Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea appears to be pulling no punches in the showdown with Hezbollah.
Almost a year into the presidential election process, Geagea no longer seems content with the customary speeches urging the opposition to unite to face Hezbollah.
Geagea has taken a new step: he is now taking an almost warlike tone to address the mumanaa camp, which he says he is more than ever prepared to confront by any means necessary, particularly on the issue of the presidential election.
For the LF leader, the equation is very clear: Hezbollah “will not ascend to [the] Baabda [Presidential Palace].”
In a speech delivered on Sunday at the end of the annual mass held for the “martyrs of the Lebanese resistance,” in Maarab, Geagea’s residence, the LF leader made sure to make his voice heard.
The church service was an occasion to bring together LF MPs and officials with many of their opposition colleagues, including the Kataeb Party, Michel Moawad’s Renewal bloc, MP Marwan Hamadeh for the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) bloc, and several independents.
The opposition parties seem to be sending a clear message of unity.
‘The axis of crime’
The church service took place exactly one month after the assassination of Elias Hasrouni, an LF executive, who was found dead in his hometown of Ain Ibl, in southern Lebanon – a Hezbollah stronghold.
Right from the start, Geagea seized upon this incident to criticize Hassan Nasrallah’s group.
“The assassination of Elias Hasrouni exemplifies the kind of dialogue the mumanaa camp seeks,” he said on Sunday. “They lure you into dialogue for months, only to kill you if you do not comply with their demands.”
“The mumanaa [axis] is the axis of crime,” Geagea said.
With these remarks, the LF leader seems to be conveying a message to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who recently proposed an initiative to break the presidential stalemate.
The speaker called for holding open electoral sessions until a new head of state is elected on the condition that these be preceded by an extensive seven-day dialogue gathering the leaders of the different parliamentary blocs — a proposition that was rejected by a portion of the opposition camp.
“We are ready for an all-out confrontation,” Geagea said on Sunday, accusing the mumanaa of being behind all the political assassinations committed between 2005 and 2023.
The LF leader went so far as to accuse Hezbollah and its allies of paralyzing the investigation into the 2020 Beirut port explosion.
“And then they [the muumanaa] call for a dialogue,” Geagea went on before he sent a clear message to Hezbollah and Berri, without naming the speaker, that a dialogue with them was out of the question regarding the presidential election.
“We have learned the lessons from the assassinations of Rafik Hariri and Elias Hasrouni, the incidents of May 7, 2008, and [more recently on Aug. 9] in Kahaleh,” he said.
The LF leader delineated certain unchanging principles in the struggle against Hezbollah and its affiliated groups.
“For the past year, they have been attempting to push their candidate, Marada leader Sleiman Frangieh, into Baabda while obstructing the election [by forcing a lack of quorum in parliament],” he said.
“Had they possessed 65 votes [the absolute majority of MPs needed to elect a president in the second round], would they have advocated for dialogue?” Geagea asked. “Clearly not.”
He went on to say, “However, they can’t meet this condition, and they have no interest in an alternative candidate.”
“We refuse to take the path leading to hell,” Geagea said. “They [Hezbollah and its allies] will not gain access to Baabda,” he continued, adding, “We will not cast our votes for their candidate.”
Geagea went on, “If we don’t have a president from our own ranks, we will only accept an individual who embodies the bare minimum of our hopes and principles and possesses the capacity to undertake the mission of saving the country.”
The LF leader, however, is well aware that he cannot fight this battle on his own.
He needs the MPs “on the fence” and his ally PSP leader Taymour Joumblatt.
But while Joumblatt continues to endorse the candidacy of [former Finance Minister] and the opposition’s preferred candidate Jihad Azour, he is also calling for dialogue.
Geagea also addressed the Sunni MPs, who were formerly linked to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, repeatedly mentioning Rafik Hariri’s name in his discourse in a bid to encourage them to make a clear choice, as for him the battle goes beyond the profile of a new president.
“It’s time to choose the Lebanon we want,” Geagea said.
Beware of ‘another Mar Mikhael Agreement’
In his speech, Geagea also appeared keen to take a sharp jab at Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil, who is in the midst of negotiations with Hezbollah.
“Some people insist on concluding deals with Hezbollah as if nothing had happened,” he said. “And to camouflage this, they use slogans that didn’t work out for them when they were in power.” Geagea’s remarks are understood to refer to Bassil’s conditions for endorsing Frangieh’s candidacy, which include an extended decentralization and the establishment of a state asset fund.
“It is disgraceful to exploit certain matters of common interest for personal bargains that may yield outcomes similar to the Mar Mikhael [Agreement],” he said alluding to the February 2006 agreement between the FPM and Hezbollah.
“Another Mar Mikhael [agreement] would be catastrophic for Lebanon,” Geagea said.
He also directed some criticism toward France, which has been actively involved in the Lebanese issue, with its envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian expected in Beirut for discussions aimed at resolving the presidential election impasse.
“We had hoped that Lebanon’s allies would assist us in building a functioning state, starting with the organization of a genuinely democratic presidential election, rather than succumbing to the compromises of the opposing faction, at times by proposing trade-off arrangements (involving a March 8-aligned president and a prime minister aligned with the opposition, as per France’s proposal),” he said. “And at other times by contravening the constitution through so-called ‘dialogues’ that defy common sense.
“The road to hell is often paved with good intentions,” Geagea concluded.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.