Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon

Showdown in Jezzine

aoun-and-berri

I’ve got to hand it to General Aoun. He’s made one district in southern Lebanon worth watching…

By now, most will have heard about the unusual arrangement arrived at by Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement over the Christian district of Jezzine. After weeks (and weeks and weeks) of negotiations, Aoun announced that he couldn’t reach an agreement with his ally Nabih Berri over a joint list of three candidates, and so the two parties have decided to field separate lists in a spirit of “healthy competition”.

Why does this matter? After all, no matter which side wins, it’s going to be a gain for the opposition, right? Not necessarily. The creation of two opposition lists may split the vote in such a way that some other independent or March 14-friendly candidate can snatch a seat. This scenario, while unlikely, is still worth watching out for  (as I’m sure M14 strategists are doing).

The most  interesting thing about the Jezzine affair, to my mind, is what it reveals about: (a) the Free Patriotic Movement’s electoral strategy; (b) Michel Aoun’s confidence in his own popularity among Lebanon’s Christians; and (c) the barely hidden contempt that some FPM partisans feel toward their allies.

Strategically speaking, Aoun is pursuing a tack similar to what we see among many of the March 14 parties: intense competition even among coalition allies so as to maximize the size of one’s own parliamentary share. Had Aoun and Berri come to an agreement on Jezzine, the FPM would likely have gotten two of the district’s three seats, giving up one to Berri. Aoun’s decision to contest all three suggests that he is willing to gamble on the possibility of not winning any at all, which means that he must like his chances.

In 2005, Jezzine was part of the South II governorate which included the districts of Marjeyoun-Hasbaya and Nabatieh, so the Christian MPs of Jezzine were voted in by the governorate’s majority Shiite population. The Doha Accord replaced the larger governorate with the smaller qada’ and so Jezzine’s residents will be able to elect directly their own representatives this time around. Aoun has ruffled feathers in the past by referring to the new law as an opportunity to free Jezzine from “its occupation” [under Berri], and it looks like he is relishing the opportunity to show that his popularity with Lebanese Christians is not confined to the Maronite heartland of Mount Lebanon.

Turning to the final point, I find the Aounists’ reaction to Berri’s intransigence to be fascinating. The online forums are positively boiling over with animosity toward Amal in particular and the opposition in general. Here are a couple of striking examples:

The thing is, from Aakar to West Bekaa, FPM almost on it’s own is facing “7oukoumet Filtman” [the “Feltman government”], while almost all our allies are doing deals (from to Beirut 2 to West Beqaa to Aley) and giving “7oukoumet Filtman” seats right and left in order to “avoid sectarian conflicts” (i wonder what May 7 2008 is called).

Michel el Murr goes on air and curses the hell out of GMA [General Michel Aoun] and FPM and in the same interview he says “I coordinate everything i do with Berri”, while Berri doesnt reply to him, not even one of his MPs reply to Murr

Khalasna ba2a, we have done more than enough for the opposition w walla marra raba7na jmile, sarlon few months kell ma 7ada fata7 temmo mnesma3 “HA/Amal agreed on the 1960 law for GMA”, ma 7ada yirabe7na jmile, the 1960 law is nothing in front of the things GMA and FPM did since 2006 w walla marra raba7na jmile la 7adan

There is no such thing called opposition anymore, the so called centrists (Berri, Murr, Miqati, Michel Suliemen, Jumblat and the rest) are trying to reduce C&R’s numbers in the parliament. Prove me wrong

For those not fluent in Lebanese SMS dialect, the gist of this intervention is that the FPM has bent over backwards for its allies and has never once asked anything in return. Given that Aoun is shouldering the burden of coming up with all the seats to give the opposition a majority, this fellow is justifiably annoyed with the way that his party is getting nickled and dimed. Here’s another one:

listen,

1-if i can abuse my own batrak, clergy , church because they are against us
2-if i can stand to the whole western world , which we relate to in many many many ways
3-if i can defend visiting the syria and forgiving the nizam
4-if i can defend such filth as jamil al sayed becasue he was wrongly jailed
5-if i was ready to work against SLEIMAN FRANGIE IF WE HAD DISGAREED.

berri wa bay bay berri wa all his supporters means zilch to me.

PUT ON TOP OF THAT THE ALL MOU3ARADA…byeswou negle 3endde.
no one need his votes or anything from him,let him and ha vote against us
i do not gives a **** man, NEITHER DOES THE MAJORITY OF FPMers, go and ask them if you want, yalla go and ask.

IN 05 WE WERE ALL ALONE AND LET IT BE AGAIN…BLOODY MURDER.
you think we care
you think i care about this or that voting for us.

let us lose all zahle, baabda,anywhere ANYONE BE RABE7NA JMEILE.

when GENERAL said
walla zaman al tanazoul….he meant it.

LET ME SEE WHO REALLY NEEDS WHO IN LEBANON.
I WISH GENERAL WILL SIGN THAT MOUZAKARAT TAFAHOUM WITH THE TRIBUNAL , TOMORROW.
WLEK I JUST WISH THAT
LET ME SHOW berri his size and worth.
AKHH YA GENERAL, FOR ONCE BEHAVE LIKE THEM.PLEASEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Can I get an amen?! My faith has been restored. This is what I love about the FPM: they’re plucky, and principled as hell. This guy is basically saying that he has turned a blind eye to every unsavory aspect of being associated with the opposition (facing down the West, angering the Maronite patriarch, forgiving Syria, defending the four generals, etc.) while the opposition has given the FPM little in return. He issues a rhetorical plea to his leader to sign the Memorandum of Understanding on the Tribunal just to stick it to March 8.  I haven’t seen anything so uplifting since Jumblatt dissed Geagea and Saad on YouTube. You go, angry FPM dude!

In case you’re wondering, this intra-opposition criticism rarely extends to Hizbullah. The FPM/HA relationship is very solid, on the level of both the leadership and the cadres. But one wonders what is likely to happen to March 8 should they win the election. Particularly if the FPM wins Jezzine (leaving Berri with as few as 11 seats) and Aoun presses on with his reform program, I don’t think it is that hard to imagine a scenario like the one the first commenter was describing: the quiet emergence of a ‘centrist’ block that works to keep the old corrupt “tarkibeh” intact.

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Discussion

19 thoughts on “Showdown in Jezzine

  1. Well, I don’t think it’s fair to judge FPM followers by a few hardcore bloggers… I know that you’re being sarcastic and funny… Even you had mentioned once that most FPMers don’t blog on the FPM forum… However, your analysis of the Aoun-Berri issue in Jezzine is very good… Good work QN.

    Posted by Nidal | May 9, 2009, 9:49 am
  2. Is that all you could come up with? You haven’t even scratched the surface of it yet. It is obvious now that HZB has deliberately handed Jezzine to Aoun for several reasons- after all they staged his so-called ‘hero’ visit to the city. The first reason was to placate the Generals for the many grievances he has been voicing for so long. Secondly, it serves HZB political purpose to reduce Berri’s size particularly in the South. HZB’s major constituency is in Baalbek, where Berri has none, and part of Dahiya (Beirut). On the other hand there is not a single HZB official who belongs to the upper echelon who is from the Baalbek area. The aristocrats in HZB are all from the south, a solid Berri constituency. How long will the people of Baalbek-Hermel (10 seats – as much as Beirut III) continue to support HZB with fighters and seats in parliament and get the bad end of the deal? FYI The groomed successor of Hassan is a member of the family, from the South of course. Need you be reminded that HZB actually was incubated in the Baalbek area? If I were a voter in Baalbek-Hermel I wouldn’t vote for any HZB candidate.

    Posted by mike | May 9, 2009, 11:55 am
  3. I know as much about politics as I do about Martian fungus, and despite my work within the media circles had in fact given up all hope of comprehension.
    Your blog’s an education; a combination of presentation, language and your obvious passion for the topic no doubt, and I thank you for that. Good luck.

    Posted by Karl | May 9, 2009, 12:44 pm
  4. Good post QN,

    This rift between Berri and Aoun is not surprising at all. Both M8 and M14 have marriages of convenience with high odds that they end up in divorces. FPM in particular has many of them like the ones with SSNP & Baath etc. due to ideological differences and past grievenss.

    Even their alliance with HA is relatively new and would have been unthinkable given what Aoun used say about them and Syria prior to 05. I mean he basically turned 180 degrees.

    Thus these alliances don’t seem to have deep ideological communalities to make them withstand the ups and downs of a long term marriage.

    I could be wrong, but long-term, the major FPM ideological issue that’s lurking beneath the surface that could make any of their alliances shaky is their view of the Taef agreement and their real desire to overturn it, and they would if they can in my view.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | May 9, 2009, 5:15 pm
  5. “The FPM/HA relationship is very solid, on the level of both the leadership and the cadres.”

    Between the leadership sure. The cadres perhaps. But not among the rank and file. I think it’s a stretch to imagine that the Hizb-FPM alliance is beyond reproach.

    Posted by mrrobinson95 | May 9, 2009, 5:53 pm
  6. Karl, Martian fungus science would help you about as much as Earthly PS when it comes to Lebanon. The place has a way of mutating everything into local…

    RB, I thought the chipping out of Taef, and its eventual overthrow was on the contrary part of the glue that would help them to hold together (Tayyar thinking that they could gain power for christians out of shia/sunni confrontation…was I completely wrong?)

    Posted by mj | May 9, 2009, 6:17 pm
  7. mj,

    FPM cannot try to overturn Taef head-on, as they know that the shia and Sunnis won’t go for it. Although, they see the recent electoral change as a step in the right direction, vis a vis having a good portion of the christians elect their own mps, hence all the hypping by FPM of reclaiming Christian “rights”, never mind that other players were in favor of the re-districting as well but for diffrent reasons.

    I don’t think that the general have gotten over the 1990 events and Taef was passed against his wishes. It’s understandable since the ratio went from 6/5 to 5/5 with a major loss of executive presidential power to the PM/cabinet. That translated in reduction of Maronite power by imposition in their view, and the clear majority of aounis are Maronites.

    It’s a loosing battle in my view, FPM would be better served if they pursue secularism full blast, and not say that secularism is our aim but only after we recover our christian rights. This position is too contradictory and not very convincing.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | May 9, 2009, 6:56 pm
  8. Al Nashra: “Addiyar” qualifie de “graves” les discours de Aoun et Nasrallah
    09 Mai 2009

    Selon le quotidien “Addiyar”, certaines déclarations du secrétaire général du Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, et du chef du groupe “Changement et Réformes”, le général Michel Aoun, sont “graves”, et mettent en péril l’accord de Taëf.
    “Addiyar” accuse le général Aoun de chercher à éliminer l’accord de Taëf en proposant le passage à la IIIème République, où les sièges parlementaires ne seront plus distribués entre chrétiens et musulmans, comme le préconise le Taëf, mais selon le schéma tripratite: un tiers aux sunnites, un tiers aux chiites et un tiers aux chrétiens. Le quotidien craint qu’une telle conjoncture mène à la destabilisation de la présidence de la République.

    Posted by mj | May 9, 2009, 8:04 pm
  9. MJ,

    I don’t know much about this Aoun proposition of the so-called Third Republic. If he wants to divide the House into three tiers, then the Christians will get one third, the Shia one third and the Sunnis one third? (of course we still have to deal with representing the less numerous but not less important communities). So he is willing to reduce Christian representation even further from the current 5/5? So what is the benefit to Christians considering his never ending grievances about Christians losing their power under Taef?

    Posted by mike | May 9, 2009, 9:16 pm
  10. Michael Young had a very good piece on this issue about a month ago. The idea is that the quid pro quo would be a three tiered system in exchange for expanded presidential powers. To me, it amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

    The FPM makes sense when it advocates the idea of building a “culture of secularism” before creating a secular government… but the problem is that they don’t have any concrete strategies.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | May 9, 2009, 10:02 pm
  11. QN, I’m confused with Diyar lately…is there a mutation in the way?

    Posted by mj | May 9, 2009, 10:12 pm
  12. Ayoub is suddenly anti-FPM. Not sure why exactly.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | May 9, 2009, 10:28 pm
  13. I mean, besides the fact that he’s running against Aoun! 🙂

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | May 9, 2009, 10:29 pm
  14. RE: Aoun’s Third Republic.

    Thanks, QN
    I see the point now. However, I don’t believe the Sunnis nor the Shias will agree to a redistribution of power among the three main positions except in a system of abolished political confessionalism, which is already foreseen by Taef. So in effect, if Aoun rejects Taef in favor of his ridiculous Third Republic, the Christians will still lose based on reduced number of MP’s in Parliament. If the confessional system is abolished, the unwritten code of 1943 will also be abolished, in which case the President, the PM and the Speaker may come from any community. Despite all the good things it promises, abolishing political confessionalism is not in the best interests of Lebanon vis-à-vis the regional problems at the moment. As soon as confessionalism is abolished, then the question of absorbing the Palestinian refugees will become irrelevant. There will be less resistance to naturalizing the refugees. This should not happen. The refugees MUST go back to their lands as a matter of highest Arab principle. This is the SACRED cause and it should not be resolved at Lebanon’s cost even if it means keeping confessionalism for the time being as a guarantee against such attempt by regional and world players.
    Interestingly, in a recent report by Al-Akhbar, President Suleiman rules out another Taef and asserts the present Taef as the consensus agreement among the Lebanese. He also rules out a government with a minority veto in the presence of some Iranian officials. It seems that he will be happy to play the arbiter in the government with enough ministers to give him the sway. What did Hillary promise him? More weapons?

    Posted by mike | May 9, 2009, 10:34 pm
  15. The only rule in lebanese political science: Qui vivra, verra.

    Posted by mj | May 9, 2009, 10:40 pm
  16. Don’t be afraid to split your infinitives, el guapo!!!

    Posted by sean | May 9, 2009, 11:06 pm
  17. Sean

    What’s sad and scary is that I knew exactly what you were referring to when I read your comment.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | May 9, 2009, 11:55 pm
  18. Hahahah. Following our talk the other day about abundant life, I knew you would!

    Posted by sean | May 10, 2009, 8:09 am

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