Monday, October 31, 2016

Back to the roots Lebanon

Michel Aoun's first move as elected president: Appointing ex-premier Saad Hariri as the new prime minister.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, known as the Générale by his friend and (countless) enemies alike, has been elected President of the Republic of Lebanon in an hour long voting procedure that included votes for the likes of "Zorba the Greek" and pop star Myriam Klink.

Mr Aoun's long-time rival, Marada Movement chief Sleiman Franjieh, did not receive a single vote as parliament casted its vote on the future of Lebanon, ending the two and a half year long presidential void that, given the critical role of the country's president both in the legislative process and in facilitating communication and compromise between Lebanon's estranged political faction.

The election of Michel Aoun is the result of a long and stifling process of relucting national dialogue which led to a complete reshuffle of alliances and partnership's in Lebanon's fractured political landscape. The Future movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, intially pushed for Sleiman Franjieh to be elected president, despite him heading a movement considered close to the Syrian regime and therefore a natural adversary of Future, traditionally the voice of the Sunni community that is wary of Mr Assad. Only after being abandoned by it's long-time ally, the Maronite Lebanese Forces that joined forces with the Free Patriotic movement in this summer's municipal elections, and pressured by the Gulf States, Mr Hariri reluctantly gave Aoun its blessing securing himself the position of prime minister in some kind of shady quidproquo.

Aoun's election was widely celebrated across Beirut and the country, with Lebanese taking to the streets for fireworks and celebratory gunfire. Yet, Aoun's task might be a difficult one. He inherits a country that is deeply split along partisan and or confessional lines and a poltical system that is founded on a national consensus which sorely lacks. The imminent gridlock has obstacled and prevented the state from fulfilling its most basic functions, from the supply of water and electricity to waste collection. Moreover, Aoun has to find a way to accomodate 2 million Syrian refugees without alienating his Lebanese constituents and dealing another blow to an already dire economic situation. Over 20 percent of Lebanese under 24 are unemployed, according to data compiled by the World Bank.

It is unclear uf Aoun's indisputable capabilities will suffice to come to terms with the issues outlined above. Time will show, until then we wish him our best. Same for Hariri who will have to enhance significantly the mediocre performance he showed in his first term to have a lasting (positive) impact on Lebanon and the Middle East of which it is the heart.