Hazem Saghieh

Saying Goodbye to the Hatemonger

I hope the readers will forgive me for citing an old column of mine in which I call Aounism a product of many hatreds:

- Hatred for the Lebanese Forces, within the same Christian community.

- Hatred of the Sunni sect, especially because of Rafik Hariri and the immense role he played politically and economically.

- Hatred of the Druze community, an extension of the Mountains War of the 1980s and its grudges.

- Hatred of the Syrians. It was initially focused on the Assad regime because of the tutelage it had imposed on Lebanon and the “War of Liberation.” But since 2005, and especially 2011 and the arrival of Syrian refugees, it has been replaced with hatred for the Syrian people as a whole.

If hatred, in principle, is among the worst qualities a person can have, then Aounism is the lowest common denominator among the Lebanese people, whose readiness to become hatemongers is fueled by sectarianism. This is also what makes every phenomenon that resembles sectarianism the lowest common denominator among the people who experience such a phenomenon.

For this reason, when hatemongers rule based on hate, they can only speak to primal impulses.

In the first place, he divides the people, who are supposed to be one, into friends and enemies. The former become the “great nation” or the “most honorable of people,” whom the homeland and patriotism identify with. The latter, meanwhile, are presented as traitors, mercenaries, corrupt and so on.

In this sense, politics during Michel Aoun’s term was more a pure equivalent to identity and its politics, i.e., that which politics is supposed to overcome and defeat, than anything else.

With moods and sentiments shaping these politics, its content, which is weak anyway, is discarded, as are achievements, whose existence is difficult to confirm. Political life is thus pushed toward being reduced to tribal squabbling between “us” and “them” - both always absolute categories.

As for the institutions that are supposed to, among other things, improve national togetherness, they become crudely partisan, as the Lebanese judiciary has been during the presidential term that is now coming to a close.

The configuration of the Aounist movement is complemented by the presence of an “educated” or “wealthy” elite that sit atop professionals and cadres and are called “successful” and “upright” but whose link to politics is extremely rudimentary, if there at all.

Because raw instinct does not hold any promise for the future, politics becomes akin to revolving around the past, which is seen as the force determining our trajectory, similar to the recurring debate about the colonial era in Algeria (it was recently reduced to a row over skulls and retrieving them).

For this reason, we see only “promises” molded along that of “returning” to the pre-Taif era or to a time before Syrian civilians sought refuge in Lebanon. The “strength” that Aoun “embodied” - or that he had been “prevented” from embodying - thus becomes the remedy for treating the ills of political life! This is because “rights” - “the right of the Christians” here - can only be retrieved by force, which renders political exchange similar to perpetual civil war.

Indeed, as with other populist phenomena, overarching headlines described as noble are curtains hiding small - very small - covetous ambitions. As for the situation at hand, it is little more than arriving late to snatch “our share” of the cake that was baked and distributed in 1990.

As is the case with late arrivals, the Aounists’ appetite for power and corruption emerged in an amplified and inflated form, besides being imbued with a crudeness that is reflected in the role of Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil in running the country.

These tendencies are reinforced by the fact that Aoun is a man of crises and exceptional situations like no other politician in modern Lebanese history.

He first came to life politically in the late 1980s. This first birth was tied to a deep crisis that emerged after Amin Gemayel’s presidential term had ended, and it was followed by wars that continued until Aoun was exiled to France.

As for his second birth, it came with his election as president of the republic, crowning yet another political and constitutional crisis, with some even deluded into thinking that Aoun personally becoming president was the only solution for it.

Today, he leaves his palace, leaving Lebanon in its entirety in a crisis that we might not ever manage to resolve. There would be no hyperbole in claiming that his six-year term has left the country face to face not only with the ills of raw and naked nature but also with nature’s germs, while treatments and immunity are almost non-existent.

However, Aoun leaves his palace frustrated and defeated.

In the first place, populist leadership on a national scale is almost impossible in Lebanon because of its sectarian makeup, which renders populism broken into fragments of populisms distributed among the country’s sects.

As for sticking to a single, clear definition of populism, it is made far-fetched by the trajectory of the Aounists themselves, whose fluctuations and opportunism surpass those we are used to seeing with populist movements in general. Indeed, characterizations lose their ability when the characterized veers from Bashir Gemayel to Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah.

More significant though, and here another fatal problem in Aounism emerges, is that its subordination to the leader of Hezbollah takes the hot air out of Aoun’s balloon and takes him back decades, to a time when he had been an officer obeying orders.

Add to that that the man, who had always lacked charisma, has become in need of some vigor. His son-in-law and heir Gebran, meanwhile, finds himself obliged, whenever he speaks, to answer a question that precedes any questions of politics and responsibility: How old is this young man striving for glory and the highest of heights?

Overall, these were six dark years that Aoun could not have made so dark alone. It took the concerted efforts of many players to create this thick, pitch-black cloud that could continue to hover over us for years to come.