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While Hezbollah and its allies continue to insist variably on “real participation”, proportional representation, and/or a blocking third, al-Akhbar’s Hassan Aleiq reveals information on March 8’s intentions towards Lebanon’s security apparatus.  Aleiq reports that neither before nor after the elections did March 8 actually develop a coherent initiative for reforming Lebanese security, save Nasrallah’s vague intention to equip and train the military.  However, given the Opposition’s defeat, the following is much more relevant:

كانت أجواء المعارضة توحي بأنها كانت تريد البناء على فوزها المفترض لإعادة «النصاب» الأمني في البلاد إلى ما كان عليه قبل عام 2005، وخاصة لناحية إقصاء المسؤولين المحسوبين على قوى 14 آذار عن المواقع الحساسة التي يتولونها. لكن خسارة الانتخابات أعادت قوى الأقلية إلى الموقف الذي كانت تتسلح به قبل الانتخابات: الحفاظ على المواقع التي يسيطر عليها المقرّبون منها أو من هم غير محسوبين على الأكثرية، ومنع قوى 14 آذار من تحقيق تقدم أكبر داخل المؤسسات.

Inner circles of the Opposition revealed that it [the Opposition] wanted to build on its supposed win to return the security situation in the country to what it was before 2005, particularly towards removing the authorities loyal to March 14 from the sensitive positions they occupy.  But the loss of the elections returned the Minority to the position that it was holding before the elections: preserving the positions that those near to it and those not beholden to the Majority control and preventing March 14 from achieving greater progress within the institutions.

Aleiq’s illuminating piece raises three issues.  First, the Opposition still hopes to “turn back the clock” to before 2/14/2005, at least in terms of security policy.  Most likely this means returning key positions in the government’s security apparatus to pro-Opposition, Hezbollah-friendly individuals.  Second, Hezbollah does care about exerting formal control over the state and is not simply satisfied with the de facto “monopoly of force” it currently enjoys.  This is a double edged sword in the sense that while the participation of the Hezb in the government can have some moderating and constraining effects upon its behavior, once it occupies sensitive security positions in the bureaucracy will it ever willingly vacate those positions?  Third, as Aleiq comments later in the piece, the blocking third is essential to the Opposition’s ability to check the Majority on security policy and political appointments within the bureaucracy.  Another reason why we are witnessing such protracted bargaining over the Cabinet formation.

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Last week President of the Syrian People’s Assembly Mahmoud Abrash canceled the draft legislation for a new set of laws governing Personal Status in Syria, ordering the Justice Ministry to rewrite the bill.  While conservative religious leaders figured prominently in the drafting of the bill, after a copy of the proposed law began circulating in late May reformers and advocates of women’s rights vocally agitated against it.

In Syria, as in other countries, Personal Status Law governs procedures and individual rights on issues such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and custody.  The present Syrian Personal Status Law, adopted in 1953 and amended in 1975, is essentially codified Hanafi Sharia law with some qualifications for Druzes, Christians, and Jews.   Unsurprisingly, it discriminates against women in a number of ways.  For example, under the current law, pending a judge’s discretion, a girl as young as 13 can be married.  On matters of custody, a mother has the right to custody of a girl until the age of 11 and a boy until the age of 9.  However, this formal safeguard is in practice contravened by a stipulation that allows the father to assume custody regardless of age if the mother is declared unfit to raise the children.  Clearly legal protection for women and children does not currently go far enough.  Therefore, one would expect that a new Personal Status Law would address these problems and enjoy broad support from women’s rights organizations and reformers.

Unfortunately, the recently rejected draft proposal fell far short of improving women’s rights and even took some steps backwards.  A full text of the draft in Arabic can be found here and below are a few remarks and translated excerpts.

First, the draft failed to guarantee either a woman’s right to freedom of movement, receive education, or to work, leaving each of these decisions to her male guardian.  Thus, on these important issues for women, and particularly young women and divorcees, the status quo is reaffirmed.

Second, one of the most problematic issues for girls in Syria today is the issue of a girl’s consent to marriage and the minimum age.  The current law certainly does not go far enough on these matters and what little protection exists is only loosely enforced.

Here draft law says:

المادة 45
1-إذا ادعى المراهق البلوغ بعد إكمال الخامسة عشرة أو المراهقة بعد إكمالها الثالثة عشرة وطلباً الزواج يأذن به القاضي إذا تبين له صدق دعواهما واحتمال جسميهما.
2-إذا كان الولي هو الأب أو الجد اشترطت موافقته.

Section 45:

1 – If a mature male older than 15 years or a female older than 13 years request marriage, a judge may permit it if [the request] appears sincere to him and their bodies are able.

2- If the guardian is the father or the grandfather then [the marriage] is conditional upon his consent.

Thus, the minimum age at which a girl can be married remains at 13 and the draft law includes no protection against marrying a teenage girl against her will so long as the father consents.

However, just as troubling as the draft law’s failure to improve the position of women, is the attempt to further ensconce sectarianism at the expense of national citizenship.  One the one hand, the draft fails to acknowledge those Syrians who are secular and don’t want their religion to determine the scope of their civil rights.  Even more problematic is the fact that the draft affirms that the Hanafi school of Islam is the source for law and that it applies to all Syrian citizens regardless of whether they are even Muslims:

لباب الأول
تطبيق القانون
المادة 617
1-تطبق نصوص هذا القانون على جميع المسائل التي تناولتها في لفظها،أو في فحواها.
2-كل ما لم يرد عليه نص في هذه القانون يحكم به بمقتضى القول الراجح في المذهب الحنفي.
3-وأما فيما يتعلق بتوضيح أو تفسير مسألة جزئية فرعية نص على أصلها في القانون فيرجع فيه إلى المذاهب الفقهية التي استمد منها القانون نصوص هذه المسألة.
المادة 618
تطبق أحكام هذا القانون على جميع السوريين سوى ما تشبه المواد الآتية:

Chapter One
Applying the Law
Section 617

1 – The texts of this law, on all the matters that it deals with, are to be applied as stated or in essence.

2 – All that is not addressed in text in this law is to be decided according to the prevailing view of the Hanafi school.

3 – However, that which pertains to clarification or interpretation of a secondary matter whose source is stipulated in the law, refers to the schools of jurisprudence upon which the texts of the law rely.

Section 618

The decrees of this law apply to all Syrians expect for what appears in the following sections:

These “following sections” place some qualifications on the Syrian brand of Hanafi law for Druzes, Christians, and Jews.  Still, this does not appear to override the above clause that Hanafi law applies for all matters of Personal Status Law not explicitly addressed in the draft.

While the draft law was rejected, it reflects the influence that conservative Sunni religious sentiments hold in contemporary Syria.  However, there is some cause for optimism as Bassam al-Kadi, Director of the women’s rights advocacy group Syrian Women’s Observatory writes.  First, despite the role that conservative religious figures played in the writing of the draft law and Abrash’s attempts to implement it, Syrian civil society groups managed to bring about sufficient pressure to stymie the legislation.  Second, the wording of Abrash’s press release announcing the cancellation of the draft suggests that when the Personal Status Law is revisited by the Ministry of Justice it will “reconsider the subject in coordination with all parties concerned by the matter”.  This can be read as a vague promise to include advocates for women’s rights in the drafting process.  If true this would represent a notable victory for Syrian reformers and democrats.

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When I last wrote about the designation of Saad Hariri as Lebanon’s Prime Minister, reports of a putative Syrian-Saudi understanding led me to believe that the two regional rivals might take a more laissez-faire approach towards Lebanon.  In fact, as both an-Nahar and al-Akhbar report, Syria and Saudi Arabia appear to have relegated their respective Lebanese allies to the sidelines.  Presently the formation of the government is held up not only by issues such as apportioning of ministerial portfolios and Hezbollah’s weapons, but regional matters such as the status of Lebanese-Syrian relations and the future of the Syrian-Saudi-Lebanese triangular relationship.  Also, plans are supposedly being hashed out for a joint summit to include the Syrian President, Saudi King, and all three Lebanese heads of government that will usher in a new, less fractious order.   

Meanwhile, Christians in both the Majority and the Opposition appear marginalized by the negotiation process.  Michel Aoun complained about the “traffic” of foreign ambassadors interfering in the formation of the government.  It suffices to say that foreign statesmen are probably not crowding his residence in Rabieh.  On the other hand, Nasib Lahoud urged that Arab rapprochement must not supplant either the Constitution nor the results of last month’s democratic elections.  Lahoud and others such as Sami Gemayyel appear reluctant to come to terms with the Opposition’s “red lines”, such as guarantees on Hezbollah’s weapons.  However, Hariri and the Shia leaders appear more amenable to compromise than their Christian allies.  The fact that Amal and Hezbollah enjoy such strong relations with Syria, and likewise Hariri with Saudi Arabia, places Christian leaders who have staked out relatively hard line positions in a weak position.

That said, President Suleiman may be poised to re-assume his role as a balance between March 8 and March 14.  Of all the myriad possibilities, the 15+10+5 formula in which the President names 5 ministers seems to be the most oft discussed compromise.  Crucially, one of Suleiman’s ministers would be “friendly” to the Opposition, thereby giving March 14 a pseudo-blocking third.  In this case Hezbollah/Amal would keep the Foreign Ministry, March 14 the Ministry of Finance, and President Suleiman the “security” portfolios (Interior and Defense).  However, for his part, Suleiman is said to be reluctant to “give away” his portfolios simply to placate one side or the other.

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As expected, the Lebanese Parliament voted Saad Hariri for the Premiership and President Michel Suleiman quickly designated him to form a new government.  In a meeting with Hassan Nasrallah Thursday night Hariri reportedly made his position on the composition of the next government clear.  According to as-Safir, Mustaqbal leader proposed a government of 30 ministers distributed between the Majority, Opposition, and President at a ratio of 16:10:4 respectively.  Obviously this does not include a “blocking third” for the Opposition, though it does allot the President four ministers.  On the other hand, the President and MPs close to him prefer a 15:10:5 formula which would deny both March 14 a simple majority of ministers and March 8 a blocking third.

Curiously, details of the Nasrallah-Hariri meeting remain vague.  While a joint statement was singed by both leaders, it was not made available to the public.  al-Akhbar reports that Nasrallah, “talked about the necessity of there being guarantees that permit the Parliamentary minority to participate, particularly that it obtain a blocking third.”  However, thus far both Hezbollah and Amal have refrained from publicly demanding the blocking third.  In my view this suggests that the Opposition (or at least the two leading Shia factions) may be willing to forgo the veto in favor of a carefully worded Ministerial Statement that is favorable to the Resistance and its arms.  Nevertheless, the al-Akhbar piece cited above also mentions that a “consensus” has emerged within the Opposition to present a unified position in favor of the veto and avoid past divisions.

Naturally, the deliberations over the government are not isolated from regional politics.  Fortunately for Hariri, the Saudi-Syrian reconcilliation initiated earlier this year in Kuwait continues apace.  A recent meeting between the Mukhabirat chiefs of the two states discussed pressing Lebanese issues such as drawing the border between Syria and Lebanon, Palestinian weapons outside of the camps, and Hezbollah’s weapons.  Predictably, the two sides were not able to reach a consensus on the Party of God’s weapons.  Still the improvement in Saudi-Syrian relations will help facilitate Hariri’s task in the sense that neither state will likely lean heavily on its Lebanese allies as a tool against regional rivals.

The blocking third is more important to the Christian Opposition leaders than it is to either Hezbollah or Amal as I explain here.  Within the Majority there has been a consistent and unambiguous rejection of the blocking third since long before the election.  Given the apparent divisions within the Opposition as of late, I expect that they are more ripe for compromise on the blocking third than the Majority.  Therefore, in the next few days the most substantive bargaining should occur within the ranks of the Opposition and not at the international level or even between March 14 and March 8.

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Yesterday, Laura Rozen’s blog reported that the Obama Administration has decided to return a US envoy to Syria after a 4 year absence.  According to a State Department spokesman, the move demonstrates the Obama “administration’s recognition of the important role Syria plays in the region and of course we hope that they will continue to play such a constructive role to promote peace and stability in the region.”  In other words, the decision was not part of a quid pro quo or particular “deal”.  Instead, the move reflects the Obama Administration’s policy of diplomatic engagement with Syria.

While watching South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s rather bizarre and rambling press conference on FOXNews this afternoon, a news item about Syria crossed the ticker and caught my eye.  FOXNews reports that a more immediate reason for returning an ambassador to Syria is connected to Obama’s larger vision for the Middle East Peace Process:

Privately, sources told FOX News the Obama administration is not asking the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to evict Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader who resides in Damascus, or the group itself, which maintains offices there — a marked change from the Bush administration.

Rather, the Obama administration is said to be asking Syria to use “its good offices” to advance prospects for a unity government pact between Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, the rival Palestinian group that controls the West Bank.

“(The Obama administration is) trying to bring Hamas into the process in a sense,” said a foreign diplomat, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations publicly.

Syrian officials point to a series of recent statements by Meshal that they believe represent a significant evolution in the Hamas leader’s negotiating posture. The statements include interviews Meshal has given to The New York Times and Time magazine, as well as statements he made after his meeting this month with former President Jimmy Carter. In his own public comments, Carter said Meshal told him that Hamas would accept a peace agreement if Palestinians approve it in a referendum.

While I don’t normally turn to FOXNews for the latest scoop on Syria,  if accurate, this certainly is an interesting revelation.  Hitherto, the Obama Administration has unambiguously refused to deal with Hamas so long as it refuses to abide by past agreements, renounce violence, and recognize Israel, as did the Bush administration.  Moreover, the Cairo talks aimed at forging a unity government have been unsuccessful and Hania himself seems pessimistic about the likelihood for success.

Moreover there also is a looming elephant in the room if Obama wishes to encourage both reconciliation talks between the Palestinians and the Israeli-Syrian track of the peace process.  If, as the FOXNews article suggests, the Obama Administration will no longer demand that Syria cut its support for Hamas, then it is difficult to foresee much progress on the Syrian-Israeli track.  Israel, under any government, is unlikely to make peace with Syria so long as it harbors and supports Hamas.  Thus, the only viable solution becomes a “grand bargain” between all parties whereby Hamas is somehow legitimized.  However, such a grand bargain approach is problematic in that it allows one actor to upset the whole process if his demands are not met.

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So long as consensus emerges within March 14 over Nabih Berri’s continuation as Speaker of Parliament, consultations both within and between the Majority and Opposition will center around the composition of the next government during the coming days.

Some in the March 8 Coalition have already staked out clear positions.  For example, Suleiman Franjieh said that, “The Opposition will not participate in any government that does not include a blocking third.” Moreover, General Aoun suggested that the relative composition of the Cabinet amongst the disparate factions should “proportional” to each faction’s respective share of Parliamentary seats. 

Shia leaders of the Opposition have been much more measured and vague in recent days.  Mohammad Raad calls for:

 تكون المرحلة المقبلة مرحلة تعاون وعودة إلى معادلة التناغم بين المقاومة ومشروع بناء الدولة، التي أرسيت على مدى 15 عاماً

The next stage is to be a stage of cooperation and a return to the equation of harmony between the Resistance and the project of building the state that held firm for 15 years.

Neither Nasrallah nor Berri have staked out an explicit position on the matter.  On Sunday, al-Hayat reported the following:

وتسجل أوساط مراقبة وأخرى من 14 آذار، أن الثنائي الشيعي في المعارضة حركة «أمل» بزعامة بري و «حزب الله»، لم يعودا يتحدثان عن الثلث المعطل على رغم أن فرنجية قال إن هذا موقف جامع للمعارضة بالاتفاق مع «حزب الله» وبري

وتفيد المعلومات أن النقاش الأولي الحاصل في دوائر محصورة يشير الى أنه مقابل إنهاء البحث بمطلب الثلث المعطل للمعارضة، فإن فكرة إعطاء هذا الثلث لرئيس الجمهورية ميشال سليمان ليس منطقياً لأنه يجب عدم تكريس هذا المطلب المخالف للدستور.

وذكرت مصادر واسعة الاطلاع لـ «الحياة» أن بديل هذا الثلث المعطل ربما يكون في ضمانات تعطى لـ «حزب الله» حول عدد من القضايا، التي يهم الحزب أن تكون موضوع تفاهم بينه وبين الرئيس سليمان وبينه وبين رئيس الحكومة العتيد والأطراف الرئيسة في الحكومة، قبل طرحها على مجلس الوزراء، أي ألا تعتمد صيغة التصويت عليها داخل الحكومة قبل حصول التفاهم خارجها على هذه القضايا

Observers and others in March 14 noted that the two Shia groups in the Opposition, the Amal Movement led by Berri and Hezbollah, are no longer talking about the blocking third despite the fact that Franjieh said that this is the position for all of the Opposition with the consent of Hezbollah and Berri.

Information states the preliminary discussion, happening in limited circles, indicates that in exchange for ending discussion of the demand of the blocking third for the Opposition, then idea of giving this third to President Michel Suleiman is not logical, as this unconstitutional demand must not be established.

Informed sources mentioned to al-Hayat that the alternative to this blocking third may be in guarantees given to Hezbollah on a number of issues that the party is concerned be the subject of mutual understanding between it and between President Suleiman and between it and the Prime Minister and factions of the government before it is put before the Council of Ministers.  In other words, the form to be voted upon within the government would not be set before reaching understanding on the issues outside of it.

Nevertheless, while this approach sounds like it could avoid the political deadlock of the past four years by dealing with the tough issues ex ante, it  risks prolonging the process of forming the government. 

For its part, March 14 continues to categorically reject the notion of the blocking third’s post-Doha relevance.  In Egypt, Fouad Saniora labeled the experiment with the blocking third “unsuccessful” and argued that it was a “limited and temporary” treatment to the violence of May 2008.  Meanwhile Boutros Harb explicitly rejected giving the President a blocking third, stating that the President effectively has such a veto power by his ability to decide whether or not to sign the decree approving the formation of the government.

The Majority seems to be unwavering in its demand that the notion of the blocking third be discarded.  More to the point, if the al-Hayat report is correct, then it is the Opposition who blinked first.  The lack of a unified March 8 position suggests that tensions are evident between its Christian and Shia groups.  In the face of a popular repudiation of incorporating the state into the resistance, the Party of God may be keen to reach some sort of modus vivendi with March 14.  For now Berri will be content to continue as Speaker of Parliament.  However General Aoun’s source of authority is his claim to leadership of the Christian community, a mantle called into question by last week’s electoral outcome.  While Hezbollah may be satisfied with credible “guarantees” for the resistance, Aoun must translate the size of his Parliamentary Bloc into a significant stake in the government or he risks marginalization.

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I thought I would pass on a few sources of news and media on the protests in Iran that I’ve found useful over the past couple days.

First, the US based “independent” news agency Tehran Bureau has regular news on developments.

For those interested in Twitter updates, check out the following page.

Also, check out this Youtube channel featuring regular updates of videos of the protests and demonstrations.

Finally, check out the blog “Uskowi on Iran“.  Among other posts, Mr. Uskowi has an interesting scoop about the vote rigging from a source inside the Ministry of the Interior.

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The most recent allegation of corruption and vote buying in the Lebanese elections are directed against Ibrahim Kanaan, a lawyer and MP in Aoun’s bloc from the Northern Metn.  Ghada Eid, on her New TV program al-Fesad (”Corruption”), exposes a scheme of vote buying gone awry that could tarnish the image of the Free Patriotic Movement as a leading reform current in Lebanon.  Essentially, if the FPM’s domestic reform agenda during the elections could be summed up in a phrase it would be “anti-corruption”.  Thus, it is particularly embarrassing for one of its prominent MPs to be singled out for vote buying in the wake of a disappointing election.

On Ghada Eid’s program a man by the name of Nabil Fala claimed that he worked as a fixer for Kanaan in the elections and delivered him 400 votes in the Metn.  However, Fala claims that Kanaan subsequently refused to pay him the money due for this service.  After interviewing Fala, Eid spoke with Ibrahim Kanaan via the telephone.  Kanaan began by shouting and attacking Eid ad hominem and the level of discussion deteriorated to an embarrassingly low level.  The Youtube clip is here.

Kanaan and his supporters are portraying the New TV allegations as a response to a piece run by Orange TV on Michel Murr and threats he allegedly issued against a Syrian Catholic priest.  You can view the OTV clip here and read a transcript in al-Akhbar here.  The video consists of a voice recording of Michel Murr insinuating to a Syrian Catholic priest that unless the priest mobilizes support for Murr in the election he will instruct the Minister of Defense (Murr’s son) to arrest Syrian Catholics “for the crime of embezzlement, for some crime or another”.

Frankly I don’t buy that Ghada Eid’s piece is a deliberate response to the OTV piece on Murr.  Her program has targeted corruption in both the Majority and Opposition Coalitions in the past.  And if not for Kanaan’s outburst the incident would not have received the attention that it has.  These are the first two high profile allegations of corruption during the elections beyond the vague claims about the influence of foreign money.  I expect that during the next few weeks similar claims against other political leaders will come to light.  In the end, both incidents are a testament to the ability of the media to serve as a watchdog against corruption and call popular attention to the abuse of power.

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Congratulations to Lebanese for carrying out the Parliamentary Elections relatively peacefully and efficiently.  Also, kudos to the victors for their success and the losers for graciously accepting the results.  The blogosphere as well as the media in Lebanon and abroad is saturated with analysis on the elections.  For now, I only have a few remarks on the speech Hassan Nasrallah delivered earlier in the evening.

The most salient theme Nasrallah raised in his remarks was that of the popular vote.  It is not yet known what exactly the results of the total popular vote are, but Nasrallah argues that it will most likely be in favor of the Opposition.  Demography suggests he’s almost certainly right.  Essentially, the Secretary General makes a distinction between the “parliamentary majority” and the “popular majority”.  He interprets the fact that the Opposition candidates may have received a “popular majority” or an overall plurality of votes as a popular referendum in favor of the resistance.   Nasrallah, despite paying lip service to the dialogue table, called the resistance and its weapons non-negotiable, a position stated by Mohammed Raad earlier in the day.

Thus, in case March 14 tries to take its victory as a wide popular mandate for questioning Hezbollah’s weapons, the Party is already digging in and drawing its red lines (though those red lines were made plenty clear in May 2008).  Khalid Sagieh had an article in al-Akhbar last month on Nasrallah’s “Glorious Day” speech in which he writes the following, “والحوار هنا ليس إلا مصطلحاً كوديّاً يعني عكسه تماماً، أي إنّ مسألة
السلاح غير مطروحة للحوار حاليّاً، وإنّه لا يمكن طرحها أصلاً إلا في ظروف
داخلية وإقليمية ودولية مختلفة تماماً. [Dialogue here is nothing but a code word meaning the complete opposite.  The issue of the weapons is not raised for dialogue now, and it is not possible to raise at all except in completely different internal, regional, and international circumstances.]“  In my view, these circumstances will come about when Hezbollah and its allies control the government, an possibility distanced by the election.

Ultimately, results of yesterday’s election represent a repudiation of the prospect of integrating the state and society into the resistance, the defense strategy presented by Hezbollah and Aoun.  The election itself was to some degree a referendum on this very issue as well as the status quo of Hezbollah’s weapons.  Now that Hezbollah did not receive the outcome it hoped for, Nasrallah is trying to shift the metrics of the referendum ex post.

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As the Lebanese campaign cycle winds down, the electorate and analysts take their final look at the candidates and coalitions.  Perhaps the most opaque of all the leading Lebanese politicians is General Michel Aoun.  Two worthwhile recent articles attempt to clarify what exactly makes him tick and the source of his estimable popular support.  In Lebanon leaders typically receive popular support for serving the narrow interests of their particular communities.  In my view Aoun is no different, he simply serves a different cleavage of the Christian community than leaders such as Gemayyel or Geagea.

In the National blogger Qifa Nabki writes that:

the FPM seems to occupy a hybrid position, somewhere between a traditional Lebanese confessional party orientated around a single charismatic leader, and a modern political movement committed to certain ideological principles. Listening to the Aounists talk amongst themselves it remains hard to determine whether their fervent wish is for a new Christian strongman in the form of Michel Aoun or for the secularist agenda that he espouses.

Qifa Nabki’s piece makes a case that the program of reforms Aoun’s bloc espouses is sincere and that there is more to his politics than a mere quest for the Presidency.  Moreover, a look at Aoun’s 60 page electoral platform “Towards the Third Republic” suggests a broad range of policies that aim to combat the corruption, nepotism, and foreign interference that has long afflicted Lebanese political life. 

But what about Aoun’s many contradictions?  While Aoun calls for a break with the sectarian order, he makes an unabashedly sectarian appeal to Lebanese Christians that only he can restore their lost political power.  For example, Aoun caused quite a stir when he refused to compromise with Nabih Berri over the Opposition’s Jezzine list, arguing that Jezzine ought to be reclaimed by the Christians.  Also, at a rally in the Chouf earlier this week, Aoun criticized the coexistence status quo in a sharply sectarian speech when he implored residents of the Chouf, “Are you satisfied that after 26 years the displaced remain displaced?” 

Or more importantly, while General Aoun takes a principled stand against foreign involvement in Lebanon when it comes from America, Saudi Arabia, or Syria, he ignores Iranian support for Hezbollah.  Perhaps he is shrewdly engaging in sure handed brinkmanship, accepting necessary evils so as to usher in the Third Republic.  On the other hand, a more cynical reading suggests Aoun is engaging in a self-aggrandizing power grab. 

Hazim Saghiyeh writes in al-Hayat that much of Aoun’s attraction for some Lebanese Christian comes from his novelty.   Afterall, Aoun is a populist leader whose aims are simple and cater to the passions of the masses.  Aoun is also unique among Lebanon’s Christian leaders in that he is not heavily identified with a particular region (as the Gemayyels are with the Metn or Geagea with Besharre) and therefore holds a wider appeal.  Furthermore, his revolutionary campaign against Hariri and Jumblatt is aimed squarely at the abiding threat emanating from Sunnis and Druze, the Christian’s chief rivals of the Greater Liban and Mutasarifiyya eras respectively.  In this project the Shia are natural allies for the Christians as they generally have not hitherto challenged the power of Lebanese Christians (except for a few pointed exceptions that Sagieyeh notes).

In other words, Aoun challenges the very “culture of sectarianism” of Lebanon (to borrow historian Usama Makdisi’s phrase) that has been explicitly reinforced in 1861, 1926, 1943, and again in 1990 when it led to reduction in Christian political power.  For Aoun, the “Cedar Revolution” discarding Syrian military occupation (which marginalized Christians) is only a first step and must be carried through to the radical denouement of the “Third Republic”.

The broadest ramifications of the Third Republic are not found in Aoun’s proposals for addressing the mundane issues of the environment or telecommunications, but rather national security.  Thus, as the elections are looming, it is worth recalling Aoun’s ideas for defense strategy, first put forward at the second session of the Lebanese Dialogue last November and reiterated in the FPM Electoral Program
The overarching theme is to not only merge the resistance with the
Army, but restructure society in a way that maximizes the deterrent
against Israel.  The rationae, as the FPM Platform notes, is that, “[Israel] is incapable of
fighting in a resisting society.  It succeeds from time to time in
particular operations, but if it remains permanently it is incapable of
dominating and continuing the occupation.”  In the FPM’s proposed defense
strategy the resistance is, “formed out of the people and thus these
forces must cover all Lebanese territory.”  Lebanese must consider whether such an approach is really the best way to develop Lebanon and avoid future conflict.

In a recent interview with Ahmad Mansour on al-Jazeera Aoun was asked about the Resistance’s weapons and whether he thinks it’s necessary for the Resistance to have its own communications network when there is a Lebanese state.  Aoun replied that there is no state (”ما في دولة قائمة”).  When asked what he meant by that, Aoun responded that since 1983 Christians have been prevented from returning to their homes in the Shouf.  He explains that Jumblatt has weapons that allow him to have his way in the mountain at the expense of the Christians, implying that the state cannot impose its justice througout Lebanese territory.  When pressed about Hezbollah’s weapons, Aoun dodged the question and returned to Jumblatt.  It is instructive that of all the many criticisms that could be made of the Lebanese state and its absence he chose to raise a particular sectarian dispute.

Aoun and his supporters exchange the potentially self-destructive support they offer to Hezbollah for a chance to undermine the status quo.  Aoun seeks to exploit dissatisfaction against passive zuama’ or outstanding local Christian grievances such as the displaced to increase his Parliamentary share come June 7.  Setting aside the material incentives of handouts to vote for one side or the other, a rational Christian voter in, for example, the Metn must determine whether the reform agenda of Aoun is really that much more compelling than those offered by the March 14 coalition to warrant the added risk of conflict under the “resistance” state.

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