A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Think the US Presidential Election is Strange? Consider Lebanon After the ‘Aoun-Hariri Deal

Imagine if you will a world in which Donald Trump chose Elizabeth Warren as his running mate, or Hillary Clinton chose, say, David Duke, and these were considered breakthroughs. You have stepped through a gate into another dimension, a dimension known as (theme music) the Lebanon Zone.

Hariri (left) and ‘Aoun
Anyone who has followed the roller-coaster ride of Lebanese politics since the end of the civil war  and somehow retained their sanity will be familiar with the fact that over the decades the factional leaders (zu‘ama) rarely change, except when one dies, and even then the last name stays the same. But the factions shift alliances every few years. In 1990-91 General Michel ‘Aoun was the sworn enemy of Syria; when he returned after years in exile he was Syria's friend, and is now Hizbullah's favorite Maronite. While his chameleon-like shifts are nowhere near as volatile and frequent as Walid Jumblatt's, he has frequently realigned himself.

The recent announcement by Sa‘d Hariri, the former Prime Minister whose late father's assassination has been blamed on Hizbullah, announced that he was endorsing ‘Aoun for the Lebanese Presidency, which has been vacant since 2014, during which time public services such as trash collection have collapsed.  Soon after, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah endorsed the strange bedfellows alliance. ‘Aoun, a Maronite, would become President, and Hariri, a Sunni, would be Prime Minister, since those jobs are reserved for those confessional groups.

Joyce Karam in an op/ed sees it as a Hariri concession.  It may well break the deadlock and see a President elected in coming days (Parliament chooses the President), but all the faces will be old familiar ones.


David Mack said...

You have got to love the Lebanese. Just when I thought that electoral politics could not get more cynical than they are in the U.S. this year, the Lebanese prove that they are still without peer.

Antun Sa'ada said...

For Editor Collins

How does the election or non-election of a President affect trash collection in Lebanon?

For Mr. Mack

Interesting take from a former diplomat to see the striking of a political deal an act of cynicism. Could this be the restoration of the Lebanese system of "checks and balances"? A self-proclaimed pro Western PM and a pro Syrian President which maintain the delicate national balance required in Lebanaon.

If Russia and the USA were to strike a deal on Syria, would that be an act of cynicism? Would it be mutual?