Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Lebanon’s dynastic succession

Leadership of Lebanon’s family-based political parties is shifting to a new generation, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi in Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

Amid ongoing political conflict in Lebanon, important changes are being made in the leadership of the country’s oldest political dynasties. The manoeuvres are expected to further fan the flames of the country’s unsettled political scene.

Lebanon has lived through a major crisis in recent months, since the promotion of Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, Shamel Rokaz, to commander of special forces. The promotion is considered part of a long-running competition between Rokaz and Aoun’s other son-in-law, Foreign Minister Jibran Basseel.

Basseel succeeded Aoun as leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in August, after Alain Aoun, Michel Aoun’s nephew, withdrew his candidacy from the FPM elections. Basseel’s father-in-law oversaw the succession process, despite clear resentment by many in the FPM. The move signals the establishment of a new political family in Lebanon.

At the beginning of his career, Aoun presented himself as an honest, self-made man who did not belong to a long-established political family, but in the end he plotted for his favourite son-in-law, Basseel, to succeed him in the FPM, which he saw as a reformist movement.

It appears that Lebanon must bend to Aoun’s personal ambitions for the Lebanese presidency and his longer=term goals for his family. There have even been rumours that he will nominate Rokaz to be minister of defence.

The signs of political succession are not exclusive to Aoun. Sami Al-Jumayel, who succeeded his father, former Lebanese president Amin Al-Jumayel, as the leader of the Lebanese Phalanges Party, is also looking to strengthen his leadership of his party and boost his popularity.

He has strongly rejected the extraordinary promotion of Rokaz. Despite being an ally of Future Current, he is a strong critic of the performance of Tammam Salam’s government, which is close to the Current.

More importantly, the Phalanges Party is a strong critic of the country’s Christian forces convening parliament because it believes that parliament should not have the exclusive right to elect the president when the position is vacant.

Convening parliament in the absence of a president would also undermine the powers of the presidency and weaken the Christian’s historic monopoly on the Lebanese presidency.

Meanwhile, Saad Al-Hariri, the leader of Future Current, who was forced to assume power after his father Rafiq was assassinated in 2005, has been trying to fill his prominent father’s shoes. Although Al-Hariri only inherited part of his father’s wealth, he continues to single-handedly finance his movement in a country where political money plays a major role in confronting the Shiite rival of Iran-Hezbollah, which is rich with petro-dollars. Mostly for security reasons, Al-Hariri has chosen to live abroad.

This all impacts on Future Current, which represents the country’s Sunnis. The movement maintains its popularity because of its founder and the hatred of its Sunni supporters for other Sunni rivals, whether Sunni political forces allied with Syria and Hezbollah, or Sunni religious extremists such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups that are difficult for other Sunnis to support.

Dynastic political succession is a fundamental part of Lebanese politics. For centuries Lebanon has been ruled by political families through a feudal system. The Druze Arslan family, which still holds the title of emir, dates back to the Lakhmid Muntherids, according to some versions.

Since then, various ruling families have succeeded each another as rulers of the country.

Jumblatt and Al-Jumayel’s heritage, however, is only a few centuries old. The key political shift came with the rise of new political and feudal families that replaced the old families as leaders of the religious sects. It also changed the balance of power among the sects, though the political system was still based on political sectarianism led by ruling families.

Today, veteran Lebanese politicians have started handing over their posts to their successors while they are still alive. Former president Al-Jumayel, a descendant of the prominent Al-Jumayel family that has given Lebanon two presidents, recently turned over leadership of the Phalanges Party to his son Sami.

The famous Druze leader Waleed Jumblatt has started to groom his son Taymour to succeed him, although he has not yet handed him power. Other leading politicians who have inherited political power from their parents include Saad Al-Hariri and Sulayman Frangieh, head of the Marada Movement.

Succession occurs through free-and-fair elections because Lebanese society supports the system, and such dynastic political succession is present even in the lower ranks of the local and other elections.

Although Lebanon sometimes appears to be the most modern country in the Arab world, and has the best education system, it has been ruled for centuries by a handful of families and aristocratic power bases. No matter how modern and progressive the names of the parties may seem, they remain family- and sect-based and have just experienced a change of faces.

Lebanon’s leaders have shown a great ability to survive and absorb change by changing their party banners, ideologies and regional alliances. But sects and families still reign supreme in Lebanon and uphold historical rivalries amongst themselves whose origins are sometimes a mystery to the new generations.

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