Yes, the title is deceptive.
Last February, the president of Lebanon Gen. Michel Aoun turned 84, becoming the oldest president in office in the history of Lebanon. The current presidency is similar to its precedents, having bad and good aspects, but that didn’t prevent the gathering of family members, party goers, and influential businessmen around the president since his election in October 2016.
Almost three years later, the Free Patriotic Movement headed by Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of Michel Aoun and Minister of Foreign Affairs, inherited internal and external challenges, if not opportunities.
Internally, his rise to power is considered by many of Aoun’s acolytes as unfair, built on the fame of his father in-law and crowned by leading the Tayyar in very biased party elections. Pulling the strings during 9 months preceding the formation of the Hariri government made him a one-man party ruler. He carefully chose his ministers and kept their signed resignation at his disposal. That preventive move was to avoid any obstinance to resign like in the previous government with the ministers Raed Khoury, Yaacoub Sarraf and Tarek Al-Khatib.
Externally, he had to remain a defensive pawn of his ally Hezbollah, classified internationally as a terrorist organization. But his insistence to hold the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had other tacit purposes; and due to his his frequent trips around the globe, he planned to get closer to the Lebanese diaspora by organizing public sit-ins where he announces promises and political messages to an audience living far away from any implications in the daily life in Lebanon. Nevertheless, his interest to acquire those potential electors comes along personal business contracts, without missing the opportunity to promote himself as the ideal candidate for the next presidential race. His statements in foreign media about a pacification with Israel were contradicting the overall sentiment in Lebanon; but that was enough to grab the attention of world decision-making lobbies in Washington, Moscow and London.
Back in Lebanon, the discordant is still present between Gebrane Bassil and some party members, along with other pro-Aoun supporters. The Michel Aoun phenomenon that started in late 80’s gained many supporters during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and culminated with the events that followed the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.
Many public and military figures were associated with “Aounism”, while few secured a position in the new administration; many were left aside such as Gen. Issam Bou Jamra considered unpopular, Fayez Karam who was indicted for collaborating with Israel, or Ziad Abs and Fady Abboud who simply opposed Gebrane Bassil.
Therefore, the potential legacy of president Michel Aoun within the Tayyar movement might be explosive treasure.
From one side, Gebrane Bassil’s current strategy tend to gather more followers while imposing total control on the party; which could be a powerful pressure tool for a presidential run in four years.
On the other side, figures like Chamel Roukoz, a fervent popular military figure who also happened to be married to one of Michel Aoun’s daughter, Claudine. Roukoz is not a Tayyar member and he struggled to win a parliamentary seat in the last elections after being tacitly fought by the party and Bassil himself.
Alain Aoun, another active party member and nephew of Michel Aoun, guaranteed a parliamentary seat in the Baabda district after accepting Bassil’s terms, and kept a bitter sentiment after being denied a chance to head the Tayyar movement in 2015. Same for Ibrahim Kanaan, MP for the Metn fiercely opposed Bassil’s hegemony on the party and had to show his full dedication to become the main spokesperson of the party in the parliament. Kanaan was also denied a minister position on several times to avoid a popularity rise in the Metn. Ziad Assouad, also a Tayyar MP for the region of South Lebanon (Jezzine) showed some bitterness vis-a-vis Gebrane Bassil, especially that his popularity is mainly based on the Shia community of Nabih Berri.
President Aoun’s third daughter Chantal also expressed some differences with the politics and management of Bassil; her husband is the head of OTV, a television network considered a propaganda platform for the Aoun administration and the Tayyar party.
The differences and personal ambitions of each foresee an inevitable clash and fissure within the family and the party itself after the passing of Michel Aoun. Nevertheless, he remains an icon in the history of Lebanon who until this day succeeded in keeping his circle of ulterior motives, united.
Until this happens, long live the president.