The Trojan horse to undermine the Taif Agreement

Sam Menassa
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For half a century, Lebanon has been facing an exceptional, raging political reality: civil wars (some declared, others latent), cold truces, conflicts and bickering over power between the leaders of religious sects, disruptions of the political process, and political vacuums, all coupled with migration and displacement due to invasions and occupations.

The Lebanese people have become so accustomed to this surrealist situation that they now co-exist with their misery, receiving one blow after the other without even flinching. Meanwhile, vicious despotism has spread among all political forces, which now prioritize political power and dominance over economy, security, and justice.

The influence of foreign parties has become accepted. Sure, we object to it, we are bothered and irked by it, but we accept it as a fait accompli, or, dare we say, as our fate. Lebanon has become a mock state. Not one constitutional institution is capable of governing, and the sense of citizenship among the Lebanese has been overpowered by the predominant sectarian identities.

Throughout these years, Lebanon underwent a systematic alteration of its entity, identity, Constitution, political and economic systems, and social structure. The magnitude of this alteration is far from being limited to the massive collapse taking place today. This change began with the establishment of Hezbollah in the early 80s after Iran’s export of the Khomeini Revolution, and was cemented in the Syrian-facilitated involvement in politics via the Lebanese Parliament in 1992.

Another critical juncture was the Syrian Army’s invasion of the so-called “eastern” regions and its occupation of the Presidential Palace and Ministry of Defense under the guise of overthrowing General Michel Aoun. At the time, Aoun was barricaded in the Palace after his appointment by President Amine Gemayel as interim Prime Minister to a military government in 1988, refusing the Taif settlement and the election of René Moawad as president, thus easing the latter’s assassination and increasing the extension of Syrian control over Lebanon until 2005.

In 2006, yet another surprising, overthrowing variable: the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Hezbollah and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in the Church of Mar Mikhael in Beirut’s southern suburb.

These winds of change crystallized into a new status quo in Lebanon that reflected the thoughts and ideology of those who worked and are still working on building this new country, which will ultimately resemble most neighboring countries where institutions are disregarded in favor of power, dominance, and terror, and where freedoms, human rights, and welfare take the backseat. These countries where the society, economy, and culture are made to follow a strict ideology, where financial and banking capacities are destroyed, and the health and education sectors collapse. Once an investment magnet that bridges the eastern and western cultures, Lebanon has turned now into a state of “resistance” and of Captagon production and smuggling, stuck in the bottleneck of an Oriental alliance of minorities, serving as a mailbox for warring regional powers, and showing hostility to its Arab neighborhood and the international community.

Is all this the outcome of a failed system of governance, coupled with corruption and mismanagement? Or is it the fruit of a detrimental project of change that is being implemented, or rather engineered, with precision and patience? The facts suggest the second option is closer to reality. The long-term goal is to bring Lebanon fully under Iranian influence. The short-term goal is to undermine the Taif Agreement, which has become part of the Constitution, and weaken Sunnis in favor of new fabrications that aim at reconfiguring the country and its institutions in accordance with the visions of the ruling sectarian local-regional axis. In this endeavor, the tool, or shall we say, Trojan horse, is Aoun’s movement, the FPM.

The arrangement of Aoun’s return from his exile in Paris in 2005 and the insistence on his arrival to the Presidential Palace after his understanding with Hezbollah was a well-thought milestone of this project of change. After all, Aoun has been the fiercest opposer of the Taif Agreement since the beginning. At the time the Agreement was reached, Aoun did not hesitate to dissolve the Parliament that he approved in his capacity as Prime Minister of the Transitional Government. He welcomed all attempts to undermine the Taif, starting with the strongest, fiercest blow: the assassination of President Moawad.

Aoun encouraged the Christians’ boycott of the 1992 elections; thus, weakening Christian-Muslim moderation and strengthening militias, according to the Godfather of the Taif Agreement, former Speaker Hussein el-Husseini. He shied away from taking a stance against the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who paid the price for UN Resolution 1559, which was a blow to the Agreement and to Lebanon as a whole, before proceeding to launch a most ferocious campaign against Hariri’s team and Sunnis in general.

Lastly, as President of the Republic, Aoun claimed a President’s quota in the government under the guise of “the Christians’ rights.” He differentiated between the National Pact and the Constitution, although the former “became part of the latter (the Constitution’s prelude).” In this context, we remember how Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of the President (who serves as the Guardian of the Constitution), called this same constitution “a rotten constitution that was brought to us on tanks, destroyed us with corruption, and now seeks to finish us with a stalemate and a slow death.” The FPM’s constant overthrow of the Constitution while enjoying cover from the President tips the balance in favor of Iran’s regional axis in Lebanon. This explains Hezbollah’s attachment to the FPM, which can help its ally achieve its short-term political project and brings it closer to its long-term goal.

Hezbollah, the only Lebanese political party with a vision, realizes that its alliance with the FPM is not just a tactic of internal politics. It is rather an alliance with a wide Christian segment in general, and Maronite segment in particular, which enables the party to disrupt any role of the Vatican, France, or the international community.

Hezbollah was smart enough to understand the lust for power of the FPM’s populist leaders. It also knew just how to tickle the Christian minoritarian mentality by terrorizing it of imminent Sunni risks: one internal, represented by (the prerogatives of) the Prime Minister position; and one external, represented by extremist groups gunning for the Christians’ rights and the President’s prerogatives. Unfortunately, these seeds of incitement against Sunnis bore their fruits in the consciousness and unconsciousness of most Christian and Maronite leaders, who are choosing to sacrifice the nation to preserve “the Presidency position,” just like they did in 2005.

It is a mistake to disregard the regional depth of the Hezbollah-Aounist understanding. The path is clear: General Aoun made his political debut on the basis of rejection of the Taif Agreement, and he will finish his presidential term by ending the Agreement effectively after having ended it practically. His term will not be over without the conclusion of another pact like the Taif, Doha, or Saint Cloud Agreements in any Arab or foreign capital or city, to pave the way for the reconfiguration and rearrangement of the system after its destruction, thus allowing the engineering of a new settlement tailored to the internal balance of power and modelled after the most powerful regional force, which is known to all.

The question to be asked, in this regard, is what role will Christians -- or what’s left of them -- play after the alleged “Sunni risk” wanes?

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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