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Fallout between Berri and Aoun over Jezzine divides Opposition

May 9, 2009

I apologize for the recent dearth of posting, but I’m swamped with work.  I promise a return to regular posting by the middle of next week.  In the meantime there is much to talk about.  As most readers of this blog probably know by now, President Obama has decided to renew the Executive Order imposing certain sanctions on Syria.  Also, David Hale has been in Lebanon to reaffirm US support.  The third big news item is the apparent decision by Berri and Aoun to run separate lists in Jezzine.  For the past few weeks, the two March 8 leaders, with Hezbollah’s mediation, have tried to work out a compromise over a list in Jezzine.   This episode illustrates that internecine disputes are not unique to March 14.  The big question is whether this episode will pass with limited repercussions or if it portends future divisions within the March 8 ranks.

General Aoun announced on May 7 that he would include Maronites Michel Helou, Ziad Aswad, and Catholic Issam Sawaya.  Berri’s Amal movement quickly let it be known that its list would consist of Samir Azar, Camille Serhal, and Antoine Khoury, though Berri has yet to formally make an announcement.

as-Safir has a long article chronicling the relationship between General Aoun and Nabih Berri in recent years, I recommend reading it in full.  The first major rift between the two occurred over Berri’s failure to unequivocally support Aoun for the Presidency.  Nevertheless, the arrangement of electoral districting included in the Doha Agreement deliberately created to allow Aoun to pick up a number of seats that went to March 14 in the 2005 elections.  And predictably ever since Aoun has been trying to snatch up seats wherever he can.  Meanwhile Berri has been adamant that he will not accept any decrease in the size of his bloc.  Last summer Aoun visited Jezzine in full campaign mode and promised to reclaim the district’s three Christian seats.  Berri had three loyal allies in the Jezzine seats and resented what he perceived to be an infringement upon his turf.  While Aoun and his supporters view the predominantly Christian Jezzine as a district that should be in control of the dominant Christian bloc, Berri views it as part of the South and thus his turf.  A shrewder analysis might simply understand it as a power grab within the March 8 camp.

The inclusion of Samir Azar on any March 8 list is a “red line” for Berri and Aoun has refused to concede this condition.  Aoun’s FPM began levying accusations at Azar, claiming that he did doubted the seriousness and popularity of candidates the FPM’s candidates and neglected his obligations during Aoun’s visit to Jezzine.  as-Safir seems unpersuaded by the General’s claims and, perhaps unsurprisingly, is sympathetic to Berri, citing multiple attempts he made to reconcile with Aoun over the issue of Azar.  as-Safir suggests that Aoun’s intransigence over the three seats in Jezzine stems from a desire to demonstrate to Christians in other districts that he could take Christian seats, even from his allies.

As for Hezbollah, the question becomes how will they instruct their supporters to vote?  Perhaps the Party of God will support their preferred candidates, namely Samir Azar (Berri), Issam Suwaya (Aoun), and Ziad Aswad (Aoun).  However, there apparently many supporters of Hizbollah and (many more of Amal) who have become fed up with Aoun’s bellicosity over Jezzine.

For Aoun’s part, as an-Nahar reports, he has yet to give Berri a guarantee that if the FPM emerges as the dominant bloc in Parliament he will support Berri’s Candidacy as Speaker.  This has Berri scared and hinders compromise on Jezzine.

As I have suggested before, the post-election jockeying will be decisive, perhaps more so than the elections themselves.  The possibility of a centrist bloc including Berri, Jumblatt, Miqati, and Safadi is real.  Another scenario is that if the Future Movement emerges as the largest bloc it could be in a position to name the Speaker, which is another way that Shia unity could be threatened.  Thus it is clear that the divisions in the Opposition are as real and serious as those that exist in the ranks of the Majority.  More to the point, is the current composition of March 8 sustainable beyond June 7?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Qifa Nabki 05.09.09 at 08:01

Good post! Wrote one on this subject myself this morning. Keep it up.

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