Lebanon Complex Balance


Mideast Mirror
August 8, 2007 Wednesday

The results of the latest by-elections reinforce the realities
of Lebanon’s delicate internal balance, says Mohammad Kharroub in
Jordanian al-Ra’i

No other Arab people can beat the Lebanese at political argument,
reading between the lines, and interpreting facts to suit their own
prejudices – even if such interpretations are wholly at odds with
the facts, writes Jordanian political commentator Mohammad Kharroub
in the Amman daily al-Ra’i.

TROUNCED: Lebanon’s parliamentary majority – including its politicians,
party leaders, newspapers and satellite channels – just could not
accept the fact that their candidate in last Sunday’s Metn by election,
former president Amin Gemayel – was trounced by the ‘Aounite Camille
Khouri by just 418 votes.

According to the majority, the mere fact of winning was not as
important as the numbers. The pro-government camp insists on depriving
the victory scored by the opposition of any political significance
by saying that while ‘Aoun won politically, he lost as far as the
Maronites were concerned – unlike Gemayel, who lost politically but
won the Maronites.

They point to the fact that 60 percent of Maronites voted for Gemayel,
in sharp contrast to the last election held in 2005 when ‘Aoun won
70 percent of the Maronite vote. Therefore, the pro-government camp
concluded, ‘Aoun cannot allege to represent mainstream Christian

The pro-government, anti-Syrian camp wants to use this inaccurate
reading of Sunday’s by election result in a far more significant
battle to come: The presidential election, which began in earnest
when the results of last Sunday’s election were declared.

Between now and September 24th, when parliament is set to begin
deliberations for choosing a new president, both the pro- and
anti-Syrian camps (but particularly the leaders of the tripartite
alliance of ‘Aoun, Michel al-Murr, and the Armenian Tashnaq Party)
should indulge in a serious review of their alliances and the strength
of the popular bases. What if it was Gemayel who had won those 418
votes? Would the predictions have been the same as they are now?

And even if the ‘Aounist candidate won thanks to the Tashnaq votes,
was that enough reason to accuse the Armenian party of fraud and to
remind them that they were not genuine Lebanese – as Gemayel angrily
did? Such rhetoric will have serious ramifications for Christian
unity in Lebanon.

But let us look at the other side of the coin. The fact that an almost
unknown candidate could take on – and beat – a man like Amin Gemayel,
a former president, son of the legendary founder of the Phalange
Sheik Pierre Gemayel, and, more importantly, father of the murdered
incumbent was an impressive political feat – especially if we take
into consideration the immense amount of political, financial, and
propaganda support the anti-Syrian camp extended to Gemayel.

There is no doubt that ‘Aoun’s standing among Lebanon’s Maronite
Christians was severely dented by his 2006 alliance with Hizbollah
(although the understanding he reached with the Shiite party in
February of that year cannot technically be described as an alliance),
especially in the light of the overtly sectarian campaigns waged
against him and Hizbollah by such Maronite stalwarts as [pro-government
Lebanese Forces leader] Samir Geagea and Amin Gemayel, not to mention
attacks by Walid Junblatt, Sa’ad Hariri, and other anti-Syrian

Yet it remains a fact that the loss of some Maronite support is not
going to detract from ‘Aoun’s political influence in the country
(his bloc in parliament now numbers 23 MPs), nor diminish his chances
of becoming Lebanon’s next president (though the chances of that
happening are now less likely than they were before because of the
split the Metn by-election caused in the Christian camp).

This does not mean however that the majority is going to have it
all its way in the presidential election, or that the next president
will come from its camp. The situation is now far more complex than
it was. Both the anti-Syrian majority and the pro-Syrian opposition
realize only too well that the issue of choosing the country’s next
president will be determined neither by the Lebanese nor even by
Syria and Iran.

All of which points to the inevitable fact that the deal by which the
next Lebanese president will be chosen will come at Lebanon’s expense –
as usual.