Wednesday, May 16, 2007

FPM-Hezbollah: Divorce for Irreconcilable Differences

FPM-Hezbollah: Divorce for Irreconcilable Differences
By: Joseph Hitti
May 17/07

With the deadline looming for the Lebanese Parliament to elect a new President of the Republic of Lebanon this summer, there is an undeniable quest by many Lebanese for a "strong" President who would be unlike the riff-raff Presidents the country has had during the three decades of the war. Many of the latter were pure Syrian puppets (Elias Hrawi and Emile Lahoud); or the Lebanese equivalent of Bashar Assad, i.e. corrupt feudal weaklings who are reluctantly given the mantle of the family, and I mean by that Amin Gemayel; or "compromise" technocrat Presidents like Elias Sarkis, who are clean and mean well, but have no constituency to back them.

There is no doubt that the country needs a "strong" President, although different people may have a different definition of "Strong". From a purely sectarian standpoint, i.e. from the perspective of those in the Maronite Christian community who think of the President as "the community's" exclusive man, a "strong" President is someone who will re-assert some power into the hands of a defeated and battered community. For secular-leaning Lebanese who are tired and disgusted of the paralysis in which the sectarian allocation of power continues to plunge the country, "strong" means someone who can be the President of all Lebanon; someone who will reassert the power of the President to the detriment of the three-headed Taef Cerberus that now rules this mutant monster of a country ravaged by the cancers of sectarianism, feudalism, cronyism, the rampant power of the unelected religious elites; and finally, someone who will begin to combat corruption and take back this country from the hands of the religious, feudal and money elites and restores to its rightful owners, the ordinary people of Lebanon.

The problem is that many in the country, out of resignation and lack of faith in the possibility of change, will tell you that in Lebanon, only a "compromise" President can be elected because this is how it has always been. They forget that the country's strongest Presidents were non-compromise Presidents - Frangieh, Chamoun, Bechara Al-Khoury, Fouad Chehab - and it is under their terms that the country prospered between 1940s and the 1970s.

Unfortunately, the only candidate on the roster for this summer's election who is, in principle, a strong candidate is MP Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement. All the others appear to be "compromise" types (Boutros Harb, Nassib Lahoud, Nayla Mouawad, Fares Souaid), technocrats who can do a lot for this country but lack political backbone (Riad Salameh, Chebli Mallat), or feudal old guard (Dory Chamoun, Suleiman Frangieh, Amin Gemayel (again?)), if not outright warlord criminals (Samir Geagea).

I said Michel Aoun is "unfortunately" the only strong candidate because, while espousing reformist and progressive ideas that rallied around him the majority of the Lebanese people, he has compromised his strength and alienated many of his own people with a cheap, convenient political alliance with the pro-Iranian Hezbollah organization that left him surrounded by political careerists whose follow a man rather the ideas he embodies. There is no other explanation to this alliance other than a vindictive and desperate move by Aoun to counter the power of the feudal-financial-warlord conglomerate of Hariri-Geagea-Jumblatt-Gemayel which is backed for pragmatic reasons by the West. And instead of maintaining the high ground, keeping an equal but objective distance from all his enemies, and appealing successfully to the ultimate wisdom of the people of Lebanon, Aoun plunged head-first into an alliance with Hezbollah that has all the accoutrements of a Faustian deal in which he thought he'd get a last chance at the presidency in exchange for allying himself with the ultimate loser that Hezbollah is very likely to be when all of this is said and done.

In the process, Aoun changed his discourse from a pure but sensible and reasoned (rather than atavistic nativist) Lebanese nationalism into a bitter anti-Western, anti-American, anti-anyone who just could not accept the anomalous Hezbollah status quo. And in so doing he ruined any future chance of a real and badly needed revolution in the Lebanese political and social landscape, because he disappointed the idealists, jaded the people at the cost that such a revolution would entail, and handed the ultimate enemies of Lebanon - the Hariri-Geagea-Jumblatt-Gemayel conglomerate an easy victory . In other words, Aoun was Lebanon's best chance for change, but the Lebanese people may have to wait for a couple of generations before that chance comes again.

Yet, there is still one last moment, one last window of opportunity before this summer's rendez-vous with destiny. Aoun can declare the failure of his alliance with Hezbollah and still have a chance at recovering lost ground and at reforming this dying country. Time for Aoun to tell the Lebanese people that his alliance with Hezbollah was a tactical maneuver that backfired, but not a strategic vision because there can be no alliance between radical medieval-vintage Moslem fundamentalists and secular democrats. In so doing, Aoun would pull the rug from under all his detractors, especially the Hariri-Geagea-Jumblatt-Gemayel multinational conglomerate, and say to the Lebanese people that he is still strong, but now he is on the right side of history. There is still time to recoup some glory by adopting the role of the arbiter and the referee, i.e. the statesman that many thought he was, not only within the Christian community, but also between the communities in Lebanon.

Iran is clearly on a collision course with the rest of the international community which is set to act very soon against Iran. The repercussions of a conflict with Iran will definitely reverberate in Lebanon, since Hezbollah will most likely try to "help" Iran by deflecting attention away from it, which it usually does in the south of Lebanon, like it did last summer. This time, the enemy is very likely UNIFIL, as the mounting frequency of incidents and complaints by Hezbollah and "its" Shiites in the south goes on building. UNIFIL, after all, represents the "West", the Great Satan now on the soil of Lebanon. Instead of cornering himself further into defending the indefensible, Aoun should jettison Hezbollah and Nasrallah before it is too late, recoup his standing among the Christians and the rest of the Lebanese communities, isolate Hezbollah and put pressure on it to relinquish the power it has hijacked from the Lebanese people and the State.

Aoun should declare as obsolete the Memorandum of Understanding he signed with Hezbollah since it has not stood the test of time. None of its provisions has been implemented:
- The Lebanese refugees in Israel are still in Israel
- Syria, Hezbollah's co-masters with Iran, has not surrendered the Shebaa Farms to Lebanese sovereignty, which would satisfy the most contingent provision of the Memorandum of Understanding: Hezbollah's supposed willingness to disarm.
- Hezbollah has not taken any measure on the ground that indicates an adherence in spirit, if not in the letter, to the provisions of the Understanding. To the contrary, Hezbollah has become even more emboldened, radicalized, belligerent, fighting tooth and nail against the legitimacy of the State's institutions and the International Tribunal, and in fact did start a war on behalf of the Lebanese people last summer that it will only repeat in one giant Samson-like suicide operation that Hezbollah in fact pioneered in the 1980s.

Over the last weeks and months, FPM leaders have increasingly claimed the mantle of "defenders" of the Christians, while diverging with Hezbollah over the International Tribunal: The FPM says it will support it, Hezbollah says it will be a declaration of war. The FPM says it wants to give the Christian community its due share of power by taking the decision away from the Hariri-Geagea-Jumblatt-Gemayel consortium of the old guard, only to turn around and give it to Hezbollah, the stale resistance guard. The reason is obvious: The Shiite street is secured by Hassan Nasrallah and Naim Qassem; no danger there of deconstructing the monolithic behavior of medievally-minded people into thinking for themselves. Ditto with the Sunni and Druze communities and their monolithic Jurassic era intra-communal structures. Only the Christian community shows some diversity - some call it division, I prefer diversity. So Aoun's FPM is worried it may have lost ground within the Christian community because of its untenable positions, and has therefore begun to lay claim to the mantle. It just may be too little too late, but it's worth a shot. The price, though, is a Aoun re-conversion.

In the end, the presidential elections are another one of the millions of chances that the Lebanese had to set their country back on the track of reason. What they decide to do is really up to them, people and leaders. They can yell and complain that everyone else is interfering, but Aoun has one very last chance to rally the Lebanese people behind him. He needs to make one correction. Even though it may be too late, the alternatives are even more disastrous.

Joseph Hitti
Boston, Massachusetts

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