Under the supervision of Lebanese Patriarch al-Rai, two longstanding Christian political opponents, Suleiman Frangieh and Samir Geagea, met at the Patriarchate headquarters to end 40 years of enmity. The deep-seated antagonism had started after accusing Geagea of killing Tony Frangieh, Suleiman’s father, in 1978.
Blood feud ends
At that time, Geagea was one of the commanders of the Lebanese Forces that was led by Bachir Gemayel. Then the Israelis invaded Lebanon (1978 and 1982) and during this time, the presidency of Elias Sarkis came to an end thus, the parliament elected Bachir Gemayel as the President. When he was assassinated before taking over the presidency, the MPs held a meeting again and elected his brother Amin for the presidency. Between 1982 and 1988, violent conflict over the LF’s leadership position erupted resulting in eliminations until Geagea won the leadership of the LF – a post he still holds.
In 1988, the two main competitors over the Presidency were: Geagea and General Michel Aoun, the then-commander of the Army. Syrians thought that both parties should be excluded, thus MP Elias Hrawi was elected as president. Aoun was exiled, while Geagea was imprisoned after being accused of other crimes (killing Rashid Karami and Dany Chamoun…) and although he supported Patriarch Sfeir in the Ta’if Agreement, unlike General Aoun. He was only released from prison in 2005 after receiving amnesty from parliament, in which the March 14 Alliance had won a majority after the death of Rafiq Hariri and the Syrian forces’ withdrawal from Lebanon.
The ascendancy of Aoun
In the same year, Aoun returned to Lebanon, where he participated in the elections and won a decent share thus becoming the major Christian leader in Lebanon. It is in this context and due to the animosity between him and the March 14 parties that he struck an understanding with Hezbollah. Since then, Aoun has remained an ally of Hezbollah and its presidency candidate, until he won it in 2016 with the consent of Saad Hariri. Aoun and Geagea reconciled in 2015, and Aoun became almost the only presidential candidate among the Christians as well.
The dispute between Geagea and Frangieh remained frozen when Geagea was in prison while the Patriarchate was active in bringing about a reconciliation. However, nothing decisive happened, even after Geagea was released as the dispute resurfaced between Geagea and Aoun and because the leadership of the Frangieh family was confined to the Zgharta- Ehden district in Northern Lebanon while Geagea’s leadership extended to other Christian areas in Lebanon. The Frangieh family is an ally of the Assad family and in the last elections, Geagea’s party won 15 parliamentary seats while Frangieh’s only won three! What is new was the undermining of the Maarab agreement between Aoun and Geagea. When Hariri started to form a government six months ago, a process which is not complete yet, the main problem was that the President and his son-in-law did not accept giving Geagea more than three ministries, all of which are of the second degree.
The president also wants to nominate his son-in-law Gebran Bassil for the presidency after him. Since Franjieh considers himself the one who deserves the presidency after Aoun, and because Geagea does not have a good chance in becoming a president as the majority in the Parliament is for Hezbollah, its allies and for the Free Patriotic Movement, he thought of retaliating against Aoun and Bassil by standing by Franjieh in the next presidential elections’ battle. Thus, this needed a reconciliation to end the old conflict and help in forming an alliance against Aoun and Bassil.
The history of the dispute over the presidency between the Maronites in Lebanon is full of blood and bitter conflicts. Even President Fuad Chehab, who started the era of army commanders becoming presidents, only managed to become the president because the Maronite political leaders were weakened by the internal conflicts (1957-1958) and because the US and Gamal Abdel Nasser intervened in his favor. Those ambitious and contested leaders aligned themselves against his moderate and reconciling tendencies and won in their areas in the 1968 elections. They also managed to get one of them to the presidency in 1970, Suleiman Frangieh, the grandfather. In the 1990s, the Syrians decided who would become the president. Thus Hrawi, the civilian, became the president and he was succeeded by the army commander, Emile Lahoud, their ally.
Minister Bassil travels between Lebanon, Syria and Europe, trying to mediate between Nasrallah and Hariri, believing that this increases his chances to win the presidency. Malicious observers are saying that it’s still too early for the battle over the presidency; however, this is not what Gebran, Frangieh and Geagea think.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Radwan al Sayed is a Lebanese thinker and writer who attained a bachelor degree from the Faculty of Theology at al-Azhar University and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tübingen in Germany. He has been a scholar of Islamic studies for decades and is the former editor-in-chief of the quarterly al-Ijtihad magazine. Radwan is also the author of many books and has written for Arab dailies such as al-Ittihad, al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat.