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Lebanon News

Citizens, like politicians, divided over president

Banners attached in Tripoli decry the nomination of LF leader Samir Geagea to the presidency, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

BEIRUT: With Wednesday’s parliamentary presidential election session looming, several Lebanese described to The Daily Star what qualities the next president should embody.

As has been the case throughout Lebanon’s history, the population is divided over what characteristics President Michel Sleiman’s successor should possess. Most, however, agreed on one universal principle: The next president should be able to lead Lebanon away from instability.

“Everyone has his own opinion, but I think we need someone to stop the economic, security and political crises,” said Samir al-Asmar, a 62-year-old taxi driver from Hadath.

The leader of a polarized country divided between 18 religious sects, the president of Lebanon’s 4 million civilians comes from the country’s Maronite community. The Lebanese populace often fails to agree on much, and the same can be said about the character they want in the country’s next president.

Most Lebanese interviewed agreed that security and stability are crucial platforms that the next national leader should address, though many differed over who was the man to take the country forward.

Mohammad al-Turk, 20, a student from Tripoli, said he wanted a president who was, “strong, independent, powerful and wanted by all the Lebanese people. Simply, we want Samir Geagea.”

In contrast with Turk, dozens protested Thursday in Tripoli against Geagea’s candidacy, arguing that he was a war criminal. Geagea was convicted of killing Prime Minister Rashid Karami, a Tripoli native.

The Lebanese Forces leader, part of the March 14 political coalition, announced his candidacy for the highest Christian position in the country earlier this month but is a divisive figure due to his strong opposition to Hezbollah and his past as head of the LF militia.

Other names mentioned included Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, both figures within the March 8 political coalition. Neither Aoun nor Frangieh have yet declared their candidacy for president.

“He has a strong heart and he says whatever he wants to say,” Hassan Chartouni, 37, said of Frangieh. Chartouni, who hails from the south Lebanon village of Mais al-Jabal, said Frangieh would make Lebanon a mirror image of his hometown. “Zghorta is beautiful and they love him there.”

Chartouni also said that Frangieh’s wife would make a fitting first lady. “You know his wife is good looking and she’s going to be the first lady,” he said, breaking into laughter.

Adib Nasri, 63, of Aramoun, said he supported Aoun, simply because “he’s with the resistance.”

While Sobhi Dbouk, 53, of Khirbet Silm in south Lebanon hesitated to name a candidate, he shared Nasri’s sentiment of finding a president who would support the resistance

“We want no one from outside the country. He should be with the resistance, which is purely Lebanese,” he said.

While not all of the people interviewed agreed with Dbouk’s assertion that the next commander in chief should support the resistance, they agreed on the popularized notion that the next president should be “made in Lebanon.”

“He should be respectable,” said Mahmoud Ali Tafesh, 70, of Ktar Maya in Iqlim al-Kharroub. “Nobody should be able to buy him and he should be loyal to his country. He should love the people and they should love him in return.”

One citizen interviewed said it was his religious duty to love all of Lebanon’s leaders and people.

“They are all my brothers,” he said, handing The Daily Star a copy of the Bible.

Religion plays a central role in the lives of many Lebanese, however there are those who wish for it to be left out of politics.

“[The next president should be] absolutely secular, with nothing to do with religion,” said Soha Awada, 18, from Tyre. “This might be a fantasy, but maybe you can find someone who cares what the people want. We need someone who has suffered from these selfish, narcissistic leaders and has had enough.”

The country’s secular youth often reject the long-serving party leaders, many of whom either took part in Lebanon’s Civil War or have inherited their positions of power from their ancestors.

Awada said she wanted a president who wanted to live in a country where “you can rest your head down at night and feel good. Someone from the people who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth and who has suffered and been harassed and abused and is sick of it.”

“I want [the president to be] a good person,” she said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 23, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

With Wednesday's parliamentary presidential election session looming, several Lebanese described to The Daily Star what qualities the next president should embody.

Most, however, agreed on one universal principle: The next president should be able to lead Lebanon away from instability.

The leader of a polarized country divided between 18 religious sects, the president of Lebanon's 4 million civilians comes from the country's Maronite community. The Lebanese populace often fails to agree on much, and the same can be said about the character they want in the country's next president.

The Lebanese Forces leader, part of the March 14 political coalition, announced his candidacy for the highest Christian position in the country earlier this month but is a divisive figure due to his strong opposition to Hezbollah and his past as head of the LF militia.

Other names mentioned included Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, both figures within the March 8 political coalition. Neither Aoun nor Frangieh have yet declared their candidacy for president.


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