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A crumbling empire

Elections for the Free Patriotic Movement’s Central Committee have been postponed yet again, this time from May 4 to October 26, amid a flurry of reports in the local media that internal disputes are behind the holdup. Although official FPM statements cited logistical and administrative reasons for the delay, insiders, who understandably are reluctant to be named, have privately confirmed to NOW Lebanon that the postponement is directly related to the growing conflict between two increasingly divergent groups within the movement: General Michel Aoun’s inner circle, and others who describe themselves as the FPM “opposition.”

As a serious rift between these two sides appears ever more plausible, the leader of the FPM, General Aoun, still seems to be in denial, refusing to see that such clashes could be the FPM’s undoing – and his own.

Splitting up

By all accounts, the lack of a coherent organizational structure is at the root of the FPM’s broader problems and not everyone is happy with the way Aoun would like to rectify the issue. Sources close to the FPM opposition say that the current dispute is centered on Aoun’s plan to create a structure that would allow his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to become his deputy president. Apparently, many fear that this coveted position would be given to Bassil largely in order to keep the considerable political and financial power it carries within Aoun’s immediate family. Other leading FPM opposition figures like Alain Aoun have voiced their objection to what they see as blatant nepotism. 

According to a formerly active FPM member who is now critical of the movement, the FPM opposition today is not a united front, because its members have differing agendas. “Some are seeking a better position [in the party hierarchy], others are there to oppose the policies, and some joined to express their resentment of Aoun’s strategy of giving family members the best positions and most power,” said the source.

Retired major-general and FPM official Issam Abou Jamra, who had been mediating between Aoun and the FPM opposition until efforts were recently called off, told NOW Lebanon, “Bassil’s name was not mentioned for the FPM deputy-president position, nor was mine… Nothing prevents me from being a candidate for the position.”

Abou Jamra denied that Aoun has any intention of naming his son-in-law as deputy FPM president. However, NOW Lebanon sources revealed that Abou Jamra’s role as a mediator was, in fact, largely focused on convincing Aoun to give Bassil less power in order to assuage opposing FPM figures.

But despite the controversy provoked by FPM’s chaotic, patronage-based political structure, the source suggested that the recent flaring of tensions is more directly related to the party’s distribution of financial patronage. “The real reason behind the explosion [of tensions] is the financial issue. The party was assigned projects worth millions of dollars in the southern suburbs, but they were given to Bassil and Hikmat Dib, because he is close to Hezbollah,” he added.

There are further allegations that Aoun’s immediate family members are acting as the party’s bankers. “All of the party’s own money, plus the recent donations received during elections and the financial support they receive from Lebanese expats, all of it was put in the personal accounts of Aoun and his family members, and into institutions such as the OTV, which is also run by his other son-in-law, Roy al-Hashem, something which had raised a lot of questions within the party,” said the source.

With so many internal grievances, many analysts believe that the FPM opposition has a strong chance of winning the internal elections – and that is why the date was pushed back to October. “I don’t think the elections will even take place on that date, as Aoun will use the approaching 2009 parliamentary elections as an excuse,” the source speculated.

One man show

While Aoun boasts a manifesto that fights corruption and promotes democracy, sources explained that the General has never worked on building a party with institutions, focusing instead on consolidating his own assets and power.

“He also has this strategy that aims at weakening those [in the party] who become powerful, by strengthening their opponent within the party. For example, when MP Ibrahim Kanaan’s political star began to rise, Aoun worked on giving more authority to his rival Nabil Nicolas, so that he [General Aoun] could maintain his own control over the party,” one FPM insider said.

Meanwhile, widespread dissatisfaction may suggest that Aoun’s command over his own party is waning. Sources confirmed that during the FPM meetings, opposing voices have become more outspoken in expressing their points of view, in contrast to the old days, when nobody dared to challenge the General.

In February 2008, Sofres Liban, a branch of the leading market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres, conducted a survey using a representative sample of 2,000 people in the Lebanese Christian community, aged 18 years and above.  According to the survey, 60% of the Christians now say that they never supported Aoun. Also, 57% believe that the Change and Reform bloc is not united.

Furthermore, Aoun cannot ignore the weakening relationships between the FPM and others in his Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, especially given that Aoun’s victories in the 2005 parliamentary elections were largely built on these alliances. Wins in the Metn and Zahle were only possible because of the support of Michel al-Murr and Elias Skaff, two of Aoun’s most estranged allies today. And in Kesrouan and Jbeil, Aoun won because his list was supported by George Ifram, who conditioned his support on the addition of his son-in-law, Walid Khoury, to that list.

The emperor has no clothes

OTV, the party’s media arm, which is controlled by the Aoun family, has not escaped the internal conflict. “OTV is a clear example of how Aoun disrespects the institutions,” an FPM source explained. “One, it belongs to family members and allies, and not to the party itself; and two, it is run by his son-in-law. And it’s managed as Aoun’s own political platform,” he added. “For example, the station cannot put Alain Aoun on air, because he is vetoed by the General.”

The recent conflicts within the FPM, most visible in the repeated postponement of party elections, have exposed Aoun’s insincere views on democracy and institution building. Instead, he seems far more concerned with keeping his power and assets safe – and preventing a coup from within. 

The FPM – long hailed by its supporters as one of Lebanon’s only true political parties – is today, quite possibly, the country’s most fragile grouping. Without a solid organizational structure, the party’s ability to function is completely dependent on Aoun, his family and few allies. Without him, many believe, the party would fracture – or even collapse altogether – long before the 2009 parliamentary elections. This state of insecurity makes many supporters understandably nervous.

  • essam

    Nepotism....this is in blood of EVERY Lebanese & Arabs for that matter...look at the other so called 'Political' Parties...they all got it...Gen. Aoun is at least 'talk' about policies where others can only use Religion?sect to attract support...next Election will prove who's right ...

    April 28, 2008

  • CEDAR REVOLUTION / GEBRAN SONS

    The survivability of Christians in Lebanon depends on: 1. Ending Syrian hegemony and its divide and assassinate policy 2. Ending Hizbollah fiefdoms and army at the service of Iran 3. Building a truly democratic and sovereign Lebanon The Cedar Revolution should have solved all these objectives and became a beacon to the region including the oppressed people of Syria and Iran. Members of parliaments were elected with a clear mandate. The march toward democracy and sovereignty would have been assured if it wasn't for a useful idiot and an obsessed megalomaniac who willingly threw Lebanon to the wolves. Christians in a Lebanon dominated by armed Hizbollah will have the same rights as they do today in Dahiee or in Sadr City in Iraq, maybe worse after world’s attention shifts away from Lebanon. There is a mammoth brainwash going on in Hezbollah land funded by Iran that would put the dark ages and Christian inquisition to shame. If Hezbollah members don’t dare to ware a tie or walk

    April 23, 2008

  • foxmann

    CRITISIZING GMA HAS BECOME A SOURCE OF INCOME TO MANY SO CALLED "WRITERS". UNDERSTANDABLE. BUT PLEASE DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE READERS' INTELLIGENCE. WE KNOW GMA'S HISTORY. WE KNOW HARIRI HISTORY JINBLATT, GMAYEL AMD GEAGEA TOO. THE ONLY PERSON WHO STOOD HIS GROUNDS AGAINST ALL ODDS AND THEN PROVED TO BE RIGHT IS GMA. PLEASE GO HOME.

    April 23, 2008

  • foxmann

    Very educative article. for the millionth time, if the Bristol group are so sure of themselves, RUN FOR EARLY ELECTIONS. UNTILL THEN, GMA HAS THE CHRISITIAN MAJORITY, AND THE OWNERSHIP OF ALL (I MEAN NEARLY ALL0 LEBANESE HEARTS.

    April 23, 2008

  • George

    That is too funny, I mean to make all this analysis and building it on "el dinye hek" type of gossip, all the while the FPM is asking for general elections is pathetic from a journalistic pov. All this while, Jeajea has never been elected even to his own party, does not have ANY election process and NONE of the other parties have anything close to the tayyar. You have to wonder why is everyone so pissed about lebanese voting en masse for Aoun? Com'on folks, an election will deal with all that crap, it's those who do not want election that should pointed if you are a true patiorte. Action talks and bullshit walks. george haddad

    April 14, 2008

  • Marco Antonio

    A sample of future elections were just held for the Engineer’s Association and march 8 gangsters got swept aside (more accurately: crushed!). How many elections do we need to have before we figure out that march 8 gangsters will not win anything close to an outright majority? The Engineers Association’s elections are bad indicators for the gangsters and the writing is on the wall for them. Team aoun and m-8 gangsters are very predictable as they call for new elections with new rules or even suggest restoring old outdated ones. They’ve put forth all the conditions they can think of that might help them gain more “obstruction” seats in the legislature. The only election that will happen next is that for the position of president of our republic. The gangsters have to “swallow it” and live with the present situation. After all, it is because of the games they played that we are in this mess.

    April 13, 2008

  • Antoine Sultan

    Mr Michel Aoun, for God sake leave the christians of Lebanon alone, they need to live and do not want you, do you understand ???

    April 13, 2008

  • From Geneva

    Lebparis, if you want to comment in English in a forum like this one, how about learning some grammar for starters? It's (apostrophe s) means it is and does not work in your last post. Aounis are so naively misguided, still giving their unwaivering support to the ancient megalomaniac, but at least learn some grammar before posting your simplistic lack luster comments in a public forum. Good luck, hope you wise up soon.

    April 12, 2008

  • al jabal

    my frends,have you ever listened to presidents when they talk.we live abroad and we listen to these people talk in real politics,economics,education.,budgets,etc. at least you learn . can you imagine learning anything from the general .......... maybe cat s and dogs i feel sorry for our people whom are exposed to such bizzare political nonsense.we are smart people and should not let this situation go any longer

    April 12, 2008

  • le phenicien

    An Empire YES - Crumbling NO . Others are and will be crumbling soon with the new election law ! and the elections will confirm their crumbling ..If you know who I mean ?? GMA's Empire is getting bigger and will definitely become the biggest ./

    April 12, 2008

  • Fady N.

    Guys guys your talking this way since the elections till now why dont you go to a pre elections or wait till 2009 and if ur opinions are right FPM will loose and you guys take control, so stop talking bullshits show us facts all dont mediatize fiction stuff.

    April 11, 2008

  • Steve

    If I may give the FMP an advice, please go ahead and do your democratic internal elections exactly the same way the phalange party held theirs. Losers would love always to see you like themselves. This article made me feel sorry for the time I wasted reading it.

    April 10, 2008

  • Rabieh

    lebparis, we all know you were aoun's butler when he was in Paris. the truth hirts my friend, that is why you cannot stand the truth. aoun is gone forever.....

    April 10, 2008

  • Joe K

    History proves that only the righteous remains and the rest will go to the rubbish dump of history. Aoun and his mob are not clean, nor democratic nor anything they claim to be. They are leeches, they prey on people's minds. they are parasites, they prey on people's blood, they are mere instants in history. They will crumble and disappear. It is more wishful thinking hearing their supporters go into denial. They deny, contradict themselves and are getting just what they have sown... The seeds of self destruction, hatred and pure lies. AOun policies have now made him Hizbs and Syria/iran's sacrificial lamb. A horror movie with a happy ending, I know.

    April 10, 2008

  • NS

    This is just to show that anything built on sand with no real foundations, will sooner or later, crunble and fall. You can't lie to all the people all the time Mr. General.

    April 10, 2008

  • Youssef Haddad

    A narcissistic megalomaniac who played on the blinding emotions of the christians. ideologically he is so shallow that he could justify an "understanding" with one of the most threatening entities to the christians presence, Hezbollah. How can Aoun, if he was truly a believer in a pluralistic and democratic lebanon, forge an alliance with a totalitarian party funded and inspired by an "islamic republic"????

    April 9, 2008

  • Marco Antonio

    Aoun’s present bloc would not last a second if he was to retire or leave politics for any reason. The main group of parliamentarians who supported aoun in 2005, today abandoned his sinking ship for good reasons. First, they do not need aoun for votes. To them aoun is a free loader on top of being a dictator. Without people like Murr, there is no way aoun would have carried the number of parliamentarians he now has and would have been crushed in the Metn elections last year. Other reasons for aoun’s failures are his shifting stances, his mad intransigence and repeated refusal to change course even when Lebanon’s survival is on the line. The fact that Murr has just announced his own independent route is another nail in the coffin of aoun’s claim to an independent “Christian” line of thought. If anything, aoun will need hizballa’s support more than ever now, so he might as well officially join them.

    April 9, 2008

  • Lebparis

    please provide us with facts its not enough to state undiclosed sources because under this cover you could make up any story you want specially that Now is known for it's biased anti-Aoun reporting

    April 9, 2008

  • Leb Citizen

    ...and he is supposed to be Mr. Clean who is set on fighting the feudal system... let's face it: democracy is just not our thing... Lebs are, and will remain, individualistic and greedy people with no sense of social responsibility whatsoever.

    April 9, 2008

  • Gabriel

    Once again Aoun proves he is not an honest politician , nor is he a military tacticien .In sum he is a megalomaniac

    April 9, 2008

  • Van Meguerditchian

    Here is another postponment, side by side by Berri's presidential election's postponment for the 17th time. The Free Patriotic Movement is approaching its end, since its so called "GENERAL" has betrayed the Lebanese identity for the sake of absolute power that would have been given to him by the Presidential Seat. The FPM finally will face the challenge of taking the National Path towards building the Democratic State. By their outstanding Patriotism in the pre- March 14 Revolution.

    April 9, 2008

  • LEBINLON

    try this guys : after reading the artice read it again and replace the words "general Aoun" by "yasser Arafat". See how many times you can fault the text. The similarities are scary.

    April 9, 2008

  • le phenicien

    All your report and stories are based on " sources " very doubtful and unknown sources .., that looks like a wishful thinking more than any thing else ..!! You can be sure of the solidity of GMA and the FPM , nothing of your scenario mentioned or reported by some detractors is true or will happen !! The FPM is the only Lebanese political party that is democratic and this is the first time in the Lebanese history that a political party holds elections ! If we had to compare the FPM and what you wrote with other very well known political parties like the future -the PSP - Ktaeb-or the LF ( ...) and their leaders with their internal cuisine !!! No comment .. Why is it that you only focus on GMA and his party the FPM ??

    April 9, 2008

  • william

    Thanks for exposing an outfit that is more of an "organized crime" family that do not represent Lebanon's Christians & claims to be a political party... Its prominent members such as Hikmat Dib & Aoun's kin, Gibran Bassil, are in biz with a terrorist entity. and with them are ripping off the Govt while accusing it of being corrupt...Even a crook like "Judas" El-Murr dumped them & a "simpleton" like Skaff saw their true colors... FPM is a club of corrupt hypocrites !

    April 9, 2008