On February 6, 2006, the Free Patriotic Movement, current Lebanese President Michael Aoun’s Christian party, and Hezbollah signed a memorandum of understanding, thus establishing what many thought at the time to be a feeble alliance which was doomed to fail. Despite the ebbs and flows of their alliance, over the last 14 years, the FPM and Hezbollah were able to work together with the former providing Christian political cover, while the latter provided the political muscle, consequently leading to the election of Aoun as President.
But recently, visible cracks have appeared in this not-so sacred alliance as hawkish figures within the FPM have taken to various media outlets commenting on the harmful effect Hezbollah’s arsenal has on Lebanon’s ability to respond to its abysmal economic conditions.
Ziad Aswad, an FPM lawmaker, and Naji Hayek, a senior member of the FPM, brought the matter into the open as they blamed Hezbollah for Lebanon’s predicament, stressing that for Hezbollah “to keep their weapons means the Lebanese going hungry.” Hayek was equally critical of Hezbollah and its allies accusing them of working toward coopting and seeking to hegemonize all aspects of society, provoking a response from the Amal movement, Speaker Nabih Berri’s faction, which accused the FPM of plotting to establish a federalist state.
Despite all the ruckus that came with the FPM’s reservations of their main ally, there are many indications that confirm that this alliance will linger and that the FPM criticism are disingenuous to say the least, with both sides benefiting in the process. The fact that these remarks came via Aswad and Hayek and not the FPM’s President Gebran Bassil simply means that they can be brushed away as irresponsible comments and the relationship between the two can be swiftly repaired.
It is no coincidence that this supposed schism between the FPM and Hezbollah conveniently surfaced at a time that news is circulating that the next round of sanctions against Iran and Syria especially the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act might go beyond Hezbollah to even include Bassil and many businessmen who orbit his network.
Thus, the FPM attack can be seen as an attempt to prevent such sanctions from becoming a reality. By Bassil claiming his alliance with Hezbollah and Iran allows for backdoor diplomacy and containment, Bassil maintains that his arrangement with Hezbollah protects Lebanon and the Christians, a pretext which many foreign diplomats, either naively or dubiously seem to buy. An equally important reason for the FPM’s latest maneuver is that it empowers Bassil within the Christian community and reinforces his shattered image, one which has worsened with the deteriorating economic conditions. By bolstering his damaged image, he boosts his chances in the next presidential elections.
Hezbollah, on the other hand, stands to benefit from this FPM attack, as it allows it to come out as supposedly democratic and open to constructive criticism. Perhaps Hezbollah will entertain the idea of discussing defense strategy under the state, rather than through its own devices.
Such a tactic – portraying Iran’s Lebanese outfit as a political actor rather than the militia it is – at least in the mind of Bassil and Hezbollah would help to improve Lebanon’s chances for aid as it begs the International Monetary Fund and other donors for funding.
Additionally, being on the receiving end of an attack by Bassil, perceived by the majority of the Lebanese as the face of corruption, is not necessarily bad as it helps Hezbollah appear as a crusader for reform and anti-corruption.
In reality, the FPM, more specifically Bassil, and Hezbollah are umbilically connected and neither can breakaway without one dying out. Without Hezbollah and its weapons to use as his muscle, Bassil has no chance of controlling nor enforcing his will on the country, the moment that Hezbollah decides to drop Bassil, he will be open to criminal and judicial action or simply go back to losing elections like he did twice before, and his chance of replacing his father-in-law as Lebanon’s next president will simply fade away. Bassil equally knows that Hezbollah will never leave him out in the cold as long as he continues to act as its Christian fig leaf, a service which he has done proficiently.
Perhaps more importantly, the FPM-Hezbollah alliance is a manifestation of their mutual belief in the exclusionary principle of the alliance of minorities, one which has driven Aoun and later Bassil to drag Lebanon into the Iran’s axis of resistance, placing the country and its future in the wind. Rather than become distracted by the sideshow that is a Hezbollah schism with the FPM and accompanying hopes this fallout would save Lebanon, it is more prudent for the Lebanese and, more importantly, for the international community to put an end to the current Lebanese political system that allows for such sinister and destructive alliances to become the norm.