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Alex Rowell

Aounist unease as Hezbollah fails to rally partners behind presidency

With key Hezbollah allies refusing to back the General’s candidacy, some Aounists question the Party of God’s sincerity

LEBANON, Beirut : Lebanese member of parliament Michel Aoun holds a press conference following a parliament session to vote for the new Lebanese president in the parliament building in downtown Beirut on April 23, 2014

When Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea made the historic move last Monday of endorsing the presidential candidacy of his wartime nemesis, former Lebanese Armed Forces chief General Michel Aoun, the latter’s path to the presidential palace he had long coveted was supposed to be secured at last. With the stated support of both his largest Christian rival and the most powerful faction in the country, Hezbollah, the various blocs of the pro-Damascus ‘March 8’ coalition would fall into line and Aoun would be guaranteed the requisite 65 votes at parliament, with or without the backing of the anti-Damascus Future Movement and the centrist Progressive Socialist Party (PSP).

 

Things, however, haven’t quite turned out that way. On Monday, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri of March 8’s Amal Movement, whose parliamentary weight is equal to Hezbollah’s at 13 MPs, said he would be voting not for Aoun but rather a rival March 8 nominee, Marada Movement head MP Sleiman Franjieh. This announcement meant not only that Aoun lacked the needed votes to win, but that Franjieh – who, counter-intuitively, is also supported by the Future Movement – was actually ahead of Aoun, numerically. Asked whether his ally Hezbollah would not pressure him to vote for their declared candidate Aoun, Berri replied in irritation, “What do they want Hezbollah to do? Do they want it to put a pistol or a rifle or a rocket to the heads of [Future Movement leader] Saad al-Hariri and [PSP head] Walid Jumblatt and Sleiman Franjieh and Nabih Berri […]? The issue isn’t like that. The relationship between us as allies isn’t of that kind.” Asked further whether Franjieh couldn’t be persuaded to withdraw from the race, Berri said, “Why would Franjieh accept [that] so long as he’s the strongest candidate?”

 

Berri’s bombshell has sparked outrage among supporters of Aoun, whose personal relationship with the parliament speaker has long been rocky. On the O-Room web forum maintained and frequented by Aoun partisans, Berri has been slated as a “dog” and a “crook,” his party members “children of vipers,” in reaction to his perceived sabotage of Aoun’s candidacy.

 

Potentially more significantly, Berri’s remarks have also caused some in Aounist circles to question the sincerity of Hezbollah’s ostensible support, on the argument that – whatever Berri’s protestations – Hezbollah absolutely could persuade its March 8 allies to vote for the General if it really wanted to. Hezbollah’s critics have maintained for over a year that the Party does not in fact want the election of any president while its fight in Syria is ongoing, and has been exploiting Aoun for the so-called ‘Christian cover’ he provides them without sincerely intending to make him president. Geagea himself hinted at this Tuesday, saying, “the intentions of March 8 have become questionable.”

 

“Whether you like it or not, the vast majority of Christians believe that the decision of M8 is in [Hezbollah’s] hand and no one believes the crap, that [Hezbollah] who is becoming a regional power, can't [hold sway over] his closest allies Berri and [Franjieh], especially in critical issues like the presidency,” said one O-Room post.

 

“If [Hezbollah] meant that [its] support consists only [of a] dozen MPs, than [sic] thanks [for the] support.... we don't need them because they reach nowhere... [Hezbollah] is needed where it counts, holding M8 kharyanet [pieces of shit] and bring back everyone on his toe. Or else, it's called de7ek 3al d2oun [to laugh about someone while kissing their cheeks],” said another.

 

Changing Berri’s mind “only takes one word [from Hezbollah] or if it takes storming the crook's place for Aoun's, so be it ;),” said a third. “Aoun suffered for [Hezbollah] and stood with it in worst times […] where's Aoun supposed dein [debt] on [Hezbollah] byenserfo [to be repaid]? Wallah 7akeh ma 3leh ghemrok? [Or is it just talk that won’t be paid?]”

 

Nor is the belief that Hezbollah could twist Berri’s arm held only by online forum users. Dr. Kamal Yazigi, a founding member of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, told NOW it was “out of the question” that Berri could vote autonomously on such “strategic matters” as the presidency. Making the same point in more diplomatic language, senior FPM official and nephew of the General, MP Alain Aoun, told NOW, “I don’t imagine Berri and Hezbollah going to an election session in opposing positions.”

 

Accordingly, both Alain Aoun and Yazigi believe Berri will end up voting for Aoun, and that it’s a matter of what Alain Aoun called “meetings and negotiations between the parties” at this stage.

 

“We know that [Berri and Hezbollah] are good allies and they will talk to each other and, somehow, after some time, reach common cause,” Aoun told NOW.

 

“Berri is stretching his margin of autonomy to the maximum now, probably to get a higher price, for the bargaining process,” said Yazigi. “But once Hezbollah asks him, or orders him, to vote for Aoun, he will do it.”

 

If he doesn’t – if, in other words, the suspicions of Geagea and others in March 14 prove correct – then Aoun’s relations with Hezbollah could be severely affected, and possibly even severed, according to Yazigi.

 

“If [Hezbollah is] not serious about [Aoun’s presidency], then it will be a very big problem for Hezbollah with Aoun this time. It’s not something light,” Yazigi told NOW. “[Aoun] will threaten [to break off the alliance], and eventually he might do it, because his supporters would be in favor of that. His supporters would realize that this alliance did not bring them much.”

 

“This is the big prize now, the presidency, for the supporters and especially for Aoun himself. So he’s capable of really reacting violently if the support doesn’t come.”

Aoun’s election, which looked guaranteed last week, suddenly seems a more distant prospect (AFP/JOSEPH EID)

On the O-Room web forum maintained and frequented by Aoun partisans, Berri has been slated as a “dog” and a “crook,” his party members “children of vipers,” in reaction to his perceived sabotage of Aoun’s candidacy"

  • Petrossou

    Hezbollah has been blocking the institutions along with Berry in order to try and obtain some political gains, specially after the fiasco campaign in Syria. They represent today nothing on the ground but mercenaries ready to die for a finished regime that depends and abides totally by the Russian desiderata from now on. As they know they can't have any political advantages in Lebanon and that they are about to loose the support of Iran, their only task is now to try and get away from the STL. If the M14 movement accepts to close their eyes on Hariri and the other fellows murders, Hezbollah would give up their weapons and effect a come back in the internal scene. If they don't, the Chiites future is gloomy and automatically when a son of Lebanon is in jeopardy, the whole country is. Let us hope they will come to their senses in time.

    February 3, 2016

  • Beiruti

    Yes, 65 votes are needed, but, first there must be a quorum present. A quorum requires 2/3 to be present, 86 Deputies. If 43 Deputies boycott, then there can be no session. Take away Mustaqbel (35) and Kataeb (5) and this is 40 Deputies who may boycott. Add to this Jumblatt's PSP (7) and this is more than enough to block the electoral session if these parties do not want Aoun to be elected, even in a contested election. So, yes the decision to elect Aoun is made in Tehran if Khomanie directs Hassan to either bargain with or strong arm Berri. But to get to that point, there must first be a green light from Riyadh to allow the session to take place. Again Jumblatt has positioned himself and his votes at the fulcrum. If the 65 votes are lined up, then Jumblatt holds the key to whether an election will take place or not.

    January 28, 2016

  • daahireeto.mohamud

    Playing Hezbollah and Aoun off each other would not work, Nassrullah will strongly support his invaluable ally Aoun, it is matter of time that Berri will be cornered to back down and follow Hezbollah's position of electing Aoun

    January 28, 2016