Lebanon's rival Christian groups paint optimistic picture of reconciliation

Lebanon's rival Christian groups paint optimistic picture of reconciliation
Analysis: Thawing relations between Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement could help heal the country's bitter divisions - even if they don't solve crucial issues.
3 min read
03 June, 2015
Aoun (left) and Geagea have long been rivals [Getty]
In a surprise visit to Rabieh, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea met yesterday with the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, General Michel Aoun.

The two - along with Ibrahim Kanaan, the secretary of the Change and Reform bloc (also headed by Aoun) and Melhem Riachy, the head of the LF media team - met for an hour and a half before emerging with a joint declaration, dubbed a "declaration of intent".

The rare meeting was the culmination of a series of talks between the two Christian groups over the past six months and is hoped may pave the way for further reconciliation in Lebanon's deeply divided political malaise.

Aoun described the warming of relations as "a gift for Christians who are worried about the situation in Lebanon".

The Free Patriotic Movement is Lebanon's largest party representing Christians, and the second largest party in Lebanon's parliament. The LF is the second largest Christian party in parliament.

Will this "gift" change the situation on the ground? Is it a gift to Lebanese Christians alone? Will any other side benefit from this rapprochement between two long-bitter foes?

Many Christians support such reconciliation, as they realise the need for unity to confront existential dangers that Christians face across the region.

The declaration consists of 16 points, stressing the need for "the election of a strong president who is embraced by his community (Christians) and capable of reassuring the other components of the country".

Lebanon's triumvirate of confessional power-sharing means its president is always a Christian, its prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim and its parliamentary speaker is always a Shia Muslim.

Easing tensions?

"We agreed on the need for a new electoral law and a law for renaturalisation [of Lebanese emigrants] at the top of any legislative session's agenda," Geagea told reporters.

The agreement could be music to the ears of Lebanese citizens - who have been deprived of a president and an effective government for more than a year.

It could also ease tensions between the various Christian parties, which includes the Kataeb Party within the March 14 alliance.

March 14 is a coalition of political parties that includes the Future Movement, a predominantly Sunni party headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The coalition supports the uprising in Syria against President Assad's regime.

The Free Patriotic Movement, on the other hand, is part of parliament's ruling March 8 Alliance, which includes Hizballah, the Amal Movement, and the Progressive Socialist Party. The majority of the March 8 Alliance supports the Assad regime.

To the optimistic, the agreement between the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, if it lasts, could help ease the fractious tensions between the March 8 and March 14 camps.

A delicate balance

The declaration emphasised the importance of controlling the borders between Lebanon and Syria, and not allowing the smuggling of arms or militants.

However, if Hizballah decides to raise the curtain on the battle of Qalamoun - as declared two weeks ago by its secretary-general, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, there is no guarantee this harmony between the biggest two Christian parties would be able to prevent sectarian clashes between the Shia and Sunni communities.

Many Lebanese wake up every day fearing the eruption of a civil war that could be ignited by the events in Qalamoun, the rivalry between Hizballah and the Future Movement, or discontent over the presence of 1.5 million Syrian refugees in a tiny country.

Be that as it may, any political move to decrease tensions in Lebanon has to produce a positive effect, even if minimal, on the wider political spectrum.

This move by Geagea and Aoun is one such positive move - especially if it manages to pave the path for reconciliation between the rest of the country's bitter rivals.