It has been almost 14 days since Lebanon's parliament elected Michel Aoun as president, ending a long political deadlock. I like to think that most people in Lebanon aren't buying the rhetoric coming from the government that things are fine again...
The electoral process: humor at its darkest
It's safe to say that the 2.5-hour parliament session deserves an Oscar for "Best Comedy". Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri was yelling at everyone, urging them to sit down, while Twitter sensation MP Walid Joumblatt was cynically tweeting while the whole thing happened.
We all laughed, but it was rather scary how something so urgent was taken so lightly. There were many facts, incidents, and other takeaways from the whole experience that should renew our worries about the Lebanese establishment. In a Symptom piece I co-wrote for Beirut Syndrome, I identified several of those facts, and how we must turn our humor into outrage and action.
What can we expect from Lebanon's new president?
We have to understand that the Lebanese presidency is not the most powerful position in the country, contrary to the title which implies so. A few weeks before President Aoun was elected, I talked about whether having a new president would make much of a difference in the first place. In my op-ed on Middle East Eye, I concluded that a new president would not impact any of the troubling elements of the political establishment, nor the issues that have been plaguing Lebanon for quite sometime. If anything, it provides an opportunity for things to get worse.
I was not alone. In my debut piece for Al Jazeera English, I spoke to other people in Lebanon, from small business owners to seasoned civil rights activists and academics, who remain skeptical about the impact of a new president. This was as late as 24 hours before the president was elected. One of the standout concerns came from Samer Abdullah, a civil rights activist and organizer, who said that the new president will pave the way for the diminishing of spaces for civil society.
A new political era in Lebanon
While it's safe to say the era of the March 14 and March 8 factions has come to an end, Lebanon's political actors stay the same. One of the interesting political developments is what appears to be the fragmentation of the Sunni bloc. With Iran having the upper hand, would Saudi Arabia now focus on mitigation its loss by trying to keep things together in Lebanon? It appears likely given Saudi Arabia's focus on Yemen, as well as the fact that Syria is more of a priority for the region's powers rather than Lebanon. I analyzed the events that led to the fragmentation of Lebanon's Sunni bloc over the past few years, and talked about what we could see happening going forward. You can read my analysis on the Middle East Eye here.
What about Syrian refugees?
The Lebanese establishment has shown no interest whatsoever in providing Syrian refugees a humane temporary stay in Lebanon while their country burns to the ground. We have seen calls for forcible return to so-called "safe zones", which is in line with what the Assad regime wants. Assad has been working hard on legitimizing his government, especially by promoting nightlife, the tourism industry in the coastal cities of Tartous and Latakiya, and by saying that he is calling for refugees to return, including those in Europe.
Lebanon's ministers have even gone as far as presenting a plan that they would be open to implement as early as January 2017. Here's the problem: in my interview with Human Rights Watch Middle East & North Africa Deputy Director Lama Fakih, I was told that there were no safe zones. Reports from the United Nations and Amnesty International concur with what Fakih says. I talked about what the Aoun presidency could mean for Syrian refugees in Lebanon on my debut analysis piece for Refugees Deeply.