Joseph A. Kechichian/Gulf News: Lebanon’s FPM party purges anti-Bassil members

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Lebanon’s FPM party purges anti-Bassil members
Joseph A. Kechichian/Gulf News/July 30/16

Beirut: The founder of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the 82-year-old former Lebanese Commander of the Lebanese Army General Michel Aoun, confronted a defining challenge as the party he created in 2005 expelled three leading members over policy differences.

Media reports confirmed that a senior FPM official sitting on the party’s disciplinary committee called Ziad Abs, Naim Aoun and Antoine Nasrallah to inform them of their expulsions, after it determined that all three tarnished the group’s reputation.

In remarks made to New [Al Jadeed] Television, Abs, a key FPM official in Beirut’s Ashrafieh area corroborated that he had been expelled from the FPM along with Naim Aoun and Antoine Nasrallah. Previously, Abs ran into an open confrontation with the FPM’s current president, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jibran Bassil (who happens to also be General Michel Aoun’s son-in-law), as he expressed a wish to run for party office.

Naim Aoun, a nephew of the founder, and the other two FPM founding members were called before an FPM disciplinary tribunal because they criticised Bassil during a television interview on July 16.

Nasrallah, who fought alongside General Aoun against the Syrians during the latter’s three-decades long occupation of the country, was also reprimanded for publishing a scathing article that Jibran Bassil did not approve of. All three refused to appear before the FPM disciplinary tribunal but spoke openly on television against what they alleged were undemocratic practices.

The latest media appearances apparently tipped the balance and led to the expulsions, especially after Naim Aoun confirmed that he was expelled because of his Wednesday evening television appearance on the MTV ‘Bi-Mawdu‘iyyah’ [Objectively] programme with Walid Abboud. Naim Aoun did not mince his words and lambasted the FPM even if Abboud, playing the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ repeatedly accused Naim Aoun of skirting the issues.

The FPM had previously accused the three rebels of “raising the FPM’s crises in the media”, according to a report published in the Al Nahar newspaper, and the latest transgression was clearly not tolerated.

When Abs, Aoun and Nasrallah informed the FPM disciplinary committee a few days ago that they would not attend their so-called ‘trial’ because they had concluded that they “did not violate the movement’s bylaws as the leadership has claimed”, Bassil gave instructions to expel the three.

Unconfirmed media reports, which have been circulated since May 2016, hinted that the FPM intended to purge the party of those who refused to accept Bassil. At least 20 leading members, including Abs, were apparently targeted from the get-go.

Importantly, the latest expulsions occurred two days before the scheduled FPM ‘internal party elections’ on Sunday to select candidates who will run for parliamentary elections in 2017. Critics remained skeptical about the envisaged process, as at least 10 contenders (out of 83) were forced to withdraw because they did not meet the party’s criteria (to be a card-carrying member for at least two years, have a college degree, and be over 30 years of age), even if the Lebanese constitution does not require a college degree for eligibility for any citizen to run for office.

In reality, vetted candidates were expected to back Bassil first and foremost, though it was unclear whether any of the 73 would be chosen by acclamation like the party president was.