Across the Bay

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Northern Alliances

Although I don't usually play the prediction game, I'm going to venture and say that the Karami-Frangieh-Aoun alliance is going to eat it in the North. Here's why I think that.

There are two reasons, in my view. One Sunni, one Maronite.

One of the reasons Aoun won in Mt. Lebanon was the perception that many of the Christians on the Hariri-Jumblat list were token, and not truly representative. It was seen as Jumblat trying to bamboozle the Christians in favor of Berri-Nasrallah, an alliance that never sat well with the Christians (the former is the poster child of corruption and nepotism, the latter a fanatic who threatens violence and who mobilized followers to defend Syria).

Now, however, a similar situation is shaping up for the Sunnis in the North. Sunnis allying themselves with Frangieh and Aoun are seen as unrepresentative (even if otherwise respected, which also applies to the Christian candidates in Mt. Lebanon). Secondly, Aoun has stayed in the background in the North, because if he says something it may be construed as sectarian and anti-Sunni. So he's not fielding the Sunni candidates, and he's not doing the talking. Karami is. Therefore, I think there will be a significant Sunni turnout in favor of Hariri (unlike the 25% in Beirut).

Related to that is the Christian element. Unlike the Matn, the North is the heartland of the Lebanese Forces (Geagea's party). Karami is the only hurdle before the release of Geagea from prison. As this report points out, Karami may be tempted to attack the Hariri-LF alliance by using people's emotions and past history with the LF, and the killing of Karami's brother (which was blamed on Geagea). In fact, he probably won't even have to say anything explicitly. The same goes for Frangieh, whose family has a long dark history with the LF, and his hometown and Geagea's hometown are historical rivals, so there are also local issues. Aoun on the other hand has no roots there. Not only that, the history of the LF with Aoun is also one of confrontation.

All this will likely mean a strong mobilization for the LF, who want their leader out of jail (i.e., want Karami defeated), and want Frangieh and Aoun defeated. So, beside the Sunni element, this is also a matter of determining size in the Maronite camp between the LF and Aoun. How strong and how united are the LF?

Both have strong grassroots organization, only the LF has an edge on its home turf in the North. The Frangieh-Aoun list will try to substitute that by using the SSNP followers who are strong in the Koura region (esp. among the Greek Orthodox), and who also have a bloody history with the LF. Here's where the SSNP's ties to Syria will mobilize the Sunnis and the LF to vote heavily against them. The Communist party is also running with Aoun, but their weight is marginal. In other words, these guys aren't Michel Murr and the Tashnag (Armenian party) who ran with Aoun in the Matn, and their opposition is mobilized, both in the Sunni camp and the Maronite camp.

The downside of this of course is the heightened rhetoric, which will draw on old wounds. That could get dangerous in an area known for vendettas. On the other hand, strengthening diversity of representation in the Christian camp will limit Aoun's capacity to claim total representation. Some will say this weakens the Christians. Perhaps, if we're following the Amal-Hizbullah logic and how they brutalize their community electorally. But it is a sign of democratic health. And, if used wisely without confrontation and isolation, it might build necessary bridges to Aoun in Parliament. If not, and if it's used openly as a way to make sure Aoun never reaches the presidency, without proper dialogue, it might create problems, because Aoun will still have a significant bloc.

Another downside, some may say, would be issue of Hizbullah's weapons. The Hariri-Jumblat bloc has so far refused to act on the matter. Aoun is clear on disarming the Party, even if through dialogue and not confrontation. If weakened in parliament, he could be circumvented and presented in extremist sectarian terms. In the end, Hizbullah will continue to play its poisonous game. If a coalition exists against its weapons, it will play the Shiite card and threaten violence. If that coalition
doesn't find a coherent approach, it would attack Aoun as a Christian agent of America and Israel (as it did with the Christian protesters on March 14th). All this emphasizes the desperate need for a change in the Shiite scene, and why this election law was a disaster most notably for the independent Shiites. Hizbullah simply cannot remain armed. It destroys all the balance.

So let's wait and see how this turns out. But I'll stick my neck out and predict an Aoun loss. If I'm proven wrong I'll welcome all the egg on face, and make an omelette.