Hazem Saghieh

Lebanon: On the Talk Regarding Aounist Vacuum

Talk about the tenure of the current Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, coming to an end is often coupled with the phrase “presidential vacuum.” This description is inaccurate in two senses:

First, we might be faced with two vacuums, not one, after Aoun’s term ends: a presidential vacuum and a governmental one. The fact is that, after many failed attempts, we can say that finding a prime minister whom Aoun could tolerate, and whom his son-in-law Bassil would approve of, is almost impossible.

Even the prime minister of this shabby government, Najib Mikati, who has a reputation for being lax and accommodating, is not qualified to undertake this arduous task. Rather, former Prime Minister Hassan Diab is perhaps the only Sunni suitable for the job.

Indeed, the Aounists’ explicit hostility to the Taif Agreement and the powers it granted the country’s prime minister, and their preoccupation with securing Bassil’s future, which now seems bleak and unclear, render Aoun responsible for both vacuums. He holds the record, in modern Lebanese history, in this regard.

Second, the prevailing rhetoric about the presidential vacuum leaves two false impressions: on the one hand, that a vacuum would threaten this position that Aoun currently fills, and on the other that real power is actually wielded by institutions and elected politicians that a vacuum now threatens.

Here, we have to get our facts straight. While it is true that a presidential and governmental vacuum would be another disaster for the Lebanese people, their institutions, their economy, and their everyday life, it would not have any impact on the only place that is very full: Hezbollah, its army, its weapons, and its economy.

Here, not with the president or the government, is where real power, which of course affects the lives of citizens without being affected by them, lies.

These reservations lead us to conclude that the end of Aoun’s tenure coincides with two factors, one that his tenure helped give rise to and another that it contributed to justifying, strengthening, and granting the legitimacy that had been desired:

The first factor is that there is a desire to empty the premiership of its meaning and significance, while any effort to grant it effectiveness becomes a reason for prolonged conflict. The conflict does not necessarily lead to a solution or settlement, but it certainly does further poison inter-sectarian ties among the Lebanese.

As for the second, it is that Hezbollah’s arsenal has gained, during Aoun’s presidency, practical legitimacy conceded to it by the country’s supposed constitutional legitimacy.

If we were to speak the language of sects and their calculations, which is unavoidable in Lebanon, we would say that Aounism contributed to unleashing Shiite maximalism (which it is allied with and seeks support from) and repressed Sunni minimalism (which it despises).

In this sense, Aoun’s tenure established and expanded disparities among the sects. This, in turn, cannot be separated from the principle of a “strong (Christian) presidency,” which the Aounists have elevated to the status of a sacred slogan.

Given the presence of an arsenal, this so-called strength does not mean anything but power over those without an arsenal.

As for those who do have an arsenal, they are to be gifted and rewarded. How else - and based on what - could strength be strong, if not through arms?

This approach in itself is a surefire recipe for more communal havoc, and perhaps civil war the moment its requisites are met.

Still, the “achievements” of Aoun’s tenure remain incomplete without reference to the deadly economic crisis, the Beirut blast, and the souring of Lebanon’s ties with the Arab and outside world.

All of that came after the Aounists initiated a sizable shift on the Christian front, the repercussions of which were only contained by their setback in the last general elections.

Since they pushed a segment of the Christians to the camp of the axis of resistance and the Assad regime, this community has not had anything to contribute except hatred, racism, and teaming up with the strong against the weak - not to mention all the silly theatrics, like the two ministers “shelling” Israel with their stones as it was striking Syria’s two airports.

Aoun’s time in office succeeded in one thing: it taught us how clichés become reality. All the elaborate rhetoric about the catastrophic failure that could describe a certain state of affairs, we have experienced and seen with our own eyes; we know by now what it means for things to be absolutely abysmal.

The fact is that Aounism, after six wicked years, has been shown to be committed to zero-sum politics: No achievements. No strength. No prestige. Nothing at all. It is, of course, a fleeting moment in the political history of Lebanon, but it is the kind of evil that can destroy everything else.

And who knows, what we are witnessing could be a punishment for a bad past, but it could also be a prelude to a worse future.