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Aoun still standing. Great read!

TayyaRevolution

Active Member
Still Standing: Aoun after the Elections

by Gary C. Gambill

While Lebanon's March 14 coalition successfully preserved its slim parliamentary majority in the June elections (despite losing the popular vote),[1] this fortuitous escape from the electoral downfall expected by most pundits does not signify a recovery from the ailments that led so many to brace for its collapse. Indeed, if post-election political realignments are any guide, the collective margin of victory achieved by disparate March 14 factions may not signify much of anything in the long run.

Though insufficient to topple March 14, the most consequential change in the legislative distribution of power was the modest expansion of Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc. Despite enormous international and regional support for his rivals, the intercession of the Maronite Christian church on their behalf, and a staccato of sensationalist foreign accusations against his Shiite alliance partners on the eve of the vote, the retired general still walked away with the largest Christian parliamentary bloc in Lebanese history.

This is as hard as it is going to get for Aoun. While the electoral results fell short of his own boisterous predictions, they nevertheless dispelled lingering hopes that March 14 could muster the strength and unity to decisively counteract or replicate his success in mobilizing so large a plurality of the long fragmented Christian public under a common political agenda. Absent such fanciful expected returns, domestic and regional interests will never again unite so forcefully against Aoun. Beyond the somewhat macabre hope that age will catch up with the septuagenarian firebrand before the next election cycle (and that this will fatally weaken his secular nationalist movement), those who have been proclaiming his political obituary for the past twenty years have little reason to take their own optimistic rhetoric to heart. The implications of this political reality - for better or for worse - will likely be sweeping.

A Zero Sum Conflict

Though rarely acknowledged as such, the March 14 coalition's conflict with Aoun has been the central axis of political contestation in Lebanon since the withdrawal of Syrian forces. It is the one antagonism in Lebanon's mercurial political environment that has not been mitigated substantially by backroom deals or tactical nonaggression, accounting for virtually every single competitive electoral race.

The one thing that all factions of the coalition have in common is recurrent rivalry with Aoun over the past two decades. The Maronite political and religious establishment has sought to contain his influence since the late 1980s, when he suppressed the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) militia of Samir Geagea and fought a war with occupying Syrian troops during his tenure as army commander and interim prime minister, inspiring what were then the largest mass demonstrations ever seen in Lebanon. Aoun's subsequent mobilization of peaceful opposition to the Syrian occupation from exile brought his followers into a headlong clash with Rafiq Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt - the two principle architects of what would later become known as the March 14 coalition.

After the UN Security Council officially called for the withdrawal of Syrian forces in September 2004, Jumblatt and Hariri began discretely coordinating with traditional Christian politicians to defeat pro-Syrian loyalists in the Spring 2005 parliamentary elections. While the emerging coalition joined Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in calling for a full withdrawal of Syrian forces (rather than just political noninterference) following Hariri's assassination in February, this display of unity masked deep distrust.[2] Following the pullout of Syrian troops and Aoun's return from exile less than a month ahead of the elections, the late Hariri's Future Movement (now led by his son, Saad) and Jumblatt quickly fell out with their longtime nemesis.

The main bone of contention was the refusal of Hariri and Jumblatt to amend an occupation-era electoral law designed to disenfranchise Christian voters (Aoun's primary support base) by embedding most of them in large majority Muslim districts.[3] In this way, both had come came to control large blocs of Christian MPs dependent on their political largesse (in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, respectively). They were perfectly willing to exchange some of these seats for the loyalty of Christian opposition groups, an offer readily accepted by the LF, former President Amine Gemayel's Phalange party, and Qornet Shehwan, an umbrella group of politicians operating under the blessing of Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir. Aoun refused, wagering (correctly) that he could win far more seats in head to head competition with Hariri and Jumblatt than they were willing to offer.[4]

Hariri and Jumblatt forged an electoral pact, known as the Quadripartite Alliance, with the Shiite Islamist Hezbollah movement and its subordinate ally, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal party. In exchange for unspecified assurances regarding its militia, Hezbollah delivered Shiite swing votes critical to their margin of victory.[5] This combination of anti-Christian gerrymandering and Hezbollah's endorsement enabled the Hariri-Jumblatt axis to win most Christian seats in the 128-seat parliament, in spite of the fact that over two-thirds of the Christian vote was captured by Aoun's Change and Reform bloc (the FPM and various independent politicians loyal to him).[6]

The fact that the Hariri-Jumblatt axis won majority support only among Sunnis and Druze (roughly one-third of the electorate) was nevertheless a critical weakness, as nearly half of its 72 seats were held by Christians with little hope of retaining them absent a major shift in Christian political loyalties before the next election cycle (by which time even Hariri had promised redistricting reform). In order for the coalition to survive (let alone govern effectively), Aoun had to fail.

This fundamentally zero-sum conflict of interests meant that Aoun could not be offered a significant role in the new government. Having won the overwhelming majority of Christian votes without distribution of government patronage, his political preeminence would have become virtually unassailable had he gained control over important ministries. It would also have strengthened Aoun's bid to succeed Emile Lahoud as president (a position constitutionally reserved for Maronites and selected by parliament), further consolidating his political hegemony. Giving Aoun an inch would have enabled him to take a mile.

In contrast, the US-backed coalition had little to gain from challenging Hezbollah's political power - it neither held, needed, nor could realistically hope to compete for an appreciable number of Shiite seats. Its overriding concern was to win Hezbollah's political support vis-a-vis Aoun, for which it was perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to its militia. As Aoun raised the banner of opposition to the new government, Hezbollah was welcomed into the cabinet, which officially declared its "heroic resistance" against Israel to be "an honest and natural expression of the Lebanese people's national right in liberating its land and defending its dignity" (and thus not subject to UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for disarmament of non-state militias).[7] Despite enormous pressure from Washington over the next year, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other officials declined to interfere with,[8] or even criticize,[9] Hezbollah's periodic cross-border raids into Israel (though March 14 politicians not occupying positions in government raised objections), while parroting Hezbollah claims about the disputed Shebaa Farms enclave.[10]

However, the Quadripartite Alliance was incompatible with demands placed upon the coalition by Washington, Paris, and Riyadh, all of whom were interested primarily in leveraging the Siniora government to extract concessions from Syrian President Bashar Assad (ostensibly to the benefit of Lebanon, but clearly not to the benefit of Hezbollah). After the cabinet voted over Hezbollah's objections to formally request the establishment of an international tribunal to try Hariri's assassins in December 2005, Shiite ministers began boycotting the government and Hezbollah began negotiating a possible alliance with the FPM. Though Hezbollah ended the boycott seven weeks later in exchange for a public statement by Siniora calling it a "resistance" group, its realignment with the FPM proceeded apace with the release of a joint memorandum of understanding in February.

Following the 2006 Israeli military campaign in Lebanon and another unilateral cabinet decision on the tribunal, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah pulled Shiite ministers out of the government and joined Aoun in a united opposition front. Together, they demanded the establishment of a national unity government in which the opposition would be granted a "blocking minority" of seats that can effectively veto cabinet decisions.

Although the March 2005 anti-Syrian demonstration in Beirut had always been a prominent fixture in the rhetoric and iconography of the Hariri-Jumblatt axis, it was not until Hezbollah started moving into alignment with Aoun that its leaders began officially referring to themselves as the "March 14 Alliance" (and to the opposition as the "March 8 Alliance," in reference to a preceding Hezbollah-led pro-Syrian demonstration) and developing formal institutional trappings for it.[11] The rhetorical division of Lebanon's tripolar political sphere into uniformly anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian camps proved to be a formidable political marketing strategy for galvanizing foreign and domestic support.

Deconstructing Aounism

The FPM, as Elias Muhanna suggests in his trenchant analysis of the movement, is a hybrid "between a traditional Lebanese confessional party orientated around a single charismatic leader, and a modern political movement committed to certain ideological principles."[12] As a result, its core support base is larger and more committed than the Lebanese norm.

However, while Aoun's 2005 popular vote tally within his own confession was statistically en par with those of Hariri and Jumblatt, it was clearly inflated by circumstantial factors. He boycotted the first round of the elections in Hariri's stronghold of Beirut, where a contested race would likely have registered a less lopsided Christian vote. More importantly, he received backing from two categories of voters who would not ordinarily support him: those who are sympathetic to Syria (perhaps 10-15% of the Christian community), and those who are sympathetic to traditional leaders, but cast their ballots for Change and Reform primarily to protest the electoral law or because they believed their confessional interests were best served by rallying around the strongest Christian leader. A similar dynamic contributed to landslide Christian support for the FPM in its only previous campaign for national office, a 2003 parliamentary by-election (against a candidate backed by every other major political group in Lebanon).[13]

The conventional wisdom was that truly dedicated FPM supporters comprised about a third of the Christian community. Along with the support of pro-Syrian Christians, this put Aoun's effective base of reliable support at roughly 50%. Thus, the coalition could not ensure victory purely by winning over the nonaligned - it had to win converts. For Aoun to ensure victory, he had to appeal outside of his effective support base by championing Christian confessional interests.

The genius of Aoun's memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah was that it not only gave voice to a slew of popular Christian demands (e.g. expatriate voting, rejection of Palestinian resettlement in Lebanon, anti-corruption reform), but also offered up the endorsement of Hezbollah - a compelling route to implementation in view of the fact that Shiites and Christians comprise roughly two-thirds of the electorate. The memorandum met with overwhelming support among Christians,[14] in spite of the fact that most continued to have a favorable view of both the United States and the Bush administration.[15]

Notwithstanding their feigned astonishment at Aoun's alliance with Nasrallah, few March 14 leaders were genuinely surprised that a predominantly Christian and Shiite alliance should rise in opposition to a ruling coalition dominated by Sunnis and Druze. Aoun's argument that there is a natural harmony of interests between Christians and Shiites is not without foundation. For example, mostly middle class Christians and (relatively) poor Shiites both stand to benefit from combating systemic corruption. The former "have the credentials to prosper in a system that is more of a meritocracy,"[16] notes Augustus Richard Norton, while the latter have suffered most from the systemic embezzlement that has depleted state coffers (precisely the condition that renders them so dependent on Hezbollah).[17]

Lebanese Christians and Shiites alike have historically ingrained anxieties about domination by the Sunni Arab world and comparatively little history of conflict with each other. Both fear the consequences of permanently resettling the 300,000-400,000 mostly Sunni Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanon. Both are deeply unnerved by the growth of Sunni Salafi jihadist groups in Lebanon, the inability of the Sunni-dominated Internal Security Forces (ISF)[18] to contend with the threat,[19] and Hariri's close relations with Salafi clerics, all of which contributed to the 2007 uprising by Salafi-jihadists in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp that took hundreds of lives.

Aounists argue that Sunni Islamism not only poses a greater security threat than Hezbollah (which, in contrast to the wartime militias of Jumblatt and Geagea, has never fought a major engagement with state security forces and cooperates closely with the army),[20] but also a greater socio-cultural threat. During the occupation, it was Sunni clerics who lobbied to ban books and prosecute singers on blasphemy charges, not Hezbollah. Notwithstanding its fervently Islamist beliefs, Hezbollah adopted a secular political platform after the end of the civil war (opportunistically, perhaps) that overlapped substantially with Aounist views on combating rampant corruption, clientalism, and other rampant national ills. The FPM and Hezbollah were the only major political groups excluded from government throughout the Syrian occupation.[21]

Of course, aligning with Hezbollah was also politically expedient for Aoun, as every other route to exerting influence at the national level was blocked to him. It was also, to be sure, politically expedient for Hezbollah, enabling it to advance its ambitions under a non-sectarian cloak. However, in Lebanese political culture it is considered perfectly normal to align with objectionable allies in the pursuit of power, and the two firebrands had more in common than most (e.g. modest roots, strong credentials fighting external enemies of Lebanon).

While the FPM was obliged to drop its longstanding rejection of Hezbollah's right to bear arms in order to win its friendship, their memorandum of understanding was no more supportive of this right than the Siniora government's own official policy statements. Of course, FPM officials claim that their alliance with Hezbollah is far more than a quid pro quo. According to the most elegant narrative, the disarmament of Hezbollah cannot be achieved until the majority of Shiites feel they have a partner in building a more inclusive Lebanon that will be prosperous for all and a state that can defend all of its citizens. Another variant of this argument holds that Aoun's engagement with Hezbollah serves as a firewall against the eruption of a Sunni-Shiite civil war in Lebanon (which would ostensibly be more likely if the Shiite community is cornered).

Destructing Aounism

The coalition's strategy for fighting Aoun had two interrelated tracks. The first was to persuade Hezbollah that its interests were best served by returning to a quid pro quo arrangement with March 14 that would leave Aoun in the lurch, while the second was to persuade the Christian public that its interests were best served by turning against Aoun. For eighteen months, the coalition rejected opposition demands for a national unity government, not so much because this would unduly impede the cabinet (the absence of Shiite ministers was a far greater constraint), but because such a political settlement would have bolstered Aoun's alliance with Nasrallah, vindicated his brinksmanship in the eyes of the Christian public, and increased his clout in pursuing the presidency and advantageous electoral districting (unless agreement on a compromise president and a new electoral law was reached concurrently). Although public opinion polls[22] and two massive demonstrations (both larger than the March 2005 protests)[23] in late 2006 indicated that the large majority of Lebanese wanted a national unity government, the coalition rejected any negotiated compromise that granted Aoun this kind of political capital.

The stream of anti-Hezbollah rhetoric from March 14 politicians over the past three years was fueled mainly by the group's alignment with the FPM, not its conflict with Israel or violations of state sovereignty (and certainly not by the expectation that strident rhetoric will encourage its disarmament). With Western economic and security assistance to the Siniora government soaring, Syria on an apparent collision course with Washington, and Sunni-Shiite hostilities in Iraq at a peak, most in March 14 were convinced that regional and international dynamics would force Hezbollah to capitulate. There was a widespread presumption that the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) probing Hariri's death would soon uncover conclusive evidence of Syrian complicity. In exchange for a reprieve, Assad would then be obliged to lean on Hezbollah (and Amal) to cut a separate deal with March 14. Some imagined that growing sectarian tensions in Lebanon would so threaten Syria's Alawite-dominated regime that Assad would have no choice but to bring Hezbollah to heel.

March 14 leaders were also confidant that Lebanon's deepening crisis would lead the Christian public to turn against Aoun. Since most FPM supporters have a secular nationalist outlook, they were expected to grow disillusioned by Aoun's indirect alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran and increasingly sectarian rhetoric. Since Christians are culturally Westernized and fearful of abandonment by America and Europe, March 14 leaders warned that Aoun's campaign to bring down the Siniora government would needlessly antagonize Western capitals that supported Lebanon financially and guaranteed its sovereignty. Bush administration officials chimed in with warnings of an aid cutoff[24] should March 14 share power and public threats of "grave consequences" for Aoun.[25] The FPM's predominantly middle class support base rendered it vulnerable to concerns that political instability would lead to a drop in foreign investment. In an environment where Hariri and Jumblatt (and Geagea, to a lesser extent) were raising militias and warning that Hezbollah was leading the country to civil war, FPM supporters were expected to abandon Aoun in droves.

One result of this overconfidence was the fact that the coalition made little concerted effort to defuse the alienation that feeds public support for the FPM. Beyond the constant reiteration of the need to combat Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon, as one prominent pro-March 14 commentator complained last summer, the coalition "fashioned no serious agenda to which Christians are attracted."[26] March 14 Christians were far too weak and divided to challenge (or even speak freely about) the entrenched interests of their Sunni and Druze patrons. Whereas Aoun pulled no punches in rejecting Palestinian resettlement and bemoaning the festering problem of Christians displaced by Jumblatt's militia during the civil war, his rivals made awkward attempts to cover the same political ground without offending their allies. Unable to project political influence at the national level, their visibility declined to the point of being characterized in foreign media descriptions of the coalition with such humiliating addendums as "assorted Christians."[27] While Aoun's popularity appeared to waver under the strain of the crisis (with some opinion polls indicating that his favorability ratings among Christians dropped as low as 41% during the spring of 2007),[28] the coalition never delivered the coup de grace by presenting a viable alternative.

The August 2007 parliamentary by-election to fill the seat of recently murdered Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was a midterm test of the coalition's strength vis-à-vis Aoun, though its idiosyncrasies defied easy generalization. The father of the deceased, former President Amine Gemayel, was running for the seat in his home district, against a virtually unknown FPM candidate, before an overwhelmingly Christian electorate that is deeply distrustful of the Syrians and hadn't voted against the Gemayel family in decades. The FPM, on the other hand, benefited from local alliances with Greek Orthodox political boss (and former interior minister) Michel Murr and the district's Armenian minority. The FPM won the election by just 418 votes. Predictably, March 14 leaders interpreted the tally as indicating a 20% drop in popular support for Aoun, while FPM officials spun their capture of a seat long considered unwinnable (they didn't even bother contesting it in 2005) as an unprecedented feat of political strength.

The by-election may have weakened Aoun's claim to speak for the large majority of Christians, but it also shattered the frequency voiced mantra that he is "finished." Although there was widespread Christian anxiety over Aoun's tactics, this had not yet translated into a decisive loss of public support and certainly would not do so if his brinksmanship produced a favorable settlement. Prospects for averting such a settlement dwindled as European governments swung decisively in favor of diplomatic engagement with Damascus and it became increasingly evident that the UN investigation into the assassination of Hariri was not on track to produce indictments of Syrian officials. As hopes for a favorable regional dynamic or decisive public backlash against Aoun faded, the coalition faced greater pressure from commercial interests and regional capitals to settle for the best possible political compromise.

The coalition's only hope of further enflaming public anxiety was to provoke Hezbollah into an armed confrontation with fellow Lebanese. In May 2008, with strong encouragement from Washington, Siniora's (Shiite-less) cabinet issued a decree declaring Hezbollah's private telecommunications network to be "illegal and unconstitutional" - an initiative designed to threaten the group's military readiness so severely that Nasrallah could not possibly take it sitting down. The hope was that this would lead to a progressive escalation and prolonged standoff between Hezbollah and pro-March 14 militias that would undermine Aoun and possibly precipitate Syrian pressure on Hezbollah to stand down. However, the unexpected ease and rapidity with which Hezbollah routed Sunni (and, to a lesser extent, Druze) militiamen had the unintended effect of leading the outside Arab world to push harder for a settlement. Qatari-mediated negotiations soon produced a compromise package less advantageous to the coalition than several it had been rejected previously. Although the FPM was denied a so-called "sovereign ministry" (defense, foreign affairs, interior, and finance) in the new national unity government, Aoun got a president he could live with (Gen. Michel Suleiman) and an electoral law that assigned most Christian seats to majority Christian districts.

Nevertheless, the May 2008 violence did shatter Hezbollah's much celebrated "purity of arms" in the eyes of many Lebanese - as did its accidental firing on a Lebanese army helicopter (mistakenly identified as Israeli) three months later, which killed a soldier. All of this might have been buffed away had Nasrallah not made a major gaffe in a speech three weeks before the election, calling Hezbollah's sweep into Beirut a year earlier a "glorious day."[29] Aoun's visits to Iran and Syria in the fall and winter of 2008 may have solidified the loyalty of his alliance partners, but they played into his rivals' claim that he was a Syrian puppet.

Endgame


By all accounts, the FPM and Hezbollah ran sophisticated campaigns, focused on a platform of combating corruption, improving state services, and governing by consensus. The Change and Reform coalition boasted a diverse lineup of candidates, ranging from a former head of the doctor's syndicate to one of the country's leading rock stars. Affirming their support for the principle that government should operate within the bounds of consensus among major confessional groups,[30] Aoun and Nasrallah pledged to grant March 14 a blocking minority in the cabinet regardless of the electoral outcome.

In contrast, hoping to create a "do or die" atmosphere that would bring their supporters to the polls in large numbers and win over the undecided, March 14 leaders offered apocalyptic warnings about the consequences of an opposition victory, from a cutoff of American aid to another war with Israel (powerfully conveyed by billboards displaying pictures of bombed out buildings and rubble). Saad Hariri vowed that he will not participate in any cabinet if the opposition wins the elections. The apparent message to Christians (and Sunnis) was that they cannot vote for the opposition and still expect Hariri and his Saudi patrons to smooth things over with the outside world.

The Saudis lavishly financed the campaigns of pro-March 14 candidates.[31] The exact amount is not known, but a "well-connected operative" in the kingdom told Newsweek reporter Christopher ****ey that it was more than the price tag of Barack Obama's presidential election campaign ($715 million).[32] It's widely presumed that Iran provided substantial funding for opposition candidates (beyond its budgetary support for Hezbollah), though on a visibly smaller scale. In addition to fueling rampant vote buying, Saudi funding enabled the coalition to provide thousands of sympathetic Lebanese citizens living abroad with free plane tickets to return and cast votes on election day, on a substantially larger scale than the opposition. This is one reason why polling on the eve of the elections overstated the opposition's chances.

Notwithstanding the timely defection of Michel Murr (considerably boosting the coalition's strength in the 8-seat district of Metn), the prospects of March 14 defeating Aoun in majority Christian districts were regarded as shaky in the weeks leading up to the elections. The coalition's waning brand appeal was evident in the large number of pro-March 14 Christian candidates running as nominal independents, the acrimonious departure of the widely respected former MP Nassib Lahoud from the race, and a leaked videotape showing Jumblatt contemptuously ridiculing Geagea with an anti-Maronite slur.[33]

Salvation for the coalition came from a string of eleventh hour developments. High profile visits to Lebanon by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice-president Joe Biden were widely credited with striking the right balance of tacit support for the coalition and nominal diplomatic neutrality (in contrast to the interventionist rhetoric of the Bush administration, which played into Aoun's hands), though it's not clear how decisive an impact this had. More significant was a flurry of sensationalist foreign accusations against Hezbollah on the eve of the vote.

In April, the Egyptian government announced that it had uncovered a Hezbollah-directed network planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Egypt. Although it appears likely that the network was merely smuggling weapons to Gaza, the specter of Shiites compromising the sovereignty of a leading (Sunni) Arab government was bound to reverberate in Lebanon. Similar accusations were leveled against Hezbollah by Azerbaijan and Yemen in the weeks before the elections.[34]

On May 24, the German news magazine Der Spiegel quoted "sources close to the tribunal" as saying that UN investigators had linked Hezbollah to the assassination of Hariri. Although the veracity of the report was questionable, the symbolic impact of the accusation likely contributed to the extraordinarily high turnout of Sunni voters in the majority Christian district of Zahleh, which produced a March 14 victory predicted by few pollsters and analysts prior to the election (the turnout of Shiite swing voters was critical for Aoun in other Christian majority districts, but not unexpectedly so).

Israeli officials helped lend credibility to March 14 rhetoric by issuing a succession of warnings about the consequences of a March 14 loss. On May 27, Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated that the coalition's defeat would "give us a freedom of action that we did not have completely in July 2006."[35] In the days before the election, Israel conducted large-scale military maneuvers on the border with Lebanon.

All of this paved the way for the spectacular intercession of the 85-year-old Maronite patriarch. Though privately sympathetic to March 14, Sfeir had avoided publicly taking sides, dropping only indirect hints of his preferences.[36] He went much further on the day before the election, warning voters of "a threat to Lebanon's character and Arab identity" (clearly alluding to Iranian influence) and urging them to "abort the persistent efforts that, if successful, will change the face of our country."[37]

Implications

Although the electoral results left the overall balance of power between March 14 and the opposition largely unchanged, the coalition clearly gained a more legitimate mandate. The distribution of seats was at odds with the popular vote (54% in favor of the opposition),[38] but not nearly to the same degree as the 2005 election - and this time around, everybody accepted the rules beforehand.
In the short-term, the coalition may be able to govern without conceding a national unity government. While Aoun initially refused to support the new government unless the opposition is granted a blocking minority of cabinet seats, his Shiite allies pointedly did not reciprocate. March 14 leaders hope that they will drop the demand for a blocking minority in exchange for supporting Berri's reelection as parliament speaker and providing Hezbollah with private assurances regarding its militia (or, as one pro-March 14 media outlet put it euphemistically, "provid[ing] the parliamentary minority with specific guarantees concerning specific political issues").[39]

Contrary to the tenor of many Western media reports, however, the election results were a defeat for Aoun only in the sense that he did not win a clear mandate to speak on behalf of the Christian community. However, no one (outside of the Aounist camp) expected him to do so. His share of the Christian vote was around 49-52%,[40] roughly en par with previous expectations (and with the 2007 by-election). Though his bloc expanded to only 27 seats due to the unexpected loss of Zahleh,[41] it is nevertheless unprecedented for so large a plurality of the Christian community to be united under one political agenda. The March 14 coalition has more Christian MPs, but they have too many conflicting allegiances to be considered a single bloc. The Lebanese Forces and the Phalangists each received 5 seats, with independents and subordinates of Hariri and Jumblatt comprising the rest.

Aoun's influence is bounded less by intrinsic limitations to his public appeal than by the intense opposition of rival Christian elite factions. Hariri and Jumblatt enjoy no more than a large plurality of "true blue" support within their respective confessions - it is their success in co-opting rivals within their respective confessions that gives them such enormous executive influence. Most Aounists are optimistic that the polarization of the Christian community over the past four years will dissipate as a result of regional détente and a less interventionist American administration. At the end of the day, the Lebanese tend to rally behind the most powerful leaders of their respective sectarian communities - and to forgive a great many indiscretions along the way.

Notes

[1] "A win for the West; Lebanon's election," The Economist, 13 June 2009.
[2] Even as supporters of both camps joined together in the March 14 demonstration, the well-financed organizers of the rally refused to permit Aoun to address the crowd by video from Paris.
[3] More than three quarters of the 64 parliamentary seats constitutionally reserved for Christians were embedded in Muslim majority districts. "Lebanese Christian leader splits with Muslim opposition," Agence France Presse, 24 May 2005.
[4] They offered the FPM between three and six seats (accounts vary) in their electoral coalition, far fewer than what they knew the FPM could win on its own (and less than a third of the number it ultimately did win). FPM officials believe that the offer was intended to be politically impossible for Aoun to accept.
[5] As The New York Times reported, "the endorsement of the Shiite Hezbollah party was critical" in the 11-seat district of Baabda-Aley, where the number of Shiite voters was substantially larger than the Jumblatt slate's margin of victory. [See "Returning Lebanese General Stuns Anti-Syria Alliance," The New York Times, 14 June 2005]. Moreover, Hezbollah's endorsement eroded the ability of rival Sunni politicians to mobilize the Arab nationalist current against the Hariri family - which was a critical swing vote in mixed Sunni-Christian districts of north Lebanon.
[6] "In Lebanon, a crisis for Christians," The Christian Science Monitor, 28 November 2006.
[7] "Lebanon's new government defends Hezbollah, promises goodwill toward Syria," The Associated Press, 28 July 2005.
[8] In April 2006, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned in a report to the Security Council that the Lebanese Army has "not been authorized to prevent further movement of the ammunitions" from Syria to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. See Third semi-annual report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, 19 April 2006. "Hezbollah endures in Lebanon; Islamic guerrillas not easily disarmed, Western nations find," The Chicago Tribune, 19 April 2006.
[9] See, for example, "Israel must quit Shebaa before Hezbollah disarms: Siniora," Agence France Presse, 16 April 2006.
[10] For a detailed look at the Siniora government's policy, see Missy Ryan, "Cedar Revolution Shows Its Splinters," The National Journal, 8 October 2005.
[11] The domain name for its official website, 14 March :: Lebanon News :: أخبار لبنان, was registered eight days after the FPM-Hezbollah memorandum.
[12] Elias Muhanna, Bring it Aoun, The National (United Arab Emirates), 5 June 2009.
[13] The FPM narrowly fell short of winning an overall majority of votes in the confessionally mixed district, running against a candidate backed by the entire governing elite. See Gary C Gambill, FNC Triumphs in Baabda-Aley, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, August-September 2003.
[14] According to a poll by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, 77% of the Christian community supported the memorandum of understanding. Al-Diyar (Beirut), 11 February 2006.
[15] According to the 2008 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 60% of Christian Lebanese expressed confidence in the Bush administration. See Some Positive Signs for U.S. Image, Pew Research Center, 12 June 2008.
[16] Quoted in Kody Akhavi, "Lebanon: Time to Step Back From the Brink," Interpress Service, 12 March 2008.
[17] See Gary C. Gambill, Hezbollah and the Political Ecology of Postwar Lebanon, Mideast Monitor, October 2006.
[18] The ISF is "seen as a sectarian Sunni force," said former United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokesman Timur Goksel. "Not just the Shiites say it, but the Christians too: that it's to make up for the lack of a Sunni militia." "Lebanon builds up security forces; The move is seen as a bid to counter Iran and Shiite ally Hezbollah," The Los Angeles Times, 1 December 2006; "West helps Lebanon build militia to fight Hezbollah," The Globe and Mail (Canada), 1 December 2006.
[19] In February 2006, ISF riot police stood by as Sunni Islamist rioters set fire to a building housing the Danish embassy and rampaged through the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafieh.
[20] This is in sharp contrast to the wartime militias commanded by Geagea and Jumblatt. During the civil war, Hezbollah focused mainly on fighting the rival Shiite Amal militia and the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army (a mix of Shiites, Christians, and Druze).
[21] To be precise, Hezbollah was first represented in an interim cabinet appointed two weeks before the withdrawal of Syrian forces in late April 2005.
[22] "U.S. Reports Plot to Topple Beirut Leaders," The New York Times, 2 November 2006.
[23] The police estimated the size of the December 1, 2006 demonstration to be 800,000, while the opposition claimed 1.5 million. ["Hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah supporters protest in Beirut to bring down government," The Associated Press, 1 December 2006.] The authorities declined to give an official estimate of the size of the December 10, 2006 demonstration, but most journalists gave estimates of at least one million. ["Million supporters come out for Hezbollah," United Press International, 10 December 2006; ABC World News Sunday transcript, 10 December 2006]
[24] f for any reason the [Siniora] government does not continue, I don't think you have a consensus in the international community about assistance to Lebanon," said Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns. He quickly added that he didn't "mean to say that as a threat." Interview with R. Nicholas Burns, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, LBC Television (Beirut), 1 December 2006, translated transcript released by the State Department.
[25] In November 2006, US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman met with Aoun in November and warned him of "grave consequences" for his political future if he does not drop out of the opposition coalition. [Al-Safir (Beirut), 3 November 2006] Feltman denied saying this when it was first reported, but American diplomats have since made similar statements publicly. "We don't understand General Aoun's position," US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch told LBCI Television on January 12, adding that Aoun should "very precisely examine the consequences of his partnership with those people." Cited in Welch Criticizes Aoun for his Alliance with Hizbullah, Naharnet.com, 12 January 2007.
[26] Michael Young, "Don't dismiss Aoun's 'big tent' strategy," The Daily Star (Beirut), 10 July 2008.
[27] "Lebanon's election; Will the shaky equilibrium hold?" The Economist, 28 May 2009.
[28] Christian support for Aoun declines, Nowlebanon.com, 3 August 2007.
[29] Although Hezbollah apologists insisted that he was referencing the outcome of this power play (the Doha Accord), not the violence itself, even the leadership of the FPM was livid over the comment. "Nasrallah hails May 7 as 'glorious day' for Resistance," The Daily Star (Beirut), 16 May 2009.
[30] "In such a sectarian system, it is in the interest of Lebanon and its stability that there is understanding and partnership among Lebanese in running their country's affairs," he said in a televised speech in April. "Hezbollah win in Lebanon poll would be big upset," The Associated Press, 24 April 2009.
[31] "Foreign Money Seeks to Buy Lebanese Votes," The New York Times, 22 April 2009.
[32] Christopher ****ey, War, Peace and A Political Touch, Newsweek web exclusive, 9 June 2009.
[33] For a translation, see Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: :'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites', The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), 5 June 2009.
[34] "Alleged Hezbollah plot in Azerbaijan; Officials say the Lebanese group, with Iran's aid, planned to bomb Israeli Embassy," The Los Angeles Times, 30 May 2009.
[35] "Israel worries about UNIFIL fate after Lebanon elections," The Jerusalem Post, 27 May 2009.
[36] For example, in the months leading up to the elections he stated several times his opposition to a national unity government after the elections (clearly shadowing the expressed views of Hariri). "Sfeir: Existence of Opposition and Pro-government Forces in Governance Is a Heresy," Naharnet.com (Beirut), 15 May 2009.
[37] Lebanese National News Agency (Beirut), 6 June 2009.
[38] "A win for the West; Lebanon's election," The Economist, 13 June 2009.
[39] Aoun Wants Six Christian Ministers in Cabinet, Naharnet.com, 21 June 2009.
[40] See Elias Muhanna, Deconstructing the Popular Vote in Lebanon's Elections, Mideast Monitor, July 2009.
[41] This includes the four seats of Suleiman Franjieh's pro-Syrian Marada party and two seats of the Armenian Tashnag Party, which are perhaps not unquestionably loyal to Aoun.


http://www.mideastmonitor.org/issues/0907/0907_1.htm
 

kappa273

Well-Known Member
sometimes i wonder if they ever tried to offer GMA those 1 billion dollars....
perhaps even 500 million dollars
they would have saved a lot of money and worries....

he is costing them a lot of money... amazing for someone who lives off a rented house and has his office in the basement...

kappa
 

ecce homo

Well-Known Member
and wanted...

[FIELDSET="elnashra.com"]"Nous avons besoin d'un homme comme Michel Aoun au sein du 14 mars", affirme un pôle majoritaire à ''Addiyar"[/FIELDSET]

for the non french...

A "pole" from the majority tells Addiyar that "they need a person like Michel Aoun in the march 14 group".
 

Bala Habal

Member
What's amazing to me is not that Aoun is still standing, but that Aoun is still caring. Or maybe, the Lebanese people like to throw themselves in the laps of those who killed and tortured and raped and pillaged and robbed them, in the time of war and then in the time of "peace".
 

Youchka

Legendary Member
Indeed great read. I will summarize it in 2 words, or maybe few more: YA JABAL MA YHEZZAK RIH.
 
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