Friday, October 05, 2007

... On the Starting Blocks...

In the run-up to October 23rd, the Lebanese are enduring a gruelling question time… Most people ask; who’s going to be elected President? Smarter ones ask; which president will “they” agree on?

Deep I feel that either question misses the sad fact; if a president is elected, it will not be one chosen by our “leaders”, but one that accommodates powerful interests on which we have little control.

Hariri’s Friends

For all their diminished power the Saudi interests around the late King Fahd still wield some influence. As much as Rafic Hariri was close to their interests, so is Saad. Ghattas Khoury appears to be his choice candidate. A secondary one would have been Jean Obeid, who is close enough to the Syrians to be marketed as a “compromise candidate”.

The “quadripartite agreement” Saad and Joumblat had struck with Hezb and Amal would have allowed them to come up with the majority needed to impose such a pliable candidate. But they had not factored in the Christian anger at such shenanigans, which resulted in Aoun’s electoral upset.

Saad is still hopeful that Ghattas Khoury is still “in play”, and he drags him along to Washington any chance he gets. Odd that; how does he square all his talk of “reform”, with Ghattas’ plundering of the coffers of the Lebanese Order of Physicians?

Joumblat’s Suggestions

Ever the trustworthy ally, Joumblat is pushing quietly a couple of candidates. The “front” is fielded by Chibli Mallat, a brilliant jurist who should know better. The stronger candidate, however, appears to be Samir Franjieh, the smarter scion of the Franjieh clan, who actually knows better.

One potential advantage of a Franjieh presidency is that it would re-establish some “Lebanese” equilibrium among the Maronite clans, by moving the key Franjieh clan out of Syria’s orbit. The recent past is not encouraging; Samir has been so far unable to impose himself on his cousin’s hoodlums, in spite of the potential for patronage his MP seat gave him.

… Then again, he is not Saad’s prime Presidential choice, so his actual patronage may be limited “systemically”. Still, fronting such solid candidates would allow Walid Beyk a say in naming the next candidate.

Syria’s Puppet

This time, the Syrian candidate is less clear than it appears. Via Hezb, they are pushing for Aoun, but will likely drop him for anything that resembles Lahoud. One thing is certain; the Syrians cannot afford to have anything other than a Quisling in Baabda.

They may accept Michel Suleiman, whose family they can still influence. Or they may settle for someone like Jean Obeid who has apparently fallen out of favour with the Hariris. Some believe they may find an “arrangement” with Boutros Harb. But failing that, they would prefer a vaccum of sorts; no presidency, and two governments.

The thing is, while we survived similar “duopoly” in the past, we may not survive the next one.

… But nether would Syria if things go really wrong.

Abdallah’s In Laws

The Palestinians did not really sell their land away, but the Lebanese sure did. In an economy centred on construction and tourism, many Saudis purchased much of Lebanon’s choicest properties, especially in Solidere.

No wonder the landlords feel they have a say in the next presidency; they have to protect their interests, after all. Solidere has done so well in such a bad economy that is now going “global”…

However, the Hariris were allied to Fahd. With Abdallah now on the throne, the Saudis prefer to diversify, and appear to favour Nassib Lahoud for the Presidency. Not a bad candidate; Nassib may not be charismatic, but he has proven adept at navigating the country’s arcane politics, and has so far acted rather decently.

France’s Shehabis

One powerful “national” joker remains.

No, it is not Aoun; outside of a hardcore of supporters, the general is a much discredited figure. Were it not for the unpopularity of some of his other opponents, or for the chronic ineptitude of successive Lebanese governments, he would have been a long forgotten item in history’s dustbin.

The more “national” joker that remains has just completed long desert trek. Thanks to his position at the Ministry of Justice, Charles Rizk has control over the sensitive Bank al Madina file, that famous cookie jar in which all Lebanese presidential hopefuls have their hands in… And he is close to Johnny Abdo, that ex(?)chief of the Second Bureau...

So now, the scene is set. Let the play begin.

But I am not sure that it will end by October 23rd


Ali said...

Jeha,I would add Nassib Lahoud. You have to factor in the support that he enjoys from the Saudi King.

Mr Hariri is probably going to have to start thinking about competition for Saudi favoritism.

Mustapha said...

That joker/Aoun bit was funny :)

Man, I don't know where you got the idea that Saad is pushing for Ghattas khoury.

Ghattas does follow saad around but that does not mean he's his presidential bid. Not once have I read even in Hariri's media that ghattas is a president.

you'd think they want to prepare us first?

karakira said...

Its been a long long time I did not come to your blog.
I can understand from your analyses the right person to be elected, but unfortunately all those who came did not fullfill their promises. Th problem is deeper than presidential election its whether they'll leave this country in peace or will they let the people continue fighting against each other.
I like what u said about Aoun that history must not mention his name anymore he should be engaged in the LOST TV series for ever
Any way I 'm really proud of what u write and never thought in my life that I could meet a real analysis blogger on our country.

Thanks god I met u.
Thanks for your information blog its much better than paying a monthly rent to see LBC europe or other TV useless information.

ghassan karam said...

The "fight" over a Lebanese president is a contrived event at best. The contest is much more over symbolism rather than the post itself since the Lebanese political system does not a Presidential system make. (So the president accepts the credentials of ambassadors and consuls in addition to being the Commander in Chief).

Under normal circumstances the Presidential elections in Lebanon should deserve as much attention as when Israel elected Mr. Perez; a short paragraph on page six. Currently it is a contest of wills between the HA camp and the March 14 camp over who is it that is more in control. It is clear that March 14 has a larger number of supporters in the present Chamber of Deputies and thus the new president will have to be either from its camp or one that is supportive of its main principles du jour. The new president cannot be an HA ally and HA nows that. The HA camp will be glad to prevent an outright March 14 member from being elected and thus get a more "agreeable" candidate elected. The HA strategy is working; B. Harb, N. Lahoud and C. Rizk have already made it clear that they will be willing to reach an accommodation with HA. The only person who has shown enough courage to question HA and its rationale was the Mr. Jumblatt through his PSP representative two weeks ago when he questioned whether it is possible to work constructively with those that seek your own demise and then two days ago by the excellent open letter to Mr. Nasrallah by Chibli Mallat.
I do not subscribe to the gloom and doom scenarios and if the political landscape does not change much over the next few weeks then Charles Rizk will be our next president. And that will not be a bad development.

PS. If I am to accept your assertion that Ghattas Khoury has raided the coffers of the Lebanese Physicians Association then I must ask the logical question: What coffers?

Jeha said...

I got the feeling early on in June 2005, when they had banners proclaiming him, just after Solange took "his" place. The Hariri's keep dragging him to all those meetings, even in cases when there is no obvious "need" for his presence.

All I know about him is that Ghattas used the construction of the Order's new HQ to siphon some money from his colleagues, thanks to sweetheart deals and the like. Many others ate at the through, and it may be (partly) because of this that the Order's president was unable to do much. Then again, the last team in charge of the Order proved rather incompetent on many levels...

Still, I think Rizk would not a bad choice; in spite of their excesses, the Sehabis did a decent job.