Change and reform

Elias Muhanna, of the excellent Qifa Nabki blog, offers an in-depth look at the history, present and future of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement – a real must-read for anybody who wants to understand today’s political landscape in Lebanon: ‘“Even if I agree that the weapons are a problem, how does that have anything to do with the fact that we need a new electoral law, or that we need to fight corruption, or that we need to protect our environment?” asks Alain Aoun. “The March 14 forces have made Hizbollah’s weapons their only issue while they neglect every other problem in the country, from the public debt to the electricity blackouts. We have a different approach.” What lies ahead for Lebanon? If the past four years are any indication, the election result is unlikely to lead to a brisk and decisive changing of the guard. Due to the tortuous nature of consensual politics, the choice of a prime minister and the formation of the government are likely to take time and require extensive deliberation. The nationwide stupor brought on by election fever – with all its promises of change and renewal – is bound to be followed by a rude awakening when politics resume their usual course on June 8. This should not distract from the underappreciated reality that Lebanon is in a process of significant change. Having emerged from the deep freeze of post-civil war reconstruction and the tutelage of the Syrian era, a national debate about various existential issues is beginning to take place. Questions about the viability of the consociational system, reform of the electoral law, and a credible defence strategy, among others, are beginning to be asked with increasing urgency, partly because – for the first time in decades – the Lebanese are in a position to answer them. The end of the Syrian occupation unleashed a surprisingly vibrant and energetic debate among ordinary Lebanese, much of it carried out on blogs, online news and social networking sites, and internet chat forums. Most of the political parties now maintain online message-boards, none larger than The Orange Room, a garrulous and impassioned community of Aoun obsessives. (…) Even as the FPM sits on the precipice of obtaining power, the unbounded arguments on its no-frills website retain the air of an aggrieved and strident underground opposition – the legacy of a movement that first took shape as a diffuse network of ideologically-committed university students and young professionals. The Aounist forums bring home the point – evident in the party’s electoral rhetoric but more conspicuous in the candid discussions between its partisans – that the FPM seems to occupy a hybrid position, somewhere between a traditional Lebanese confessional party orientated around a single charismatic leader, and a modern political movement committed to certain ideological principles. Listening to the Aounists talk amongst themselves it remains hard to determine whether their fervent wish is for a new Christian strongman in the form of Michel Aoun or for the secularist agenda that he espouses.
In its present role in the opposition, it has been easy for the FPM to criticise the majority without bearing responsibility for the decisions of government. But if the party prevails on June 7 and takes a decisive role in shaping the legislative agenda for the next four years, all eyes will be on the FPM to see if it wields the authority it has long sought to enact far-reaching reforms – or if the party and its allies, safe within the halls of the Second Republic, find its pillars too secure to topple.’

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