Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Who’s protesting now?

Members of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Current demonstrated this week in support of the movement’s leader, Michel Aoun, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi in Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

At 80, Michel Aoun has a few tricks left in his political repertoire. The former army commander and prime minister, arguably Lebanon’s most influential Christian politician, is not only Hezbollah’s best friend, but also a revolutionary at short notice and Lebanon’s president in waiting or at least this is how thousands of his die-hard supporters see him.

Members and sympathisers of the Free Patriotic Current (PFC), which commands the second-largest bloc in the Lebanese parliament, came in their thousands to downtown Beirut on 4 September dressed in bright orange and waving the PFC flag. Their demands the end of corruption and new elections seemed to echo the nonpartisan calls made only a few days earlier in the same place.

This is “absurd,” an organiser of the anti-government campaign that waged a similar demonstration on 29 August, told the news agency AP. Aoun simply has no right to stage protests against a government of which he is part, said Lucien Bourjeily, founder of the Telet Rihetku (You Stink) campaign. The campaign, sparked off by the garbage crisis in Beirut, is a civil society-led movement that sees all veteran politicians, including Aoun, as inept or worse.

However, absurd or not, this has not deterred Aoun. If a nonpartisan group is able to shake things up by taking to the streets, he is determined to do the same. Aoun even lashed out at You Stink supporters, accusing them of receiving funds from abroad to undermine the country, a charge other regimes in the region often used against Arab Spring activists four years ago.

In doing so, Aoun must have anticipated criticisms of his own style of government, his alliance with Hezbollah, and the cronyism that inspires his management of the FPC. He recently promoted Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, his son-in-law, to the leadership of the FPC, in a move that smacks of the nepotism that has plagued corrupt regimes in the region for decades.

But Aoun and Bassil see themselves as the avant-garde of the war on corruption. Addressing the downtown Beirut rally, Bassil did not shy away from revolutionary rhetoric. “They thought they could force us out of political life, but we have returned to this square and we will return it to all Lebanese,” he told FPC supporters gathered in Martyrs Square.

He then offered his own recipe for ending the country’s stalemate. “We want a clean president who doesn’t cover up for corruption,” he said, with many suspecting whom Bassil had in mind.

The Amal Movement, also feeling the challenge from a disgruntled public, reacted in a more measured manner, and Nabih Berri, its leader and Lebanon’s current parliamentary speaker, presented a six-point roadmap on 5 September.

Speaking during a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the disappearance of Imam Moussa Al-Sadr, founder of the Amal Movement, Berri said that his roadmap envisioned a dialogue in the country, an end to the ownership of weapons by anyone outside the army and the resistance, and the formation of a new cabinet

“Each time the government faces a crisis, we manage through national dialogue to put forward a roadmap that stabilises the situation, and we have been the first to welcome a return to dialogue,” Berri said.

Samir Jaja, leader of the Lebanese Forces Party (LFP), said his party would boycott the dialogue, however. Nearly 50 dialogue sessions have been held since 2006 and none have made any difference, he said.

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