By endorsing Michel Aoun’s candidacy for president of Lebanon, Samir Geagea might have finally pulled the right string to untangle the knot of electing a new Lebanese head of state. Lebanon has been without a president—a position traditionally reserved for Maronite Christians—for nearly two years because its politicians have failed to resolve a broader political crisis that has paralyzed the country. Yet even if his move doesn’t do the trick, Geagea, in a stroke of political genius, did at least set in motion his own political ascendency among Lebanese Christians, reshuffled the national political deck, and brought political relevance back to—and, in turn, ensure self-preservation of—a long-marginalized and beleaguered Christian community.
The news was shocking even to the keenest observer of Lebanese politics. After all, the political rivalry and feud between Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces party, and Aoun, the Free Patriotic Movement chief, is one of the oldest and bloodiest in the country. The two Christian leaders fought bitterly during the 1975–1990 civil war, inflicting massive destruction on Christian areas and causing lasting and deep divisions among their constituencies. In October 1990, the Syrian military forced Aoun into exile in Paris for leading a failed “war of liberation” against their military presence in Lebanon. As for Geagea, he was jailed in 1994 on charges of bombing a church in Zouk Mikael that killed ten people. He was also suspected of killing Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karami in June 1987 and rival Christian politician Dany Chamoun along with his wife and two sons three years later. Geagea was hardly alone in committing atrocities during the war. Among warlords, only he faced extended prison; the rest were pardoned and moved on to occupy positions of power under Syrian tutelage. In June 2005, Aoun returned from France, and a month later Geagea was released from prison.
Aoun and Geagea’s parties competed fiercely in Lebanon’s post-Syria parliamentary elections. Geagea sided with the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition, which formed after the Shi’ite Hezbollah. Yet neither Hezbollah nor March 14 were able to fulfill the presidential wishes of their respective Christian allies, and both Aoun and Geagea continued to veto each other’s candidacy, and as a result obstruct the election of a representative Christian head of state.
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