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.
 


Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 14 August 2020

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”