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Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Democracy, Bassil style

The new FPM chief has made it clear that dissent within the ‘democratic’ party will not be tolerated

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Moscow on November 18, 2015. (AFP/Kirill Kudryavtsev)

There is nothing that insults the intelligence of the Lebanese more than the rise of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. With no charisma, popularity or previous career success, Bassil is the epitome of Lebanon’s corruption and nepotism. Without his marriage to the daughter of Christian leader Michel Aoun, Bassil would have been just another engineer, probably living and working in the Gulf and visiting Lebanon on occasions.

 

But this is Lebanon, where “change and reform” means taking corruption to a whole new level.

 

The nepotistic practice of promoting sons-in-law is not new. Former Foreign Minister Fares Bouez was the son-in-law of late President Elias Hrawi. When the days of Hrawi ended, so did Bouez’s political career. Bouez was at least aware of his shortcomings and simply retired.

 

Bassil is something else. He has yet to win an election. After his failing bids to win a seat in his home district of Batroun, Bassil was awarded high profile cabinet portfolios that included electricity, oil and foreign affairs.

 

Throughout his ministerial tenure, Bassil has proven incompetent and corrupt. He forced the government to fund his $1 billion project to provide electricity around the clock, and launched a parallel media campaign to highlight his “vision.” A few years later, hours of electricity supply were cut across the country, while the $1 billion has gone unaccounted for.

 

With the oil and natural gas portfolio, Bassil promised a whirlwind of revenue for the state from hydrocarbon excavation and production in Lebanon’s coastal shelf. He then appointed a commission of cronies and gave them astronomical salaries. Lebanon has yet to extract any fossil fuel, whose revenue will most certainly line the pockets of the oligarchs. Lebanon ranks 123 out of 165 on Transparency International’s index of corruption.

 

Bassil then moved to the Foreign Ministry, whose resources he has so far used to attend football games at the Brazil World Cup in 2014 and the France Euro Cup last month. 

 

Meanwhile, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bassil has committed many blunders, often by going after Saudi Arabia, even more so than Iran. Because of his amateurish diplomacy, hundreds of Lebanese expats and their families have been deported from the Gulf.

 

And because Bassil has never been elected to office, his father-in-law made him king of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), putting him ahead of FPM’s stars — including those from the Aoun family, like Alain Aoun. Non-Aoun family FPM heavyweights, such as Ziad Abs, were thrown out, seemingly for their dissent.

 

Yet the actual reason for ostracizing Abs had little to do with his performance. Abs, also an engineer, belongs to Bassil’s generation. At AUB, Abs was instrumental in forming the FPM (Tayyar). Shrewd and savvy, Abs built a formidable operation inside AUB that later spilled to other university campuses. He was repeatedly elected to AUB’s student government, and was often summoned to Syrian and Lebanese security offices, at times beaten.

 

The activism of Abs starting in the early 1990s puts that of Bassil to shame. If the FPM was a non-tribal democratic organization, Abs would have overtaken not only Bassil, but probably Aoun himself. 

 

Since his expulsion due to his revolt against Bassil’s joining of the March 8 - March 14 municipal election alliance in May, Abs has proven to be stronger than Bassil. With a loyal following, he tilted Beirut’s First District against the alliance, embarrassing the FPM leadership and showing that it has little influence in that district. In the FPM primaries, results showed that Abs' influence outweighs Bassil and the leadership.

 

Despite all the resources available to him within the party and from the state, Bassil is reeling in the face of his dissenters. This happens while Aoun is still around, which suggests that after Aoun, Bassil might be forced to further rely on Hezbollah’s resources to beat his rivals within the party.

 

Feeling the heat, Bassil dismissed his FPM opponents, saying that “the percentage of dissenters is very low,” and adding: “We will not remain silent facing those who offend the Tayyar from within… and let those who do not like it resign.”

 

So the FPM wants to show that it is a genuinely democratic party by holding primaries. Yet Bassil insists that dissent is small and that he will not tolerate it anyway inside the party that he has inherited from his father-in-law. 

 

This, ladies and gents, is democracy as Bassil understands it: Nepotistic, corrupt and intolerant of dissent. And to think that the Lebanese can pin their hopes on their rising young leaders, like Bassil, who — in his bid to tighten his grip and eliminate internal opposition — proves that he is just another corrupt Arab autocrat, albeit a failing one.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Moscow on November 18, 2015. (AFP/Kirill Kudryavtsev)

‘We will not remain silent facing those who offend the Tayyar from within… and let those who do not like it resign.’