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Districts in depth: Kesrouan

There is much at stake in Kesrouan. Last weekend, the March 14 coalition launched a campaign there under the slogan, “Either black or white” in a concerted and expensive bid to challenge the district’s most prominent politician, General Michel Aoun. March 14 had called for independent candidates in the region to collate their own electoral list, which the coalition would have backed, but as no such list has emerged, they have launched their own campaign as March 14 and are, doubtless, in the process of compiling an electoral list.

Kesrouan is the Christian heartland of Lebanon, geographically and electorally. The overwhelming majority of voters in this coastal district, which sits north of Beirut, are Maronite Christian, at 74,226 strong. The other groups are also very largely Christian: there are 4,294 Greek Catholics, 2,969 Greek Orthodox, 1,834 Christian minorities, 819 Armenian Catholics, 232 Evangelicals, plus 1,388 Shia, 440 Sunni and a few others. The district has five seats, all for Maronite MPs, representing 14% of the 34 seats allotted to Maronites in the 128-seat parliament. The district is also home to the Maronite patriarch, Boutros Sfeir, whose seat in Bkirki is in the mountains above Jounieh, the district’s largest town.

The 2005 elections had one clear winner in this area: Free Patriotic Movement leader General Michel Aoun. The confused, hasty alliances formed after the death of Rafik Hariri in February 2005 broadly split the country between Hariri and Hezbollah, and the Christian vote largely coalesced around Aoun, whose alliances with his pro-Syrian former enemies did not deter supporters. The quadripartite alliance between Amal, Hezbollah, the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party, who agreed in some districts to run on the same list, unifying their support against Aounists, did not, obviously, include Aoun. Aoun cannily adapted his electoral message accordingly, implying to Christian voters that Lebanon’s Muslims were allying and would, if elected, not work in the Christians’ interests. Since his alliance with Shia group Hezbollah, he has spoken of “the Sunni threat.”

Aoun’s “Change and Reform” list won all five seats, with 63% of the vote. Besides Aoun himself (included on 70% of voters' ballots), the successful candidates were: Gilberte Zouein (55%), Farid Elias al-Khazen (60%), Nematallah Abi Nasr (64%) and Youssef Hanna Khalil (66%). The turnout in the area reached an all-time high for the region at 62.55%, and this is expected to be replicated this year, predicted at 64.7%.

The 2005 "Opposition list" (comprising Shawki Gergi al-Daccache, Mansour Ghanem al-Bonn, Farid Haykal al-Khazen, Alexandre Jean Rizk and Kamil Ziadeh) garnered 31% of the vote, and the remaining 6% went to independent candidate Clovis al-Khazen. The Change and Reform list this year, said Farid Elias al-Khazen (who will run, but not as an FPM member), is likely to be much the same. However, Gilberte Zouein, not considered to be an especially effective MP, announced her apparently independent candidacy on Monday March 30. This would leave a space on the Aoun-led list.

As Farid Elias al-Khazen told NOW, the Change and Reform list is much more homogenous than the March 14 one. If March 14 is to have electoral impact, it will have to harness support for a number of groups and people in the area, and try to have them all represented on its list. Of the locally popular Christian parties, the Kataeb will be represented by the only confirmed March 14 candidate so far, Sejaan Kazzi, and Rita Sfeir wrote in An-Nahar daily last week that although a man named Ziad Maalouf is the Lebanese Forces representative, standing independently, LF leader Samir Geagea is likely, for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons, to be ready to support March 14. The list may also include people from locally influential families, for more of which, see below. 

In 2005, the successful list, the unsuccessful one and the most successful independent candidate all feature the name al-Khazen. As one Jounieh resident told NOW, "In Kesrouan - we are villages after all – we meet each other at funerals and marriages, and we talk. We know each other." To many residents, the political allegiances of a candidate matter less than his or her family and local status. There are a few historically and financially significant families in the areas, prominent members of which can and do attract votes. These include the al-Khazens, whose website describes them as a noble family that has been among the prominent Maronite Lebanese since the 16th century.

Other notable figures are Mansour Ghanem al-Bonn, a former MP whose allegiances are assumed to lie with March 14, but could run as an independent, and Neemat Frem, son of late Minister Georges Frem, industrialist and philanthropist. Frem still employs many people in the region. If he, or any of the other members of the “big families”, consented to join the March 14 list or the Aoun-led one, it could change the situation considerably. If the Aoun list does indeed have a gap left by Giberte Zouein, it could be an opportunity to get a big family onto his ticket.

Maronite Patriarch Boutros Sfeir’s influence should not be discounted. He is vehemently anti-Syrian, and has criticized Aoun for his alliance with Hezbollah, and although he has not directly endorsed any electoral list or candidates, he is strongly, if implicitly, supportive of March 14. He often addresses electoral issues in his sermons, and on March 16, for example, he said, "Voters must know who they will be choosing to defend their basic rights... They must not forget the proverb, 'whoever buys you shall sell you.'"

In 2005, the EU election observation report noted that, in the week before the elections, General Aoun became the central figure of a "very odd coalition," including pro-Syrian Michel al-Murr. Since then, his Syria allegiance has strengthened. He signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Damascus-backed Hezbollah in February 2006. He also made an official visit to Syria in December last year, unimaginable a few years ago, as when he was interim prime minister in 1989, he led the Christian-dominated army in a failed "war of liberation" against Syrian forces. And although well-established families usually attract voters in the area, the EU report referred to the "unexpected extent of Aoun's electoral victory," and said that his alliances had "pushed aside members of prominent Christian families that traditionally dominated the political scene in those regions." Whether he still has the power to resist tradition and to win votes despite possible anxiety about his Hezbollah-Syrian alliance remains to be seen.

In 2005, Jbeil voted alongside Kesrouan, although each had separate lists, which it will not do in the upcoming elections. But as the two places are demographically similar, this may not have a big impact.
 

The allegiances of the powerful could make or break a list. Memories of Hezbollah's takeover of the streets of Beirut last May do not currently seem to be affecting Aoun's chances, but any actions by the Party of God which Christians perceive as a threat to Lebanese stability could make Aoun's alliance with it look ill-advised and affect his popularity. Aoun’s visits to Tehran and to Damascus have not been popular with all Christians, and his comments – that his alliance with Hezbollah was protecting Christians – during the May takeover of West Beirut by Hezbollah and SSNP militias implied that he had made a deal with the devil.

Also, March 14 movement just launched its "Either black or white" campaign in the area, which identified the alliance as being on the side of Bkirki and Lebanese sovereignty, and against Syria. Making a virtue of the range of parties it would have to win over to make a successful list, the campaign called for Kesrouan’s diversity of views to be maintained. However, Aoun’s popularity in the region is such that the campaign may be important as a symbolic fight with the General, but is unlikely to result in electoral success.

  • George

    Libanaize is repeating what has been prevalent in the annals of Hezballah ever since it's inception. Hassn Nasrallah has a famous speech about Lebanon being a Muslim land and the Christians came in as immigrants. I hope the Kesrouan voter remembers this when sliding his ballot into the box.

    May 6, 2009

  • Tanios Kahi

    Maronites settled Keserwan around 500 years ago, and came indeed as peasants, and i'm proud to be a peasant, because peasants live from their work, while surrounding Arab tribes live from conquering each other, kidnapping women, enslaving children...

    May 4, 2009

  • joe

    Libanaize, you are as ignorant as your comment, probably more... The Maronites are not immigrant nor are they refugees. The Maronites have existed in Lebanon long before any persecution started. They were the Lebanese mountain people who were baptized since the 6th and 7th century by the monks of St.MAron who themselves came from the region of Antioch (keep in mind that Monks do not get married or have children). A very tiny minority came from Syria, and contrary to what you are saying, did not come to Lebanon looking for work they came in refuge from the persecution in Syria in 2 waves, one under JAcobite persecution the other under Islamic persecution. Another minority came from what is now Turkey and were known as the MARADA. With all respect to Mexicans who are very descent people, your analogy is as superficial as your comment and also your obvious hatred towards Maronites who made Lebanon and whom if it wasn’t for them, the only democracy of the region (aside Israel) would

    April 28, 2009

  • Libanaize illa

    ... "they came as workers/peasants..." a distortion of history if there ever was one!

    April 7, 2009

  • Libanase

    Well Hun, I think you got things mixed up. The Maronite Heart-Land is actually and historically near Aleppo in Syria. They came as workers/peasants to Lebanon (similar to Mexican workers in the US) and were mistakingly allowed to stay. They are just like the Palestinians nowadays. As long as Lebanon remains a sectarian country, these historical facts will remain fresh pending a radical remedy. Don't give me the Phoenician cr*p thingy because genetic testing proved it wrong.

    April 1, 2009