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Why is Bassil the main target of Lebanon’s protesters?

Popular uprising

The FPM leader’s status as the “strong man of the regime”, “corruption” and his “arrogant tone” are the main explanations being given.

Claude ASSAF | OLJ
23/10/2019
The popular uprising that began last Thursday against the government’s fiscal policy and Lebanon’s political class in general has been defined by its strong criticism, both in the streets and on social media, of the leaders of every political party in the country. But Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Minister of Foreign Affairs, has clearly been the main target. Bassil has been booed at protests across the country, including (or especially) in Christians areas and strongholds of his own political party. He has been the subject of insults and crude humor in many videos circulated on social media.

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.”


Communitarianism

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)


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Mireille Kang

As an expatriate observing events in Lebanon from afar by reading newspapers without watching Lebanese TV stations, I agree with a lot of the content of this article. I would like to disclose that I used to support General Aoun and the FPM. Mr. Bassil is arrogant, entitled, not very bright, divisive, racist, toxic, stubborn. He has tried to use a divide and conquer strategy thinking that it will help him succeed at becoming the next president. He's tried to equate maintaining his power and influence, and those of President Aoun, with giving more influence and power to Christians by proxy. Sadly, other leaders e.g. Berry, Joumblatt, to name a few, have tried to do the same, although, they're savvier politicians and do not use divisive rhetoric. To be fair, I'm in favor of Mr. Bassil's efforts at helping bring back Syrian refugees to Syria, although his efforts were not supported by other members of the government. Some events that stand out are: his disgruntlement at the reconciliation between FL and Marada; his refusal to grant the children of Lebanese women citizenship if they're married to Syrians or Palestinians; his divisive rhetoric which contributed to the killing of two supporters of Mr. Arslane in Mount-Lebanon; his bragging about being a racist, literally; his lack of support for freedom of expression when his supporters attacked Mashrou' Leila forcing the cancellation of their concert in Byblos; his stubborn pursuit of the failing and costly dam projects.

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