Last night, after going to the cinema and having some dinner in Sassine with my roommate, we decided to go check out what was going on at our local Aounist headquarters. While we were having our dinner and 'arguileh, supporters of Hariri's Sunni-based Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangist party kept driving by honking their horns and waving party flags. Sassine, which is mostly Christian and next to the ABC Achrifieh mall is mostly for Geagea and Gemayel. This is why we decided that it would be interesting to go see what was happening in the Aoun camp.
The headquarters were blocked off by the Army to prevent any political street fighting. I was given an orange Free Patriotic Movement t-shirt and a bottle of water with an orange cap, as well as a cup of coffee, which was about the only non-orange thing there. Everyone was outside watching the results on Orange TV, the FPM's unofficial television channel. There were more orange wigs, shirts, shoes, socks and pants than at a faculty meeting at an American elementary school on Halloween.
The Parliamentary by-election in the Metn region was called by the government (and opposed by the opposition, which makes Aoun's participation contradictory if perhaps also cunning) in order to replace MP Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated earlier this year. The election is an important one, since it acts as a bellwether for Christian support, which will be helpful for predicting who the next president will be. Former president and father of Pierre, Amin Gemayel ran against Aoun-backed and lesser-known Kamil Khoury.
Orange TV announced Khoury's victory relatively early in the evening, but it wasn't until this morning that I saw more definitive accounts of the results. When Orange TV made the call, the Aounists immediately started cheering, with more than a few heaving a large sigh of relief. Large and loud fireworks soon followed, at which point I took my leave. As I was leaving the headquarters, the Aounists told me that I should put the t-shirt they gave me in a bag, fearing that I might get harassed on my back home since the neighborhood was so fiercely pro-government.
According to CNN, the Ministry of the Interior officially called Khoury the winner by 418 votes in an election with some 80,000 ballots cast. In every account I've read so far, it seems that the deciding vote was what LBC is calling "the Armenian Voice." No one I talked to last night could tell me how many votes had been cast so far, but everyone could quote how many Armenian votes their side had received. As is usual in Lebanon, allegations of voter fraud are coming from both sides, and as is also usual, they're both probably right.
The run-up to this election has been interesting to me, because it's been marked by two very anti-democratic forces. On the one hand, the only reason the election is happening at all is because there was a political assassination. On the other hand, supporters of the Gemayel family and the Phalangist and Lebanese Forces parties have had a a worrisome attitude of entitlement about the whole affair. According to many of them, the Parliament seat belongs to the Gemayel clan, and it's just bad form for Aoun to contest it. Others, including Michael Young and the Maronite Patriarch, have been arguing (undemocratically, I needn't add) that Gemayel should run unopposed, because a real election would split the Christians (as if they weren't already split).
In any case, one thing that seems certain is that this has put the last nail in the Gemayel clan's coffin. If the former president couldn't beat a little-known Khoury, then the Gemayels have finally gone the way of the Chamoun clan. Overall, I think it's a good thing when a political dynasty ends in a country like Lebanon (by non-violent means, that is), but if Lebanese history is much of an indicator, the political (and physical) death of a clan doesn't necessarily imply the fall of feudal politics, but rather the rise of another political clan in this country of the Godfather where things are run by various tribes with flags.