Exactly one month before Michel Sleiman’s presidential term ends, Lebanon had already two candidates, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun, each from two rival movements. It became clear that in these circumstances and the actual balance of power that no elections will take place in the near future.
The first election round was a hypocritical showoff with full parliament presence, plenty of statements, a red dress, hugs and kisses, all knowing that no president will be elected on that day.
The Lebanese presidential vacuum just begun. Votes inside the parliament were equally balanced among political opponents, this status-quo remained unchanged until November 2015 when things started to take a different path.
Gilbert Chaghoury, a businessman and ex-ambassador, unknown yet to the Lebanese political scene made a move towards a solution that could end the presidential conflict. The Lebanese-Nigerian tycoon proposed a plan that turned the table upside down between Lebanon’s political allies.
He started by meeting Saad Hariri in Paris, proposing to open channels of communication with Sleiman Frangieh, leader of Marada party, on the possibility of being an alternative to Aoun and Geagea in the presidential race. Hariri was all ears for his proposition, first for being a another solution to Michel Aoun, and especially for the political and financial advantages that could result from this deal. Hariri was certain by this move of securing Walid Joumblatt and Samir Geagea votes, while Sleiman Frangieh already considered himself president with the support of Hezbollah and Amal.
Talks got more serious when Sleiman Frangieh flew twice to Paris on Ghaghoury’s private jet to meet Saad Hariri. Each one had concerns and demands, Frangieh had to convince his ally Michel Aoun to abdicate in his favour, while Saad Hariri wanted guarantees on the following:
- Naming him Prime Minister through Sleiman Frangieh’s entire mandate
- Guarantee his physical safety by Syrian regime and Hezbollah
- Appointment of Saudi Oger as prime contractor in rebuilding Syria, especially with the financial struggle it’s facing in Saudi Arabia.
During his visits to Paris, Sleiman Frangieh assigned his assistants to inform Michel Aoun’s closed circle of this proposal, omitting all details and how advanced the negotiations were, something that received an inconsiderate response from the stubborn general.
Gilbert Chaghoury couldn’t leave a chance for long negotiations on the risk of losing the deal and leaking it to media; he personally travelled to convince Michel Aoun of stepping down and back Sleiman Frangieh, and made a lucrative offer:
- The sum of $1 billion paid from oil extraction profits
- An absolute Christian majority in parliament
- Key ministries for his party during Frangieh’s entire mandate.
Michel Aoun not simply refused, but was irritated that the deal was already made secretly between all parties. Add to that, financial agreements were already discussed for granting extraction contracts of oil & gas located on Lebanese coast to Gilbert Chaghoury’s group. The businessman planned to expand his empire to the Middle-East, with a solid support from his closest western ally Hillary Clinton; who in 2012 decided not to enlist Boko Haram as a terrorist group by fear of losing foreign investors in Nigeria, as recommended by her Lebanese friend.
Early December 2015, the presidential deal leaked to media and reached Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea who was also betrayed by his closest ally. He met with Michel Aoun to discuss this unexpected event, the general informed him about Hezbollah’s impartiality regarding the Hariri-Frangieh move. Geagea was also skeptical about Hezbollah and Amal blind support for Michel Aoun, and wanted to prove it publicly in a move that will also sabotage Hariri’s initiative.
He publicly backed Michel Aoun, his long time rival, for the Lebanese presidency. His move reshaped the Lebanese politics and made two candidates from the same movement battle over the presidency. With time passing, Michel Aoun could no longer be able to hold such responsibility and Sleiman Frangieh missed his chance of being elected in the near future, unless a major event.
Although this could be the most measured political move of the last decade in Lebanon, it didn’t bring any constructive result toward electing a president. It simply maintained a balanced internal conflict until regional events lean in favour of one particular side.
In other terms, it’s like a teeter-totter, they exchanged places but kept playing.