Hanna Saleh

We Need President Who Resembles and Represents the Lebanese

A week from now, the Lebanese parliament will turn into an electoral body that should elect a new president by the thirty-first of October to replace Michel Aoun, whose term ends that day. Legally, legislation is suspended until a new president is voted in. However, realistically, the political climate does not suggest that finishing the process before the deadline is possible. In fact, this prospect is seen as almost inevitable, a tradition of the ruling alliance imposing its control over the Lebanese.

There is a political consensus around leaving a presidential vacuum in Lebanon because all of the candidates and their supporters have no regard for what has happened to the country, which was defrauded for three decades and whose people were humiliated, as the World Bank sees it. They ignored the demands of the October 17 revolution that sought to retrieve the kidnapped state, reinstate the constitution, and bring a president to office who resembles the citizens and could save the country.

Describing his political party, Gebran Bassil called them “guardians of rights, the republic, and the presidency.” Since when does the president need guardians? He should embody the unity of the country, be its moral compass, and be at the forefront of safeguarding their rights and interests. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this surreal proposition was not put forward in a vacuum. Rather, he was hinting at what Aoun had said about the “hope” of the Lebanese that a “president who continues his journey” is elected… totally disregarding the fact that his term will go down in history as the one in which the country collapsed, institutions were crushed, the constitution was sidelined, the Lebanese were sent to hell, and the cover was given to Hezbollah, allowing it to turn Lebanon into a rocket launching platform defending the Islamic Republic of Iran.

While we cannot predict the final outcome the president’s team is pursuing, those putting these Don Quixote propositions are obsessed with convincing us of the illusion that they cannot be overlooked. Aoun spoke publicly of his refusal to form a government and his intention to undermine the presidential election. “I hope the presidential elections will have the same fate as that of the formation of a new government. The names put forward were not up to standard and would not have been able to meet its current or future responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, Bassil’s statements also strongly indicate that an insurrection is imminent as he hinted at Aoun not leaving the presidential palace under the pretext that he refuses to hand over the powers of the presidency to a caretaker government!

This begs the question: What are the powers of a president whose term has ended? What power does he have to hand over? Will he not be a former president on October 31st? What does the constitution have to say on this matter? What precedent is he relying on? Let us assume that he succeeds in a palace coup; what text will he use to justify that coup globally and domestically, and to the country’s political and security institutions? What power will he have once only the Syrian and Iranian ambassadors answer his calls?

Aoun’s arrival at the presidential palace on October 31, 2016, cannot be compared with his occupation of that palace by force in late 1988, the day Amin Gemayel headed a transitional military government whose primary task had been holding presidential elections. Does anyone believe that the preparations to mobilize followers and have them march to the palace could legitimize such a coup and allow for the constitution and the overwhelming popular opposition to be bypassed?! This story was a farce in 1989, and repeating it today would be a tragedy. It would pose an additional threat to the country as a political entity, and it will exacerbate the state’s lack of legitimacy and deepen the paralysis of its civil, military, and security institutions!

“Elect a president now or prepare for the worst, some say! Remarkably, however, no faction has demanded the formation of a government at this pivotal stage in Lebanese history, one that could help us avoid the worst-case scenario through workable steps that safeguard the country and its people, as well as mitigate the ramifications of the collapse. Instead, everyone is behaving as though they have all the time in the world. The head of the caretaker government, Najib Mikati, is not too concerned with forming a government because he is comfortable with his current post and the chair of the presidency until further notice! Meanwhile, Aoun-Bassil’s insistence on making any formation impossible is part of their plan for an insurrection!

Overall, things would not have taken this course if Aoun’s camp could not count on Hezbollah’s “protection,” which it can later exploit to threaten others. Either you go along with our candidate for the presidency, or there will be no president! Their strategy is to invest in the devastation and starvation that have devastated the country after the mafia alliance left its people scavenging for bread and medicine, shifted Lebanon’s loyalties to the Axis of Resistance, and strengthened Iran’s hegemony. Here, we should recall Naim Qassem’s words: “Those who are not satisfied should seek another solution for themselves!” But the elections, which left Hezbollah incapable of imposing its will, compelled the party to bet on exacerbating the crises facing the election of the president and the formation of a government so it can impose a candidate presented as a moderate who would go along with its agenda- a president that safeguards the interests and gains of the political class and is happy to be merely nominally in charge of managing the crisis!

Meanwhile, the deputies of the revolution announced their intention to put forward a comprehensive “constitutional, principled initiative to rally political and popular support for the election of a president who would help set the country on the course to recovery.” They set the first of September as the date for it. Their real bet is to manage to invigorate the people so that popular representation is not disregarded in the election of a new president. The hope is that this initiative will allow for the implementation of a program to save the country, restore the sovereignty of the republic so that the president serves as a compass that guides Lebanon and the Lebanese, protects the judiciary’s independence, and ensures that all are questioned and held accountable.

Here, to be precise, we have to mention that since the end of the civil war, the president’s office has been vacant. The threat of a vacancy is merely an extortion tactic. In general, the criteria for selecting presidents have demonstrated how low the political class has sunk politically and ethically. They relied on an illegitimate armed force to protect them as they turned their backs on the people and their rights and undermined the status and interests of the country.

While there is no hope of these tyrants suddenly developing a conscience, the lessons of the elections of years past demonstrate that reversing course is difficult but not impossible. Moreover, the support of the Lebanese first, and their having voted to punish this class second, can be built upon. The October forces have a responsibility to lay this path, though that does not imply demanding miracles from the deputies of the revolution.

The ABCs of imposing change tell us that those hoping to do so need to take the initiative and organize or form inclusive political bodies that put pressure on the totalitarian and sectarian personalized political parties currently dominating the political scene. Undertaking this task is essential for synergizing the efforts of those who are hurting and striving to realize change as part of a cross-regional and cross-sectarian “historic bloc” that can serve as a home for all sensibilities, prominent regional figures, and syndicates. It is undoubtedly that the absence of such a “historic bloc” enabled the murderous looters to remain in power.