Lebanon: Can the Free Patriotic Movement Survive Without Aoun?

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How can we talk about change in the leadership without the foundations of the institutions having been laid down first? (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Lea al-Qazzi

Published Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Figures in Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have proposed establishing a “collective leadership” to the movement’s leader, Michel Aoun. Though Aoun’s preliminary approval has been all but secured, it remains for the proposal to move from the theoretical to the practical.

On 22 November 2004, the anniversary of Lebanon’s independence, General Michel Aoun addressed the Lebanese from Parisian exile, calling on them to start preparing for the era that follows Syrian suzerainty over Lebanon.

The FPM leader’s calculations were spot on: “The Syrian army will not remain for long in Lebanon.” However, in the same breath, Aoun warned, “We are not ready yet to cope with the consequences of this step, so we have to sit down and think about the post- Syrian phase.”

Many Aounists – as FPM supporters are called – are only too aware of this. It is in this context that the proposal of FPM figures regarding collective leadership in the next phase has emerged. Though the matter remains in the “brainstorming” phase, Aoun – according to Al-Akhbar sources – has been “very positive.”

It is no secret that “Aounism,” as the name suggests, has mainly revolved around the person of General Aoun, his attitudes, and his charisma. For this reason, the talk of Aoun stepping down as FPM leader has raised concerns among many Aounists.

The Aounists have many questions: “How can we talk about change in the leadership without the foundations of the institutions having been laid down first?” and “Who will be chosen as leader? Minister Gebran Bassil or General Shamel Roukoz?”

There are many concerns, and the hopefuls are numerous, each one believing that they have “made more sacrifices than any other Aounist.” Meanwhile, the ranks of the FPM grassroots, which grew up hearing “we will never leave Aoun, and we will never accept any substitute,” fear profoundly for the FPM’s future.

Yet the debate has brought a positive shock to Aoun, who now realizes that the FPM house needs reform before any change: The first step will be to delay any “handover,” and instead initiate amendments to the FPM bylaws.

FPM sources say that a majority in the movement is in favor of “establishing a collective leadership, or a committee so to speak, to discuss the continuity of the FPM, develop an action plan, and determine the necessary mechanisms before the FPM becomes ready to swear in a new leadership.”

As a result, talk about a new leadership has been put on the backburner for now. General Paul Matar began working on the new bylaws two months ago. But amendments are nearly endless, as disputes are being reflected on the articles and provisions. All this is proceeding in complete secrecy, and no one is allowed to examine the details of the legislative effort. Currently, the debate focuses on whether leadership positions should be filled by election or appointment.

In the provincial FPM chapters, an agreement was reached to adopt proportional representation, beginning in Furn al-Shubbak and Hadath. But those concerned prefer to keep the details under wraps, as many issues need to be worked out.

The most prominent and contentious issue, however, remains that of “collective leadership.” It is contentious because some of those “who do not appreciate where the interests of the FPM lie” were concerned by it, believing that it could end up isolating Aoun. However, the proponents of this proposal explain that it would give “a role to every person sitting at the decision-making table, without having anything controlled by any one person,” which they argue does not mean isolating Aoun.

They add, “The interests of the FPM require putting an end to the logic of exclusivity in decision making.” Regarding the principle of rotation in their proposal, the latter’s proponents said that it does not mean changing the top of the pyramid every now and then, but rather “expanding its base by not limiting political representation to certain people.”

The leadership, if this pans out, would consist of “FPM cadres whose names carry certain symbolism because of their history in the party, giving them a legitimacy that would grant them the ability to manage the next stage.”

But this idea does not impress some FPM leaders. They do not believe that this is befitting of a political movement, which they say “is not a commercial enterprise where it would be adequate to implement the principle of collective leadership.” They refuse to discuss the matter further, saying that it is not feasible.

Someone once asked Aoun, “Do you want to build a movement for us or for you?” The answer was “for you,” and the person retorted, “Then let us do what we see fit.”

Aoun, inside the FPM, is a micromanager, which is “something that no one else will be able to do.” Because of this, the sources speak of the impossibility of bequeathing the Aoun “phenomenon” or his leadership. Instead, they say, “Any solution must be based on election, the division of labor, and implementing checks and balances to prevent the disintegration of the FPM.”

Aoun did not agree to the proposal of his men, but he did not stop them either. As is always the case with him, his answer has not been satisfying or unequivocal. But the sources insist that he was “very positive, allowing the debate to proceed.”

Meanwhile, two conditions remain for reaching a happy ending. First, the disputing members of the FPM must agree over the continuity of the FPM to prevent fragmentation. Second, “the interim leadership must not go ahead of itself and must proceed very prudently for the sake of the FPM.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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