Lebanon Gets a President: Michel Aoun

Ending the over two years of political gridlock since the 2014 presidential election the Lebanese Parliament finally selected a president. Until now, Tammam Salam, an independent, served as the country’s acting president.

The new president is the former general Michel Aoun, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement. He is a Maronite Christian, since Lebanon’s customary sectarian power-sharing agreement calls for a Maronite president (as well as a Shia Speaker of Parliament and a Sunni Prime Minister). Aoun previously held the presidential post during the Lebanese Civil War, although it was disputed.

Michel Aoun’s party, the Free Patriotic Movement is a Christian party with nationalist tendencies. The FPM is part of the March 8 Alliance, a diverse coalition of pro-Syrian parties, formed at the tail end of the Lebanese Civil War. Although the FPM opposed the intervention of Syria in Lebanon, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah (a major force within the March 8 Alliance) after the end of the civil war. Eventually, it joined the March 8 Alliance and is now the largest party within it.

The political gridlock which led to Lebanon’s lack of a formal leader was occurred after the resignation of Michel Suleiman from the presidential post. The initial rounds of voting in the Lebanese Parliament to elect a new president were unsuccessful – all forty-five of them! Eventually, on the forty-sixth round, Aoun was selected.

Saad Hariri, who is a member of the March 14 Alliance (not the March 8 Alliance!) can be credited with Aoun’s success. Although Hariri and Aoun hold diametrically opposed political views, Hariri agreed to endorse Aoun to allow for the functioning of a normal government. In exchange, Saad Hariri is expected to be awarded the Prime Ministership.

This political concession is arguably a weakening of the pro-Saudi March 14 Alliance. It is also an obvious victory for the pro-Iran Hezbollah, as well as the March 8 Alliance on the whole. However, it is quite possible that Hariri gave in due to financial troubles facing him and his political party, the Future Movement.

Aoun’s supporters, especially Maronites, are celebrating his victory. In order to avoid violent confrontations, security was tightened in Beirut during and immediately after the vote.

The selection of Aoun is unlikely to lead to an end to Lebanon’s many crises. The political and economic problems facing the country are not going to get any better. In addition, many of Aoun’s opponents are worried that the situation will get worse. The creation of a solid political establishment could lead to a government with little or no concern for the people who put them in power.