Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Recent history of Lebanon - Part 8

Here is part 8 of the recent history of Lebanon. The previous installment of this series can be found here.

It was worth noting that the Christians were left out of the coalition forming process, including Aoun. As a result, he started campaigning mostly against other Christians and did so quite successfully: he obtained 21 out of 58 seats in the Metn, the most Christian election district of Lebanon. His victory was even bigger when you realize that out of these 58 seats, over 20 seats go to non-Christian MPs.

It is safe to say that Aoun alone prevented the anti-Syria parties led by the son of the murdered Hariri, from obtaining the two third majority in Parliament. This is an important cut-off with respect to overruling the president. In Lebanon, the president can reject a draft law and send it back to Parliament. However, if Parliament accepts the law for a second time with a two third majority, the President must sign it. Hence, were March 14 to obtain this important two third majority in Parliament, they would have been able to bypass the president altogether.

Aoun was quite popular among Christians, but what also contributed to his success was the lack of unity among the Sunnis, the Druze and the Christians affiliated with March 14. There was hardly agreement on a common agenda and as a result, everyone retreated into their trench lines. The sly fox Jumblatt had no trouble with the relative inexperienced Saad Hariri. Add to this the centuries old mistrust between Christians and Druze, fueled by cruel mass murders during Lebanon’s civil war and it was no wonder that the Christians were left out of the loop.

An additional reason for Aoun’s popularity was the series of attacks and explosions in Christian areas prior to the elections. Although hardly anyone got killed because most bombs would go off late at night in mostly empty buildings, it was a very effective way to instill fear into the public mind. Aoun jumped on this after every attack by proclaiming that the government was not able to protect the normal citizens. What they needed was a strong leader like himself.

In hindsight, the exclusion of the Christians resulted in the fact that Lebanon missed a historical opportunity for achieving a real change. Jumblatt might have achieved a victory for himself by dividing the Christians in favor of his own influence, however, as commentators wrote, he had not only weakened the Christians but the country as well. Unfortunately, Jumblatt showed that he is no exceptional politician. Lebanon has only known very few politicians who were able to rise above their own sect and truly cared for all Lebanese. Most Lebanese agree that Rafiq Hariri was such an exception. Most Lebanese also agree that Jumblatt is not.

In the end, the outcome of the elections must have been shocking for all those hoping for change: former militia leaders Jumblatt and Berri were firm in the center of power, supplemented with another bloodthirsty warlord, Michel Aoun.

Still, most Lebanese were not disappointed at all. They were glad many pro Syrian candidates had lost, including the son of president Emile Lahoud. These and other outcomes were mind blowing enough in itself since normally the son of a president would be elected under the Lebanese political system of power sharing among tribal lords. What was noted by some columnists, though, was the rapid change of many politicians from pro-Syria to anti-Syria. But overall, the Lebanese didn’t seem to mind. They were glad that so many politicians made a lot of bold statements against Syria.

It is important to realize that the roles between government and Opposition became reversed due to the outcome of the elections. March 14 belonged to the Opposition prior to the elections, but ended up in government due to the election results. Likewise, March 8 (mostly Hezbollah and Aoun) became the Opposition after the elections. The landslide change in the political scene was not the result of new faces, but rather due to the shifting of positions of the existing politicians.