Geagea and Aoun’s New Love Fest: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun

In a widely predicted move, LF leader Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun came out with a political understanding yesterday that saw the former supporting the latter for Lebanon’s presidency, after about 33 failed attempts at electing a president and 30 years of the same practiced politics.

Lebanon’s Christian field was predominantly supportive. After all, the whole burying the hatchet fest that we saw on TV was done because Christianity, and Christians sure love seeing #TeamJesus in all its glory on Lebanese TV.

The Good:

We can now say that on January 18th, 2016, after around 30 years of feud, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun finally saw eye to eye in something. A more zealous response would be: LET THEM KNOW NOW THAT CHRISTIANS WILL NEVER BE PUT ASIDE AGAIN, etc. But that’s not really the case.

It’s good to see a semblance of unity occur regardless of what that unity might mean. It’s good to see Geagea and Aoun talk things out.

But.

The Bad:

Many think that this move was visionary. The fact of the matter is it’s nothing other than reactionary to Saad Hariri nominating Sleiman Frangieh for president a few weeks ago. The only disturbance in the presidential race, protracted and dull as it was, was Saad Hariri’s deal back in November-December. That disturbance became the catalyst behind both the FPM and the LF’s deal today in order to “reclaim” their constitution-given Christian right.

How good can a move made in reaction and spite be, rather than it being foreseeing and contemplative, especially in the grand picture of Lebanese politics that not only requires foresight to navigate its murky waters? Why don’t you refer to Jumblat for that?

What this move does is not elevate the level of politics that Geagea and Aoun are practicing. It’s not a good thing that Lebanon’s Christian community is now practicing the same kind of tribal politics that the country’s other factions do. By “uniting,” Geagea and Aoun moved from their failed politics on a national level to failed politics on a sectarian level.

Yes, they were Christian leaders first and foremost, many of their policies had inter-sectarian tendencies. How will they move from here? Not in that way, clearly.

The move also comes to the backdrop of a 10 point agreement that the two forged over the past 6 months. It reads as follows:

Geagea Aoun Agreement

The agreement’s key points then are the following:

  • No use of weapons in case of conflict,
  • Supporting the Lebanese army in governing the entirety of Lebanon’s territories alone,
  • A Switzerland-esque foreign policy to get the country to avoid struggles,
  • Supporting UN resolutions,
  • A new electoral law.

Sure, those headlines are all wonderful, and looking at them with no critical thought warrants giving their alliance a second thought. But you can’t not be critical of Lebanese political talk, and the question therefore becomes: how will they do them?

The difference in ideology between Geagea and Aoun is not only related to their Civil War days: the two were supremely divergent even in times of “peace.” They have not agreed on an electoral law other than the Orthodox Law, and even that agreement was more about whose balls are bigger rather than it being done with political wisdom. They have not agreed on which kind of foreign policy they see best for the country. They have not agreed on which way is best to actually get the army to be the only rightful security force in the country, and how to implement all kinds of UN resolutions (hinting at ridding Hezbollah of its weapons).

Alliances need to have a minimum of common ideology. Establishing them just for the sake of common interests in the short run will prove, in the long run, to be detrimental, especially when it affects an entire community (in this case Lebanon’s Christians).

Is this how Christian rights are restored? By making Lebanon’s Christians more exclusive rather than inclusive? By making them more sequestered? By thirding the country instead of keeping it halved? By turning Christians from the entity that governed Lebanon’s dichotomy to another destabilizing agent in an unstable country?

Ignoring the differences that these two presented to Lebanon’s Christian community is the first step towards removing any semblance of democracy from that community. Difference is not to be feared in political contexts. Disregarding it is what’s scary.

The Ugly:

Geagea and Aoun made peace. But I have to wonder: what kind of peace?

They’re making the kind of peace that requires us to bury our heads in the sand, like the perpetual ostriches that our Lebanese existence has made us into; the kind of peace that does not deal with the past requiring such a peace to be made in the first place, effectively making it a recipe for impeding disaster.

The argument goes: other factions have done these peace making deals before, and as such Christians doing it should be celebrated. Making peace is good. But is it?

Is the peace made by Lebanon’s other war factions actual peace? The idea of making peace invokes stability. Is the country stable? Is making peace in spite of history not through it, as all those other factions have done, putting the country on the right path towards healing post our civil war?

I look around and see people from different sects still hating each other, still worried about the intentions of one another. I look around and see a political discourse that still gets those who have supposedly made up after our civil war to fear each other.

What kind of peace are they talking about then?

There are things that are a little too late, and this is one of them. Where was the common interest of Lebanon’s Christian community 30 years ago when these two were actively working on canceling each other out, when their wars tore apart Christian communities and left thousands of victims in their wake?

Yes, this is not the time to bring up war-time memories, but healing only starts with remembering.  Would there have been a need for such a “deal” to be made in 2016 had those two actually cared about the community they’re panicking about today back in the 1980s?

Peace cannot be made by those who only know war.

The Uglier:

I’m afraid to inform you my fellow Lebanese that this “alliance” does not, in any way, affect your life as a Lebanese in the ways that actually matter.

It will not bring you electricity.

It will not fix your garbage crisis.

It will not make your internet faster so you can stream Netflix.

It will not increase your minimum wage.

It will not make your passport worthwhile.

It will not stop the “SSSS” checks on your boarding passes and “random” checkups in airports.

It will not stop ISIS.

It will not extract the oil from our fields.

And, ironically, it does not even guarantee that a president be elected.

Our Lebanese reality cannot be changed when the same people who have been practicing their failed politics over us for 30 years start practicing their politics together.

The Funny:

To end this on a happier note, I can’t but share a few of the lighter tones with which some Lebanese handled the news, in the joke that this actually is:

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Neither Aoun Nor Geagea Is Defending Lebanese Christian “Rights”

Preamble:
The following is what the LF, FPM, Kataeb and Marada agreed upon in Bkerke:

“The parties convening have decided not to run based on the 1960 law and consider the law at hand as one that consecrates the injustice towards Christians. The parties convening have also agreed on the need to take a firm stance against the 1960 law in fear of having this law forced as a reality when the nomination window is open. It is also important to affirm that this law is rejected and is non-viable as a reference to run for elections.”

The electoral reality today:
As the nomination window for the 1960s law closes, the ministry of interior has tabulated 706 nominees, which contain more than 20 candidates for each of parties that agreed upon the above preamble. Talk about “not running” and taking a stance against the “unjust” law at hand.

Let’s talk electoral laws:

This isn’t the only part as to why these politicians are doing a terribly bad job but it’s the most current and as such deserves being dissected in grosso modo to draw a frame for the discussion.

Michel Aoun started out against the Orthodox Law and supportive of the law proposed by the government (13 districts with proportional representation). He later on switched stances to support the Orthodox Law because other Christian parties jumped on the bandwagon (the LF were the first to support this law publicly), effectively becoming the law’s main defender despite him fully knowing that the law will never, ever see the light of the day. If by some miracle the Christian consensus around it were to make it to parliament, the law wouldn’t pass the president. And if the president ended up signing it, the constitutional council might have probably found it unconstitutional. Aoun knew this and knew it well. He also knew that the only reason he was getting support from Hezbollah over the law was because Hezbollah didn’t lose any Shiite seats with it and would use it to boost him among Christians, not because they are deeply concerned for the rights of Christians. He also knew that the support Nabih Berri gave the law was lukewarm at best. That’s why he kept his options open and gave us another electoral option: one proportional representation district. All other laws were rejected, as was obvious by his party’s practices and as is their right.

Samir Geagea started out with the neatly-cut 50 district laws which makes sure his party gets a majority in parliament. When that law received no outside support, he switched to the Orthodox Law and became a prime defender of that law… until he hit the roadblack set forth by his allies regarding the law and for a while it seemed he was taking on the Future movement and Jumblat by marching on with the Orthodox Law. At one point, Geagea’s breathing space came in the form of a Bkerke agreement to put the Orthodox Law on hold and to find a law that brings more consensus. So he effectively killed off the Orthodox Law and started running a campaign against it, only to be “surprised” by an anti-Geagea campaign from FPM supporters and a bishop who obviously went beyond his jurisdiction. Shouldn’t they stick to masses and baptism?

The problem with Christians and the electoral law is two-fold.

  1. In the most optimistic of scenarios, we are 40% of the voting population which has to vote for 50% of parliament.
  2. Lebanese Christians are the only sectarian component of Lebanese society which have a true form of “democracy” whereby despite their numbers, the 50-50 division between Aoun and Geagea renders them meaningless.

Parliamentarian representation has two components as well. Let’s call them a horizontal and a vertical factor. The horizontal factor is an MP’s sect and the vertical factor is his region. The Orthodox law tackles one but not the other. The question, therefore, asks itself: How is Aoun defending “my” electoral rights when he supports a law he knows will not pass and when the other law he supports is one that basically makes “my” vote irrelevant (not that I personally care), effectively not allowing me to make the decisive choice in ANY of the Christian MPs?

And how is Geagea defending “my” electoral rights when his support of electoral laws is almost always apparently contingent upon what his allies believe is best, despite his best attempts not to make it look that way? And how is it defending “my” rights to be a staunch supporter of a law one day and have your media work staunchly on portraying it the “best” for “Christian rights,” effectively convincing most Christians of this, only to trash it when the wind blows differently?

How are both Geagea and Aoun defending “my” rights when they both refused a Kataeb proposal of personal electoral districts which effectively fixes the two-fold problem I have presented earlier? How are they defending “my” rights when the probable reason of their refusal is because personal districts limits their parties’ influence? How are they defending “my” rights when they don’t really care for “my” parliamentarian representation as much as their parliamentarian share?

I Liked Geagea:

I would be lying if I said my mind doesn’t lean one way in the Aoun-Geagea dichotomy. There’s nothing wrong in supporting any of these two men. In fact, I personally believe that between 2005 and 2010, Samir Geagea had a near parcours-sans-faute in Lebanese politics. His discourse was Lebanon-centric. He was moving his party away from the common misconception (at least back then) that it was a Christian party by the Christians for the Christians. They even actively worked to kill off the Lebanese Forces typical symbol of that cut cross. But not today.

Nowadays, the discussion of both men is as Christian-centric as it gets. The more Christian-centric one of them gets, the more Christian-centric the other goes. And I may be a minority in thinking this but I really don’t believe “my rights” are best served in the rhetoric being spewed by both men and their supporters all over the place and even some priests and bishops.

“My” rights are also not served, in my opinion, when the rhetoric being employed is one that is only leading to increase the divide in the country and not work towards trying to fix things. When Aoun completely ignores the fact that his ally Hezbollah is fighting in support of the Syrian army in Al Qusayr, how is that defending “my rights?” How is it defending “my” rights when a politician such as Aoun is completely silent, effectively supporting, the practices of Hezbollah in defending an army and a regime whose main purpose was to destroy my rights as a Christian in Lebanon for years and years? How is it defending “my” rights when the only arguments used on the matter are ones revolving around Jabhet el Nusra and the rise of Sunni extremism while completely ignoring the equally dangerous Shiite extremism and political brainwashing at hand?

On the other hand, how is it “right-defending” for Geagea to completely ignore the rise of the Ahmad el Assir phenomenon or at least not actively work towards decreasing it? What about is his silence regarding the Future Movement’s involvement in fueling the Syrian crisis with his support of the rebels? What about his silence on the Lebanese Sunni extremists who are entering the fights in Syria in support of one of the sides, effectively becoming the same version of Aoun on the other side of Sunni-Shia divide?

Both Aoun and Geagea are taking parts in the Sunni-Shia problem that Lebanon is facing today and their parts are not healthy, not even in the least. Instead of making Christians a form of link between those two components of Lebanese society, our politicians are working on getting those components further apart with their near-blind support of whatever they do and whatever they commit to. It’s not in our best interest as Christians to take either position from the Sunni-Shia struggle at hand. It’s not in our best interest to take the sides we’re taking. It’s also not in our best interest to stand on the sidelines and cheer. The best way to fight for “our” rights is to take the right stance at the right time. At the current time, that stance is the following: get the parties involved not to drag the Syrian war into Lebanese territory, which will lead to more degradation of Christian rights.

A Lack of Vision?

With Aoun coming out against the extension of parliament’s mandate (at least until now) and Geagea possibly announcing his stance in a few hours, I have to wonder: are our politicians truly out of imagination or resources to succumb to the status quo this way? And how is it defending “my” rights when, in one way or another, they both don’t take the fight the long way home and contribute to transforming this country from a growing democracy to a growing dictatorship? That’s the only way really to categorize our parliament extending its mandate for itself.

Is there any guarantee that, in case parliament extends its mandate for two years, our politicians will actually reach a new electoral law? No.

Is there any guarantee that, in case parliament extends its mandate for two years, the security situation will become better enough to hold elections? No.

Why not, for instance, ratify the 1960 law in the following way: divide Akkar in two districts, bring the Maronite seat of Tripoli to Batroun, move a few seats from Beirut 3 to Beirut 1, move a few seats from West Bekaa (where 20% of the population is Christian and gets 4 seats out of 6) and put them somewhere else?

Why not run elections based on that ratified 1960 law, upon which Christians might be able to choose around 50 of their representatives, with an agreement to have parliament work day in and day out in order to reach an electoral law after which it dissolves and we hold new elections? It even has the same guarantees as the extension scenario.

The democratic process in this country has to be upheld. Any talks about modifying it because (insert any form of non-viable argument) does nothing to defend “my” rights as a Lebanese first and foremost.

People Like Us:

I believe or at least I hope that this sentiment is shared by many Lebanese Christians today. It baffles me how Lebanese politicians somehow believe they talk on behalf of every single Lebanese when there are people like us who don’t agree with almost any of their practices nowadays.

I, for one, believe no one represents me today and I kindly request them all to back off “my rights.”