Aging Lebanese politicians eye biological heirs
Lebanon’s enemies by proxy have become partners by proxy, says Mohanad Hage Ali
Lebanon has embarked on a magical phase of stability. Not long ago, the country was on the verge of a Civil War, with Sunni suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Shiite neighborhoods and a rabid political and media discourse, to say the least. There was no government in sight after former Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned on March 22, 2013, while Syrian refugees crossed the million bar, a mere one fourth of the local population.
These problems seemed unsolvable, until the regional powers waved their Lebanese wands. Following news of an Iranian/American/Saudi deal, a coalition government between sworn enemies was declared, the bombings ceased, and stability became the word of the day. Enemies by proxy became partners by proxy.
Stability, though by a regional decree, is also timely for a rather biological reason. After a tiring conflict, a disappointing Arab Spring, and the fear of the civil war in Syria spilling over, now is the time for the aging Lebanese politicians and former warlords to “hatch.” Most of them, from various age groups, are simultaneously preparing their genetic heirs for power.
Since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, warlords under the auspices of the Syrian regime took over government institutions and split power among them and the Saudi-backed billionaire Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. After Hariri’s assassination in 2005, and the subsequent Syrian withdrawal, the two Christian warlords, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun, returned to politics. One became a Hezbollah ally and the other aligned himself with Hariri’s son, Saad.
Twenty five years since the Lebanese Civil War ended, the warlords are aging. Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader and former warlord, is now 65 and has been preparing his son Taymur to gradually take over, according to a report by the Beirut Observer.
Suleiman Frangieh, 49, a northern Christian leader and an ally of Hezbollah, has already announced that his son Tony will run for his father’s parliament seat.
Michel Aoun, 81, has been prepping his son-in-law, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to lead his Christian Party.
Geagea, 61, has no children and assumes his role as the eternal leader of his party, the former Lebanese Forces Militia.
On the Lebanese Shiite side, Hezbollah’s shareholders in Iran prefer that their investment remains institutional, with another non-hereditary secretary-general to follow Hassan Nasrallah when the time comes. Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament for a record-breaking 23 years and the eternal leader of the AMAL movement which is also a former militia, is 76 years old and the most secretive and cunning among his peers.
Little has been said about Berri’s succession until a leaked U.S. embassy cable dismissed Abdallah, his son from a prior marriage, as a successor and hinted that his powerful wife, Randa, prefers her youngest son Bassel, now in his 20s. Years after the 2005 cable, when the suggested heir was a teenager, Bassel’s name appeared a few times in the Lebanese press, either attending meetings with his father, or leading the party’s student wing, or to deny a report claiming he had offered to buy a bank. He has enrolled in Stanford University’s $99,000-a-year MBA program.
He is expected to complete his degree later this year. The heir apparent has slipped from the news since his departure to the United States; running for the next parliamentary elections, expected to be postponed till 2015, is vital for any political role he might play.
How comfortable are these leaders, in the time of regional revolution, to pitch their heirs in one-go? Together, through corruption, sectarian fears, and their former militia networks, they dominate every aspect of Lebanese public life, from the government and religious institutions, the media, unions, to civil society.
Under the constant threat of conflict, the security dilemma of Lebanese sects in a multi-sectarian country further consolidated their positions. It is easier to operate these mini dictatorships behind this facade of conflict. Institutions, unions, and political parties are all under militia control.
The fear remains over whether these old guards will give their heirs a baptism by conflict to continue the tradition of their fathers.
Walid Jumblatt told a joint student delegation of his party and AMAL’s, led by Berri’s son Bassel, in a 2010 meeting: “I trust that as we won in the 6th of February, to Bhamdoun, Sidon and the South, we will be victorious once again.”
He reminisced on a number of battles his party fought alongside AMAL in the 1980s, when his young audience was not even born. There is little doubt that the new heirs will draw on the civil war’s atrocities to garner legitimacy.
Jumblatt himself, in a frank interview in the1980s, acknowledged that he and all the other Warlords “are criminals who targeted innocents,” insisting that “to reach a just political solution in Lebanon, it is imperative to prosecute and punish everyone, otherwise, we will stay in the never-ending cycle of civil wars.”
In this phase, however, Lebanon is gearing towards more stability and peace, thanks to the regional consensus and the upcoming hatching season.