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NOW

Two bullets and a ballot

It has been a busy few weeks for the Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. On Wednesday he dodged a bullet—in fact two—just days after organizing a rally to commemorate the dissolution of his party in 1994. This followed Geagea’s high-profile criticisms in mid-March of two leading Maronite figures, Patriarch Bechara al-Rai and Michel Aoun—both men for defending the Syrian regime, and the second for having assailed the Sunni community.
 
The security forces are investigating the assassination attempt. Regardless of what they find, Geagea is high on any list of politicians slated for elimination. Nor is there much doubt as to who would carry out such a crime. What will be interesting to determine, however, is how the Lebanese Forces leader uses the incident as he prepares for an essential moment in his political resurrection after his release from prison in 2005, namely parliamentary elections next year.
 
That’s not to suggest that the sniper attack was a setup. But Geagea is a political animal par excellence, and someone shrewd enough to employ all the means at his disposal to ensure that he can bring a substantial bloc to parliament and challenge that of Michel Aoun.
 
There has been much speculation about what the assassination attempt actually meant. Are we returning to a new spate of killings similar to the one in 2005-2008? Geagea certainly sought to place the assault in that context, linking it, strikingly, to the elections of 2005 and the rationale behind the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. “Why did they assassinate … Hariri?” Geagea asked in a press conference, before explaining: “All he did was acquire greater power than they had given him, and it was clear that he was likely to acquire a parliamentary majority during the 2005 elections.”
 
The implication was that Geagea, too, had been targeted because he was expected to perform well in upcoming elections. Moreover, his remarks were designed to induce his audience to set off into specific speculative directions, all otherwise left unstated by the Lebanese Forces leader. Who loses if Geagea gains? Aoun, of course, but also his allies in Hezbollah. What does this tell us? Among other things, that Hezbollah has infiltrated the Christian mountains, where Geagea resides. And who has covered for Hezbollah’s growing military presence in these mountains? Obviously Michel Aoun.
 
That thought process could be damaging to Aoun next year. It comes in the wake of a dispute at the Antonine University, in which Shia students prayed outside a church in contravention of the institution’s rules. The Aounists were embarrassed by the consequences, and in the eyes of many outraged Christians responded lamely to what had occurred. Meanwhile, MTV, over which Geagea enjsoys influence, has broadcast reports of how Christian neighborhoods abutting the southern suburbs are being transformed by Shia-led construction.
 
Baabda, where Aoun and Hezbollah are powerful, will be a key electoral battleground for Geagea. Expect the Lebanese Forces to play on Christian fears of the demographic shifts in their neighborhoods. More broadly, from one side Geagea will scare Christian voters by raising the Shia scarecrow; from the other, Aoun will raise the Sunni scarecrow. The election themes in Christian districts will revolve around communal anxiety and identity politics, which risks leaving Christians even more isolated and wary than they already are.
 
Nor will there be a Maronite patriarch in place who can unite the community and inject confidence into his flock. Instead, the Maronites merely have Bechara al-Rai, who in sectarian terms has proven to be even more polarizing than Geagea or Aoun. Given the cleric’s weakness for politics, and his compulsive recklessness, the patriarch will be open to manipulation by both men.
 
Geagea is a deliberate operator. Whenever he does something, he usually has put some thinking into it. The Lebanese Forces leader has been consciously in the limelight lately, defining himself more sharply while differentiating himself just as sharply from other Maronite figures. He’s backed the Arab uprisings, especially in Syria, unlike most of his Maronite political and religious counterparts; he’s defended the Sunnis against Aoun, when many Christians are worried about Sunni political Islam throughout the Middle East; and he’s even attempted to portray himself as a man of regional stature, by inviting speakers from various Arab countries that are currently experiencing political upheavals to address the Lebanese Forces ceremony.
 
Elections are high on Geagea’s mind. He evidently feels that now is his time to make a qualitative leap forward to become Lebanon’s dominating Christian representative in the coming years. Aoun is his primary impediment, but time isn’t really on the general’s side, and many believe that the Free Patriotic Movement and its electorate will fragment once he leaves the scene. Someone will have to pick up the pieces, and Geagea aspires to amass a large share.  
 
In that context, we can say, rather cynically, that the bungled assassination attempt could ultimately serve Geagea well. It casts a disparaging light on everything the Lebanese Forces leader has warned against, and, as during his 11-year imprisonment, shows him to be a man defying the odds. Geagea’s enemies, but also his allies, will have to remember that once election season comes.

Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

  • mowaten

    Majd sitting there at Syrian misinformation ministry typing away like mad is hard work,but tell your handlers to have stuff that aren't obvious lies! Really who do they think you are Walid M3alkem! Besides all Lebanese media outlets were there and reported that the Lebanese Security forces were on the scene before the press conference, Geagea even alludes to it. What the hell does the STL have to do with this! One unscrupulous editorialist brings it up is his piece and then every clever parakeet "feels" the need to repeat it as if it was some kind of eureka moment. BTW I am still expecting the conclusive photographic proof that Geagea himself was the sniper with Zahra as his spotter courtesy of Photoshop's "Clone Stamp" tool, you boys at the ministry arent afraid to use it, right? Finaly if Ali Shaaban wasn't Shiite your Syrian misinformation ministry'd be calling him a terrorist like it did all the previous cross border kills, eh Majd?

    April 13, 2012

  • Mansour sweden

    What a sad bunch of people you are. Only a dead politician could convice your twisted minds...

    April 13, 2012

  • ali daoud

    @@mowaten, let`s be serious here, the official Lebanese security men arrived after the LF men supposedly cleaned or inspected the area - if anything happened in the first place -. ya mowaten, the security forces went to the place after Geagea`s conference, not before, so keef tole3 ma3ak enno tol3o 2abl 3 hours?!!!! any way, answer me my question, why didn`t the STL claim its responsibility to investigate that incident? shouldn`t be connected to the hariri murder as Geagea tried to imply? where is your mighty STL white uniform investigators?!!! is there anything they could investigate in the first place? bala naivety ya shabab, no wonder Geagea can attract such audience!!!!

    April 12, 2012

  • Marco Antonio

    Shame, who goes under the alias of majd, comes up with another one of his bright ideas, this time he copies it straight from the plaid propaganda pages of his vive el jazzar booklet and his other masters of the darkness. Shame, feels no shame (again) by trying to re-introduce the conspiracy theory, this time to the Geagea assassination attempt but only to look more foolish than he previously appeared to be. How low can Shame go? Apparently, he sets a new bottom feeder record everyday. What a Shame

    April 11, 2012

  • mowaten

    Majd the Syrian joke, why are you keen on regularly embarrassing yourself by telling obvious lies? Unlike the Iranian militia in Lebanon that cordons off areas whenever an incompetent "martyr" playing with explosives or preparing a bomb mistakenly blows himself up, the Lebanese security forces were on the spot in Meerab almost immediately, not three hours later as you claim. The assassination attempt happened at 11:33 a.m, at 13:30 p.m. Geagea was already giving his press conference. By then the Lebanese security forces had been there gathering evidence as confirmed by the all media on the ground including ones from M8. Those are the actual fact, unless you think that the assassination attempt took place before 11:33 a.m. and who would know that except someone connected with the crime, eh majd ?

    April 10, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Geagea is a joke and only naive people would believe that assassination play. first, they allowed the Lebanese security forces to inspect the place three hours after the LF issued the assassination attempt, and let`s not forget that M14 and the LF always used to blame Hizbullah for not allowing the Lebanese security forces inspect similar places untill after few hours! second, i wonder, why they didn`t call the International investigators to inspect the place? more, why didn`t they call to transfer the judicial authority to the STL? guys, don`t you see that nobody is taking that attempt seriously?

    April 10, 2012

  • CGMY

    @eyeonbeirut, Genius!!! we should have more of you to uncover all the conspiracies of this world!!

    April 10, 2012

  • previous student

    lists of benefits from a well played drama 1.Dr. Samir will send a strong message to saad hariri to stay away as its dangerous to be inLebanon. ... Thus hint to feb14 '05 2. More spot light and increasing visibility for M14 while the general secretariat is being restructured.Dominance of who is under fire. 3. Sympathy from ksa for being heroic thus more money Finally I have A simple question how come SLT or the FBI did not show up while they did that for all the assassination after late hariri? simply its a hoax

    April 9, 2012

  • RADWAN

    Didn't you hear the so called hezb Allah MP Raad the whole incident is being exaggerated, I guess Mr Raad's anointed saints only meant to scare Geagea not kill him.

    April 7, 2012

  • CGMY

    I still don't see the point of this article, how many mp's is the LF projected to win in the next election in the best case scenario, on top of what they already have now, 5, 10, 15 mp's? how much the assassination attempt would have contributed, 50%? so 7 mp's extra?! how much would Lebanon, and the christians would have lost, 15 years of setback? & would have been left with either a lunatic or a compulsive reckless maronite leaders?! I don't see how you can compare gaining few more mp's who wont make a great difference in the future of Lebanon & the loss of a great leader. Just remember for how many years were the christians depressed after losing Bachir Gemayel!!!!

    April 7, 2012

  • abou 3adas

    Time for Hassan to organize a thank you snipers demonstration.

    April 7, 2012

  • Hep

    This is serious. Call for STL2 investigation under UN Charter and Chapter 7.

    April 7, 2012

  • Objectivity please

    IT WAS A FRIGGIN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT, GUYS. cool, you're analyzing and using your brain. But, what if the bullet never missed the guys head? I've seen ridicule, caricatures, and bright analyses. MY RESPONSE: yeah wise guy, i would like to apply your analysis/mockery-all the same to me- to Gebran tweiny, samir kassir, hawy, gemayel. how did rippin their bodies reflect as benefit to them? let's think... hmmm. So, is our reaction determined by the outcome of the event rather than the event itself? Mayb ur right, had the masses been not so dumb in the first place, they wouldnt be swayed by such incidents..grave as they may be, but stick to their principles.

    April 7, 2012

  • ali

    Any assassination attempt should be condemned, and hope that this will stay away from our beloved country, regardless who is the target, and we should all reject it and refuse it in all ways. However I have a request, urging some media to respect lebanese people's intelligence, as we claim to be, where did the hell Annahar arm experts knew that the riffle is a steyr HS.50? do you know how many riffles use the 12.7 caliber??? knowing that the empty bullets were not available in the location??? if they have some proofs, lebanese are more than interested to know... I guess the answer for this, simply check wikipedia steyr HS.50 webpage, the users section, and you see the answer...

    April 7, 2012

  • CGMY

    Indeed there are allies and enemies who would be threatened by Geagea acquiring greater power than they had given him...Considering that you're looking at the assassination attempt from an elevated plane & you didn't want to get into the details of the attempt, its funny how you can speculate about elections that will happen in a year time & how Geagea will capitulate on his assassination attempt, when no one can predict what will happen next month in Syrian, Iran, US and French elections, and how you missed the immediate devastating effect on Lebanon, March 14 & free christians, was it to succeed! Ever considered your foresight in financial markets?!!!

    April 7, 2012

  • Someone

    Did Michel Aoun stage the assignation attempt on his life back on October 12 1990? Was the Baathist that allegedly shot at him in Baabda a setup? Maybe not but Aoun did use it for political gain and to boost his personal popularity when claimed heroics with his famous bravado of "I will be the last one to leave, I will stay at my command center and die fighting". Of course the "heroic General" deserted and was the first to run away less than fifteen hours later.

    April 6, 2012

  • Gilbert A.

    I think another thing at works here is that the Syrian regime (acting thorugh Hizballh and other local proxies) wants to kill off any Lebanese leaders whom may at some point appeal to people in Syria. This includes Mr. Geagea, but also Mr. Saad Hriri (who is wisely staying in Paris), Walid Bey Jumblatt and possibly others.

    April 6, 2012

  • anony

    I see the logic behind this article and stating the following "That’s not to suggest that the sniper attack was a setup " is not going to stop anyone from asking why are more writers and journalists shedding light one how can this beneficial to Geagea and the LF and some going as far as saying this whole thing was a show and indeed a setup. I think the focus now should be the assassination attempt itself more than anything. This is a very serious matter, regardless of who the target was.

    April 6, 2012

  • s.Ashkenazi

    Did GeaGea stage the assassination attempt? Really,and now gouging himself with its ripened fruit? What about political ambitions:Indirectly the assumed assassination attempt will bring him a strong electorate in coming elections. Is this a movie or reality:I got to see my shrink.

    April 6, 2012