Why is Bassil the main target of Lebanon’s protesters?
The FPM leader’s status as the “strong man of the regime”, “corruption” and his “arrogant tone” are the main explanations being given.
What has propelled Bassil to the top of the list of leaders being insulted and asked to resign? Many protesters who were asked accused the FPM leader of “soaking in corruption”, even without evidence to support their accusations. In Zouk Mosbeh, a young man went further, requesting anonymity and saying, “Gebran Bassil represents the ultimate symbol of corruption and ruthless ambition.” Another protester said that Bassil “disappointed the people who had hope, and even the conviction, that President Aoun’s mandate would put an end to wrongdoings and graft.”
Michelle, a demonstrator in Riad el-Solh, told L’Orient-Le Jour (OLJ) that she blames Bassil for “spending without counting up the public money, such as the trips he takes within the framework of his public duties and functions,” referencing his trip to open the lounge of honor at London’s Heathrow Airport, which cost the Lebanese state $15,000.
Raya, another protester, said that “since he came to power, nothing positive has been accomplished.” Christophe is most angry that Bassil speaks "on behalf of Michel Aoun, the actual head of state, while all Lebanese people are waiting for their president to address them.”
Another reason for the intense attacks on Bassil seems to be related to "communitarianism", the exact term used by yet another protester.
Moustapha Chaar, president of the Jinsiyati Karamati campaign, accuses Bassil of being “a racist". According to Chaar, "He is the one contributing in hindering the right of Lebanese women to transmit their nationality to their children.” In March 2018, Bassil proposed a law that would allow Lebanese wives of foreign nationals to give their nationalist to the children. The proposed law, however, sets the condition that the fathers could not be of Syrian or Palestinian origins.
“Bassil propagates discord and spreads unhealthy and discriminatory sectarianism," Chaar continued. “[He is] the cause of freezing the recruitment of forest rangers––mostly Muslims––who could have helped reduce the magnitude of the latest forests fires."
In recent months, Bassil has often been accused of playing the card of communitarianism by making comments and remarks likely to divide the Lebanese. This happened especially following the clashes in Qabr Shmoun on June 30.
Another protester, who claimed to be politically neutral, said he was shocked by the insults hurled at Bassil. “When rulers were looting public resources 40 years ago, Gebran Bassil was only 5,” he said. The protester said he thinks the “attacks should not target a single person used as a scapegoat, but also members of previous governments as well as current ministers.”
"Assuming, God forbid, that Gebran Bassil is corrupt, why are we only focusing on him? He only came to power recently while many other leaders have been active in this domain for about forty years,” said Eddy Maalouf, deputy of the current Pro- Aoun political party. The leader of the FPM "is fighting against a mafia with which he refuses to cooperate," insisted Maalouf, referring to other political leaders. On the other hand, Maalouf acknowledgee that Gebran Bassil "may have a peculiar character that might not to be appreciated by everyone."
A deputy close to the same camp said, "The political speech, the media image as well as the way of dealing with people can sometimes provoke a negative reaction… When you are one of the most prominent figures in a political system, it is only natural that these factors end up having a wide and intense effect.”
Incompatible with the times
A former non-partisan minister, who also requested anonymity, thinks that it is "only normal" that Bassil has become the aim of so many attacks, since he is "the strong man of this regime; had he had a lesser role, he would not have been targeted."
Fares Souhaid, former deputy and leader of the Rassemblement de Saydet el-Jabal, also specified that Gebran Bassil "is the symbol of Michel Aoun’s mandate.” But above all, he "is the symbol of political arrogance," an attitude that "is no longer compatible with the current times”.
According to Souhaid: "Nowadays, political arrogance is no longer accepted by the people from the younger generation who are all educated citizens, connoisseurs and analysts. Given the easy access to information, young people can no longer tolerate the fact that a ‘zaim’ (leader) speaks to them in such a haughty way, as if believing that he is the only one who has access to the political secrets.”
On another level, the former MP believes that "wanting to imitate the style of former Christian leaders is no longer appropriate." Finally, he pointed out that "attempting to convey the image of the protector and defender of a certain minority is no longer a successful tool.”
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 23rd of October)