becoming strong enough to beat Hariri in the North and Tammam Salam was suddenly one of the most successful Prime Ministers since the Syrians withdrew, successfully coping with an 11 months cabinet formation crisis, a vacancy in the presidency and keeping the middle-eastern chaos out of the country – while making everyone happy at the same time. And to make things worse, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies were getting this week the biggest propaganda boost they had ever dreamed of: (1) Syrian (2) Islamist (3) militants took control of the (4) biggest Sunni town in the Northern Bekaa and (5) attacked the Lebanese army. Meanwhile in the government, the Kataeb were striking power-sharing deals with the M8 coalition while the Lebanese forces were now tempted more than ever to distance themselves from anything that might even be hypothetically linked to ISIS and its Sunni background.

In response to a question whether he blames Hezbollah for the army’s involvement with militants in Arsal, the Lebanese Forces leader said that he did not posses any information that confirmed such a possibility at the time being.

(Link)

That says it all for Geagea. And just when you think things couldn’t go worse for Hariri, Jumblatt was visiting Nasrallah and Aoun in the same week.

So to sum things up, Hariri was losing everything. His party was out of control, his coalition was slowly drifting apart, he was losing the centrist position of Jumblatt and most importantly, he was politically losing against M8 for the first time since he left the country. It was time to come home.

A brilliant comeback…

Hariri had to solve the multiple issues he was dealing with: He had to

(1) Remind everyone of his position in the FM leadership.

August 4, 2014 (4 days before Hariri came back)

Future bloc MP Samir al-Jisr indirectly challenged fellow party member Mohammad Kabbara’s controversial Sunday stance on Arsal, saying that certain “statements must be avoided” and adding that only Saad Hariri represents the Future Movement’s official line. […]

The parliamentarian added that “the Future [Movement]’s stance is only expressed by party leader MP Saad Hariri. I personally cannot express the party’s stance, and I believe we all abide by this.”

(Link)

August 8, 2014 (The day Hariri came back)

“Defending the nation against all types of terrorism can only be through enlisting in the security and military forces that represent the state, whereas claims about supporting the Army through sectarian and factional militias can only lead to weakening the state and the Army,” Kabbara said in a statement.

(Link)

Mission accomplished.

(2) Confirm his position as the supreme Sunni leader in the country. His first stop was the Grand Serail.

With no prior announcement, Hariri arrived at the Lebanese government’s headquarters in Beirut in a Mercedes with blacked-out windows. He grinned widely as he walked into the building, where he met Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

(Link)

Mission accomplished.

(3) Make sure that M14 is still alive.

Les forces du 14 Mars ont tenu hier soir une réunion extraordinaire à la “Maison du Centre” à l’occasion du retour au Liban de l’ancien Premier ministre Saad Hariri. L’ancien président Amine Gemayel, l’ancien Premier ministre Fouad Siniora, l’ancien premier ministre Saad Hariri, le chef des Forces libanaises Samir Geagea, un nombre de ministres et de députés et toutes les composantes des Forces du 14 Mars y ont assisté.

(Link)

Mission accomplished.

(4) End the M8 propaganda by publicly endorsing the Lebanese army and removing the suspicions that Saudi Arabia might be backing ISIS by giving the army a 1 billion dollars grant from the Saudi authorities. (Also, temporarily making use of the rumors  suggested by a “Hariri source” that the United States was behind ISIS’s creation. The rumors don’t mention any Saudi role)

Mission accomplished.

…And fake hope?

There are always three parts in a political deadlock: The first one is just after the crisis. It’s the amount of time till we realize that we’re actually in an endless political deadlock (June 2014, for the current presidential deadlock). The second part is the biggest part of the deadlock . It’s when people forget that it even exists. For example, that’s July 2014 when the cabinet and the parliament ignored the priority of electing a president and carried on with their usual work (for the parliament, it’s doing nothing). This week it’s the happy phase of the deadlock (the third part). It’s when everyone is suddenly so happy because they think things are going to turn out like they want. As a small comparison, it’s like when everyone thought the cabinet crisis ended when there was an agreement to name Salam as a consensual Prime minister. We ended up waiting 11 months to see the cabinet formation. Anyway, here’s why it’s the happy phase:

1) Aoun thinks Hariri is coming home to elect him.

2) Geagea thinks Hariri is coming home to elect him.

3) [Inserts the name of any Lebanese Maronite] thinks Hariri is coming home to elect him.

3) Hezbollah thinks Hariri is coming home to strike a deal.

4) Future Movement thinks Hariri is coming home to reorganize the party.

5) The people who want to elect the commander of the army as president view the Arsal events as a powerful boost that makes him more acceptable, especially in these circumstances.

6) The people who don’t want to elect the commander of the army as president view the Arsal events as a powerful boost in order to keep him in the army where he is essential, especially in these circumstances.

7) Hezbollah views Hariri’s presence in Lebanon as a way of accepting Hezbollah’s de-facto political supremacy.

8) Future Movement views Hariri’s presence in Lebanon as a defiance to Hezbollah.

9) Jumblatt probably believes all of the above.

10) Berri probably doesn’t believe any of the above.

Every possible political party thinks it’s a win if Hariri’s home. Welcome to the happy phase of the deadlock.

Oh, and we’re apparently having our parliamentary elections on the 16th of November. (Yeah, right)

79 days since the 25th of May. 98 days till the 16th of November.

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Is There A Tripartite Alliance In The Making?

Hariri, Berri and Nasrallah

Back In Time… (Picture found on the internet)

An FPM-FM alliance is probably the most logical alliance one can think of in Lebanon. Together, they hold the absolute majority in the parliament. They both started as secular parties, they both have a certain sectarian identity, and they are the parties that least participated in the 1975-90 civil war. Also, they do not have the same electoral clientele, with the FM gathering its strength in the main three cities and the rural Sunni regions, and Aoun mainly controlling the seats of Northern Mount-Lebanon, which means that they will not compete with each other and there will be no rivalry: Aoun is appealing to the Christian electorate and Hariri to the Muslim one.  Aoun can use the extra Sunni votes in Batroun, Beirut, Koura and Zgharta and Zahle to tip the balance in his favor, while Hariri can use the FPM power in several regions especially southern Mount-Lebanon to hold the precious 8 seats of the Chouf. Electorally speaking, if both enter an alliance, they will probably control all the districts except Bcharri, Baalbak-Hermel, Hasbaya-Marjeyoun, Nabatieh, Zahrani, Aley, Bint Jbeil, and Tyre. That’s roughly 90 Members of the parliament under FPM/FM control. 70% of the Parliament. No LF, no PSP, no Kataeb, no Amal, no Hezbollah needed. 70% via the votes of the FPM and the FM, only.

That’s me, in November. (see the full post here)

4 months ago, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement were having their first meeting since 2005. 7 months ago, the transition had already started. 6 months ago, Nabih Berri, in one of his political maneuvers, declared the March 8 alliance dead. The turning point – apparently – was the day the elections were postponed. M14 made M8 abandon Aoun. But what no one saw back then was that M14 didn’t only make Hezbollah abandon Aoun. It forced Aoun to go on a quest to find a new, stronger ally.

We’re not talking anymore about FPM and FM members having a meeting. We’re not talking anymore about small statements or speculations. We are talking about Michel Aoun meeting  Saad Hariri in Rome and the partisan media being shy about it. We are talking about Aoun congratulating Hariri on his stances. We are taking about Ahmad Al Hariri getting confused and changing the subject when Marcel Ghanem asked him if Michel Aoun was the FM’s candidate to the elections.

We are talking about a brutal change in Lebanese politics. But what are the benefits of such a potential alliance between Aoun and Hariri?

Isolate

Here’s a fun fact: The Future Movement doesn’t need Aoun. Within M14, GMA would be a pain in the ass. They’ll have to share power with yet another ally, keep the rivalry between the FPM, the LF, and the Kataeb under control, and eventually – whether they like it or not – deal with a unified empowered confederation of Christian political parties. The FM would have created a stronger Christian bloc within M14. However, here’s another fun fact: Hezbollah without Aoun, is a Hezbollah that’s all alone (Yeah, it rhymes 😀 ). So, the plan from the FM – I believe – isn’t simply allying with Aoun. It’s isolating Hezbollah, or at least, forcing Hezbollah to enter a tripartite alliance with the FPM and the FM where Hezbollah would have to agree to some of FM’s terms. Aoun mentioned two important things in his latest television interview: That he’s on the same political wavelength with Saad Hariri, and most importantly, that he wishes to include the Sunnis in his memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah. Sums everything up I guess?

The road to Baabda

Aoun learned from his lessons in the previous presidential elections. In 2008, they were 2: If you’re a minority, you lose. If you’re not in the middle, you lose. Remember the words “tripartite alliance” in the previous paragraph? Memorize them well. Aoun knows how to count.  The tripartite alliance, with some help from M14’s pro-FM allies, is likely to form Lebanon’s new parliamentary majority. I believe that some parties – risking electoral annihilation from the FM and FPM alliance – would also join that alliance. For the first time, Aoun would simultaneously be:  (1) In the Middle (2) With a parliamentary majority behind him and (3) The strongest Christian leader backed by the Strongest Muslim allies available. Mabrouk: we have a candidate that meets and even exceeds the criteria.

The Rivals from within

Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri both have one thing in common: The rise of rivals. Let me take the simple example of Saad Hariri:  Najib Mikati and Mohamed Safadi are the masters of their own fate in Tripoli and no longer answer to the FM. In Beirut is rising the bey of Beirut Tammam Salam, while in Saida, Siniora is strong enough to question the supremacy of Saad Hariri. In Akkar and the North in general, the FM’s MPs are not hesitating to take more extremist stances in order to appeal to the local population – sometimes criticizing Hariri himself. Michel Aoun on the other hand faces the existential threat of M8 nominating the more loyal Frangieh instead of him. After all, Frangieh has the age factor on his side. Things are not looking good on both sides, and they both need each other in order to remind their junior allies in the upcoming elections that they remain the strongest among all.

The Lebanese Forces in denial

I have been following Lebanese politics for some time now, and as you can clearly see, I rarely comment on the stances or political strategies of the Lebanese Forces. And it’s not because of love or hate. It’s because there is hardly anything to comment on. It’s always the same stances, the same way, in the same tone. And the monotony isn’t only political. Parliamentary speaking, they hold a number of seats that is way too small to change anything. Electorally speaking, they depend on others practically everywhere while no one depends on them. And they have been absent from the executive power for the past 3 years. In other words – excuse my French and geeky medical terms – ils ont un rôle épidémiologique nul.

But something changed lately (see here, here, here). Geagea is refusing to enter a government that includes Hezbollah, and is going against the all-embracing government decision of Saad Hariri. Hariri can’t brutally change sides and flush his alliance with Geagea in the toilet after 9 years. Apart from turning the Christian population against him, it’s ethically bad for him to be seen as the man that might compromise on everything, including his longtime allies. By boycotting Hezbollah’s presence in the government, the Lebanese Forces are making the impossible to force the FM not to enter the government along with M8 so that the FM would never have the opportunity of gaining a more centrist position that would entitle them to be one step closer to an agreement with Aoun.

8-8-8 and the end of M8?

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Hezbollah agreed in January to the 8-8-8 formula. In a way, Hezbollah succumbed to fear: The fear that if Tammam Salam’s attempt (of  forming an independent cabinet) failed for lack of parliamentary confidence, GMA would name Saad Hariri as new Prime Minister (the same way Jumblatt was supposed to name M8’s candidate  in 2013 but named Salam instead). That’s probably why M8 is trying to please Aoun by giving him important ministries in the government such as the Foreign ministry.

Because of the war in Syria, Hezbollah needs a strong Christian ally on his side more than ever, and both Hariri and Aoun realize that. And that is how and why a deal pleasing the three parties might eventually see light: Hezbollah wants to keep his ally, Aoun wants the presidency, and Hariri wants to go back to the Grand Serail.

Reminder: We still don’t have a government.

Hezbollah, Terrorism And A Political Maneuver

The Easiest Way to create problems between the Lebanese government, Hezbollah, the UNIFIL and the European Union?  (Ramzi Haidar-Getty Images)

The Easiest Way to create problems between the Lebanese government, Hezbollah, the UNIFIL and the European Union? (Ramzi Haidar-Getty Images)

Hezbollah might be achieving military advances in Syria, but diplomatically, he’s facing a major setback. On monday, Hezbollah’s military wing got listed in the European Union as a terrorist group.

Useless Move By The European Union?

The European Ban doesn’t mean a lot to Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t spend his vacations aux Champs-Élysées, and Hezbollah’s weapons don’t particularly reach the Lebanese south via Frankfurt’s airport. The move will only complicate things with the Lebanese state, which was probably what Israel wanted in the first place. Hezbollah is represented in the Lebanese government and it is likely to stay that way meaning that the European Union’s projects might face difficulties or even stop, and it isn’t in the great interest of the EU to look like they’re abandoning the Lebanese state. No one wants to get the mainstream American image in Lebanon. And that’s just a small consequence.

European Soldiers On Lebanese Soil

We tend to forget that easily, but there are 3742 soldiers on Lebanese territory that are members of EU states armies. That can’t be any good for the UNIFIL that is supposed to act as a neutral force in the south. The French, Spanish and Italian forces (among others) will have to distance themselves a bit and the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group might create a very tense atmosphere.

No True Separation

There’s no such thing as separate military and political wings for Hezbollah. The issue can become very confusing as many (if  not all) of the “political wing members” of Hezbollah are also members of the military one. A small example: Is Hassan Nasrallah considered a member of the military or political wing?

Nabih Berri Or The New Camille Chamoun

This is not the first time something like this happens. Lebanon had a 10 years travel ban between 1987 and 1997. The salvation came in 1997 when Rafic Hariri was Prime Minister and Berri was speaker. 16 years later, the speaker, the same Berri, asks Hariri’s son in the week the Hezbollah designation happened – what a coincidence – to serve as a prime minister again. Berri’s moves are so ingenious (see here and here) that he might be considered as a new Camille Chamoun. He knows exactly whom he should speak with, what to say to him, and when he should make his move. In a time when alliances are seeming to collapse, Berri wants to be the most useful politician in the cold. By asking to bring the closest Pro-American  – formerly vetoed by Hezbollah – Sunni politician as a PM, Berri makes a compromise: In exchange of handing Hariri the premiership, he makes sure that even the biggest Lebanese opponent to the party won’t work against it diplomatically. Saad Hariri might even be able to remove Hezbollah from the list like his father removed the ban in 1997. Berri would’ve seemed as the political ally of Hariri and the diplomatic savior of Hezbollah: That’s how you make sure you can still be speaker of the parliament in 2014.

Can You Smell The Competition?

First, rumors start spreading that Aoun is getting closer and closer to the Future Movement and that meetings are happening between FPM officials and the Saudi Ambassador. The next thing you know, Berri, out of nowhere, suddenly asks Hariri to come back and serve as a Prime Minister. There can be only one explanation to that: Jumblatt chose a Future Movement  ally as a Prime Minister and told Hezbollah that the party will be present in the government or there will be no government. It’s already getting too crowded in the cabinet, and if someone is going to be left out, it won’t be the kingmaker Jumblatt, nor the PM’s M14 allies, nor Hezbollah, which leaves us with Berri and Aoun, explaining the ” I love you more competition” on Hariri between the FPM and Amal. For someone who once attacked the FM almost every week one can’t but notice how Aoun’s criticism is relatively non-existent in July.

Maybe the designation of the military wing as a terrorist organisation was supposed to pave the way for a foreign intervention in Syria, but one thing’s for sure: Hezbollah’s military victories resulted in a small diplomatic failure that is starting to weaken him politically.

Saad Hariri’s Speech And The Senate’s Constitutional Amendment

Saad Hariri's Televised Speech (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Saad Hariri’s Televised Speech (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Hariri’s 14th of February speech looks like a continuity of his interview on LBC two weeks ago. As I noted earlier, Saad Hariri is changing the way he speaks. He’s starting to act with Hezbollah from a secular point of view, instead of getting too sectarian and scaring the Christians with the Sunni boogeyman that Michel Aoun keeps taking advantage of. He’s also showing the Lebanese some national stances: At first the right to Civil Marriage, and now the right for the youth (18-21) to vote among other things. (You can check his speech here). Here’s two contradictions his speech that are noteworthy:

The First Contradiction

Hence, we took the initiative, while holding onto the Taef Accord, to make clear proposals that require (more…)

Hariri’s Civil Marriage Stance: More Than An Approval

Saad Hariri (Grace Kassab/The Daily Star)

Saad Hariri (Grace Kassab/The Daily Star)

وفتشت على توقيع من زميل محمدي على هذا المشروع الموجود في درج مكتبي، ولم أجد هذا الزميل المحمدي لتوقيع هذا المشروع معي.
(ايدي بعض النواب ترتفع وتقول أنا أوقع).
 من؟ أنت؟ أنت؟ أنت؟ أريد واحداً سنياً

“And I searched for a fellow Muslim than is willing  to vote for this project [Civil Marriage], and I did not find this Muslim colleague to sign this project with me.

(Hands of some deputies rise and they say I sign)

Who ? You? You? You? I want a Sunni one.”

Raymond Edde didn’t live to see it, but apparently, Saad Hariri is the “Sunni one”. And this major step from the former PM  means a lot.

Going against the Mufti. The fatwa made any Muslim official voting for the law an apostate. Hariri, after making sure for the past two years that he was the representative of the Sunnis by his sectarian speeches, is now making sure that he takes down any official religious influence (like the one coming from the Grand Mufti) by opposing it since the very beginning. Also by saying no to the Mufti, It’s going to be harder from now on for M8 to call him a sectarian or a salafi supporter. Meet the newest Sunni moderate, Saad Hariri.

A National Stand. Mikati keeps describing himself as a centrist. He is always shown as a wise man, that is ready to give up anything “for the sake of Lebanon”. At first he accepts the premiership in June 2011 so that Lebanon doesn’t get destabilized, then he refuses to resign in October 2012 so that the country doesn’t sink into chaos. At both times, he goes against the majority of the Sunnis, “for the sake of Lebanon”. Meanwhile, Mikati adopts a self-dissociation policy from Syria to show himself as a neutral politician that only cares about Lebanon. Hariri understood that unless he shows himself as a Lebanese citizen, ready to sacrifice his ideals for the sake of Lebanon, he will not be able to make it as a prime minister. Hariri told Marcel Ghanem that he wouldn’t allow his children to have civil marriage, but that he would support civil marriage it because he represents the Lebanese. Hariri is now going against his sect (or at least the Grand Mufti) “for the sake of Lebanon”.

Hezbollah’s strategy against Hezbollah. Hariri understood what Hezbollah did during the electoral debate. Hezbollah knew from the beginning that Future Movement would go against the Orthodox Gathering law, so he supported it. Now Hariri is doing the same thing. He knows that Hezbollah wouldn’t accept civil marriage as a religious party, so he makes sure he’s the first to support civil marriage putting Michel Aoun’s Muslim allies in an embarrassing situation. It’s all about the timing. Notice Hezbollah’s silence.

It seems that Hariri is learning from his mistakes.

Why Wouldn’t Jumblatt Leave The Coalition?

Saad Hariri on Walid Jumblatt- Twitter

After the Ashrafieh explosion, one of the loudest accusations to the Syrian Regime came from Walid Jumblatt. Everyone expected the Jumblatti ministers to resign from the government , but until this very moment, the PSP didn’t leave the governmental coalition yet, and Hariri made an issue out of it on twitter. The moment Jumblatt leaves, Mikati will have to resign. The seven PSP MPs are enough to make a no-confidence vote successful. Walid Jumblatt is afraid of two things: a governmental vacuum, or an alternate efficient government. (more…)

What The Events Following Wissam Al-Hassan’s Assassination Tell Us

Siniora giving his speech in Wissam Al-Hassan’s funeral, Nadim Koteich is on his left.

Nadim Koteich calls the demonstrators to storm the Grand Serail.  Few minutes later, on the ground, Nouhad El Machnouk says that the protesters won’t stop  attacking the Serail until the government falls. Half an hour later, Hariri tells his supporters to withdraw from the streets. Geagea and Gemayel quickly imitate Hariri and do the same. Fifteen minutes later, Elias Atallah says that the supporters won’t leave the streets. Siniora initially stays silent then calls for calamity. The protesters confused, don’t leave but rather reorganize themselves peacefully. One day later, Mouin Al-Merehbe incite the protesters in Tripoli to start a civil disobedience. Meanwhile, his colleagues in the FM refuse to call for civil disobedience. (more…)