Hezbollah-FPM Rupture Portends No Change for Lebanon, Signals Hezbollah’s Strength

Last week, Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement quietly ended their seventeen-year alliance that began with the signing of the Mar Mikhael Memorandum of Understanding in February 2006. The rupture occurred quietly and would have gone unnoticed had FPM’s Jimmy Jabbour not announced it in an interview on Al-Jadeed. Jabbour naturally laid the blame on Hezbollah, saying the Shiite group had initiated the break. He additionally accused them of delaying Michel Aoun’s election as president by six years and reducing the MOU between them to “nothing but the protection of the resistance,” i.e. Hezbollah’s interests – and curiously expressed hopes for Saad Hariri’s return to politics. Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem tersely addressed the rupture in an interview to Al-Akhbar, confirming the end of the alliance with FPM, and saying that any future discussions on reviving it “are suspended until after the presidential elections.” In other words, indefinitely.

The Hezbollah-FPM rupture is unsurprising. The alliance has lasted an unusually long period for Lebanese politics, and tensions and divergences between the two parties have been reported for years. Since Aoun’s presidential term expired in October, the two parties have been at loggerheads over his successor. Hezbollah, of course, wants the candidate most amendable to its positions.  In this case, the Shiite group is backing Marada chieftain Suleiman Frangieh, whose support for Hezbollah (and the Syrian regime) stem from ideological convictions – in contrast to Aoun, a former enemy of Hezbollah who allied with the party out of self-interest. FPM, by contrast, is now insisting on a consensus candidate – both domestically and internationally.

Given these tensions and seeing no further use to be derived from maintaining ties with FPM, Hezbollah has decided to break the almost two-decade partnership. From Hezbollah’s perspective, the alliance has outlived its utility. The Shiite group entered the Mar Mikhael Understanding with FPM under certain conditions that no longer exist: Michel Aoun was at the height of his popularity, and his charisma and appeal, particularly among Maronites, made Free Patriotic Movement Lebanon’s most popular Christian party. Today, Aoun is almost 90 years old and at the end of his political career – which he is ending on a low-note because his concessions to Hezbollah, particularly during his presidency, and their negative impact on Lebanon’s well-being. His replacement as FPM chairman, his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, is singularly unpopular in Lebanon, a symbol of corruption and nepotism who has also failed to maintain FPM’s former dominance among Christians.

Like most of Lebanon’s recently seemingly significant political milestones – the October 17, 2019 Revolution-That-Wasn’t, the celebrated election of so-called “independents” and civil society candidates to Parliament in May 2022, and so on – the FPM-Hezbollah rupture portends little change for the country. However, it does reveal Hezbollah’s confidence in its own position and political strength in Lebanon, so much so that it is able to jettison an almost two-decade partnership and shut the door to renegotiations until further notice.