Can Lebanon rise above its dynasty politics?

Patron-client system has dominated Lebanese politics since the Ottoman Era

Father, left to right: Amin Gemayel, Prince Majeed Arslan, Omar Karami and Bashir Gemayel. Kids, left to right: Samy Gemayel, Emir Talal Arslan, Faisal Karami and Nadim Gemayel

Damascus: One month ahead of the Lebanese parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 6, a debate is emerging over the calibre and political experience of an impressive list of potential newcomers, earmarked to join the new chamber, walking in the footsteps — or shadow — of their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers.

A total of 38 candidates either hail from deeply rooted political families, or ones trying to carve a place for themselves in the patron-client system that has dominated Lebanese politics since the Ottoman Era.

Questions are being asked whether these candidates will be voted into office based on their virtues and political programme, or simply due to their political affiliation and family name.

Lawmakers in the parliament house in Beirut. Photo: AP

Most of them hail from political dynasties spreading across the Sunni, Shiite, and Christian communities, who are either allied, inter-married, or who have relatives in high posts.

The prime minister himself, Sa’ad Hariri, is the son of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and so is Faisal Karami (47), a ranking candidate in Tripoli, who is the son of ex-premier Omar Karami and the grandson of prime minister Abdul Hamid Karami. President Michel Aoun’s niece is running for office, and so are his two sons-in-law, Gibran Bassil, the current foreign minister, and Chamel Rokoz, a prominent former army general.

Both are earmarked to succeed him as the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) given that Aoun (85) has no sons and is working hard on establishing a political heir.

Running for a Maronite seat in Mount Lebanon are the Gemayel cousins, Sami (37) and Nadim (35), whose fathers, Bashir and Ameen, served as presidents of the republic back in the 1980s and whose grandfather Pierre commanded the Maronite Christian community since the 1930s.

Lebanon is governed by a confessional, financial, and family network that, for a long time, has bequeathed power from one generation to the next.”

– Sarkis Abouzeid | Lebanese journalist

Sami’s father ended his term in 1988 and went into long years in exile, returning in 2000 while Nadim’s father was killed during the civil war back in 1982.

Back then, Ameen Gemayel actually inherited his brother’s position at the Lebanese presidency.

“Lebanon is governed by a confessional, financial, and family network that, for a long time, has bequeathed power from one generation to the next,” explains prominent Lebanese journalist Sarkis Abouzeid.

Speaking to Gulf News, he added: “Inheritance is part of the structure of power (in Lebanon), and for now, the social circumstances for bypassing it are not available. Political inheritance exists, even…


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