HomePoliticsBriefingTaking the scenic route

Taking the scenic route

The battle and divide over Lebanon’s presidency, tensions along the southern border, ambassador to France recalled, Aoun meets Assad, France’s new envoy to Lebanon, Blinken in Saudi Arabia, Iran helping Russia and ISIS fighters going on trial. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

Lebanese MP and Presidential candidate Sleiman Franjieh leaves the parliament after a session to elect a new president on October 31, 2016 in downtown Beirut. Lebanese Michel Aoun, a former general backed by the powerful Hezbollah movement as well as longtime rivals, was elected president ending a political vacuum of more than two years. Photo: Joseph Eid, AFP

Parliament is set to convene to try and elect a president for the first time in months on Wednesday, with the opposition-backed Jihad Azour and Hezbollah-backed Sleiman Frangieh being the main two candidates vying for the presidency this time.

The problem is that neither candidate currently stands to actually win the vote, at least not from the first round.

Frangieh, while enjoying the necessary Hezbollah support, not only lacks the votes to win in either the first or second round of voting, but he also does not have the support from either the Lebanese Forces or the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s two largest Christian parties, something necessary to give his presidency legitimacy.

In a Sunday afternoon speech to commemorate the 1978 Ehden Massacre, Frangieh targeted those voting against him, in particular the Free Patriotic Movement which, until recently, had been closely allied with Hezbollah.

Azour, on the other hand, has the support of both the LF and FPM, giving his candidacy somewhat more legitimacy than that of Frangieh. Azour, however, still lacks the votes to win in the first round, as well as a blessing from Hezbollah, who has taken a hostile stance towards him since his candidacy was proposed.

On top of this, the united front presented by the opposition to support Azour quickly fell apart as several of the “change” MPs have refused to vote for him, adding to Azour’s dwindling chances of getting elected.

Halime Kaakour said that she would not support Frangieh or Azour and would only vote for a candidate that “does not compromise on state sovereignty,” adding that Azour’s victory on June 14 was unlikely.

Cynthia Zarazir, Elias Jarade, and Ibrahim Mneimneh have all also announced that they would not be supporting Azour in the upcoming election, with Jarade saying that he would be voting for former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud.

Unless there is some sort of miracle, neither Frangieh nor Azour have the two-thirds support needed to win the first round of voting, meaning, for either of them to be elected it would require a second round of voting.

However, both the opposition and Hezbollah and its allies have all but said that in the event that their opponents appear to have the votes to win in the second round, they would walk out so that there would no longer be a quorum and voting cannot take place – ensuring that the 223 days without a president goes on for even longer.

The country desperately needs a new compromise candidate that can bring both sides together. But, as of now, there is no clear candidate that would be able to do this, meaning that for the foreseeable future, Lebanon will remain without a leader.

In Lebanon

Total recall: Lebanon recalled its ambassador to France on Thursday after he was accused of rape and intentional violence against two former embassy employees.

France has urged Lebanon to remove Rami Adwan’s diplomatic immunity so that he could be charged in the investigation.

While the caretaker government of Najib Mikati is going to discuss the issue tomorrow, it is unclear if they will comply with France’s request.

Adwan has since been replaced by Ziad Taan.

Aoun in Damascus: Former President Michel Aoun paid a visit to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on June 6, in which the two discussed returning Syrian refugees in Lebanon back to Syria.

During the meeting, the two reportedly condemned European remarks about sending the refugees back to Syria and the dangers that it poses to the refugees. 

Assad, for his part, said that Syria is “ready to welcome its sons,” despite his government and security forces being the leading reasons for it being unsafe for the refugees to return. 

Assad also expressed optimism about Lebanon’s ability to pull itself out of the ongoing political and economic crises. 

The new sheriff in town: As part of his efforts to take the lead in helping solve Lebanon’s problems, French President Emmanuel Macron designated his former foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, as his personal envoy to Lebanon.

Le Drian is tasked with finding a “consensual and efficient” solution to Lebanon’s crises – something that is easier said than done.

The former foreign minister is expected to make a visit to Lebanon soon, although no specific date has been set.

A meeting of ministers: The presidential election is not the only meeting taking place this week, with the caretaker cabinet scheduled to meet tomorrow.

During the meeting, the cabinet is expected to discuss the return of Syrian refugees back to Syria, the case of embattled Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, a new borrowing contract between the government and Central Bank so that Lebanon can pay its loans, and what to do with the now former Lebanese ambassador to France.

Lebanon has been pushing hard to return Syrian refugees to their home country despite the risks that it poses to their safety and many big names in Lebanese politics have been calling for Salameh to resign or be removed from his post before the end of his term in July.

Tensions on the border: Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at protesters who were throwing stones at the Israelis along Lebanon’s southern border as people gathered to demonstrate against Israeli activity on what Lebanon claims is their land.

The tensions arose last week after Israel began digging in Kfar Chouba, an area claimed by Lebanon.

In the wake of the infringement, one villager stood in front of the Israeli bulldozer as it moved dirt. Undeterred, the driver of the bulldozer kept pushing forward, burying one of the man’s legs before a UN peacekeeper was able to convince the driver to go back.

In the ensuing protest, the demonstrators tried to dismantle the fence put up along the border leading to Israel firing tear gas. Following Friday prayers, the same thing occurred.

No more cholera: Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Health announced on Sunday, June 11, that there was no longer a cholera outbreak in the country.

The last cholera outbreak began in October 2022 in the northern region of Akkar and quickly spread throughout the country, causing panic that the water which people were using was contaminated.

In total, over 8,000 people were infected with the virus and over 20 died as a result.

In the region

Blinken in Riyadh: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh last week in an attempt to improve relations between the two countries as their relationship has become strained in recent years.

During his visit, Blinken discussed a variety of issues with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ranging from Iran and Sudan, to ISIS and potential Saudi-Israeli normalization.

Saudi Arabia has said that it is looking for security guarantees with the US, similar to that of NATO’s Article 5 which states that if one NATO country is attacked then it is attack on all of them, something that is unlikely to occur in the near future.

Saudi Arabia has also named its price for normalizing relations with Israel –  the development of a civilian nuclear program with enrichment.

Despite efforts by the US, the Saudis, like other actors in the Gulf, appear to be playing the field and not tying themselves down to one partner.

Iranian drones: It has been no secret that Iran has been helping to supply Russia with drones to help it in its invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

What is new, though, is that Iran is, according to the US, helping Russia to construct a drone factory that could be operational by next year.

This factory would give Russia its own domestic production of drones rather than having to rely on support from outside.

By releasing the information, the US is hoping to put more pressure on Iran and make it harder for them to continue aiding Russia, something that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Made in Iran: Iran is not just supplying weapons to Russia, though, as the country is hard at work bolstering its own weapons program.

This was evident on June 6 when Iran unveiled its Fattah hypersonic missile.

For many observers, this was a clear attempt by the Iranians to show that they still have the ability to face their opponents throughout the region.

While Iran claims that this missle cannot be countered, it remains to be seen and vastly depends on how maneuverable it is.

Going on trial: After years of detention, Syria’s Kurds have said that the ISIS fighters in their custody will be put on trial after the fighters’ home countries have continued to refuse to repatriate them.

The Kurdish forces did not say when or where the trials would take place, but many believe that it will likely be in areas controlled by the SDF.

The Kurds have continued to call for an international tribunal to prosecute the ISIS detainees.

There are around 10,000 ISIS detainees in Kurdish custody with around 2,000 believed to be foreign fighters who have been left in detention by their home countries.

What we’re reading

The Port: Beirut’s port has long been associated with the corruption that exists throughout Lebanon’s institutions. Hezbollah, like the other political parties, has used the port to its advantage and needs, even going as far as to fight the independent investigation into the August 4 explosion.

From occupier to protester: Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, has been a hotbed for tensions and fighting over the years due to an illegal Israeli settlement sitting in the middle of the city. The Washington Post’s Steve Hendrix wrote about the story of Josh Drill, a former Israeli soldier stationed in Hebron who was traumatized by what he saw and did there, and went from being a combat soldier in the city to one of the former soldiers who came to protest the occupation and Netanyahu’s government.


Podcasts: In the latest episode of The Beirut Banyan, Ronnie Chatah spoke with journalist and wine writer Michael Karam about the years of political instability in Lebanon, free expression and, of course, wine.

Mental health is undoubtedly important and a taboo topic in Lebanon. Sarah al-Asmar spoke with Amira Kazoun, an MA graduate in clinical psychology from USJ, in the latest episode of GENXZ where the two discuss the sense of belonging, generational trauma and mental health awareness.

Sarde after dinner is back with a new episode where Médéa Azouri and Mouin Jaber speak with Syrian podcaster Bisher Najjar. The three discuss the lack of Arabic content in the media sphere, the roles that pop culture and music have in building the narrative surrounding nationhood, and the case of Syria’s refugees.

Until next week, follow NOW Lebanon on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. And stay safe!