Mustafa Fahs

Lebanon, Filling the Vacuum to Suit the Clique

Hezbollah blew the starting whistle of the race for the presidency with its announcement that Sulieman Frangieh is the candidate of the duo ruling over the Shiites. The announcement and candidate demonstrate the ruling clique, though it has not disagreed on the ruling party’s candidate yet, is about to wage a vicious battle to preserve its gains. This would facilitate the gradual restoration of its authority, and it has thus refused to make any concessions with regard to its sectarian and interest-based approach to constitutional processes, from the election of the president of the republic to choosing the prime minister and forming the government.

The insistence of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement on nominating Franjieh and demonstrating that they will fight this battle to the end demonstrate the keen determination of the pair, especially Hezbollah, to reproduce their authority as it had been before the October uprising. They have not taken into consideration what Lebanon is going through, as a country and people, in terms of economic difficulties that require a different approach to that taken in the past. Nonetheless, the entire ruling clique is in denial, which has led it to behave as though returning to pre-October 17 Lebanon was possible despite everything that has happened since then.

Indeed, substantial economic and social changes have been seen since the uprising. There is the port blast, which exposed the extent of decay within the authorities’ security, judicial, and administrative systems. We also had parliamentary elections that led to the emergence of a hung parliament in which no party has a simple majority. Last but not least, a financial and economic crisis has turned Lebanon into a failed state and led to the eruption of a social crisis that has engendered mass migration; figures suggest that over half a million Lebanese are seeking to obtain a passport in 2023 with the aim of leaving Lebanon in pursuit of decent living standards.

In fact, we can unequivocally say that Frangieh was superficially nominated by the duo (the Amal Movement and Hezbollah), but beneath the surface, all the members of the clique agree to his election. Even if they disagreed on the name, the implications would remain the same, as the clique’s objective is not only a complete restoration of its authority and hold over national institutions, but to prevent the emergence of a new authority and political class that excludes it.

They want to avoid the administrative and economic reforms demanded by the Arab world and international community, which have been made prerequisites for helping Lebanon overcome its crisis. Indeed, this armed political class, which was put in power through the civil war, appears ready to fight new wars to remain in power.

Thus, if the pillars of the clique (the Shiite duo) did not aim to open a serious discussion on a compromise candidate by nominating Frangieh, then they added a twist to the presidential race that could lead to further delays and exacerbate things.

Given the sectarian nature of the political class, the fact that there is no Christian consensus around Frangieh means that Hezbollah is effectively insisting on imposing its hegemony over the other sects. Hezbollah is behaving as though it can continue to engineer the country’s politics as it had done in 2016. It has linked opponents’ realism in dealing with this election to stability, appearing to suggest that either foreign and domestic actors go along with our wish or there will be chaos.

This logic of denial has led to a refusal to undertake a political reassessment of the period that preceded the October uprising. In turn, the political elites in the opposition have come together or merged with the forces for change to reject the hegemony of one party and reformulate their relationships.

It is not just their relationship with the state that is being reformulated but also the form of the Lebanese entity. They have a different approach forward, one that is founded on the shifts that formed in the public space of the October uprising. The uprising pushed these elites to explicitly and bravely assert that the formula through which the country is run is not sacred and that the Taif Agreement can be developed.

Such shifts are conditioned on justice and equality in rights and duties. Refusal to reform and change stemming from assessment of the current balance of power would leave coexistence unsanctified. This would not engender a geographical divorce, i.e., physical division, but a social and cultural divorce that pushes communities into isolation.

And so, filling the presidential vacuum with a figure that suits the ruling clique would create an emptiness that could be filled with chaos.