Hezbollah and the FPM: Time for a New Pact

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The Aounists expected that many from the nationalist and secular forces would join them. (Photo: Al-Akhbar - Archive)

By: Ghassan Saoud

Published Friday, January 6, 2012

The first problem the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hezbollah has encountered concerns its perception among the public. Many of those who supported the agreement on 6 February 2006 – one which they thought might build an alternative Lebanese future – have since lost confidence in the MOU.

Going back to that day, no one thought that the meeting between Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah and FPM leader General Michel Aoun was aimed at securing a ministerial post here or a general directorship there. The dream was much bigger than that.

On that day, in the abandoned church, the two political leaders met. The least of what could be said about them was that their supporters were in a state of reverie close to intoxication.

Neither party had engaged in internal fighting, dividing the spoils of war, or maneuvering to grab power. The MOU raised the hopes of many for a different future, where Hariri economics (now continuing under Mikati) would not be the only course of action.

This is where FPM members were most disappointed. None of Aoun’s party members thought that all the courage of the resistance against the outside could turn into “cowardice” inside, that its might in the face of the “haughty” would turn into weakness when confronting those who are corrupt.

The dream was that these two civil forces would be able to overturn the current order and establish a new authority which would have the ten clauses of the MOU at the heart of its constitution.

The Aounists expected that many from the nationalist and secular forces would join them, such as the National Unity Platform and the Popular Nasserist Organization, both of which signed a separate understanding with the FPM. However, things began to move in a different direction very quickly, confining the MOU to one reality: an alliance between two sectarian forces.

Anyone who had believed that the understanding was a fork in the road, today asks themselves with anguish, “What did the MOU offer that was new to Lebanese political life? Where are the challenges against the economic theory that dominates the country? Where is the alternative future that it promised the Lebanese?”

Definitely, some among the supporters of the two parties have sobered up only to realize something quite nasty, that many of the noble fighters in Hezbollah and the FPM are no longer seen that way by the public. Few still bet on “the only two political parties that did not go to the Hariri school of politics.”

Thus, anyone questioning the MOU will come to the conclusion that it has lost its spirit, and that reinvigorating it or restoring hope in it can only come as a result of a new meeting and a new understanding between Nasrallah and Aoun.

The second level of the problem lies in the way the two sides currently view the understanding. The leadership of the FPM is confident today that the priorities of Hezbollah in its political relationships are as follows: First, complete solidarity with the Shia Amal movement, and working towards anything its leader, Speaker Nabih Berri, wants without exception or argument. Second, considering the needs of Hezbollah’s Sunni allies and offering them all material and moral support to strengthen their position within their sect. Third, to avoid any tensions with President Michel Suleiman.

Taking this into account, there has to be a new understanding which defines the place of the FPM among Hezbollah’s priorities.

“So, Hezbollah does not upset Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, or President Michel Suleiman for the sake of Aoun? We all agree on that,” says one of the architects of the February 6 understanding.

“Therefore, let us determine how Hezbollah can satisfy Aoun without upsetting them.”

On the third level, there are scandals at the political party level, in the media, student and union activity, and regional levels between Hezbollah and FPM. This suggests that relations between the two sides were better prior to the understanding.

All this leads us to an FPM meeting held in Jounieh two weeks ago, where a high-ranking leader gave the angry Aounist crowd three choices: First, to keep the FPM in its current alliance, seeing the cup as half full. Second, to take a step back from the alliance, and pursue policies that the FPM was in favor of before the understanding turned into an alliance. Third, to find points of agreement with President Suleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and MP Walid Jumblatt inside the government, and with some of the March 14 forces outside it. The majority of those attending the meeting supported the second choice, finding the third one unacceptable.

The same choices were presented by Aoun, who also heads the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, to some of the leaders of the FPM and its MPs, and the result was not far from what the Jounieh meeting chose.

But one FPM MP, Hikmat Deeb, insists that Hezbollah voting against the Aounists on the issue of raising wages was “just a passing cloud.”

Deeb’s confidence in the MOU goes as far as claiming the disagreement over the wage issue has bolstered the understanding between the FPM and Hezbollah. He confirmed that Nasrallah himself intervened to calm tensions between Hezbollah and the FPM over several issues.

Those who know about Nasrallah’s efforts confirm that he closely followed the news he was provided about the “technical error” committed by the ministers of his party. For four days, he concentrated all his efforts on containing the crisis.

He had two direct communications with Aoun and three party meetings with officials at three different levels of his party to urge them to intensify their cooperation with their FPM counterparts. To save the understanding, Hezbollah ministers backtracked on their earlier votes concerning the wage vote.

Meanwhile, on Christmas Eve, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station virtually turned into Tele Lumiere (a Christian religious channel in Lebanon), with the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts singing Christmas songs while being directed by Hezbollah maestro, Ali Bajuq and accompanied by Christian singer, Joumana Mdawar.

All this occurred as information became public concerning the intentions of Hezbollah and the FPM to create a number of bilateral ministerial, parliamentary, and regional committees. There is no doubt that ministerial coordination between Hezbollah and the FPM will be put into place. Also, there is no doubt that Hezbollah’s ministers will not repeat their mistake.

However, this will not restore confidence in the understanding that has been lost among the public, nor will it restore the confidence lost at the level of the two leaders or the opportunity that has been squandered when it comes to the supporters of both parties.

Reinvigorating the understanding and restoring confidence in it requires a serious and frank reevaluation of what the MOU has achieved and what it could achieve – if it were to go back to its starting point.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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