Meet the next president? From Slimmy to Suleiman II
Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/07/2009
Is Suleiman Frangieh Jr vying for the presidency? The obvious answer is yes. Which maronite politician isn’t? But this one’s chances seem quite good. You’ve certainly heard by now that he is moving to “Beirut” (Rabieh, to be precise). And you might have read a very flattering “portrait” of him that was published in the Akhbar (cf. a previous posting) or followed his meetings with Sami and Amin Gemayel. These are certainly no indicators of his chances for the presidency.
The reasons why he is the most likely candidate for the highest office lie elsewhere. They are to be found in his political & geopolitical positioning and to the fact that he espouses the predominant social values in Lebanon. Let’s first look into his positioning before examining how he reflects the country’s prevailing values.
It’s all about positioning
Don’t search for ideas, programs, vision. Lebanese politics has never been about that. It’s about positioning, and Suleiman Frangieh has it going for him. On a local level, Frangieh has a power base – the Zghorta district – which he has consolidated throughout the years. On a national level, he is recognised as a prominent maronite leader, but his power doesn’t threaten other leaders (maronite or non-maronite). Politically, he is not tied down by ideology. He pays lip service to arabism, plays the sectarian-patronage game well, has no problem making grandiloquent declarations as long as it costs him nothing. He has experience in cross-sectarian alliances, and is flexible enough to adapt to important changes. Geopolitically, he has kept close to the Syrian leadership, and knows that he can count on their support (political, financial and even military).
Embodies the prevailing values
Progressivism is definitely out. Listen randomly to any Lebanese radio, flick on to a Lebanese TV show, open any local newspaper, and you will surely notice it. Giving people an archaic title such as Sheikh, Bek and Emir is like recognising a quality label (ISO certificate), and so is “political inheritance”. This expression has completely lost its derogatory connotation. When the future seems bleek, the past is the only thing that retains a value. So, it’s all about invented traditions, lineage, tragic scions. Warlords are celebrated for their courage. Political opportunism is repackaged as diligence. Even patronage is lauded, it’s seen as guardianship, looking after ones constituency’s interests. For confirmation, read any opinion paper on Joumblatt or a Gemayel written by Michael Young or Issa Ghoraieb.
As long as a Warlord/Patron/Scion is winning (getting what he wants), he’ll get the respect he wants. And you can’t dismiss that as flattery. These very supportive editorialists truly believe in what they are writing. These are the values they share. This is the type of leader they support. And Slimmy fits the picture perfectly (Just like Amin or Sami Gemayel, Walid Joumblatt, Saad Hariri, Dory Chamoun, Nayla Tueni…). His grandfather’s brother established the family as a prominent political family in national politics, his grandfather became president (after having committed a hideous crime), his father who headed a militia was brutally assassinated, his followers threatened and expelled all dissenting voices in what became his stronghold…
Mick Jagger got it all wrong: You can sometimes get what you want… and it’s probably not exactly what you need. But that’s when you know you got what you deserve.