“We will support the candidacy of General Joseph Aoun, if he has good chances,” he told al-Markaziya news agency.
A few days earlier, the Lebanese Forces leader had said in another interview that “General Joseph Aoun has the necessary qualities [to be a president] and this has been proven in his actions.”
Why is Geagea voicing this over support for the commander in chief of the armed forces, while he considers himself a “natural candidate” for the presidency, and no other major political player has expressed support for the general’s candidacy for the moment?
Aoun’s candidacy is all the more serious because, according to information we obtained, he is supported by some Western and Arab administrations, which hope that the army plays an important role in the coming political period, particularly by creating a balance with Hezbollah.
In February, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah even criticized the “American influence on the army,” while General Aoun has friendly relations with Washington.
The regional powers that support this candidacy include Saudi Arabia, a leading supporter of the LF.
According to information obtained by L’Orient-Le Jour, Riyadh would be in favor of the commander in chief of the army’s accession to Baabda, which would influence the LF positions.
However, beyond the fact that Joseph Aoun is setting himself up as a serious presidential candidate, Geagea may have his own calculations.
On the one hand, by being the first to publicly support it, the LF leader would give the impression that he is sponsoring the army chief’s candidacy.
Should Joseph Aoun ascend to the presidency, Geagea is hoping to be able to exert considerable political influence during his term and mark the event as a major political victory for his party.
This is particularly true since the LF has been overtly vocal about its majority win in the parliamentary elections, but has not (yet) managed to concretize this “victory.”
Geagea’s ambitions, however, go further than that.
“In absolute terms, the LF are not against Joseph Aoun, but still prefer to have a candidate who is committed to them,” a source close to the party explained.
According to information obtained by L’Orient-Le Jour, the LF’s favorite candidate would be former Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman rather than Joseph Aoun.
In fact, relations between Maarab, Geagea’s residence, and the army have been unsettled, especially since the Beirut Tayyouneh district’s clashes in October 2021 between armed men allegedly belonging to the LF and Amal and Hezbollah supporters after the latter went out to demonstrate against Judge Tarek Bitar, who in charge of the investigation into the 2020 Beirut port explosion.
At the time, the LF half-heartedly accused the army of having failed to prevent the demonstrators from gaining access to the Christian neighborhoods of Ain al-Rummaneh.
Geagea’s recent statements can be seen as part of this tactic.
By putting forward Joseph Aoun’s name, Geagea is seemingly trying to give his candidacy a political coloration, which could cause it to run up against the veto of the pro-Hezbollah camp, while the election of a president of the republic in Lebanon is generally done by consensus.
Some opposition groups may also be reluctant to support the army chief, since his candidacy would require a tailored constitutional amendment, and he would be the fourth successive military leader to reach the top office in Lebanon since the election of Emile Lahoud in 1998.
This analysis was rejected by the LF.
“Not only did the legislative elections prove that we are the best representatives of Christian political opinion, but we also have a long history that proves our attachment to Lebanon. But what is the point of presenting a partisan candidate who would only have about 20 votes? We prefer a consensus candidate between the different opposition groups,” Jabbour said.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.