Ahead of elections, unholy alliances in Lebanon

By Sami Moubayed , Political analyst

The Lebanese opposition wrongly believed that the return of General Michel Aoun to Lebanon on May 7, three weeks before parliamentary elections, would serve their political interests and result in a new parliament overwhelmingly opposed to President Emile Lahoud.

Now that the Syrians are out, the opposition believed, Lebanon’s new parliament would eject Lahoud from office.

The opposition wanted to use Aoun to achieve this purpose, then get rid of him, because he returns to Lebanon with bitter scores to settle with everyone who kept him in exile for 15 years.

The opposition did not imagine, not even in their wildest dreams, that Aoun would return and ally himself with power-brokers from the current regime, like Emile Lahoud Jr, Hezbollah, Amal, ex-Interior Minister Sulaiman Franjieh, and current Interior Minister Elias Al Murr.

An unholy alliance maybe, but this is the strange situation emerging in Lebanon today.

The parliamentary elections, scheduled to start on May 29 and last for four consecutive Sundays, have taken Lebanon by storm.

The election law of 2000 puts the Christian districts of Lebanon within the larger Muslim ones, to the great displeasure of the Christian opposition.

Most of them have been lobbying against the 2000 law, preferring instead, a return to the election law of 1960, which divides Lebanon into smaller constituencies.

On May 11, 2005, the Council of Bishops and Cardinals issued a strong-worded declaration, calling for abolition of the 2000 law.

This will not happen because if it does, the elections will be delayed, something which Prime Minister Najeeb Miqati promised, will not happen.

Those who are really in danger from the 2000 law are one-time Syrian allies who had originally benefited most from it: Sulaiman Franjieh, Michel and his son Elias Al Murr and Emile Lahoud Jr, the President’s son who is a deputy in Parliament.

Victory for them was easy when Syria was around, but today, placed in large Muslim electoral districts, they stand a slim chance of winning the elections, especially if Aoun is running against them and decides to ally himself with more well-established Christian leaders like Naseeb Lahoud or ex-President Ameen Gemayel.

True, Franjieh and the Murrs are traditional leaders in Zghorta and Al Metn respectively, but they lost a lot of credibility and popularity, along with the entire order, after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in February.

This explains why President Emile Lahoud came out days after Aoun’s May 7 return to Lebanon, claiming that the election law of 2000 did not “achieve equality among the Lebanese”.

This is the same Lahoud who had benefited from the 2000 law more than any other five years ago because it guaranteed the victory of his loyalists in the existing parliament.

The Christian opposition deputy Boutros Harb summed it up saying: “We have to accept the law. It is there!” A panicking Lahoud sent his son to meet the ex-general, congratulate him on his return and strike an electoral alliance with him.

This is the same man who two years ago had vetoed a proposal by the late prime minister Hariri to allow Aoun to return to Lebanon.

This was the same Aoun who months earlier, had refused to recognise or even negotiate with the Lahoud regime.

Mutually beneficial

On May 11, Aoun meet Franjieh, along with current Interior Minister Elias Al Murr (Lahoud’s son-in-law) and his father, the ex-minister Michel Al Murr. All of them needed Michel Aoun for the upcoming elections. Likewise, Aoun needed them.

The 2000 was lobbied for by Sa’ad Hariri, the political heir to the slain premier, along with Hezbollah, Amal and Walid Junblatt.

Hezbollah and Amal supported the law because it gave them dominance in districts that have a large Christian community.

Junblatt did so because he wanted the support of Hezbollah in the Baabda-Aley district against Aoun. Both men had been arch enemies since the civil war in Lebanon.

No sooner had Aoun returned than political bickering erupted between them. To Junblatt’s displeasure, not only did Aoun ally himself with Talal Arslan in Aley, to challenge Junblatt in the Druze community, but has also struck an alliance with Hezbollah.

The Shiite resistance and General Aoun will form an electoral alliance in Baabda-Aley and Ammar hinted that a high-profile meeting between Aoun and Hassan Nasrallah might soon take place.

When asked about a future alliance with Hezbollah he replied, “Yes, why not?”

In response to the Aoun-Hezbollah-Amal honeymoon, Junblatt has struck his own alliance with another archenemy, the Lebanese Forces (LF) of arrested warlord Samir Gagegea. They will be working together for victory in the mixed Christian-Druze Shouf district.

Alliances will remain strange until the elections are over in Lebanon. While Lahoud would want to maintain his alliance with Aoun, now that the Syrians are gone, to maintain himself in the Christian community, Aoun would quickly abandon him, due to his pro-Syrian record.

He would also axe Franjieh and the Murrs, but not necessarily Hezbollah, because he claims to be a cross-confessional leader who wants to work for all communities, including the Shiites, for a new Lebanon. He would still need them to fulfil his presidential ambitions in 2007.

The same applies to Amal. He would also find room to cooperate with Junblatt, because at the end of the day, they both have a common long-term enemy in Emile Lahoud.

Aoun and Junblatt would also have a common enemy in Samir Gagegea, the arrested warlord who will be released after the elections.

It is to nobody’s benefit that he be released before the elections since he would turn the tables on everyone once out of jail; on Lahoud, Aoun and Junblatt.