Lebanon’s political power clans pass their assembly seats to the next generation

Updated 12 March 2018

Lebanon’s political power clans pass their assembly seats to the next generation

BEIRUT: Nine years have passed since the last election in Lebanon, and voters could be forgiven for being excited to see some fresh young faces standing to win seats in a Parliament dominated by aging men.
But in many cases the names, and what they stand for, are all too familiar.
Nearly a quarter of the 128 seats are expected to be passed on from an older relative to another member of the family, as the country’s politics of clans and dynasties shows little sign of fading. Of these, 19 candidates are standing for seats currently held by a father or mother.
For many of Lebanon’s most powerful families, a seat in Parliament is seen as part of their inheritance.
“Our politicians are dealing with the parliamentary seat as a piece of private property, which can be inherited within the family,” said Zeina Al-Helou, the former secretary general of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections.
“The son — or daughter — will remain on the same political track as their parents, which turns the issue into the monopolization of politics by a number of families.”
In total, 31 seats for the May election are being contested by a child of the MP already representing that constituency. The length of the delay in running the election has only added to the number of parents deciding it’s time to hand over the reins.
In some cases the parent has passed away or been the victim of an assassination.
Tony Suleiman Frangieh exemplifies the system of political inheritance in Lebanon. He comes from a family whose dynastic story is full of the tragic plot lines entwined in the country’s history.
Born in 1987, he is a candidate for the Zagharta district, a stronghold for Christian Maronites in the country’s north. If he wins, he will be the fourth generation of the family to hold the seat.
He is the son of the current MP Suleiman Frangieh, who decided to abandon the seat in the hope of becoming president.
He took on the seat from his father, Tony Frangieh who was assassinated at “the massacre of Ehden” in 1978, in the early years of the civil war.
And his father, another Suleiman Frangieh, was also the president of the country between 1970 and 1976, the period during which the civil war erupted.
It was therefore inevitable that the young Tony Frangieh would enter politics after he gained a master’s degree in economics from UK. His recent comments to Lebanese media suggest his education has done little to provide him with an alternative political viewpoint to that of his father. “I am convinced by the alliances of my father, and I believe that these friendships serve the country,” he said.
“The national reconciliation is essential to Lebanon.” He added that he had no desire to become a member of the government. “I am a candidate to the parliament, not to the cabinet,” he said.
A staff member from Frangieh’s office told Arab News: “The son is not leaving the political track of his father, he will be reinforcing it and expanding its efficiency.”
Other hopefuls standing in May as part of the new generation are Nezar Dalloul, son of the Shiite MP and ex-minister Mohsen Dalloul, and Abdulrahman Al-Bizri the son of the Sunni MP Nazih Al-Bizri.
Michel Mouawwad, the son of the President Rene Mouawwad, who was assassinated in the late 1980s, is planning to take the seat of Zgharta-Tripoli from his mother Nayla Mouawwad, who won it after her husband’s death.
Experts say that while the elections in May will bring new blood to the national assembly, the family affiliations mean it will be unlikely to improve the way it works.
The assembly has been gridlocked for years by wrangling between the various political factions. The lack of effective governance, and the Syrian refugee crisis means that basic services in the country have deteriorated since the last election.
Walid Fakhreddine, an expert on Lebanon’s political system, told Arab News that some families consider the parliamentarian seat an exclusive right.
“The problem is the absence of real political parties which would produce a healthy parliament,” he said.
“Those who are inheriting from their parents will continue on their same track, and remaining in power is the most important thing to them; they’re seeking some kind of prestige rather than achieving development in the country.”

Election haunted by a tragic past
Among the candidates in Lebanon’s May election are a number of children of MPs who were assassinated in recent years.
In most cases, the sons and daughters still don’t know who committed the crimes.
Walid Eido, a Sunni MP and member of the Future movement, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2007. His son, Zaher is standing to win his seat.
Michelle Tueni, is also standing for a seat. Her father, Gebran Tueni, was killed in 2005 by a car bomb in Beirut as he traveled from his home to his newspaper’s office. He was one of the leaders of the Cedar Revolution against Syrian occupa- tion that erupted after the assassination of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Another candidate is Joseph Hobeika, the son of the MP Elias Hobeika who was assassinated in 2002.

Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

Updated 7 min 43 sec ago

Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

  • Up to 1.5 million Armenians were wiped out by the Ottoman Empire beginning on April 24, 1915, a reality Turkey continues to deny
  • The day will be commemorated around the world today as a growing number of countries recognize the atrocity

DUBAI: More than 100 years on, Armenians and experts alike remember the brutal atrocities and forced exodus from what is now Turkey, which left up to 1.5 million Armenians dead.

April 24 marks the start, in 1915, of the Armenian Genocide. “Every Armenian is affected by the repeated massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire as family members perished,” said Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“My own paternal grandmother was among the victims. Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once. She was always missed, and we spoke about her all the time. My late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Every Armenian family has similar stories, said Kechichian. “We pray for the souls of those lost, and we beseech the Almighty to grant them eternal rest,” he added.

“We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so they too can find peace,” he said. “Denial is ugly and unbecoming, and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time.”

Donald Miller, professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California, said: “The ongoing denial of the genocide by the government of Turkey pours salt into the wound of the moral conscience of Armenians all over the world. On April 24, the genocide will be commemorated all over the world.”

On that day, the Ottoman government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals.

Ordinary Armenians were then turned away from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.

Ottoman killing squads massacred Armenians, with only 388,000 left in the empire by 1922 when the genocide ended, from 2 million in 1914.

Many were deported to Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Today they are scattered across the world, with large diasporas in Russia, the US, France, Argentina and Lebanon.

To date, only 28 countries have officially recognized the tragedy as a genocide. The only Arab country that has done so is Lebanon, although a bill is pending in Egypt’s Parliament to do so as well, while Muslim clerics in Iraq have called on Turkey to end the denial.

“The other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments have practiced, even though the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty,” Kechichian said.

“Denial translates into a second genocide, albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to this dark chapter of their history and come to terms with it, but it seems we’re not there yet.”

For some 3,000 years, Armenians had made their home in the Caucasus, with Christianity their official religion. During the 15th century it became a part of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers were Muslim.

Soon enough, Armenians were viewed as “infidels,” having to pay higher taxes than Muslims and with very few political and legal rights.

Despite this the Armenian population thrived, causing great resentment among their Turkish neighbors.

And shortly after World War I began, atrocities against Armenians started taking place, with crucifixions, drownings, live burnings and mass murders.

Some children were kidnapped, converted to Islam and given to Turkish families. Meanwhile, women were raped and forced to join Turkish “harems” or work as slaves, and Armenian properties were seized.

“The Armenian Genocide was the first major calamity that hit an entire nation in the 20th century,” Kechichian said.

“Although the term genocide wasn’t in use at the time — it was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’ — the Polish attorney applied it to the Armenian case.”  

Turkey still denies the persecution of Armenians after World War I. But Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international scholar in Saudi Arabia, said: “We know that the genocide happened. The Ottoman Empire in that era conducted many massacres against many people, including Arabs and Armenians.”

He compared the situation to that of Turkey today, with its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We still see that he wants to have his empire again,” Al-Shehri said. “He thinks he’s the sultan of that empire.”

Al-Shehri also drew a parallel with Iran and the Persian Empire. “They (Iran) want to control the whole region, so they’re living with that era in their mind and (trying) to apply it on the ground,” he said.

“This is the difference between us and them — they don’t want to leave countries alone, and this is what we’re facing with Iran.”

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics, said the Armenian Genocide remains a “contentious” issue because of “the acrimonious debate over how to define genocide, particularly from the Turkish point of view. Ankara doesn’t recognize genocide because of many reasons, all of them extremely poor.”