In an atmosphere of illusions, hopes and the calculations of defeat and victory, the presidency of Lebanon remains vacant.
Reasons behind presidential vacuum
The vacancy at the presidential palace can be attributed to a host of factors. First, there are Lebanese who still believe—whether wrongly or rightly—that they are free and that they have every right to accept or reject and hold accountable those who claim to be their parliamentary representatives, who, in turn, are tasked with electing the president.
Second, in Lebanon there are politicians, like former president Michel Suleiman, who are decent and respectable. They are proud of their sense of patriotism, which stops them from begging for posts from the armed factions who are the “status quo” governors. It also stops them from pandering to their regional masters who—thanks to the U.S. administration’s deplorable passivity—have been given free rein to do whatever they want with impunity throughout the Arab Mashreq.
Third, due to both the U.S. administration’s shameful position and the unethical support from Russia and China, these regional players today feel that they have indeed won their war, which aims to secure full control over the eastern part of the Arab world. Recent statements by Iran’s mullahs and military commanders are nothing but a culmination of the massacres their military has committed in Syria. And that is to say nothing of the disruption of state institutions and the systematic destruction of the political structures and demographic realities in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, carried out by Iran’s followers in these countries.
Today, Iran is acting like a regional power that has triumphed over anyone who dared to object to its steadily growing regional dominance. Statements issued by Iran during the visit of the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al Sabah, to Tehran promoting the Shiite state’s agenda under the nebulous title of “confronting takfirists” confirm these feelings. In turn, remarks by British Foreign Secretary William Hague last week about the danger of “takfirists” suggest that, when it comes to tackling the Syrian file, London has adopted the perspective of Russia and Iran about prioritizing combating “takfirists” above all else.
In this context, how can one forget Obama’s masterpiece of a speech to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in which he renewed his commitment to a policy of denial, procrastination and inaction? Those enthusiastic about turning the page on Bashar al-Assad’s regime have been quite naïve, believing that “a shift” has taken place in the Obama administration. This is the same administration whose approach to the Syrian crisis over the past three years confirms it has definitively decided to do nothing. Washington has justified its position all along on the basis that the American people are tired of war.
This has been the U.S. position on the international level, but what about the situation in the Arab region? Well, it is much worse than many are prepared to admit. I assert, without exaggeration, that an Iran still capable of blackmailing and infiltrating the Arab world despite the social, economic and political problems it is facing represents conclusive evidence of our incompetence and our miscalculations.
Hezbollah monopolizing political arena
The state of polarization marking the struggle for the presidency in Lebanon is taking place against this tragic background. The public in Lebanon have been truly shocked by the sight of thousands of Bashar al-Assad supporters shouting his name and carrying his picture on their way to vote for him at the Syrian embassy in Beirut. They were shaken and upset at the realization that what they thought they had achieved in the Cedar Revolution of 2005, when the Lebanese people forced the Syrian Army to pull out of Lebanon, has been nothing but a mirage. Hezbollah has since played the role of the substitute occupying force, replacing Damascus’s former role in disrupting state institutions, monopolizing the political arena, and bringing its agents and lackeys into parliament and cabinet.
Hezbollah has since played the role of the substitute occupying force, replacing Damascus’s former role in disrupting state institutions, monopolizing the political arena, and bringing its agents and lackeys into parliament and cabinet.
Today the Shiite militia, which follows the instructions of the Supreme Leader, is carrying out Tehran’s regional project down to the last detail, by undermining the election of the president and altering the country’s political demographics.
Like its leadership in Tehran and its allies in Baghdad and Damascus, Hezbollah is acting like the victor who must win all the spoils of war. Hassan Rowhani—supported by Obama’s passivity—is imposing his ideological perspective on the Middle East, while Nuri al-Maliki is manipulating Iraq’s opportunist and petty Sunni politicians, capitalizing on tensions between them in a bid to force them to submissively support his bid for a new term in office. As for Assad, he is prolonging his presidency over a country that has seen 300,000 of its people killed and over 10 million displaced.
Dynamics of Lebanon's election
And so we can understand the remarkable dynamics of the presidential elections in Lebanon.
The Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea started off the race to Baabda Palace by announcing his presidential candidacy, supported by the majority of those opposed to the Iran–Syria axis, the March 14 Alliance. But, as expected, the backing he received was insufficient to secure him the presidency. In order to prevent the required quorum for a vote being secured, lawmakers from the rival March 8 Alliance boycotted subsequent parliamentary sessions, justifying their move on the pretext of their rejection of a “defiance” candidate, as they perceive Geagea to be.
Until this point, this political interaction sounds somewhat reasonable. What is really bizarre, however, is the March 8 Alliance’s promotion of Michel Aoun, the leader of the pro-Hezbollah Free Patriotic Movement, as a “consensus candidate.” If there were ever a Lebanese politician who has always opposed “consensus,” it is Aoun. Ever since he stormed onto the Lebanese political scene in 1988, Aoun has been launching attacks on friends and foes alike. He even rejected the inter-Lebanese consensus promulgated in the Taif Agreement. The political game Aoun and his backers are trying to play aims at handing Lebanon over to the status quo power, represented by Hezbollah and its co-sponsors in the “alliance of minorities.”
Geagea already knew he would not succeed in his presidential bid, but he wanted to put his reluctant allies in the March 14 Alliance in a “fait accompli” situation. So he stood for the presidency and then refused to leave the arena even when it became clear that he would not secure the required number of votes. Following this, after Aoun’s supporters intensified their talk of ongoing “consultations” with the objective of securing an “understanding” with Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, Geagea himself traveled to France to meet with Hariri. What happened during this meeting was also striking.
Geagea already knew he would not succeed in his presidential bid, but he wanted to put his reluctant allies in the March 14 Alliance in a “fait accompli” situation.
I think the true objective of Geagea’s decision to maintain his presidential bid is to block any kind of settlement that the international community may impose on the Lebanese as whole, and on Saad Hariri in particular. Thus, the similar positions of Geagea and that of Walid Jumblatt—though from different perspectives—represent the last guarantee against Lebanon descending into absolute subordination to the scenario that Iran is seeking to construct in the region.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on June 5, 2014.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.SHOW MORE