The Arab uprisings are affecting Lebanese electoral law choices. Lebanese Christian parties in the March 14 coalition believe that if the Christian vote is not “liberated,” an electoral “massacre” will ensue.
The major Lebanese Christian parties surprised their Muslim allies, especially Sunnis and Druze, when they opted for a parliamentary election law based on each sect choosing its own MPs.
Their move shook the opposition (the March 14 coalition) and reflected historical fears and dashed hopes. Those hopes were raised by the Arab Spring and dashed by the arrival of religious extremists to power in post-revolutionary Arab countries, from Tunisia to Libya and Egypt — the perennial vanguard Arab state — and to Syria, the country that was ruled by iron-fisted secular familial dictatorships but where the rebels, whose main factions have taken an Islamist orientation, have not yet reached power.
The events and developments in Syria are having a much bigger effect on Lebanon than on any other Arab country. The Syrian revolution broke out on Mar. 15, 2011, when a group of children wrote slogans on the city walls in Daraa. At the time, many Lebanese politicians, especially those in the March 14 opposition, thought that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would collapse within weeks, or a few months at the most. Almost two years later, they realized that their conclusion was rushed and that the world has started dealing with the Syrian crisis as a long-winded civil war that they have to live with.
Behind-the-scenes conversations about scenarios being planned for the region whereby minorities can maintain their presence and influence have led to the belief that a wave of federal regions is on the way. It is a wave whose supporters are growing in every country with religious, sectarian or ethnic differences, and even in single-identity countries, such as Libya. In the Levant — Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — the minorities in question are Shiites, Alawites and Christians, in addition to the special Kurdish situation.
A prominent Christian March 14 politician said to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the two Christian parties in the opposition, the Kataeb and the Lebanese Forces (LF) parties, have practically switched political options when they chose to support the so-called Orthodox Gathering’s electoral law. He said that Hezbollah was the party behind the notion that Lebanon is a collection of minorities that can never become a nation and where Hezbollah will be the strongest, given the near-total loyalty it enjoys from the Shiites and the strong support it gets from Iran at all levels. Therefore, the politician said, the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral law protects the Syrian regime and Hezbollah from the rise of the Sunni umma (nation)] and that the acceptance of that notion by some Christians eliminates their “Lebanon First” partnership with their allies, especially since the law’s draft was put forth by the former parliament speaker and vice president Elie Ferzli, who is close to the Syrian regime.
However, the LF says the matter is internal. The LF's vice president, MP George Adwan, conceded that what happened shook the positive image that LF chief Samir Geagea — who during the war was the Muslims' symbol of rivalry with militant Christians — had acquired among Lebanese Muslims, especially Sunnis. The latter have come to like him because of his principled stances, which he does not compromise upon and which agree, under the “Lebanon First” banner, with those of the Future Movement, the party headed by former prime minister Saad Hariri.
The two March 14 Christian parties made that decision thinking that if the Christian vote is not “liberated” in the upcoming June elections, the March 14 alliance will be massacred at the polls because of the harsh feelings stirred up among the Christians by the head of the Free Patriotic Movement Gen. Michel Aoun and the Maronite Church, headed by Cardinal Bechara Rahi.
While Adwan asserted that his party is committed to its Arab choices, a prominent member of the Future Movement said that he was unsure whether the calculations by the Christian parties who supported the Orthodox Gathering’s law are only internal. But what is certain is that Geagea, specifically, stunned his allies by supporting a law that makes of the Future Movement a Sunni bloc, while the Future Movement is cross-sectarian, with half its deputies non-Sunni Muslims.
Future Movement supporters were shocked by their Christian ally’s move because it came just when they feared that the Sunnis in Lebanon were being surrounded and cut down, whether or not these fears were based on fact, saying, “Geagea could have informed us of his move, even if behind the scenes. There is something called ‘positive collusion’ that must be present among allies.”
In response to a question, the Future Movement MP told Al-Monitor, “[Late] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri made great effort during the era of Syrian tutelage to form a mixed Christian-Muslim parliamentary bloc. Indeed, he took all those seats out from the mouths of the Syrians officials in charge of the previous regime. So why should the Future Movement abandon [those seats] today? We agreed with our LF and Kataeb allies to support the 50-district law, but they wanted us to make PSP leader Walid Junblatt agree to it, and that is something beyond our capabilities. If they want to counter the Islamist rise in the region, that is not accomplished by pressuring us.”
The above MP and most remaining politicians in March 14, whose political activities are frozen, said that any talk of fragmenting and remaking the region it is “not possible.” What’s notable is the insistence of the two LF and Future Movement MPs that the March 14 alliance will endure and contest the elections united despite everything.
Elie Hajj writes on politics for An-Nahar, Lebanon. He previously wrote for Al-Anbaa (Kuwait) and the online paper Elaph.