Nothing but the truth. Even if against me.

Nothing but the truth. Even if against me.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Aoun's Hypothetical Pyrrhic Victory against Corruption in Lebanon

The prevailing assumption in this country is that, if there is to be reform against the endemic corruption, only Michel Aoun qualifies to be its agent, for no other reason than the fact that, during his exile, after his return, and now at the helm of the Lemon Republic, Aoun has not stopped talking about it. His party leads a parliamentary bloc that calls itself "Change and Reform".

Reform can be tactical, addressing issues of process in the immediate political and administrative realms, or it can be strategic, addressing long term objectives of fundamental change in the constitution, governance, secularism vs. the entrenched religious oligarchies, the relationship of the citizenry with its government, etc.

From the few occasions when Aoun addressed the substance of his reform-laden rhetoric, combined with his performance since his return, the founding of his party, and his re-entry into the politics of the country, it seems that he had neither of the two above aspects of reform in mind.

In fact, his focus seems to be to undo the tenets of the Taef Agreement, which in 1990 sealed his own personal defeat and his eviction from the presidential palace, but which also emasculated the Maronite President by stripping him of his powers and transferring them to the Sunni Prime Minister and the Shiite Speaker of Parliament. Ever since Taef and his eviction from power, Aoun holds a grudge against the events and persons that humiliated him in 1990, a grudge that underpins all his politics.

Although Aoun keeps saying that he will abide by the Taef Agreement and has no intention of abrogating it, what he really means by "reform" is his aim to restore the powers of the Maronite President.  Aoun came of political age in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Maronite supremacy over matters of State was declining after its zenith of the 1950s and 1960s. As a military man and chief of a Lebanese Army that continues to define success by a mere resilience to sectarian fracturing, Aoun oversaw an emasculated force, divided by sectarian politics, and unable to defend the status quo of Maronite supremacy. In fact, to this date, Aoun believes that the army he once led is an incapable one, and has therefore to rely on such paramilitary forces as the Iranian Hezbollah militia. After his 1989-1990 Don Quixotic battles, Aoun was the last Maronite leader to hold the presidential powers enshrined in the Independence Constitution of the 1920-1940 interim.

After Aoun, all Maronite presidents became figureheads by constitution, and were subjected to the dictates of the Syrian occupation. Nowadays, Maronite presidents remain largely ineffectual figureheads, though the Syrian guns are no longer breathing down their necks.

Why do I say that Aoun's "reform" is focused on restoring Maronite supremacy? Because he no longer talks of secularism as he used to do during his exile. He now talks almost exclusively about Christian rights. He in fact became president by claiming that he is the only "strong" Christian politician in the country. He, and his entourage of sons-in-law, nephews and other members of the Aoun clan - or should I say the new royal family - have abandoned all notions of secularism, or pushing religion out of the political arena, and have become (to the chagrin of the more brazen defenders of Christian rights, the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea) the vanguard of restoring Christian rights in the affairs of State.

Aoun has been president since October 2016. While this is a relatively short time to judge him on his performance, he has not shown - other than talking - any interest in enacting real reform on the ground, the kind of reform that ordinary Lebanese can feel in their daily lives. Instead, he has elevated his own family to the status of the other political families (I call them farms, because they breed future politicians who inherit political leadership like they inherit genes), and his party no longer criticizes the other "farms", because it has become one of them. From an outsider reformist, Aoun has become an establishment insider. Aoun cavorts to the religious oligarchy, especially the bearded fellows with robes and strange headgear of his own Maronite sect, and engages in devout Christian preaching on occasions. If he was a secular reformist, his sudden re-conversion to religiosity is suspicious and simply is intended to shore up his popularity among the Christian herd of voters and secure future victories for his family and party.

For someone who promised the moon, it is disappointing that Aoun has yet to confront the establishment over a single issue of corruption. Ultimately, Aoun's promised reforms remain simply too hypothetical until such time as a single reform is implemented. But Aoun's problem is that he is now part of the very establishment that embodies the endemic corruption. While he himself may not be corrupt - nepotism being perhaps a mild form of corruption - his corrupt enemies are the very people with whom he sits in government or with whom he shapes alliances and engages in political gamesmanship. If Aoun is to confront his political partners over matters of corruption, his victory, should he succeed, will inevitably be a Pyrrhic, indeed even a Samson-like, victory. For to fight the establishment from within is a very dangerous thing to do. They will fight him tooth and nail to preserve their turfs, and they will drag him (Pyrrhic) and the country (Samson) down with them.

There are days when this country seems like an absolutely hopeless place, a bottomless pit of evil whose noxious venom permeates every pore of the country. Corruption is today etched like a covalent bond in the minds of the Lebanese people. It is practiced without question in every human transaction you can think of, and anyone who challenges or questions it is treated as if he/she were a pathetic idiot and, worse, a potential victim. Honesty in Lebanon is perceived by the vast majority of the Lebanese as a sign of vulnerability and weakness. So I ask: How does one fight cancer, if not by ablation and all-out radioactive and chemical warfare? What would the equivalent of ablation and radioactive and chemical warfare be in the world of politics, if not an all-out bloody and savage war of revolution?

Can Aoun perhaps enlighten us? Just today, he itched a bit in his octogenarian demeanor while attending a mass (maybe he believes, like a Trump deplorable would, that we should leave it to God to punish the corrupt in the afterlife), and promised an upcoming speech in which he will unveil - for the umpteenth time it seems - his plan to fight corruption. Aoun is 82 years old, he does not have all the time in the world. His age precludes him perhaps from even completing his 6-year term in office. If he is the last chance we have to end corruption and implement real reform, he should be doing it NOW instead of attending masses and visiting the Pope. I forget which American politician recently said: Religious bigots pray in church on Sunday, then prey on the rest of us the rest of the week. It's their understanding of God's command to rest on the seventh day.

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