The longest presidential void in Lebanon’s history—two and a half years—was finally filled today when 83 out of the 127 parliamentarians who were present cast their votes for candidate Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and former army commander. This outcome, long in the making, will help arrest the decaying of Lebanon’s state institutions, defuse social and sectarian tensions, and put an end to a deadly political paralysis.
Yet, although Lebanon’s long journey to chart a more hopeful future has received a much needed boost with the election of a new head of state, the far more challenging work—including the nomination of a new prime minister, the formation of future cabinets, the promulgation of a new electoral law, and political reconciliation among the country’s key factions—starts immediately. If history is any indication, the road ahead will be rocky.
But first, some optimism. The return of Aoun to the presidential palace in Baabda, 26 years after he was ousted by the Syrian army, is a direct result of political pragmatism by the leaders of the Lebanese Sunni and Shiite communities, the Future Movement’s Saad Hariri and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, respectively.
Hezbollah, which was indicted two years ago by an international tribunal for the 2005 murder of Hariri’s father, Rafik, the most influential prime minister to ever serve in Lebanon—supported Aoun’s presidential bid the moment it signed a memorandum of understanding with the FPM in 2006. Yet Hariri and, particularly, his Christian ally Samir Geagea, were never comfortable with Aoun because of his turbulent past, difficult character, political rigidity, and newfound alliance with their nemesis, Hezbollah.
However, when earlier this year, Geagea chose to put aside all his reservations about Aoun, with whom he fought bitterly in the past, and did the unthinkable by backing his candidacy, Hariri was in a bind. All of a sudden, the wheels of the Lebanese presidency were turning. Hariri was unhappy with Geagea’s fait