The political commentator and activist Saleh El Machnouk, whom I discussed in a recent post about Saad Hariri’s declining relevance among Lebanese Sunnis, sent me a response over email a couple days ago which I publish below with his permission. As you’ll see, it reinforces the point I made earlier about the possibilities for public dissent in the Future Movement, of which Saleh was (is?) a member, especially in this moment of disenchantment and anger with the situation in Syria.
If you have questions for Saleh, post them in the comment section and maybe he will be persuaded to respond there as well.
Saleh El Machnouk:
Of course I am flattered by the many kind things you said about me in the article. I have reached a point where I believe Hariri has far exhausted his “fatrit sameih” (grace period) and the amount of popular contempt for his leadership has become unbearable.
That said, I think I should point out a few things.
1- There is a tendency among commentators and analysts to assume that my “popular base” is primarily made up of “young, poorer, urban Sunnis”. Ironically enough, these are Hariri’s strongest constituency, and getting them to move away from him is perhaps the toughest (maybe also because they rely more than others on Hariri for financial support).
Friends and I always joke at the fact that, as ridiculous as it may sound, my most “loyal and enthusiastic” supporters are upper middle-class people of our parents’ generation (like “Beirut’s finest madames” [mentioned in a previous comment]). We could go on and on analyzing why this is the case, but surprisingly enough it is.
I think this says something about how disappointment with Hariri’s leadership runs across social classes, levels of education, age groups, etc; from Zaim el Zaroubeh to major business owners.
2- Although I understand why, unfortunately, every article about me has to have the word “Sunni” a good twenty times, I take a lot of pride in the fact that I have never (ever) played the sectarian card. I have often (jokingly) dared March 8th supporters to find one evidence to the contrary, and they have repeatedly failed. I know you don’t say that I do, but I’m always surprised others would say so. It’s sad. We once spoke about how tough it is to take the “national track” versus a sectarian one but I am still firmly decided on the former.
Saad’s problem is not that he lacks populism or is not “Sunni enough”, it’s simply that he is fundamentally unqualified for the job. Don’t get me wrong, an absolute majority of the people that support me still love Saad Hariri and think of him as their leader. They are simply disappointed and have lost all faith in his ability to improve.
3- Side note: For whatever it is worth, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, a good 30% to 35% of the fans on my Facebook page are Christians.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Saleh for responding. Since my original post about him last week, his Facebook page has added 4,000 more followers. Saad Hariri’s remains the same.