The head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, made headlines last week when he stated that his party’s Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah – signed in 2006 - is faltering.
He opened the New Year by signaling a solemn frustration with his ally’s behavior and how it is costing him credibility with supporters. Bassil suggested that the MOU should be revised, noting in a speech that “it no longer responds to the challenges, particularly economic and financial, facing us.”
The timing is always a component in the performance of Bassil. As the parliamentary elections approach and the president’s mandate nears its end, he faces many challenges.
Sanctioned by the US under the Magnitsky Act, his presidential ambitions have hit a wall, but his absolute nightmare is the significant loss of his support base. According to several polls, the FPM’s popularity has shrunk from 70 percent in 2005 to 50 percent in 2018 and continued its freefall hitting 13 percent following the October 19 protests.
As is, he will lose any election, with no chance of becoming the next president of the republic. Without strong Christian representation, why would Hezbollah need the alliance it holds with him? Why would it want him as president?
Bassil blames the group for his plummeting popularity within the Christian community, but his overt corruption is the driving force behind all of this. He’ll need to return any monies stolen and become accountable for all corrupt actions committed to regaining favor.
Of course, the Lebanese people’s perspective continues to evolve with the realization that Hezbollah is responsible for protecting corrupt figures in the country. It is draining the state’s resources and smuggling subsidized goods and fuel.
Tarnished as a corrupt party, the FPM isn’t in a good position politically. If Bassil had pushed for reforms in 2019 when the economic hardships started to bite and distanced himself from Hezbollah, he would have found himself in a different position. Now it’s too late. Nobody trusts him.
The FPM leader tried to distance himself from Hezbollah in the past. Bassil did not support the terrorist group’s war on the Beirut Port blast investigator Judge Tarek Bitar. Notably, most of the damage that resulted from the explosion was in Achrafieh, a mainly Christian district in the city.
Hezbollah would like to see Bassil rebuild his support base because he remains their preference to become the next president.
It is essential to realize that this MOU is not an alliance: It is an agreement where incumbent president Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Bassil sold themselves to Iran in return for power and protection. They offered Hezbollah the Christian electoral base in return for the presidency and a free hand to take advantage of the state’s resources in a corrupt fashion.
Bassil is attempting to show strength by giving the impression that he is warning Hezbollah. He is losing all credibility, along with his supporter base, who are deserting him in their droves. His ambitions are crumbling, and he likely fears political isolation, both internally and internationally.
He is now dealing with strong Christian leaderships on different fronts, such as the Lebanese Forces’ Samir Geagea and Kataeb’s Samy Gemayel. If Bassil doesn’t secure a win in the next parliamentary elections in 2018, he will lose his party’s majority in parliament. Not winning will end his political career. The diaspora votes will play a significant part in making this happen.
Ultimately, no matter how critical of Hezbollah Bassil was during that speech, he has no one else to help him out of his crisis. He needs the group more than they need him, and he’ll soon start to reconcile and compromise once again. If Bassil abandons the agreement, he will face complete isolation and defeat, and by staying, his popularity, relevance, and political clout will continue on its downward spiral.
Today, he can only hope for a miracle for his political survival.