Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, and Hezbollah have shaped Lebanese politics for 16 years. He warned that an 11-week parliamentary boycott has prevented the government from meeting in the midst of the country’s economic slowdown and weakening state institutions. But he failed to directly criticize his ally Hezbollah and the Shia Amal party in his televised speech on Monday night.
The two have blocked cabinet meetings over their demands to sack Judge Tarek Bitter, who has been investigating the Beirut port explosion since October 2020, which killed more than 200 people in August 2020.
So far, no one has been held responsible for the incident, which was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. Hezbollah and Amal accused Beitar of favoritism, but observers say it is doing its job by questioning ministers responsible for the port at the time. The investigation has been adjourned for the fourth time.
Dania Kolilat Khatib, a Lebanese analyst with the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, told VOA that Aun failed to convince the Lebanese people that he could effectively counter Hezbollah and Amal.
“They are trying to shore up the bitters, so they have no power to question the ministers. Aun has a dilemma. He is gaining a lot of popularity due to his political position by supporting Hezbollah. But if he broke up with Hezbollah, who would finance him? From where will he get the money? He has no means of earning money. So, he tries to deliver this speech where he says: I want the law, I want the state, but he gives Hezbollah the country on a silver plate,” Khatib said.
Hezbollah has considerable political and military influence in Lebanon. It is the only militia to keep its weapons since the end of the 1975–1990 civil war.
Auun’s presidency ends in 2022. His unpopular son-in-law, Gebran Basile, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Party, or FPM, wants a job.
“FPM today is stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Karim Emil Bitar of Beirut’s St. Joseph’s University told Reuters news agency. doesn’t approve of it,” said Beitar, who directs the university’s Institute of Political Science.
“But they cannot afford to leave this coalition altogether because it would ruin Basil’s presidential ambitions and certainly prevent them from gaining a significant parliamentary bloc,” he said.
Analyst Khatib said that many Lebanese Christian voters are now eager to support independent civil society candidates or Samir Gegea, who leads the Lebanese Forces political party, and opposes Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement.