Across the Bay

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Meaning of Aoun's Victory

I was thinking about Aoun's win, and reading through a few emails from Josh picking up on a discussion we had with a third party on Aoun. I also found the beginning lines of this Naharnet piece and this piece by Nicholas Nassif interesting, and even this piece by Talal Salman, with whom I rarely agree on anything.

The Naharnet piece starts like this:

Gen. Aoun has scored overwhelming election victories that projected him as a national leader towering over his own Christian community on equal footing with Druze overlord Walid Jumblat, Sunni standard-bearer Saad Hariri and the undisputed chieftains of the Shiite Sect -- Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Speaker Nabih Berri.

Nassif wrote:

Aoun's victory restores the dual Druze-Christian leadership in Baabda-Aley which Jumblat had monopolized since 1992.

And Salman wrote:

The "Tsunami," as he was called by Jumblat, has turned into the "fourth leadership" among the sectarian leadership, with one exceptional characteristic: he was elected [ed.'s note: as opposed to being appointed by allies]. He now is the frontrunner of the Christian leadership, or specifically, Maronite leadership.

He had started by writing:

It could be said now that the sectarian balance has been achieved. The Christians have given birth, under Maronite leadership of course, to their leadership that has the mandate of representing them in the line of sects, after a long absence.

Salman blamed the Muslims for this result! What is going on?! Well, it's simple. What Salman is referring to (and so is Nassif), is the Syrian-imposed order in the 90's (note Nassif's reference to 1992, the first election under the Syrians) where Christians never got their popular leadership into Parliament. Qornet Shehwan was the closest thing (under the Patriarch's wing), but it too was sidelined by the Syrians.

Aoun is by no means the representative of all Christians in Lebanon (that's elementary). But, what he has become representative of now is the idea of "non-appointed" Christians in Parliament. What that means, like Naharnet said, is that just like HA-Amal pick their own people, and Jumblat picks his own people and Saad picks his own people, Aoun picked his own people but, and here's the difference, the people brought them to parliament without the "blessing" of HA-Amal, Jumblat or Saad, or without "winners by default."

Like all the quoted pieces said, this establishes a balance in parliament between all the sects without one thinking that it was "picked" by the others without its constituents having a say.

Jihad Zein wrote about something similar to this a few weeks back (and I quoted him back then). He said that Hizbullah was interested in "bumping off" the Christians from the emerging Druze-Sunni-Christian majority, and reinserting itself in their place. The Christians get appointed by them. They don't set the terms.

The Christians saw Jumblat's deal with Berri and Hizbullah in that light (rightly or wrongly. And there was a bit of necessity in there too because Berri was ready to do away with the elections indefinitely). Aoun, or should I say the Christian people who voted for him, even when they don't necessarily like everything about him, said, "to hell with that." "We got screwed in the election law (and so did, by the way, as Samir Qassir pointed out before his murder, all the independent Shi'a who got screwed by the reassertion of the Berri-HA duopoly), but you're not selecting our candidates on top of that. We choose." Now there's balance: the aim of consociationalism ("no victor, no vanquished" as paraphrased by Ghassan Tueni, see previous post).

I must repeat that I am not a Aoun fan. And I'm not sure I agree with Salman that now the Patriarch can relax as Aoun has become the point of reference of the Christians. For one, several Qornet Shehwan people did get in (including some, ironically, on Aoun's ticket, as with Dr. Farid el-Khazen). The LF got screwed in that it didn't get to pick its candidate (see my post on Hizbullah's maneuvers below), and had to compromise in Baabda-Aley to placate Hizbullah's "sensitivities" (even while the latter are blasting the LF on their TV as Israeli agents). But the Patriarch is still a point of reference, only no longer alone. He'll work with Aoun. The Patriarch is the real pragmatic politician of Lebanon.

With this balance in Parliament (notice how even the bloc sizes are quite even, awaiting for the north of course. Hariri will likely be the one with the edge [and likely PM], but also the one with the Jumblat wildcard! But the rest are very well proportionately represented according to size), the National Pact can be resumed, awaiting the next election, when we'll hopefully have a good law. Also, when Geagea will come out, the LF will feel better as well. Then we can start talking on equal footing to see how we can move forward (hopefully, by reforming the system -- NOT abolishing it -- perhaps by introducing bicameralism in the midterm, etc.).

Not quite how we wanted things to work out, but the dynamism is good. On the one hand, like I told Josh, it broke away from Zaimism (and the top-down relationship between the elite and the constituents that sometimes marks consociationalism) in an important way. The people decided to challenge the intra-elite dealings by electing a populist candidate (regardless of what they think of him, and I for one don't like him!). This was a bottom-up decision, not top-down (as with the QS, LF and Hariri-Jumblat).

It was a message. Jumblat should calm down (his talk about the defeat of "moderates" is bull. "Moderates" means the ones he picked! And kudos to Aoun for his calm and conciliatory message after his win), cut his losses, and not do something stupid. This is the reality of Mount Lebanon. Just embrace it. It's your natural playground. As Ghassan Tueni said, it's the heart of historical Lebanon, and as Nassif said, it's the way it always was and should be: a Druze-Christian partnership.

Update: Hariri will have an uphill battle in the North, as Aoun is gearing up for another battle, in alliance with Karami and Sleimen Franjieh (sigh...). Hariri is likely to do very well with the Sunnis, but Aoun is also likely to either make it close, or break through. This will only solidify the reality of a closely balanced Parliament (Jonathan Edelstein, as usual, read this correctly), and while Hariri will still have the edge, he won't have a crushing majority. Anyway, alliances always shift and vary and break down in Parliament, so there should be a return to lively political life (even if Syrian allies will return. The realities are different now) after the Syrian-era stagnation and disgust (which mirrored itself in the Baath Party Conference freak show.) I am reminded here of William Harris' line from his Faces of Lebanon:

Subordination to the Syrian interior contradicted the whole direction of Lebanon's modern history. p. 325.

So all those now talking about how horrible it is that the Lebanese "lost" the unity of March 14th, like this condescending, pseudo-romantic piece by Brian Whitaker can relax (which reminds me more of the "we are all Americans" after 9/11 turning into "what happened to the America we [non-Americans] loved? What did Bush do to it?" i.e., when Americans went back to business while outsiders were looking for it to be modeled after their own fantasies and desires. When it doesn't fit that, it becomes somehow a botched effort! Oh they just got the Syrians out, how boring! That's not what we had in mind for you people! It's not enough that the Lebanese have a strong sense of sovereignty, while maintaining internal pluralism, and now they finally can get rid of a heavy burden. It's just not good enough!).

March 14th restored the right path of Lebanese modern history. Now let's do business, with each other and for each other.