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Lebanon … A Judge, Soldiers and Thieves

Lebanon … A Judge, Soldiers and Thieves

Friday, 23 April, 2021 - 11:45

Lebanese Deputy Elie Ferzli stirred controversy in political, military and popular circles after calling for the Commander of the Lebanese army, Joseph Aoun, to remove the President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, from Baabda Palace and assume power.

Ferzli’s surprise has two dimensions. The first is that it came from a political figure who had advocated Michel Aoun’s reign and defended it ferociously, a figure linked to the Syrian-Iranian axis that supports Aoun and has close ties with what remains of the regime in Damascus.

As for the second dimension, it is the open discussion to end Michel Aoun’s rule through the army. The military has only once taken over power in Lebanon. That was during the era of the extraordinary President Fouad Chehab and through a political settlement concluded with the late great Hamid Frangieh, not a military coup like those seen in Arab states in the early years of the mid-20th century.

The previous century’s phase of political change was linked to military coups in the middle of the century. They called themselves revolutions in several countries to garner the popular legitimacy needed to compensate for the lack of legal or political legitimacy of their coup against the ruling regimes. During the Arab Spring, armed forces played a central role in ensuring transition periods and supporting the political process in Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan. In these countries, the army is a national institution, not an ideological force subordinate to the regime or the ruling party, like the army in Syria and Libya.

What makes Lebanon different from its Arab neighbors is its fragile political and social makeup that impacts the nature of the army. This makeup has left the military constrained by the sectarian authorities, which contained its activity even at the most dangerous political and security turning point Lebanon has seen since the Taif Accord. The ruling clique has been blackmailing the army constantly and distancing it from the public under the pretext of safeguarding its unity and averting the dangers that would stem from a split in its ranks, which took place during the civil war. Because of these constraints, the Lebanese political class paid no mind to the army’s place in political life, and this is because of the impossibility of the army orchestrating a coup or even interfering directly in politics.

In practice, the October 17 revolution was a turning point for the way in which the Lebanese army deals with a novel political and social situation, which should have led to defection or a rebellion against the constants that ruled and controlled its position within the system. For this reason, some political forces have accused the army of “colluding” with those supportive of the October uprising and behaving leniently with them. On the other hand, some October forces also expressed sharp criticism of its units, especially its security measures against protesters, and they demanded that it not protect the authorities. Its composition and complicated position is controversial within the October revolution’s milieu and its most prominent groups, amid disagreements about its future role in taking the country out of the crisis and the feasibility of applying a foreign model in Lebanon.

Ferzl’s proposal, at this time, could be exploited by Joseph Aoun’s adversaries, who are working on distancing him from the presidential race. For this reason, they did not hesitate to point the finger at the military establishment, whose forces have begun to directly feel the effects of the economic collapse as international fears grow of absolute chaos and social and security upheaval that would require a formal institution to contain it, even partially. This calls Arab and international mobilization to help provide the military establishment’s needs so that it can play its role irrespective of the ruling clique’s conditions. Ensuring support for the army would also create a bulwark against those betting on the economic and financial crises doing away with what remains of the state’s institutions.

The discourse about the army is an admission of lack of solutions and that no settlement between the political forces can save the ruling class, especially the factions directly disadvantaged by the idea of supporting the army and its leadership. For this reason, they will launch a smear campaign against Army Commander General Joseph Aoun if his name is put forward, just as they had smeared the name of the Judge at the International Court of Justice Nawaf Salam, who had been put forward as a prime minister candidate by large groups from within the revolutionaries.

Between a soldier, who is practicing his duties cautiously, a judge, whose role among the October revolution is expanding, the international community’s insistence on economic and social reform and foreign banking on a central role played by the judiciary – that is protected by the military - in the reform process, a Lebanese model for change is beginning to take shape. This model can meet the October 17 revolution’s criteria and put a stop to the ruling authorities’ attempts to finish off their coup against the revolt. Between this and that, the regime’s thieves continue to play their parts in the final act of their theater play entitled, “A Judge, Soldiers and Thieves”.

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