The United States’ sanctions against leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MP Gebran Bassil mark a turning point in the Christian political scene in Lebanon.
The FPM boasts the largest parliamentary bloc, but the sanctions are set to undermine this power after Bassil was accused of corruption. The sanctions will likely bring to halt the forward momentum the FPM has enjoyed in recent years, creating a shift in Christian power in the country.
Bassil is President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law and a former minister of energy and foreign affairs.
Rivals of the FPM have alleged that ever since Aoun came to office in 2016, the share of the movement – which he founded – in ministries and in the public sector has doubled. This has allowed the FPM to enter the so-called “deep state” in Lebanon.
It has appointed its supporters in state positions, never denying that the country’s system allows this form of clientelism and division of quotas.
The October 17, 2019 popular protests, whom Bassil was a virulent target of their chants, rose up against such corrupt practices.
Openly, Christian forces dismissed the sanctions and attempted to separate them from internal Lebanese affairs. The FPM rivals, however, believe that the first immediate repercussions of the sanctions will see the movement “loosening its grip” on Christian quotas.
Secretary of the Lebanese Forces’ Strong Republic bloc Fadi Karam said the impact of the US move will not only have an immediate impact on Bassil’s authority within the state, but on his political future.
It will also impact the role of the current authority, which is dominated by the FPM and its allies.
The sanctions may pave the way for the collapse of this ruling authority, including the FPM, which agreed to several settlements in order to secure cover for illegal dealings, corruption and clientelism in appointments, Karam told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The use of state institutions for personal gain can no longer continue, he said.
“The October 17 revolution, our opposition to this authority and the foreign sanctions will act as a unified front that can confront” the illegal practices, he remarked.
Observers believe the sanctions, by reining in Bassil, have restored some form of balance in the Christian political scene.
“The Christians are now against the ruling authority, which Bassil is a part of,” said Karam, adding that the LF now enjoys the greatest support among Christians.
“We are not seeking to be part of this authority, which we believe is already a failure,” he said.
In contrast to the LF, political researcher, Dr. Toufic al-Hindi, believed that Bassil made gains by choosing to keep his alliance with Hezbollah when asked by the Americans to choose between their incentives and the party.
“Bassil elected to remain with a strong ally in Lebanon and this will reap him major benefits, especially since Hezbollah only has this one Christian ally, which happens to have the parliamentary majority at the moment,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“The party derives its power from its possession of weapons. This in turn allowed it to impose its authority over the state. It has managed to maintain this power even during US President Donald Trump’s tenure,” remarked Hindi, who is a former member of the LF and an opponent of Bassil.
Contrary to expectations, Hindi said that Bassil has not lost his chances of becoming president. This issue, however, is linked to international developments.
He lamented the state of “decay” in Lebanon amid the “weak Christian front”, saying this has left the country with no choice but to be placed under “international tutelage.”