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Is it the Fall of the Presidency or Country?

Is it the Fall of the Presidency or Country?

Monday, 21 September, 2020 - 09:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Sleep is tricky. It befriends you when you need to stay up late and abandons you when you need it the most.

He woke up before dawn. Something told him to go to his office. Silence prevails over the palace. Hours will pass before the place comes to life, with staff, counselors and officials flocking in. The game is no longer amusing... Lack of powers and bad luck... This is how poison seeps into power, the host of all banquets.

Nothing in the office has changed. The calendar hanging on the wall grabbed his attention. It is still in the same place, clinging to the same position. The calendar is truer than loyalists and opponents, workers and advisors. It performs its mission with a boring devoutness and fatal monotony. Every day it gives up a day. It squanders the days of our life and the time of the presidential term.

Everything changes in the palace. The master’s name and the faces of his servants. Topics, approaches and trends change, so do people’s emotions toward the resident of the palace and the ephemeral smiles of the ambassadors. Only the calendar throws papers into oblivion and continues to do that in a perfect and timely manner.

The calendar’s sound is strange. It changes according to time and to the listener’s ear. In the early days of a tenure, its ticking is similar to the explosion of fiery arrows in cities thirsty for celebration. Over time, the calendar loses its luster. It turns into increasingly violent bells as departure time approaches.

The calendar does not lie. The advisers did not succeed in misleading or bribing it. It has not been trained to manipulate the chapters, vocabulary of the dictionary and the constitution. The calendar says innocently and cruelly that autumn begins tomorrow. And it is right in its calculations. Autumn is one of the four seasons. It is part of nature’s cycle. The arrival of autumn is not surprising. But it is painful for it to come early, as if it is tasked with carrying out vengeance. This autumn is more dangerous than the falling of leaves, break of branches and falling rain. This autumn is more dangerous than any other.

President Michel Aoun wanders in his office.

He once thought that he was lucky. He entered the palace after an election and with an outright majority. His presidency bore the signatures of those with whom he had long clashed with: Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt. It also bore the signature of the party which was relentlessly hostile to him: the Lebanese Forces and its leader, Samir Geagea. His story with Nabih Berri is different. He is the friend of his ally, but chemistry has always been lacking between the two men. Each of them accepts the other as if he was forced to take a bitter bill.

He does not want to admit the role of luck. Had it not been for the blood of Rafik Hariri, the doors to return would not have been opened for him unconditionally. He had to pass the tests of Damascus and Anjar together, which would have turned him into an improved version of the head of the “Era of Complete Conformity”, General Emile Lahoud. Had it not been for Rafik Hariri’s blood, Samir Geagea would not have left his prison cell.

Today, he believes he is unlucky. How better would it have been if they were with him in the same boat when the lethal mushroom cloud appeared over the Beirut port. It would have been better if Hariri, Jumblatt and Geagea were among the passengers on the boat. Did he make a big mistake when he preferred to be separated from them rather than accept cohabitation? Did he pay the price for the inability of his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to maintain friendships, albeit thorny, and alliances, albeit costly?

He quickly dismisses a new thought from his mind; Attacks on his term: would it have been better if he had not returned to the palace after decades of absence? Would it have been better if he followed the example of Raymond Eddeh and preserved his freedom, image and right to reject and criticize? The calendar is merciless. Security bodies do not have the power to arrest it and prevent it from gambling with days. Only a little over two years remain of the current tenure.

For the first time, he’s afraid to think about what history can say. In the past, he was powerful and he believed that history itself summoned him to save the country. He was confident that history pushed him into exile to come back as a Fakhreddine-like figure. Today, he is no longer certain. He is no longer confident.

He almost reproaches the calendar for bringing misfortune into his days. The Lebanese woke up and discovered that the political class had plundered their bank assets and threw their savings into the unknown. They turned to the palace, to the man, who is supposed to be strong as he claimed to be. Nothing happened.

A massive explosion broke out. The Lebanese discovered that half of Beirut had been destroyed and the rubble mixed with dead bodies and wounds. The largest assassination on the Mediterranean coast. The crime of ammonium nitrate is painful, shameful and humiliating. It stayed for years in the port as a booby-trapped child whose friends abandoned it and went into hiding. No one dared to open this file, and the officials’ “insolence” made them only blame others and distort the reality.

The president paid the price of accepting the administration of a quasi-state and semi-republic. He also paid the price for his involvement in the crackdown on the republic during the formation of governments and the presidential elections. He paid the price for relying on his alliance with Hezbollah and his failure to persuade his ally not to embarrass him in front of his supporters.

It’s an autumn that is harsher than any other. Never before have the Lebanese fallen from the “boats of death” on the route to Cyprus, fleeing hunger that invaded their homes. The palace has never been holed up behind sandbags for fear of the demonstrators, except in the aftermath of Hariri’s assassination. The Maronite patriarch had never condemned the policies of the Maronite president in the manner implied in the words of Patriarch al-Rai about the current situation.

The difficulties of coexistence have never been revealed in the way they do now. Bankruptcy, isolation and sanctions. Autumn appears as a ghost to a patient celebrating his first centennial - that of the “Republic of Greater Lebanon.”

What will history write? This question haunts him. Lebanon lost its port at a time when new features in the region and new balances are emerging. The country lost its currency, its prestigious universities and hospitals. It lost its reputation and image.

He passes by the pictures of his predecessors in the palace and turns away his face. What would he say to Camille Chamoun, as he was so impressed with that skillful politician? He does not want to stare at Bashir Gemayel’s picture, as he may be severely reproachful. He does not want to stop before the pictures of Elias Hrawi, Emile Lahoud and Michel Suleiman. He feels that they stole the presidency and left him in a lonely palace with a harsh calendar of only one season: Autumn.

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