Gebran Bassil's Dispute with Hezbollah

When the Lebanese Civil War ended, Rafic El Hariri set out to bring back normal life to Lebanon, and of course, he started with the political apparatus of the country. As such he made a constitutional return to the sectarian political system. This time, however, Lebanese Christians were unsatisfied with these arrangements outlined in the Taif Agreement, as they felt little attachment to the leaders who were representing them in office. They did not feel that President Hrawi represented them, nor were they sold on Michel Murr, who was at the time the most powerful Orthodox politician. This frustration from the Christians stemmed from the fact that their most powerful leaders during the civil war, Aoun and Geagea, were exiled and imprisoned, respectively.


At the time, the late Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, and Archbishop of the Beirut Greek Orthodox Church, Elias Odeh, tried to express the grievances of the Lebanese Christian communities to pillars of the state and the Syrian guardianship. However, both Lebanese and Syrian representatives did not take such grievances into consideration. The new constitutional government established new councils and ministries, which would be divided among the sects of Lebanon. For instance under the new arrangements, the Shiites would have control over the Council of the South while the Druze would be in charge of the Ministry of the Displaced and the Sunnis managed the Council for Development and Reconstruction.


Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on these councils, but this high price tag did not reflect the political efficacy of said councils. Nevertheless, this arrangement remained until the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri in 2005. Following the assassination, or because of it, the Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon. Meanwhile, Samir Geagea was released from prison and General Aoun returned from his Parisian exile.


General Aoun’s return to Lebanon undoubtedly came as a result of a coordinated effort between Hezbollah and Syria. In 2006, Michel Aoun signed an agreement with Mar Mikhail and Hezbollah and it was at that moment in which he joined the opposition alliance of minorities. By doing so, the general abandoned the principles he was preaching during his Parisian exile, principles that included the existence of a strong civilian state and a national army’s monopoly over weaponry. Moreover, by signing this agreement the Christian “leaders” officially accepted the political arrangement set under the Taif Agreement, which is something they had previously rejected.


It was not possible to establish a fourth council for the Christian community; as such it was given leadership over the energy sector. While the other three councils do have some accomplishments to their names, the same cannot be said for the energy ministry. In addition to its lack of achievements, the energy sector has become a huge liability for the state as it has resulted in a deficit for the treasury amounting to billions of dollars. While Lebanese citizens suffer from daily blackouts, the Free Patriotic Movement has used its control over the energy sector to finance its leadership over the Christian community. 


The energy crisis has always been a point of contention both in traditional media and social media, as two main factions always clash on this issue, the Free Patriotic Movement and Nabih Berry’s Amal Movement. However, the announcement of plans to build a new power plant in Selatta has once again caused political squabbling between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (both of which are in support of the construction of the plant) and the Amal Movement (which rejects it).


Nabih Berri’s position is based on the conditions that the International Monetary Fund has given to the state before it could borrow funds. In said conditions, the state had to greatly reduce its energy projects from 18 projects worth about five and a half billion US dollars to 6 projects worth less than two billion US dollars. The state can either choose to accept these conditions or lose access to the funding it desperately needs.


Bassil Gebran’s recent implicit criticisms of Hezbollah shouldn’t be seen as signs of the group returning to its pro-sovereignty and civil society ideologies. Rather it comes from the fact that he believes that Hezbollah is in need of his Christian “cover” and therefore cannot touch its control over the energy sector. In reality, such formalities of “minority group” alliances and support are not necessary in Hezbollah and Iran’s current conflict with the United States.  Moreover, if the time comes when Hezbollah needs a “Christian cover”, then it can call on the services of another Christian group as there are several other alliances from that community that would be more than happy to take the Free Patriotic Movement’s place in Baadba.