So it’s happened. We’ve entered that vacuum, the void, faragh, that they warned us about -- and later downplayed. Everyone sort of expected that it would come, but there were still hopes that horror vacui would be enough to do the miraculous. So as we transition from a fear of emptiness to a fear of heights, all we know for sure right now is that what will come will be greater (al 2ati 2a3zam) as they say.

And they’ve been saying a lot of things, haven’t they? It’s mildly entertaining to trace the various opinion pieces that have trailed these presidential deliberations over the past few months. We can start at the end of 2013, when some were warning about plans to extend President Suleiman’s term, building on that assumption, and lambasting the president for even considering what had been projected onto him. That’s all water under the bridge behind the selfie now.


(Photo via Blog Baladi)

As early as November, before a new government had even been formed, most of the political maneuvering we were to witness in the coming months was pretty much already foreseen, though Samir Geagea’s “signs of having presidential ambitions” were not made explicit by then, and would remain ambiguous for a few more months.

The particularly Christian dimension of the process was analyzed from the super-telescopic and regional level, to the nano-political scale of small differences. Even the Vatican had a say. And now that we’ve been officially thrown into the wilderness of what the Lebanese call “a presidential void,” the gnashing of teeth over the ‘Christian role’ has already begun.


(Screenshot via Youtube)

Over the last few months, we also watched as commentators had pre-prom jitters about a potential Aoun-Hariri rapprochement. ‘Will they?’ ‘Won’t they?’ The idea behind these meetings, we were told, was to help secure Michel Aoun’s candidacy with the help of the Future Movement, but the prospects of this actually happening seemed slim. Then things really got interesting when Samir Geagea officially declared his candidacy. As Michael Young wrote at the time, this announcement created a whole new dynamic: “The irony is that Geagea’s candidacy may benefit Aoun. By turning the election into a choice between the Lebanese Forces leader and Aoun, Geagea may force those on the fence to take sides.”

And take sides we certainly did. Though, not quite that way. The first session has come and gone, and there are now whispers that Geagea is willing to step aside, but it is still worth remembering just how divisive his candidacy was within the political establishment, and among ordinary citizens as well. Many tried to argue that Geagea’s “files” should not be singled out, given the fact that most of our current crop of politicians took part in the civil war in one way or another. And yet, the repeated calls of Geagea’s supporters to stop “digging up graves” -- when there are actual mass graves yet to be dug -- were in bad taste, to say the least. Besides, it was always a mistake to believe that a top-down general amnesty law would mean real and lasting post-war reconciliation.

So here we are: Samir Geagea is still a “provocative name” and Michel Aoun is still everyone’s favorite punching-bag (over, and over, and over again). And while some are still waiting for regional changes, others are looking for alternative “exemplary candidates who are not traditional Maronite leaders.” Clovis Maksoud, among others, argues that the only way out of the impasse is to choose a “consensus Maronite leader [from] outside the two blocs, such as civil society activist Ziad Baroud or Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon's central bank.” Maksoud goes on to note that, “while a major transformation [of the system] is not presently feasible, a new, independent, secularly oriented Maronite president could begin the transformation of Lebanon into a country of citizens.”


(Image via Now Media)

These ‘non-traditional’ Maronite names have been in the air for a while, and how realistic they are as options depends on how you define the presidency. From the very beginning, the main criterion that everyone agreed on was the vaguely-defined quality of al-ra2ees al-qawi -- the “strong leader,” or “the president who is strong.” But that’s where the agreement ended, as multiple interpretations of ‘strength’ were used to justify swelling or shrinking the pool of potential candidates. So the strong leader might be the one who can mediate between extremes, or the one everyone can agree on, or the one who is most representative of the Maronites, or the one who can best defend the constitution, etc. However, not once was this definition of strength sophisticated enough to encompass women, which brings me to the ultimate point: why has there been no discussion whatsoever of al-ra2eesa al-qaweeya?

Certainly, some have paid lip-service to the need for “the empowerment of women to further participate in policy and decision-making,” a noble desire that could have been fortified by an actual interest in having a woman take up the presidency. In fact, the same political commentator later claimed that “no woman candidate is surfacing,” when two had already put forward their names by that point.

One of those names was Tracy Chamoun, who announced her candidacy during the first electoral session, though later explained to reporters outside that it was only symbolic and meant to protest Samir Geagea’s candidacy.

The other name was Nadine Moussa, who first announced her candidacy to the wider public on the political satire show, ChiNN, seeking to reach out to those who are critical of and disaffected by the system. Moussa’s candidacy was a first for Lebanese women, and during her modest campaign, she called for "a 'new social contract,' with women holding half of all parliamentary and governmental posts.” While these activities and declarations made Moussa’s candidacy more official than Chamoun’s, the fact that she enjoyed neither established political support nor a popular base outside of the activist world, makes it difficult to disagree with those who thought she had “no chance.”

One name that could have had a chance but that was never put forward, however, was quite prominent throughout this period, and so should have been more obvious. That name is Sethrida Tawk Geagea.


(Image via Al Monitor)

Let us consider the Sethrida scenario, for a moment. She is almost always associated with her husband, Samir Geagea, but unlike her husband, she is an actual parliamentarian, elected twice. Indeed, her husband has never held any official position in the state. Furthermore, unlike her husband, Sethrida Geagea has had two decades of post-war political experience, especially during the most difficult time for the Lebanese Forces, under Syrian tutelage. While her husband was in prison, Sethrida Geagea became the de facto leader of the LF, and had to deal with both pressures from a state that was hostile to her organization, and internal conflicts over who should run its affairs. While her entry into politics was certainly made possible by their relationship , and certainly qualifies as a form of pseudo-patrimonialism, no one can deny that Sethrida Geagea has proven herself as a capable and independent politician, irrespective of what one thinks of her political beliefs or party.

So why wasn’t her name put forward? At the height of his campaign, Samir Geagea claimed that he would step aside and support any candidate who would adopt his political platform. Hours before the end of President Suleiman’s term, he called for one last attempt to elect a “Lebanese-made president” to avoid the vacuum. Did his own wife’s name never cross his mind in the interim?

While there are many possible explanations for this lapse (she may not even have wanted to run for the post), the full answer as to why Sethrida Geagea’s name was never mentioned as a candidate, when the names of men with no political presence whatsoever were presented as viable options, goes beyond the Lebanese Force’s internal calculations and procedures. The problem is social.



And don’t think Sethrida hasn’t noticed: “Don’t they see anything but my appearance? Don’t they see the long, political struggle I’ve undertaken?”

The answer, so far, has been a resounding: no. Unfortunately, we don’t see much past her looks. At best, we see her as an extension of her husband. When MP Geagea attended the first session dressed in a red outfit, an on-the-scene reporter told her she looked stunning, "just like a First Lady." Not like a president, though.

You don’t have to be a fan of Sethrida Geagea, or her political party, or even the March 14 camp they’re part of, to consider the very real possibility that this whole process could have played out very differently had she been a candidate, and not Samir Geagea. At the very least, it would have forced the hand of their March 8 opponents to play another card, as Sethrida was neither a warlord, nor accused and convicted of post-war crimes. In many ways, she fit all explicit and implicit criteria of the “strong president,” except two. Firstly, she probably would have still been unacceptable to Hezbollah, as they want a president who is whole-heartedly pro-Resistance. She’s also not a man, and that is, unfortunately, an assumed prerequisite of leadership many of us still believe in.

And so, if our democracy must be representational, and if the system of representation must be confessional, and if, within that sectarian equation, the president has to be a Maronite Christian, and if, among the Maronites, we must deal with these three or four political parties, let us at least draw a thick red line at gender. If we can’t have everything, let’s at least get one thing right.

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