Campaign to elect Aoun wanes in Lebanon

Saudi non-decision regarding presidential elections in Lebanon is congruent with its regressing on Saudi agenda.

A 2015 file picture shows a supporter of Lebanese Christian leader Michel Aoun’s opposition Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) during a protest, in Beirut, demanding presidential elections.

2016/10/02 Issue: 75 Page: 14

The Arab Weekly
Mohamed Kawas

Beirut - Observers in Beirut have noticed momentum waning in the campaign pushing for the election of Michel Aoun as presi­dent of Lebanon. This lull in the campaign is due to opposition from inside the Future Movement and the absence of a clear Saudi position regarding Aoun’s candidacy.

Lebanese Health Minister Wael Abou Faour was sent to Riyadh by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt on a sounding mission but returned “puzzled” with no definitive answer as whether to push for Aoun’s elec­tion or not. Some sources reported that he had heard from his Saudi in­terlocutors that Riyadh would rath­er not have a president who is allied with Iran, so it is up to the Lebanese people to decide.

Political circles in Lebanon are waiting for Jumblatt to clarify his position. Known for his capac­ity to read international moods and contexts, Jumblatt might find in the Saudi silence an incentive to choose Aoun, which might explain the sudden fervour inside the Saad Hariri camp. He might also choose to quench this entire clamour by co­operating with his ally Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament.

Sources in parliament have point­ed out that the Saudi non-decision regarding the presidential elections in Lebanon is congruent with its re­gressing on the Saudi agenda and reflects the Saudi wish not to “get entangled” in the choice and thus influence the current political ma­noeuvres locally.

Sources following Saudi affairs, however, added that Riyadh’s dis­missal of the elections in Lebanon might be the consequence of infor­mation in Riyadh’s possession indi­cating that the presidential race in Lebanon has not yet reached a point warranting its intervention.

Observers in Lebanon agree that there are precise indications that Hariri and the Future Movement have placed Aoun’s candidacy as a possible choice for them. There are, however, other precise indications that the issue has not been decided and that negotiations inside the Future Movement, as well as with allies and foes, might spell an un­happy ending for Aoun’s bid for the presidency.

People inside the Future Move­ment have questioned the wisdom of asking Hariri to side with Aoun’s candidacy while no such thing is asked of Berri, who is an ally of Lebanese Hezbollah, the first po­litical force to support Aoun. These same people wonder whether the Shia “sisters” Hezbollah and Amal Movement have agreed to inter­changeably play the roles of pros and cons with the aim of reducing Aoun’s chances and delaying the presidential elections in Lebanon until the dust from the wars in Syria has settled.

Observers point out that Berri has fixed October 31st as the next date for the parliamentary session dedicated to the presidential elec­tions. They see Berri’s reluctance to support Aoun’s candidacy in this manoeuvre. Sources close to Aoun, however, consider the long delay necessary to complete negotiations and remove opposition.

While the Lebanese people are joking about the possibility of hav­ing a “made in Lebanon” president, followers of Lebanese affairs find it strange that a constitutional entitle­ment as important as the presiden­tial election is being delayed in such critical times. The outcome of the situation in Syria is still confused and Lebanon’s next president will have to deal with whatever regime will come out of the confusion. The world is watching the American elections, eager to know who the next occupant of the White House will be so as to adjust its policies ac­cordingly.

It is well-known that all Lebanese presidents since independence in 1943 were elected following inter­national and regional compromises that dictated election results to the Lebanese people. The only ex­ception to this trend was the elec­tion of Suleiman Frangieh in 1970 and this was because the outside powers had no reservations about any of the candidates. Observers, however, say that, even though in­ternational attention to Lebanese internal affairs is decreasing, it will not reach a level so as to allow lo­cal dealings alone to put a tenant in Baabda Palace.

Western diplomats in Beirut have indicated that their respective gov­ernments are taking a neutral stand towards the presidential elections in Lebanon. The same sources do not discard the possibility that the fervour created locally by the elections can eventually focus the world’s attention on Lebanese af­fairs. The elections are becoming crucial to Lebanon and the Leba­nese who have never witnessed such crisis levels in their daily life and administrative affairs. The pil­ing up of waste around them is but the visible tip of the iceberg.

While some Future Movement and March 14 coalition circles op­pose Aoun for president, the Leba­nese people fear that with Aoun’s election the Lebanese state and re­gime will simply dissolve under the regional influence of the Iranian re­gime. This fear springs from the fact that Aoun and Lebanese Hezbollah are allies. They signed a memo of understanding in February 2006. Aoun remained allied to the pro- Iranian party regardless of the op­position stances he took against it during the war of June 2006, Hez­bollah’s attacks of May 7th, 2008, and the group’s sending fighters to Syria.

Those who staunchly oppose a probable Iranian hegemony think that to become president Aoun has chosen to align himself with Iran, Damascus and Hezbollah and has distanced himself from the Saudi-led moderate trend. Without Arab and international backing, Aoun as president will have no choice but to submit to the Iranian agenda. The result will be that Lebanon will be stripped of its political pluralism and of its various Arab and regional relations.

Mohamed Kawas is a Lebanese writer.

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