Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Hariri nominates Assad ally for president

A surprise proposal by Saad Al-Hariri has upset traditional equations in the Lebanese political arena, with pundits left wondering if it is for real or just a manoeuvre, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The leader of Lebanon’s Future Current, Saad Al-Hariri, has surprised Lebanese political circles by nominating the leader of Al-Marada Current, Suleiman Franjieh, a personal friend of Bashar Al-Assad, as president after more than 18 months of the position being vacant.

Franjieh was always a possible candidate since he is a senior Christian leader and one of four Maronite heavyweights. But the backing of Al-Hariri — the son of slain leader Rafik Al-Hariri —was a shock because Franjieh is a close friend of Al-Assad, who is accused by Future Current of assassinating Al-Hariri senior.

An informed Lebanese source told Al-Ahram Weekly about the reasons behind the nomination, which remain a mystery to most Lebanese and even politicians, who were caught off guard by the announcement.

The initiator of the proposal, according to the source, is General Jamil Al-Sayed, former director of public security, and a hawk of 8 March who was investigated for his involvement in Al-Hariri’s assassination but was found not guilty.

The source said that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri convinced Saad Al-Hariri of the nomination after Al-Sayed proposed the idea to Jumblatt. The source explained that Jumblatt wants to undermine the two top Christian leaderships in Mount Lebanon: General Michel Aoun, leader of the Change and Reform Bloc, and Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Phalange Forces.

If Franjieh becomes president, Jumblatt will not be affected since the former’s stronghold is in North Lebanon, in Qadaa Zgharta, which is far from any regions where Jumblatt has influence in Mount Lebanon.

According to the senior source, Al-Sayed convinced Jumblatt that Al-Assad will remain in power and there is a need to reassure Hizbullah by installing Al-Assad’s closest Christian allies in the Lebanese presidency. It would also reassure the Alawis in Syria.

In return, Al-Hariri would become prime minister and take charge of the economy portfolio, while Franjieh would deal with Syria in his capacity as president. This would be similar to the model of Emile Lahoud-Rafik Al-Hariri during Syria’s presence in Lebanon, before Al-Hariri was assassinated and Al-Hariri’s family and allies accused Damascus of being behind the murder.

The source continued that Aoun’s Liberal National Current and the Phalange Forces Party, the two largest Christian heavyweights in the country, would never accept this choice. Aoun believes he is more deserving of the presidency since he heads the largest Christian bloc in Lebanon and describes himself as the leader of Eastern Christians. This would be his last chance to head the only Christian presidency in the Arab world, since he is already more than 80 years old.

Geagea, meanwhile, would never accept Al-Assad’s friend as president of Lebanon. Sources in the Phalange Party said they want to maintain their alliance with Al-Hariri irrespective of disputes, and that brings together Future Current, Phalange Party and 14 March, formed to confront Syrian dominance.

However, the silence of Phalange Party leader Geaea is telling. The source said that the Phalange is trying to manage the crisis without offending Al-Hariri, who is a friend and ally.

Political analyst Mohamed Shams, an expert on Lebanese politics, believes that Al-Hariri is counting on Franjieh’s allies to undermine the proposal. Shams said that Aoun’s stronghold in Al-Rabya is appalled by the proposal, which would destroy Aoun’s aspirations to sit in Baabda Palace, the seat of the Lebanese presidency.

Franjieh is closer to Hizbullah than Aoun and he trusts the Shia group more than Aoun. But the group would choose Aoun over Franjieh because of the former’s political weight among Christians. It would be unlikely for Hizbullah to enter a confrontation or sever relations with Aoun and Geagea, who may take a similar stand, and thus be at odds with the powers representing the majority of Christians, according to Shams.

He believes this is at the heart of Al-Hariri’s proposal, because he knows his rivals, who are Franjieh’s allies, will not accept it. On the other hand, some believe Franjieh’s nomination is a solution for everyone.

Marcel Al-Ters, who is close to Franjieh’s Al-Marada Current, says Franjieh is the most suitable candidate for Lebanon and the Arab world because his nomination at this sensitive time is a consensual solution for the Lebanese crisis.

According to Al-Ters, many of the poor in Lebanon allies or not will view Franjieh as a logical solution to end the perpetual crisis in Lebanon’s political scene since Al-Hariri Sr’s assassination 10 years ago, and the fractures it caused in the political choices by 8 March and 14 March.

If Franjieh becomes president, this will give Future Current, composed of a Sunni majority, an opportunity to communicate, even if indirectly, with Tehran and Damascus through Franjieh’s strong relationships with both. This would allow Al-Hariri to return as head of the cabinet.

For Shia forces, the relationship between Franjieh and Berri’s Amal group and Hassan Nasrallah’s Hizbullah and his credibility with them represents a fast bridge to restoring a fully operational state.

Regarding the Christian component in Mount Lebanon, no one can doubt the doctrine of this leader from Zgharta and his sacrifices to maintain Lebanon as a sovereign, independent, free state after losing all of his family to the cause.

“Geagea and his Phalange may not endorse Franjieh because of his inconsistent political positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and disputes that estranged the two families, including the 1978 Ahdan massacre,” Al-Ters said.

“There is no reason, however, for the Liberal National Current and Aoun not to endorse Franjieh since the latter endorsed Aoun’s candidacy for president over the past two years. Aoun also knows that Franjieh is most capable of restoring the rights of Christians to power in Lebanon.”

Accordingly, Al-Ters believes Franjieh’s ascension to the presidency is not only a safeguard for many Lebanese rivals, but also for regional political powers interested in stabilising Lebanon, including Damascus, Cairo and Riyadh, which held his grandfather and former Lebanese president, Suleiman Franjieh, in high esteem since he was Saudi Arabia’s friend and also an ally of the Umayyad capital.

“He is the best candidate to lead the Lebanese ship at this sensitive time because of his balanced policies,” he said.

Whether it is a political manoeuvre or a real proposal, the initiative has shaken traditional alliances in Lebanon. It jolted relations between the Phalange and Future Current, and even created a crisis inside Future Current. At the same time, it may have brought old Christian rivals Geagea and Aoun closer together.

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