01/20/2016, 13.24
LEBANON
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Aoun-Geagea alliance generates shock and hope

by Paul Dakiki

The leader of the Lebanese Forces supports the candidacy for president of his former enemy. Lebanese Forces and the Change and Reform bloc have the largest number of Christian MPs. Maronite Patriarchate of Bkerke is "happy and relieved". The Lebanese Parliament has failed to elect a president since May 2014. Some Christians and Muslims resist.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The explicit support by Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea to ex General Michel Aoun as candidate for the presidency is raising some hope but also causing some shock.

Until January 18, both were presidential candidates: the first, Aoun, head of the Change and Reform bloc, close to Hezbollah; the second close to the Future Movement led by Saad Hariri, a Sunni. Behind the scenes, Iran backs the former, whilst Saudi Arabia supports the latter.

On January 18, Geagea decided to withdraw his candidacy and support Michel Aoun, his long-time enemy. Some analysts say that this turn toward Aoun and Hezbollah stems from a calculation of the value of Iran’s return in international arena after the nuclear deal and the end of the embargo. Others claim that Geagea’s "turnaround" and his "betrayal" of Hariri are due to personal issues: Hariri, along with the Saudis, decided to throw his support behind the candidacy of another Christian leader, the head of the Marada party, Sleiman Franjieh, without informing his political ally.

Still, the Aoun-Geagea alliance is seen as a first step towards reconciliation among Christian lawmakers, divided behind their own candidate. Lebanese Forces and Change and Reform have the largest number of Christian MPs. At the Maronite patriarchate in Bkerke, the patriarchal vicar Boulos Sayah said that Geagea’s decision to support Aoun is an event that must be definitely considered.

Speaking to the L’Orient-Le Jour newspaper, Sayah said: "We are happy and relieved. As it ought to be, we appreciate this rapprochement between the two great factions of Christian representatives. At the same time, we appreciate any rapprochement among Lebanese in the service of Lebanon. "

Ordinary Lebanese and the Patriarchate hope that the alliance can overcome the impasse in which the country has fallen. Since May 2014 parliament has failed to elect a new president due to divisions among the parties and among the Christian components.

There is however some resistance, first of all in the Christian camp. Kataeb (Phalange Party), led by Sami Gemayel - who was hoping to run – was supposed to make a statement about Aoun. For now, Gemayel said that he "would examine the decision."

Saad Hariri, head of the Sunni al-Moustaqbal bloc, praised the reconciliation between Aoun and Geagea, but reaffirmed his support for Franjieh. Some al-Moustaqbal MPs left immediately for Riyadh to study the next move.

To convince the various groups to elect Aoun, members of his party - including Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law - are meeting the leaders of the other parties, including Speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Shia-based Amal party, and Walid Jumblatt’s Socialist Party.

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