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Lebanese Christian Politician Attacks Israel

Noted Israeli-Canadian scholar Dr. Mordechai Nisan’s, latest book, War and Politics in Lebanon, reveals that very few Lebanese Christian politicians and commanders had a high level of ethics.  See “Engimatic Lebanon”, in the September 2015, New English Review. Those who didn’t lust after power were few. Some were powerless like Charles Malek and Fuad Bustany. Others are dying like Antoine Lahd. Or are in exile such as Etienne Sacr.  Nisan cites  the  example of Christian leaders, like Michel Aoun who have opted to form alliances with Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.  Another Nisan also drew attention to is Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces political party. Nisan wrote, “Aoun and Geagea .. both tore Maronite unity into shreds and bloodshed.”

Geagea led the Lebanese Forces Christian militia from 1985 to 1990 in full alliance with Israel. That was before he was jailed by the Syrian-backed regime in 1994 for eleven years for “assassinations of Lebanese citizens”.

Now Samir Geagea has apparently made  a major ideological and strategic change of direction. In a surprising statement issued yesterday, Geagea attacked “the aggressive Israelis for their violence against Palestinians, and Israel’s suppression of Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem.”   Contrast this with his earlier condemnation of Hezbollah in the  January 2015 attacks by Hezbollah the killed two IDF soldiers near Mount Dov near the Lebanese border. The Algemeiner reported Geagea saying at the time: “Hezbollah has no right to implicate the Lebanese people in a battle with Israel. There is a government and a parliament which can decide on that.”?

This statement didn’t appear out of the blue.  Geagea and his wife MP Setrida Geagea had just returned from a visit to Qatar; a major supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The visit took place after sources revealed that Geagea’s political party went in quest of funding.  He had received Saudi petrodollars in the past, according to wikileaks.

However, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood  and pro-Hamas attitude of Geagea isn’t of recent origin. He  dispatched a member of his party’s political bureau, MP Antoine Zahra, to Gaza in support of Hamas. Geagea supporters argue that he needs to play the Sunni card to create a balance with Hezbollah and Iran.  Lebanese Christian sources dismiss the Sunni Shia reason. They say, “Geagea could have kept his connections to moderate Sunnis like Sa’ad Hariri.  However, he openly allied himself with Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas which is a huge mistake. It is about Petrodollars of course.”

Waging an attack on Israel to buy credit among Islamist fundamentalists is not a Geagea invention. Before him, another Lebanese Christian leader General Michel Aoun who fought Assad in 1989 and went into exile for 15 years, reversed his position  upon his return to Lebanon in 2005.  He openly sealed an alliance with Hezbollah.  Aoun engaged in a decade long alliance with Assad, Hezbollah and Iran. Thus the two most powerful Christian politicians, who have fought the radical Islamists and Iran in the past, have become allies to the Jihadists, both Sunnis and Shia.  All to the surprise of  veterans of both the Lebanese Forces militia and the Lebanese Army.

In the 1980s, another former commander of the Christian militia, a close ally of Israel, Elie Hobeika, also  reversed course and shifted from being anti Assad to becoming an ally of the Syrian regime in 1985. He was attacked by both Geagea and Aoun in 1986 and removed from East Beirut. Ironically Geagea and Aoun, years later also abandoned their Lebanese Christian legacy to become allies with either Hamas or Hezbollah.

A Lebanese Christian scholar living in Beirut, who knew both Aoun and Geagea, said “this is a sickness of power. We haven’t seen anything like that when Bashir Gemayel was alive.  Geagea and Aoun are  power hungry. They abandoned their people and are aligning with radicals just  hoping one day they will snatch the supreme office of President of the Lebanese Republic. This is disgusting. We blame Geagea more, because he once led a force that was the heart of the Lebanese Christian resistance. He knew better, his betrayal is bigger.”

Geagea, we note,  fell short of  the  65 Parliamentary votes needed in the April 2014 election to succeed Michel Sleiman’s term as the Maronite President in the confessional political system. He only got 48 votes.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Samir Geagea  Christian Lebanese Forces political leader.

Will The Trash Crisis In Lebanon Bring Hezbollah to Power?

Trash has been piling up in the streets of Beirut for nearly two months.  This weekend violence erupted in the Grand Serail in central Beirut with the Army rushing in with water cannons to quell the crowds; dozens were reported injured.  An alleged non –sectarian activist group “You Stink” is directing its ire at the government, which lacks a President, usually a Maronite Christian in the confessional political system of Lebanon.  The Sunni premier, Tammam Salam is under fire, as Cabinet Ministers rejected new tenders to end the trash dispute.

Noteworthy is the alliance between Hezbollah’s and the Christian Maronite group Lebanon Forces are suggesting that a new government be elected, despite the postponement of a national election till 2017.  Such is the topsy turvy politics in Lebanon’s enigmatic political system, given the overarching problems of contending with Hezbollah involvement in the Iranian regime backed alliance with Syria’s Assad. The Lebanese trash crisis gives new meaning to the well tuned phrase by 19th Century American journalist, Charles Dudley Warner: “politics make strange bedfellows.” Despite the alleged resilience and durability of the Lebanese confessional political system, could failure to obtain new tenders for the removal of stinking piles of trash on the streets of Lebanon’s cities result in Hezbollah emerging as the eminence grise behind a new government in Beirut?

Reuters has the latest developments in the roiling trash dispute turned violent, Lebanese ministers walk out of meeting over garbage crisis:”

The powerful Shi’ite party Hezbollah and its Christian allies walked out of an emergency Lebanese cabinet meeting on Tuesday in protest at a proposed solution to a garbage disposal crisis that has ignited violent protests in Beirut.

The national unity government led by Prime Minister Tammam Salam also canceled a tender to select new refuse collection firms, underscoring the difficulties it faces overcoming the crisis that has brought popular calls for it to step down.

Public anger that has come to a head over the trash crisis turned violent at the weekend, with scores of protesters and security forces injured. Salam has threatened to resign, expressing frustration at the failings of his cabinet, which groups Lebanon’s rival parties.

Failure to agree a solution to the crisis has laid bare wider political stagnation in Lebanon, where sectarian and power rivalries have been exacerbated by Syria’s four-year-old conflict.

Ministers including members of Hezbollah and Christian politician Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement walked out of Tuesday’s emergency meeting, the information minister said.

Hezbollah in a statement slammed the “mounting and worsening corruption” it said the garbage crisis reflected.

A government statement released after the walkout said tenders announced on Monday to award contracts for waste disposal to private companies had “included high costs”, and had therefore been rejected.

Media reports and activists had accused the cabinet of awarding the contracts to a number of companies based on regional and political affiliation, reflecting alleged corruption and politicization of the issue.

The government said that as a temporary measure rubbish, which has festered on the streets of Beirut, would be tipped in Akkar province in north Lebanon, in return for a $100 million “sum” that would go toward development projects in that region.

The information minister said it was the proposed sum that triggered the walkout. Akkar, one of the poorest regions in Lebanon, is mostly Sunni but also has many Christian areas.

You stink cartoon Daily Star

“You Stink” Cartoon. Source: The Daily Star, Beirut

Worsening problems emerge in the trash crisis.

Beirut-based activists from the “You Stink” campaign held two large rallies over the weekend and a smaller march on Monday, with calls for a solution to the rubbish crisis quickly turning into calls for the cabinet to resign.

Protest organizers have called on Lebanese at home and abroad to join them in a large rally on Saturday.

Lebanon’s army commander General Jean Kahwaji said late on Monday the armed forces would protect any peaceful demonstrations but would not tolerate “security violators or infiltrators” who sought to sow “sedition and chaos.”

Organizers of protests, which began peacefully, have blamed the violence on troublemakers whom they say are connected to rival sectarian parties. The U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon on Monday urged “maximum restraint” by all sides.

Calm has prevailed since the weekend clashes, however, and later Tuesday, workers were removing concrete blast walls erected the day before outside the cabinet headquarters which protesters had covered with colorful anti-government graffiti.

The protest campaign, which has mobilized independently of the big sectarian parties that dominate Lebanese politics, blames political feuding and corruption for the failure to resolve the crisis that has left piles of uncollected garbage stinking in the scorching sun in recent weeks.

The cabinet and parliament are deadlocked, and politicians have been unable to agree on a new president for more than a year while Syria’s war next door has aggravated sectarian tensions and driven more than one million refugees into the country.

The Salam cabinet, formed last year with the blessing of regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, has avoided a complete vacuum in the executive arm. It brings together Sunni Muslim former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s Future movement, Shi’ite Hezbollah and Christians.

Mordechai Nisan

Dr. Mordechai Nisan

But it has struggled to take even basic decisions and tension in cabinet has escalated over appointments in the security agencies and army.

This latest crisis comes as we are about to publish in the September edition of the NER   a book review and interview with Dr. Mordechai Nisan, a well published author  lecturer and  respected Israeli expert on Lebanon and minorities in the Middle East. In our interview with Nisan we asked a question about the survivability of the 80 year confessional political system in Lebanon. Here is the exchange:

Gordon:  Did the assassination of Lebanese PM Hariri and the Cedars Revolution of 2005 spell the demise of the confessional system in Lebanon?

Nisan:      The durability of Lebanon’s confessional political system remains in place. It is both traditional and consensual that the President be a Maronite, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Legislature a Shiite Muslim. These arrangements have persevered for some 80 years as an organic model for the special case of Lebanon.

In our review of his latest book, Politics and War in Lebanon: Unraveling the Enigma, we noted Nisan’s concluding commentary set against the background to the present political crisis:

With a vacant presidential post and parliamentary elections postponed until 2017, trouble looms for the country caught up in the vicissitudes of the Syrian civil war spilling over its borders bringing a flood of refugees and a roiling trash crisis.Nisan wrote about a hopeful sign, “The March 14 camp asked Patriarch Beshara a – Ra’I to suggest names for the presidential post. Maybe somehow two Maronites –patriarch and president would help save the country from oblivion.” The expression in Hebrew is, Alevai. Its English meaning, “That should only be.”

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.