The Lebanese parliament has failed, for the twelfth time, to elect a president for the republic, a position that has remained vacant since Michel Aoun’s term ended last October and he left Baabda Palace. The Hezbollah state-within-a-state that rules Lebanon wants to impose a figurehead president who will allow it to rule behind him, as it did during Aoun’s time in office. Hezbollah imposed him on the Lebanese people, and is now hindering or disrupting parliamentary sessions if there is no consensus on appointing Suleiman Frangieh as president. The opposition, meanwhile, is fighting amongst itself, with Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, hoping to inherit the presidency from him, just as he inherited the leadership of the Free Patriotic Movement. Samir Geagea and the Lebanese Forces stand against his candidacy; he also considers the presidency to be his right, given that he supported Aoun’s candidacy after agreeing that he would succeed him in return for his party’s support.
When the two archenemy Christian parties reached deadlock, they decided to support the impartial candidate, former Minister of Finance Jihad Azour, against Hezbollah’s Frangieh in parliament last Wednesday. Neither obtained enough votes to become president.
In democracies with a parliamentary system, executive power is in the hands of the prime minister, while the head of state is an honorary position. When obstacles prevent the election of a president, they may resort to an electoral committee. This does not happen in Lebanon, where the constitution that was further hybridised by the Taif Agreement does not allow for a people’s vote to fill the presidential vacancy, even if it lasts for years. Lebanon has now been without an effective president for two years but Hezbollah does not want anyone other than Frangieh, so the country has neither a president nor a government.
This is a unique feature of the Lebanese system, but it is different this time because the government is added into the mix. After the parliamentary election a year ago, a new government could not be formed because the Hezbollah state-within-a-state wants a government based on its whims. It wants to keep the government in the hands of the resistance movement and insists that its fighters and the army are responsible for protecting the country. On Aoun’s last day in Baabda, he thus dismissed the caretaker government. Today, there is no working executive authority in Lebanon, and no effective constitutional institutions.
Lebanon was once known as the Switzerland of the East, and was the only Arab country that enjoyed freedom and democracy before, that is, it was basically invaded by Iran through its main proxy in the region, Hezbollah. This ruined Lebanon, which is no longer the same country that the world knew. It no longer attracts tourists, and its economy has collapsed; the Lebanese currency has lost 95 per cent of its value. Lebanon is drowning in a sea of foreign debt that the country is unable to repay; it is bankrupt. The Lebanese people are unable to withdraw their money from the banks, which only give them small amounts barely enough for their daily needs. Major foreign companies have left and moved to Dubai, after Beirut was once the Middle East’s centre of world trade. Even the American University of Beirut, the oldest university established by America in the region, is on the verge of moving to Dubai.
We can’t blame Hezbollah alone for the economic crisis in Lebanon, although it is to blame for dragging the country into regional conflicts in which it has no interest, as well as sending its militias to Syria and Yemen while boasting about the number of its fighters; it has 100,000, according to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The movement has also boasted that its missiles can reach Haifa and beyond, which was not only a threat to the Israelis, but also a veiled threat to the Lebanese people, who witnessed with their own eyes the Hezbollah mock invasion of Beirut, Sidon and other areas on 7 May, 2008, in a bizarre show of force demonstrating what would happen if anyone dared to demand that the movement should disarm and hand over its weapons to the Lebanese army. That was Hezbollah telling the Lebanese, accept willingly what we dictate, or we will force you to.
Lebanon’s economic crisis is not new; it began many years ago due to the debt accumulated by the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which amounted to $86.2 billion according to the ministry of finance. The debt and corruption carried on from father to son, as did the Hariri family’s control over all of Lebanon’s wealth and investment projects. This created a parasitic “Hariri class” in Lebanon, which ruled while citizens suffered and were taxed heavily.The corrupt Hariri era in Lebanon lasted for thirty years. The businessman Rafic Hariri, who was close to Saudi Arabia, took over as prime minister in 1992 following the Taif Agreement which ended the Lebanese civil war and began a new political era. Hariri closed the era of the political houses that had risen post-independence, such as the houses of Karami, Al-Hoss, Shehab, Salam, Shamoun, Al-Khoury, Frangieh and so on. Leadership of Lebanon’s many sects became inherited positions and Lebanese politics was established on a quota system between the sects.
Now the Hariri son is closing the Hariri house. Saad Hariri has suspended his work in politics and called on his family in the Future Movement to take the same step. They did not field a candidate in the parliamentary election in May, nor did the Future Movement.
Saad Hariri succeeded his father on the personal and public levels, but has squandered his wealth and lost all of his companies. The last of these was the Saudi Oger company, which Saudi Arabia seized due to his debts amounting to $4 billion; his home in Riyadh was also confiscated. His sister Hind’s private jet was seized after two trials in French courts to pay off debts amounting to $80 million. The most important and famous TV channel in the Arab world, Al-Mustaqbal, established by Hariri Sr, was shut down because there was no money left to pay employees.
The Future Movement was the largest and most important group of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, which stood against Hezbollah’s overindulgence, and preserved the sectarian balance in the country. The party was weakened with Saad Hariri’s repeated mistakes, disastrous concessions and submission to Hezbollah’s requests, including its agreement for Aoun to be president.
Christians have been divided in the past two decades between those supporting the Shia and those supporting the Sunnis politically. Both sides boast about their Muslim supporters and the advantages they give them, but with the blunders of the Sunni movement, its weakness and the frustration of its followers among the Sunni Muslims, along with the absence of a serious leader who defends their rights, the time has unfortunately come for Christian polarisation towards the Shia backed by Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.