Lebanon, religion

If Lebanon is to survive: Geagea, Aoun and other presidential contenders; rickety alliances

Uneasy alliances?

Whether or not Lebanon enters another round of civil strife depends on an array of factors, timing, the troubles in Syria, the popularity of Mr Hariri’s ‘Future Movement’ and not least the choice of president. The last entry looked at the two contenders for the Lebanese presidency, Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea and ended, with a rather sparse account of their lives. This entry features their current status, their inter-personal relationship and the activities of the late Elie Hobeika, another military player and fellow member of the ‘Kataeb Party’, who overtly supported both the Israelis and the CIA, during the civil war.

The president is appointed by fellow Maronites and is a delicate process as the wrong choice can cause tension in the country; Mr. Geagea and Mr. Aoun consider themselves ”favourite” candidates. A ‘Lebanese Daily Star’ report on October 13th, 2014, intimated there is another contender, Suleiman Frangieh. His background and loyalty to the Assad regime was discussed briefly in an earlier post, see: /2014/12/21/maronite-presidents-dynasties-and-para-militaries-media-representations/

The ‘Daily Star’ article focused on fears by ‘Hizb’allah’, that Mr. Aoun, who now in his 80s, is under the influence of his son-in-law, foreign minister Gebran Bassil. To check his credentials, I watched a short CNN interview with Mr. Bassil, where the journalist attempted to exploit divisions between Lebanese Christians and Muslim populations, then drew attention to Hizb’allah and its allegiances to President al-Assad. Mr. Bassil managed to waffle his way through the interview and failed to cast a light on his real views, which is typical of politicians but perplexing for those of us wishing to gauge their position.

Even more confusing is, that Mr. Bassil reportedly lost the election in 2009, when he was the minister for energy and instrumental in exploiting the potential of the gas and oil found in the mediterranean sea. Though support for Mr. Frangieh is allegedly growing in Lebanon and despite its reservation regarding Mr. Bassil, ‘Hizb’allah’ still considers Mr. Aoun the man for the presidential job.

The ”Star” reports however, that ‘Hizb’allah hopes there will be no decision in the short-term, as a decision could cause civil strife and in my opinion the election of Mr. Frangieh, is certain to do so. There is no doubt, that ‘Hizb’allah’ is correct as despite the recent meetings, which have occurred between the two ex militia men, Mr. Aoun and Mr. Geagea to resolve the presidential impasse, there is probably no love lost between them.

What I did in the civil war, the dance of the generals

Michel Aoun, from one Ba’ath Party to another?

Mr. Aoun may favour Syria now but in 1993, when interviewed by Middle East Forum, representative, Daniel Pipes, he expressed a different view. He was surprised at America’s lack of support for Lebanon independence, from Syria and compared his country to Kuwait, no doubt in the light of its ”liberation” from Iraq in 1990. An interesting analogy as he was reported then to be a friend of Iraqi former president Saddam Hussain, an association he implicitly denies in the interview.

During the interview Mr. Aoun denied he was a militia leader but rather claimed to be a ”constitutional prime minister”, regardless of the fact that under the post 1946, post independence Accord, the PM is always a Sunni Muslim. Peter Mansfield throws a light on Mr. Aoun’s ambitions, in his account of the ”muted civil war” of 1958, when there were fears, that the fervour of Muslim, Arab nationalism would leave the Maronites weakened and, that they retaliated by attempting to gain more powerful positions for themselves. Luckily the 1946 Accord was strengthened, under the president Fuad Shahib, at least until the civil war.

If the 1946 Accord is part of the Lebanese constitution or not, it remains true (about the only truth), that no-one else has found a better way to maintain the balance of power in Lebanon. On top of everything else, the Shia population is probably the largest Lebanese sect and the highest office they can reach in government is as a parliamentary speaker. An office filled by one man since 1992, Nabieh Berri, who was said to be a Syrian pawn at the end of the civil war but remains in office, even as Syria is slowly destroyed by the west.

In 2006, Mr. Aoun’s party the ‘Free Patriotic Movement’ entered into talks with ‘Hizb’allah and since then, apparently he is a fan of Syria. Perhaps because of his socialist roots and support for Ba’ath party politics, or because Saddam Hussain, former President of Iraq was deposed and subsequently murdered.

Information about Mr. Aoun and his split from the Kataeb Party is scant, as is his fallout, with the ‘Lebanese Forces’ and his frequent change of allegiances; I’d really like some information on the subject please.

Samir Geagea, ‘Lebanese Forces’, militia to political party

In 1983 Mr.Geagea was invited to head the ‘Lebanese Forces’ (in inverted comma as it is now a political party as opposed to part of the ‘Kataeb’ militia). He paved the way for Mr. Aoun and his interim government, as he rejected presidential candidates, when Mr. Gemayyal’s term ended. The relationship between the two dignitaries was short-lived as Mr. Aoun launched eventually, a ”war of annihilation” on the ‘Lebanese Forces’.

Author Rula el-Husseini suggests the Mr. Hobeika and Mr. Geagea vied for control of the ‘Lebanese Forces’ but shared the common goal of wresting the unit away from the ‘Kataeb Party’; thus Mr. Aoun’s attack on it. Ordinary Maronites were said to be disaffected, with the dynastic nature of the Gemayyals and Mr. Geagea became a self-appointed champion of their cause, though his position is slightly spurious as he married into an extremely wealthy family prior to his incarceration.

Elie Hobeika and his ‘Young Men”

So far this entry has paid little attention to the role of the Palestinians in the civil war but it is impossible to discuss Mr. Hobeika without referring to the 1982 ”Shatila massacre” an act of violence, which gave him notoriety. The attack on the Sabra and Shatila districts of Beirut was instigated by a special force, the ‘Young Men’, recruited from the ‘Lebanese Forces’ by Mr. Hobeika and trained in South Lebanon by the ‘Israeli Defenses Force’. This didn’t come to light immediately, in fact the ‘Palestinian Liberation Organisation’ (PLO) were accused and the incident had the desired effect of driving back the Palestinians and legitimising the Israeli occupation.

If Geagea was the champion of the poor, in political terms, Hobeika went further as the ‘Young men’ were something of a ”rabble” or ”street gang”, even the Israelis tired of their lack of discipline quickly and evicted them from the South of the country. During the massacre Mr. Hobeika ordered the execution of fifty women and children, an embarrassment to the Israelis, who were said to be on the roof, keeping guard. Details of the attack are well documented so suffice to say, when it came to light, that Hobeika and the Israelis were responsible, they began to accuse each other.

In 2001, Mr. Hobeika was to testify against the Israeli prime minister Mr. Sharon in a Belgian criminal inquiry, though the latter maintained Hobeika commanded the attack. He was assassinated by a car bomb prior to the inquiry and as is always the case in Lebanon, there is much conjecture as to the culprits, a few arrests made but no prosecutions.

As a report, from the ‘Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs’ stated, Mr. Hobeika was probably more frightened of, what the Belgium enquiry would reveal about him, than about Mr. Sharon. Far be it for me to defend the Israelis but there is lots of documentation to say Hobeika was more culpable. Not least, that of Robert Hatem aka the Cobra, who was Hobeika’s commander in chief.

According to a ‘Washington Report On Middle East Affairs’, published in 2002, Hobeika made overtures to the Syrian president Hafez al Assad, after breaking ties, with the Israelis. He was part of the tripartite agreement, see /2014/12/21/maronite-presidents-dynasties-and-para-militaries-media-representations/ which entailed a cease fire between the warring militias.

Mr. Hobeika then attempted to ”eliminate” Mr. Geagea, having obtained the tacit agreement of Mr. Aoun. President Amin Gemayyal heard of the plot and intervened, which meant Mr. Hobeika had to seek exile in Syria. On his return to Lebanon he was exonerated of all charges and was elected to parliament and appointed Energy Minister, by Rafik Hariri in 1993. His political career continued to his assassination.



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