Samir Geagea’s Initiative in Lebanon’s Domestic Politics

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Majid Moradi
Member of Scientific Council of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam

About three months ago, when the Lebanese Forces (LF) party invited me, as a researcher of Iranian and Arab issues, to deliver a speech at an international congress held at the headquarters of the party in Me’rab on international and regional reverberations of the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, I felt that this invitation was some sort of green light shown to the Islamic Republic of Iran, because none of the Iranian citizens had been invited to the area dominated by this party since the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

In that meeting, which was attended by Arab, European and American diplomats residing in Beirut as well as the Lebanese parliament deputies and representatives of different parties, Samir Geagea, delivered a lengthy speech talking about possible risks that removing anti-Iran sanctions would pose to the entire region. However, he had included a sentence at the end of his speech, which pushed all his fears and doubts to one side when he said, “I hope I have been wrong about all risks that may stem from removing Iran sanctions.”

The congress was also addressed by David Chunker from Washington, Oraib Rantawi from Jordan, Sami Nassif from Kuwait, and me.

I offered an independent view on the impacts of the nuclear deal on Iran's relations with Arab states and while reviewing past history of these relations, especially the support of Arab states for Saddam Hussein during his eight-year war against Iran, noted that the wave of Iranophobia is a false and imaginary wave. I also emphasized that if Iran's position and role and importance are recognized, there would be no reason to be concerned about Iran's behavior. At the same time, I pointed out Saudi Arabia’s imbalanced behavior, which along with Israel, spared no effort to cause failure of the nuclear negotiations, and then compared Iran's behavior with that of Saudi Arabia in Yemen. I also talked about the role of Iran in Iraq where it practically saved Baghdad and Sulaimaniyah from the onslaught of Daesh.

In the middle of my speech, as if a large part of the participants did not expect it and were surprised that someone was defending Iran's foreign policy at Me’rab – the headquarters of the Lebanese Forces party – I saw impolite reactions from some participants, who were apparently affiliated to the al-Mustaqbal Party. I, however, remained calm and went on with my speech without losing my temper. The second time such reactions were shown, I saw Samir Geagea standing up facing the participants, telling them, “Whoever does not like this (speech) the exit door is open.”

One of his close friends later told me that it was unprecedented for Geagea to stand up in a conference and try to calm down the participants. It seemed that in view of his tense relations with Iran, he did not want that group to send a negative message to an Iranian through their angry shouts. The next day, the website of the LF party chose “The First Iranian in Me’rab” as the title of its story on the conference and wrote “we have open ears for listening to an Iranian.”

This was the first step that Samir Geagea took to announce a change in his approach and also sent a message to his regional and transregional allies that he is open to interactions with Iran and the allies of Iran.

Of course, I thought that it was going to be a research session and a green light was going to be shown to Iran, but it was quite unexpected for Samir Geagea to give up his candidacy and introduce Hezbollah’s nominee for presidency as his candidate of choice. However, despite all people’s disbelief, this happened in practice and he held a glamorous session to announce support for candidacy of his age-old adversary, General Michel Aoun, thus nullifying all past calculations.

By supporting candidacy of Michel Aoun, Geagea first gave an answer to his allies in the March 14 Alliance, which had recently agreed to candidacy of Suleiman Frangieh, and thrown the ball into Hezbollah’s court, because Frangieh has good relations with Hezbollah and has also cordial relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is considered an added value for him in the eyes of Hezbollah.

Another goal that Geagea is pursuing by supporting candidacy of Michel Aoun is to make Christian groups more united and make Aoun’s party, the Free Patriotic Movement, indebted to himself. This is true as Michel Aoun is past 90 years old and his death will create a leadership void in the Free Patriotic Movement. So, Geagea may have an eye to not only filling that void, but also to becoming the next president.

On the other hand, he sent a message to Hezbollah and the people supporting it that he is not afraid of accepting Hezbollah’s demand in order to meet the country’s national interests, and this is why he stipulated that “like it or not, we are now in Hezbollah’s camp.” Also, in order to give more assurances to Hezbollah, he clearly noted in his recent interview that he considers Israel as enemy number one of Lebanon and said nothing about the need to disarm Hezbollah, which is the main goal of all the leading figures of the March 14 Alliance.

On the other side, the March 14 Alliance, which has nominated Suleiman Frangieh for president, has the support of the Amal Movement and its leader, Nabih Berri, who is also speaker of the Lebanese parliament. Although Berri is an ally of Hezbollah leader, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, he does not support his nominee for presidency and believes that Michel Aoun is not fit for this post.

Apart from personal characteristics of Aoun, which make it difficult to predict his future positions and are not very promising, coming to office of a less known and weaker president is more desirable for Nabih Berri, who has been practically the most prominent and the most stable political figure in Lebanon during the past two decades. This feeling is also shared by Walid Jumblatt, who usually follows in Nabih Berri’s footsteps.

At present, the political puzzle in Lebanon has become strangely complicated. Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces are against each other, but share the same viewpoint on the presidential candidate.

On the other hand, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are strategic allies, but they have different views on presidency. In this case, the Amal Movement takes side with the March 14 Alliance, which supports Frangieh. Frangieh is a close ally of Hezbollah, and unlike Aoun, his relations with Hezbollah have been always cordial.

Frangieh is also a friend of Bashar Assad while the March 14 Alliance is strongly against Assad, nonetheless, the alliance is currently supporting a friend of Bashar Assad for presidency in Lebanon.

Despite all these developments, one point is for certain: Saudi Arabia has practically lost the game in Lebanon to Iran. This is true because Samir Geagea had been introduced as Saudi Arabia’s presidential nominee for Lebanon since 18 months ago, but due to opposition from Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement led by Aoun himself, and the Marada Movement, which is led by Frangieh, Riyadh has not been able to achieve its goal.

Now, the main rivalry is between two candidates, who fortunately or unfortunately, are both close to Hezbollah and its allies. Meanwhile, Suleiman Frangieh, who has been nominated by the rival party, has been, and will be, more loyal to Hezbollah while Hezbollah’s nominee, that is, Michel Aoun, has past record of conflicts with Hezbollah and Syria and is quite unpredictable.

However, Hezbollah insists on proving its loyalty to Michel Aoun, and to do so, Hezbollah’s leader, Nasrallah, has said, “Our actual candidate for the presidential elections is General Michel Aoun,” stressing that “either Aoun, or nobody else.” Therefore, Hezbollah will certainly try to make Suleiman Frangieh change his mind about running for president.

Now, the ball has been thrown in Hezbollah’s court from two sides: both by the March 14 Alliance and by Samir Geagea. Therefore, regardless of which one of the two candidates becomes the president, Hezbollah will be true winner provided that one of these two is chosen as president and all parliamentary factions take part in the session, which will be held to choose the president, and do not try to render it ineffective through their absence.

The lightening-like initiative of the Lebanese Forces party has now caused Hezbollah to be choosing between good (Aoun) and better (Frangieh), instead of having to choose between bad and worse.

Key WordsSamir Geagea, Lebanon, Domestic Politics, Lebanese Forces (LF), Iran, Me’rab, Hezbollah, Michel Aoun, Bashar al-Assad, Christian Groups, March 14 Alliance, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, Walid Jumblatt, Suleiman Frangieh, Nabih Berri, Amal Movement, Saudi Arabia, Moradi

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: The National

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