The Ruling Alliance between Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement Under Scrutiny
Abstract: Fifteen years have passed since Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which both occupy a central place in Lebanon’s sectarian political system, signed a Memorandum of Understanding and formed the political alliance currently governing Lebanon. These two parties, which were ideologically and politically opposed, came together for strategic and pragmatic purposes in the new political atmosphere created after Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005. Through the alliance, Hezbollah gained a Christian umbrella to legitimate its weapons, while the FPM gained an ally to end its isolation from Lebanese politics. Nevertheless, the unfolding national, regional, and international developments over the last three years may jeopardize the agreement that has allowed both sides the opportunity to flex their muscles in the political arena for a long time. This brief will outline the strains that threaten the sustainability of the alliance between Hezbollah and the FPM.
On 6 February 2021, Gebran Bassil, the president of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), released a statement that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Hezbollah should be re-visited. He stated that “developing this understanding in the direction of opening new horizons and hopes for the Lebanese [people] is a condition for its continued viability, as it is no longer needed if those committed to it do not succeed in the battle to build the state and the honorable Lebanese victory over the corrupt alliance that destroys any resistance or struggle.”[i] Announced on the 15th anniversary of the strategic agreement between FPM and Hezbollah, this statement reveals the ongoing problems the alliance faces despite its success in securing parliamentary dominance and electing Michel Aoun as president in 2016. The national, regional, and international developments of the last three years have made the future of the alliance more uncertain than at any point over the past fifteen years.
This brief aims to analyze the increasing strain in the alliance due to the cost and burden of certain domestic and regional developments. The brief initially concentrates on the political, ideological, and social context that united these ideologically divergent parties. The brief then assesses how concession bargaining has evolved during the historical evolution of Lebanese politics. Lastly, the brief ends with an examination of the existing cracks in the alliance under six main titles: (1) the 2019 protests; (2) Lebanon’s economic crisis and isolation; (3) the Beirut explosion and changing threat perceptions; (4) Patriarch Al-Rai’s opposition to Hezbollah; (5) divergences in foreign policy approaches and the international pressure on FPM and Hezbollah; (6) clashing interests between Hezbollah’s allies.