Deal 1: The General’s Return
I’ve been reading Karim Pakradouni’s recently published history of the Lahoud presidency (Sadma wa Sumud: ‘Ahd Imil Lahhud, 1998-2007), and I recommend it to anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes peek at Lebanese politics from the perspective of a consummate insider.
I’ll mention one anecdote by way of an endorsement. Toward the end of the book, Pakradouni discusses his involvement in the process of bringing General Aoun back to Lebanon, in April-May 2005. At the time, Lebanon was deep in the throes of cedar revolutionism. The Syrian army was in the process of ignominious withdrawl; the Karami-led government had resigned; the political landscape had been detonated and the country was headed for parliamentary elections.
In this context, Pakradouni was approached by a couple of FPM lieutenants who asked him to intervene on Aoun’s behalf with President Lahoud and the Syrians, in order to facilitate his return to Lebanon after fifteen years of exile. Cutting a long and fascinating story short, Pakradouni received the assurances of Bashar al-Assad that Aoun could return to Lebanon, as long as he did not lend his support to impeachment efforts against Emile Lahoud, or seek to forcibly pressure Hizbullah to give up its weapons.
Aoun agreed, despite having publicly denounced the extension of Lahoud’s presidency in 2004, not to mention his strident criticism of Hizbullah weapons. The deal was struck, and Aoun returned to Lebanon triumphantly a few weeks later.
I mention this anecdote because it is sure to start making the rounds once people have gotten around to reading the book (it was published only a couple of months ago). March 14th figures have long argued that Aoun was “bought” by the Syrians before he returned to Lebanon, explaining why a long-time foe of Damascus whose political interests seemed to line up so well with March 14th’s agenda (at least during the heady days of the Beirut Spring) ended up flipping and joining (nay, leading) the pro-Syrian camp. While I’ve always felt the March 14th interpretation left a lot of pieces out of the puzzle — such as the role of Jumblatt and the M14 Christians in persuading Hariri not to form an alliance with the FPM — I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t also a bit curious about Syria’s role in facilitating Aoun’s return. Pakradouni’s narrative speaks directly to this question.
Deal 2: Will Hizbullah Lure Hariri with the Premiership?
I recently spoke with a Hizbullah ex-minister and asked him whom he thought the opposition would nominate as premier if it won the election.
“Difficult to say,” he replied.”But it will have to be a consensus candidate.”
“What about Najib Miqati? He seems to be fairly neutral.”
(Indeed, Miqati is one of the most talk-about potential PM candidates these days).
The minister leaned back in his chair and was silent for a moment.
“I’ll give you my own personal opinion. This is not the official position of the Hizb. It’s just what I think.”
Another pause. Then he leaned forward and said softly:
“If Hariri turns it down, Miqati will be the PM. If Hariri accepts it, Miqati won’t be the PM.”
Translation: if the opposition wins the election, they may try to use the offer of the premiership to prevent Hariri from staying out of the government. Then again, Hariri probably knows this, which may be why he is playing hard to get. Yes, it’s byzantine and highly cynical, but this is Lebanon.
Deal 3: Saad Tries to Square the Tripolitan Circle
The candidate registration deadline is fast approaching, and while sources say that a deal has been struck between Saad al-Hariri and Tripoli heavyweights Najib Miqati and Mohammed Safadi, it remains to be seen which hopefuls will be left standing when the music stops.
Tripoli’s eight seats are an absolute necessity for March 14th if it wants to hold its parliamentary majority. Given that five of the seats are allotted to Sunnis, sweeping the district should not be too difficult for the Future Movement, but it will need help. An-Nahar has reported that Safadi and Miqati are asking for two seats each, while Jamaa al-Islamiyya is still trying to work its way onto al-Hariri’s electoral lists. He rebuffed them in Saida (presumably so that Saniora can run alongside Bahia); they’re now looking for seats in the north.
Andrew Exum (a.k.a. Abu Muqawama) said a nice thing or two about this blog a couple of days ago, deputizing Qifa Nabki to provide Lebanese election coverage for AM readers. I’d like to thank Abu Muqawama for his endorsement, and welcome any new readers to the blog.