A new wave of seasonal strife washed over Lebanon with the coming of warmer weather in the Maronite heartlands of Keserwan and its surroundings in Greater Beirut this July. Guarding the northern autostrada passing’s into the heart of the capital, traffic–though nearly always pedantic and boorish–ground to a complete halt there when political paralysis flagged it from its usual flow.
Caravans of automobiles and pools of protestors took to the streets as scheduled Wednesday July 8th and Thursday July 9th, the latter a key day of decision-making by the countries multi-communal cabinet. 14 months after Michel Suleiman, the last Maronite who held the Lebanese presidency, stepped down and Tammam Salam, also acting Prime Minister for 16 months, became defacto president, new rhetoric lamenting the deprivation of “Christian rights” has been spearheaded by the Free Patriotic Movement’s (FPM) party head, General Michel Aoun. The growth and spread of current unrest will wane if the parties can come to an understanding, and if not, the unrest is likely to grow, with a demand for more fundamental redresses to Lebanon’s political institutions.
Under the confessional system, the presidency is expected to be filled by a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister to be a Sunni, and the Speaker Premiership is accorded to a Shia. The inability of the Change & Reform bloc and March 8, currently the majority governing coalition, and March 14, the minority coalition, to agree on a date for presidential elections has lead parliament to continually extend the parliamentary conditions that have made Tammam Salam, an independent Sunni but closely aligned to the minority March 14 coalition, particularly the Future Movement (FM), acting president until a scheduled election can take place.
The FPM is the largest party in the majority government, holding 19 seats in parliament, in addition to being the largest Christian party in the country. It’s largest coalition partners are Harakat Amal, a Shia political party holding 13 seats, and Hezbollah, also a Shia party, holding 12 seats in parliaments current makeup. The M8 coalition has pushed hard for new elections, expecting that the presidency would go to FPM’s Michel Aoun (already the endorsed candidate of Hezbollah). As long as democratic elections are forestalled, the Future Party, a predominantly Sunni party and the largest of the minority coalition (26 seats), can exercise power both from the Prime Minister’s office and the Presidents, and in the hands of one individual. This is the key frustration that backdrops the present political crisis.
Street demonstrations have coincided with a more particular event, a meeting of ministers that took place in Beirut today, July 9th. Michel Aoun called on the PM and President, Tammam Salam, to put key military and security appointments on the agenda for the session. One appointment of particular interest would include Aouns son-in-law, Brig. Gen. Shamel Roukoz, the head of the Army Commando Unit, expected to fill the role of Army Commander at a time when Jahbat Al-Nusra (Al Qaeda) and Daesh (ISIS) are taking advantage of Lebanon’s vast border with Syria to infiltrate the country.
There are suspicions in the M8 camp that the Future Movement is hindering the fight against Sunni Islamists, and have, reported in Lebanon’s Daily Star, gone so far as to warn Hezbollah not to bring their armed forces to Arsal, where Al-Qaeda has made their presence feared, kidnapping and killing soldiers and civilians alike on their way to and back from the fight in Syria.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has vowed to liberate Arsal’s outskirts from the militants if the Lebanese state fails to do so. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Future Movement ministers and officials have warned Hezbollah against attacking Arsal, saying that protection of the town is the responsibility of the Lebanese state and Army.
If appointments concerning the military and security conditions in the country were agreed to, sectarian belligerence could, at least temporarily, be avoided. Salam showed no signs of changing the agenda today, and has signaled he will wait for the current security chief to vacate the post in Autumn. Setting a presidential election date is the ideal way to temper politics from breaking out into open, violent hostilities between the partisans of Lebanon, but that shows even less sign of materializing. The predicament is too advantageous for the minority M14, which may rightly believe that elections would lead to Aoun’s victory, breaking the paralysis and putting “monopoly power” back into the hands of the majority coalition.
If strife over delays in elections and appointments was not enough, Michel Aoun has signaled the next step is to put the question to Lebanon’s Christian communities, polling who they support for the presidency. The poll would include asking many thousands of Lebanese Christians, enough for a positive sample size, but not as far as a referendum. Though a Maronite is expected to be president of Lebanon to maintain the communal balance-of-power, it is not Christians alone who choose the president in Lebanon, so this suggestion has resulted in a higher degree of hostility then may have already been the case.
Clashes have also recently occurred in Saadiyat, a city between Beirut and Sidon in the south, by Sunni and Shia partisans, reports Jean-Aziz in Al-Monitor. Further strain between the Muslim sects in Lebanon could bring the debate to a boil, pushing the sides into joining for or against protests, which haven’t gone on as of yet in south Beirut where Hezbollah holds support.
Though the protests have been largely peaceful, and the Lebanese Armed Forced (LAF) and M8 are in no way on opposing sides of Lebanon’s security predicament, clashes could turn violent, if even by chance, if the deadlock isn’t broken. If the political level stays paralyzed, the social level will deteriorate, which adds another layer of insecurity to Lebanon, already a frontline state in the containment of Daesh