Across the Bay

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Super Genius

Let's face it, Michel Aoun is far from being politically astute.

One thing Aoun shares with Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah is complete contempt for the complex Lebanese system. With that comes a fundamental lack of understanding of and disregard for its deeply enshrined rules. That leads to devastating consequences not just on Aoun, or the Maronites, or the Christians, but the entire country.

Let's talk in raw sectarian terms. Take this example for instance. A Sunni Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers are gathered in the Grand Serail (the PM's headquarters). They are joined there by the Sunni Mufti. The Sunni King of Saudi Arabia calls the PM and talks to the ministers as well lending his support to the government. This after Shiite ministers resigned refusing to lend their vote (for the second time) to a cabinet decision to adopt the establishment of an international tribunal to try the murderers of, among others, the most prominent Sunni Prime Minister in recent Lebanese history. This also comes days after the scion of one of the country's most prominent Maronite political families was gunned down by the same people who killed the Sunni former PM -- the first Maronite to be killed since the Syrian regime began the recent series of assassinations about two years ago.

Within this local context, comes a mass, overwhelmingly Shiite rally (sprinkled here and there with the orphaned punks of the Syrian regime, the same people who are likely implicated in the murder of the Sunni former PM, one of whom also flaunted his punkness by publicly insulting the highest Maronite communal symbol, on Shiite Hezbollah's television station no less) gathered outside the Sunni PM's headquarters demanding he leaves. One of the Syrian regime's most loyal pitbulls, Wiam Wahhab, who is likely going to be indicted in the murder of Rafik Hariri, had come on another pro-Hezbollah TV station, and threatened the current Sunni PM, that if he doesn't leave now, he will meet the same fate as Nouri al-Said, the Iraqi PM who was captured and shot dead during the 1958 coup. The threat comes in the midst of an open Syrian campaign of assassinations, and infiltration of Syrian-controlled proxies tasked with assassinations and sabotage.

With this background, Hezbollah Shiites gathered to topple a Sunni Prime Minister. And Michel Aoun barges in. Having never seen a war he did not want to enter, and drag his community along, Michel Aoun does the dumbest thing possible. He manages to squeeze himself right smack in the middle of inter-sectarian (Shiite-Sunni) tensions, making a deeply divisive and polarizing Maronite figure, a party in this fight. In the Lebanese context, this is the peak of stupidity and utter incomprehension of the system. The infinitely wiser highest Maronite symbolic authority knows this and so warned Christians (implicitly) not to take to the streets.

The funny thing is it was so clear that Aoun was being used as a fig leaf. The coverage of the pro-Amal and Hezbollah station NBN was so obvious as it kept showing its reporters on the ground talking to the protesters. Every single one they showed, almost without exception, was either an Aounist, or a follower of Frangieh (another minor and marginal Maronite figure, and a punk pitbull of Syria, who was interior minister when Hariri was killed, and will possibly be indicted). If you were watching NBN, you'd think that the crowd was basically made of Aounists and Frangieh supporters, not Hezbollah and Amal!

The point is so glaringly obvious. With Sunni-Shiite tension running high, with Iraq and Iranian interference in the background, Hezbollah wanted to make sure to give its own attempt at a coup a non-Shiite face. Enter Michel Aoun, who was the only major speaker at the rally (his speech by the way was incredibly unimpressive and barely coherent)! An abomination in the context of Lebanese politics if there ever was one. Hassan Nasrallah had another engagement in his bunker, and was more than satisfied to see Aoun in that spot. Nabih Berri wanted no part of this. Not even Salim Hoss, the pro-Syrian former PM wanted anything to do with this. He didn't show up. Nor did a Christian leader from Zahle, who belonged to the Aounist bloc in parliament, come to the rally. I wonder why!?

Michael Young summed it up the other day:

[T]he question becomes, what does [Aoun] gain from being perceived as a Christian fig leaf for a possible Hizbullah coup? The general's involvement is important, because neither Hizbullah nor Amal wants their campaign to be seen as solely a Shiite endeavor. But if Aoun agrees to be their vanguard, he stands to lose even more politically than he already has, from an action sure to heighten ambient animosities.

The irony of course is Aoun's own hypocrisy. During his remarkably unimpressive speech, he tried one his typical bitter and angry rants against the media (Aoun is always a victim, you see). He chastized some TV stations for suggesting that the crowd was predominantly Shiite, with minor supporting acts (essentially, a repeat of the March 8 rally), and a low Christian turnout. "Shame on you," the demagogue Aoun yelled, "for trying to categorize along sectarian lines." The problem is that this lame cover-up doesn't mask the General's hypocrisy. After all, on which platform did Aoun run for election last year? That he was the only "real" Christian not co-opted by Sunni Muslims! That he would end Christian marginalization. In other words, it was a crude purely sectarian platform.

Moreover, Aoun's hypocrisy was most glaring in that a year ago, he was barking like a lunatic that solving the issue of the Presidency, "does not happen in the street." So what does the genius Aoun do? Become a party to a conflict as the fig leaf, battering ram for a Hezbollah (Shiite) coup against the Sunni office! Brilliant! It showed just how badly Aoun mishandles Lebanese politics. He will, if he hasn't already, pay a steep price. Needless to say, he will never become President.

The question here is, to paraphrase Walid Jumblat, where do you think you're going? The March 14 coalition also has its massive crowds. Let's not mention the "tariq jdideh" Sunnis, who are boiling with anger. What precedent does this set? A Shiite rally to topple a Sunni PM in a sectarian system? How can the voice of a Shiite leader (Nasrallah) be blasted on speakers at the rally promising the Shiite protesters "another victory" (against a Sunni Prime Minister) in a country ruled by the formula of "no victor, no vanquished"? Where does he think this escalation will lead?

Michael Young again said it best:

It is that the society imposes complex, unforgiving rules on its political actors—rules made necessary by the sectarian makeup of the country and the need for each religious community to respect the limits acceptable to the other. When these rules are disregarded, conflict tends to ensue.

This is why Nasrallah's and Aoun's contempt for the system is so dangerous.

Addendum: A propos. Hezbollah's agenda in a nutshell.

Update: Abu Kais discusses this issue further.