Hanna Saleh

The End of the 'Strong Reign'

Today, on the 1st of September, Lebanon sees the term of its president end. It is true that Article 73 of the Lebanese constitution leaves it up to the Parliamentary Speaker to choose a day this month to hold a parliamentarian session to elect a new president, and he will probably bide his time in hope of a Constitutional Council ruling that slightly alters the makeup of parliament. This is no secret, as details of confidential conversations continue to leak, and the propaganda promoting electoral fraud is in full swing! As he had done in his comments on the course of the investigation into the port blast, Hassan Nasrallah made a “prediction,” saying that two or three deputies would change this time!

Until then, Article 75 of the constitution stipulates that “the Chamber meeting to elect the president of the republic shall be considered an electoral body and not a legislative assembly. It must proceed immediately, without discussion of any other act, to elect the Head of the State.”

One thing we know for sure is the “strong reign” ended a long time ago, and it entered the history of presidential terms as the one in which the Lebanese were sent to hell, and the country was threatened as a political entity. No measures or decisions were issued to address the collapses that have hit every aspect of the lives of the Lebanese. The country has been looted, and its people are on the brink of hunger. The homeland has become a migration center for skilled Lebanese youths, and increasing numbers of Lebanese are choosing to board “boats of death.” The latter stages of his term saw the broadest ever strike carried out by public sector employees that threatened severe consequences, and to top it all off, Lebanon’s judges declared their first open-ended strike in the country’s history.

One could argue for or against the Judges’ move, but it wouldn’t have taken place, and the course of justice in the country would not have been disrupted if it were not for the “Nitrate regime,” which subordinated the judiciary and suspended its independence. The humiliation aggravated when Aoun, contradicting the constitution, decided to refrain from signing the decree to appoint new judges in 2017.

Despite the arrogance of the Palace and the noise it made, as well as its threats intended to conceal its desire to launch a coup that reflects the president’s hysterical push to cling to power, all these attempts amount to nothing more than last-minute saber-rattling. Though this hysteria failed to ensure that his international sanction son-in-law would inherit his position, Aoun’s bet that it would do has cost Lebanon dearly.

Among these costs are unprecedented isolation from the Arab world and the international community and Lebanese being forced to watch on as Hezbollah hijacked the state and turned the country into a tool of the Persian project against the region. The fact is that since Aoun became president, his only priorities have been to serve his partisan interests and his ambitions. Real power was wielded outside the Presidential Palace, as nothing other than the “rights” of his team and solidifying his hold on positions of power to ensure its longevity concerned the president.

In the months since the general elections on May fifteenth, the president fought a fierce battle with the prime minister-designate over shares in the government. Mikati did mention objectives or a program in their back and forths, nor was he concerned with addressing the implications of the election results that saw a strong punitive vote against the political class. His priority is well known. He wants to remain prime minister. On the other hand, the Palace was totally detached from what the country is going through as the pain gets worse and social tensions spike.

Aoun prioritized perpetuating Bassil’s control over the government situation during the inevitable phase in which Lebanon will be without a president... and he failed! Time is obviously not on the side of the Palace, and its capacity to dictate the next president diminishes by the day. Regardless of his fatwas, Aoun will leave the Palace on time. Once he does, Bassil will go back to being a deputy subjected to American Magnitsky Act sanctions!

Things are worrying for the Palace as Aoun’s term has left nothing but immense suffering behind it, and the page on Bassil’s “leadership” has turned though he was not convinced that the October 17 revolution had put his political career behind him. Despite the electoral law being tailored to suit sectarian parties, the results altered the composition of parliament. Hezbollah lost its majority, and the other sectarian parties, as the party and its partners in the sectarian-quota-based spoil-sharing regime failed to win a majority. The Palace, relying on Hezbollah, thus rushed to stir division over the presidency, opening the door to sharp Maronite-Sunni tensions!

Deluded into thinking it could impose a “deal,” the president tried to seize the power of the prime minister, turning the Presidential Palace into a hub for inflaming sectarian tensions. Aoun turned to the head of the Maronite League, who claimed that Aoun “does not believe that a government which lacks the needed standards, as well as parliament’s confidence, can fill the vacuum at the level of the head of the state.”

We saw a lot of nonsense and fatwas coming from the Palace over the past few weeks as Aoun attempted to conceal his intention to launch a coup after his term ends. Today, we see sectarian tensions being inflamed and efforts to stir panic regarding the prospect of a vacancy. It seems that Aoun and his associates have overlooked the fact that the president’s office has been vacant for decades and that it was emptiest during his term… Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the man who really holds the levers of power and has seized the authority of the presidency is behind this smokescreen the president is seeking to create.

Hezbollah runs this Don Quixote battle. Aoun’s propositions do not harm the party, and it has no problem with him staying in Baabda and allowing the devastation to aggravate. Bassil’s gimmicks do not bother Hezbollah, nor did his gradually increasing hold over the presidency... Hezbollah’s priority is that Aoun does what he had been entrusted to do. The party wants either a new president who perpetuates Aoun’s term or a president it can invest in and exploit until the kidnapped state vanishes altogether. As far as Hezbollah is concerned, this brings it closer to achieving its ultimate goal of taking over the country and annexing it, turning it into part of the Ayatollah’s empire!

His term ended a long time ago, and it is his obsession to remain in power, imposing himself on Lebanon and the Lebanese, that is being exposed. More than ever, Lebanon is caught between two projects. One is Hezbollah’s project- eroding the country so it can be annexed. The other is the October 17 Revolution’s project for change, which seeks to achieve the people’s hopes and dreams of the establishment of a constitutional state of law and order in which there is accountability, equality before justice is guaranteed, and pluralism and democracy are safeguarded. This project demands political organization around a comprehensive vision, leading to the emergence of a “historical bloc” that cuts across regions and sects, creating a genuine political alternative.

The bloc of deputies elected by those aspiring to this change has been entrusted to develop a reading of the situation, present a vision for how to change it, and decide on a president that can help it do so. Without pushing delusions, the major bet is on what they will do to ensure that the election of the new president becomes a pitstop on the road to change. In parallel, there is also a need to prepare for mass mobilization if we see the “legalized” seizure of the seats won by deputies elected by the people in the hope that they could facilitate change.

Bluntly put, with this dreadful, plunderous, murderous political class, the state hijacked, and the sovereignty of the country and the constitution violated repeatedly, we cannot rely on this class’s proposals. Even though they try to hide it behind empty rhetoric about criteria and the eligibility of candidates, their only goal is consolidating their positions of power with this sectarian-quota-based spoil-sharing regime. Electing a president that meets the political class’s criteria will not give us back our republic, reinstate the constitution, or turn Lebanon into a country of law. It would only perpetuate the vacuum. In light of the current balance of power, it would do little more than strengthening the desire of the Lebanese to leave the hell that has become their country.