The recent nomination of the deputy Sleiman Frangieh took everyone by surprise because of the seeming ripple of movement that it generated in an otherwise stifled environment surrounding the election of a President in Lebanon, added to that was the unexpected concession of those against the regime in Syria to support such an uncontested ally and friend of President El-Assad.
Let us start in the beginning where suddenly out of nowhere, rumors began circulating about a secret visit between Frangieh and former Prime Minister Saad Harriri in Paris. As is the case in Lebanon, there is very rarely smoke without fire and the rumor finally emerged as being correct.
There has been much speculation about how this meeting came about; Whether the meeting was planned or spontaneous and whether Frangieh communicated the relevant information of this encounter to his strongest ally Hezbollah ahead of time is still debatable, but what is clear is that after the meeting he certainly informed them about the discussions that were held and the seriousness of Hariri's proposal.
The talks between the men covered the details of his presidency including the matter of an electoral law which both agreed would have to remain as it is today to preserve the interests of the parties involved.
The news of the meeting triggered a flurry of reactions as the shock waves of this collusion spread out into the Lebanese political pond.
While some navigated the news eagerly, including the international community who saw an acceptable opportunity to resolve the political vacuum, others were rocked at their core by the implications of such a possibility.
The outcome of all the deliberations is that the only clear thing about Frangieh's candidacy to-date is that it is unclear. It is unclear for many reasons including:
1- General Aoun firm rebuttal:
The validity of Frangieh's candidacy is being rebuffed with the belief that if a candidate with Frangieh's affiliations are acceptable then the preference goes to General Aoun.
2- Saad Hariri's slowness to declare:
The delay of Hariri's visit to Lebanon seems to be linked to the larger implications surrounding the matter of his security. Maybe indeed Hariri feels he can only return to Lebanon with an ally such as Frangieh because of his close ties to the Syrian regime which would grant him a degree of safety.
3- Hezbollah's silence:
This is a reflection of their own conundrum confronted with on of their favored candidates becoming problematic. This dilemma was brought about because of their engagement with General Aoun and the fear of his retaliation and retrenchment into a Christian-only front if challenged by Frangieh's accession to the presidency.
For Hezbollah, this would lead to their loss of a powerful ally on the ground and create a dangerous confessional polarization at a time when Lebanon can least afford such antagonistic stances. In Parliament this would also fragment their voting coalition and leave them without Christian representation. If they are to reconsider Frangieh's candidacy it would certainly be tied into their insistence on a new electoral law which would not perpetuate the existing balance of power.
3- Samir Geagea's isolation:
Geagea is certainly not a proponent of Frangieh's candidacy viewing their bloody history and they rivalry in the North of the country. Frangieh's nomination has left Geagea publicly isolated from his own political bloc confronted with the uncoordinated nomination of a candidate from "the other side" by Saad Hariri, the leader of his block.
The tensions that had been suspected for some time between Geagea and Hariri were suddenly laid out for everyone to see. This has forced Geagea into a retaliatory stance where he is measuring the consequences of displeasing his Saudi sponsors and gambling with the threat to nominate Aoun to avoid Frangieh.
4- Saudi Arabia's timidity:
The lack of any declaration by Saad Harirri to-date ostensibly leads us to believe that Hariri has not received the reassurances he needs, both financial or otherwise, to push this deal through at this time. The Prime Ministery would bring with it financial rewards and would help him get back on his feet because it is fair to note that with the change of leadership in Saudi Arabia, the Hariri that Frangieh is negotiating with is not the same Hariri that Aoun was negotiating with a year and a half ago.
The question therefor begs to be asked: How much favor does Hariri really carry today with the King and specifically with the Crown Prince?
To sum up why things are so unclear, it is because the usual lines of identification have been crisscrossed. The leader of the March 14 movement proposed a March 8th candidate unilaterally, and the allies of each group lost their points of reference in the process.
It is fair to say that both protagonists, Frangieh and Hariri, are in fact being undermined mostly by their own camps. However, Hariri is as prone to veto as Frangieh since his rights to the premiership are also contested, not his only by rivals in his own camp but much more importantly by the Syrian regime and President El-Assad because of the seriousness of the unresolved past issues between them.
On the scale of Lebanon, this latest attempt has placed the March duality into the mixer and whatever will come out now in the next week or so, will never be the same. Expectations have been shattered and feathers ruffled on all sides.
It will take some time for this dust to settle but if it does settle into nothing again then the matter of the election of a President will also turn to dust in the short term which, would be a lost opportunity for Lebanon.
Baabda – December 2015