Recent talks in Lebanon are mainly about choosing a new electoral law as political elites have so far failed to reach a consensus. The interior minister has pushed for the electoral commission to convene and to form a supervision committee according to the current available law, i.e. the 1960 electoral law. However President Michel Aoun rejected the proposal and said he prefers vacuum - i.e. that the parliament’s term ends - over holding elections according to the 1960 law.
There are two more months before the parliament’s term ends. Since he feared the dissolution of the parliament, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for a session to extend the parliament’s term until they agree on a new law that the president approves of. Aoun however resorted to his constitutional jurisdictions, particularly Article 59, which allows him to suspend the parliament for a month.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri agreed with the president’s move, while Berri believed it represented the last chance to agree on a new law. Hariri and Berri thus submitted to the constitutionality of the decision, as they also want to avoid worsening sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians. Major Christian political parties threatened to take to the streets if the parliament extended its term.
Those opposed to the proposed law said it was a recipe for discrimination and divisions among Christians and Muslims, as it violates the concept of co-existence, the national charter, the constitution and the Taif AgreementRadwan al-Sayed
The reason I’ve mentioned all these details is to discuss the newly proposed electoral law, which the president and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, are trying to impose. According to this law of theirs, the elections will be held in two phases. The first is a phase for sectarian and religious qualification, where each sect votes for its candidate, i.e. the Christian votes for the Christian and the Muslim votes for the Muslim. In the second phase, the general elections are held, based on a non-sectarian proportional representation system.
Those opposed to the proposed law said it was a recipe for discrimination and divisions among Christians and Muslims, as it violates the concept of co-existence, the national charter, the constitution and the Taif Agreement. Bassil does not deny this, but he justifies his proposal by citing the decreasing number of Christians. It’s said that they represent between 25 percent and 35 percent of the Lebanese people in the country. Bassil claims Christians cannot attain proper and fair representation unless they solely elect their representatives in parliament.
Christian and Muslim patriots however said such discrimination does not resolve the problem pertaining to the decrease of the number of Christians. They also said Muslims, whether Sunni, Shiite or Druze, have vowed to commit to the principles the Taif Agreement clearly noted: Lebanon is a homeland for all its people, the authority must be equally shared by Christians and Muslims, and the president must be a Maronite. Therefore nothing justifies Aoun’s and his supporters’ fears and worries. These worries were particularly clear in 2013 when Aoun and Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea voiced their support of the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal - a law under which every sect would elect its own MPs.
It’s well-known that ever prominent Maronite in the public field aspires to assume the post of the president. In recent decades, they aspired to be army commanders. Aoun displayed this in 1988 when then-president Amin Gemayel’s term was about to end. Back then and due to the ongoing wars, i.e. the elimination war and the liberation war, then-Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir feared the situation in Lebanon would worsen particularly among Maronites, so he worked with others to reach a consensus and the Taif Agreement was thus reached between 1989 and 1990.
Aoun was very upset that he was no longer in the limelight, so he incited his supporters who in turn insulted Sfeir. It all ended with the exiling of Aoun to France, and four presidents have assumed power since then. Later Aoun returned to Lebanon following an agreement with the Syrians, but even then he could not become president.
Investing in Aoun
Nasrallah and Iran invested a lot in Aoun after 2006 as they viewed him as their appropriate Christian cover to Hezbollah’s activity that aims to seize the state and its institutions. Aoun eventually became president after two and a half years of presidential vacuum and after Hariri endorsed him. Hariri had endorsed Geagea, Amin Gemayel and Sleiman Franjieh before that.
Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, Aoun and his supporters insisted only he was to become president. But although many Muslims were upset that Hariri endorsed Aoun, they also thought the country must have a president. Many also hoped that electing Aoun would decrease the latter’s hostility towards most Muslims. (He always called us ISIS) We also thought that Hariri and Aoun must have agreed on cabinet arrangements, the electoral law, top governmental posts, Arab and international relations and policies such as the dissociation policy towards the Syrian war, which Hezbollah participated in using its illegitimate arms.
However, apart from the presidential oath, in which Aoun vowed to abide by the constitution, we haven’t witnessed any solid actions as Aoun’s work remained distant from the spirit of the constitution. Before visiting Egypt, he said there was a need for Hezbollah’s weapons in South Lebanon to liberate the occupied territories, and he denied Hezbollah had any military or security activity inside Lebanon. He also said Hezbollah only intervened in Syria to combat terrorism, adding that Bashar al-Assad was “Syria’s legitimate president.”
In terms of a new electoral law, the Future Movement, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the Lebanese Forces agreed on a hybrid electoral law based on both proportional and majority representation. This proposal is now out of the picture. Jumblatt and Geagea have complained about some of Bassil’s proposed law, while Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah wants a law entirely based on proportionality. Hariri considers himself the judge here. It’s said there are negotiations between Hariri and Aoun over the numbers of sectarian qualifications, without considering the principle of co-existence and the constitution.
The president insists on separating Christians from Muslims. Most Sunni and Shiite politicians seek to satisfy him. Meanwhile only few are thinking about the future of the state and the society while some are not thinking about it at all. Therefore, the political and sectarian far right is in control of Lebanon.
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 ash-Sharq al-Awsat.