Michael Young/The National: Lebanon’s tricky search for a consensus to pick a president/مايكل يونغ /ذا ناشيونال: بحث لبنان الصعب والمعقد عن التوافق لاختيار رئيس للجمهورية

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مايكل يونغ /ذا ناشيونال: بحث لبنان الصعب والمعقد عن التوافق لاختيار رئيس للجمهورية

Lebanon’s tricky search for a consensus to pick a president
Michael Young/The National/November 23/2022

Three major communities in the country are defining the presidency in their own way

According to the constitution, the president, who by custom is always a Maronite Christian, is described as “the head of state and the symbol of the nation’s unity”. His or her main purpose is to “safeguard the constitution and Lebanon’s independence, unity, and territorial integrity”.

While there is much in this formulation that is open to interpretation, there is also a refreshing clarity in that a president has responsibilities to which all Lebanese communities and factions can, or should, agree. You would have thought so, at least.

Yet in the last 10 days, several communal representatives, namely Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, and three former prime ministers, have sought to define the kind of president they would view as ideal. Lebanon is in the midst of a presidential vacuum, after the end of Michel Aoun’s term, and the country’s many political forces have yet to agree on a successor.

While the preferred guidelines that have been announced do not necessarily contradict the constitution, it is revealing that everyone should still be defining the role of the presidency, sometimes beyond what the constitution mandates. If anything illustrates how far Lebanon’s political forces have drifted away from a document that should reflect a national consensus, it is the divisive way they continue to impose conditions on its fundamental provisions.

In a speech on November 11, Nasrallah declared that Hezbollah sought a president “who reassures” those backing the resistance. He must be someone “who will not sell” the resistance, “scare it, or plot against it”. Hezbollah wants a president “who is courageous”, and will not tremble if the US embassy, State Department, or US Central Command “shouts at him”.

Nasrallah’s comments were part of a more complicated process of advancing the fortunes of the party’s favourite candidate – by all accounts Suleiman Franjieh – at a time when its major Christian ally, Gebran Bassil, is seeking Hezbollah’s endorsement for his candidacy. But it is also more than that. What Nasrallah effectively did was impose a para-constitutional filter on all potential presidents, which effectively alters the constitution’s meaning.

Hezbollah’s main rival, the Lebanese Forces, has not acted very differently. Weeks ago, the party’s leader, Samir Geagea, declared that he would support a “confrontation president”, one who would oppose “everyone who has ruined their lives”. However, Mr Geagea has made clear many times since then that the main target to “confront” was Hezbollah and its allies.