November 10, 2022 | Flash Brief

Presidential Vacuum Persists in Lebanon

November 10, 2022 | Flash Brief

Presidential Vacuum Persists in Lebanon

Latest Developments

The term of Lebanese President Michel Aoun ended last week, but the country’s parliament has so far failed to elect a successor. The presidential vacuum, which compounds Lebanon’s political and economic problems, persists because Iranian proxy Hezbollah, the dominant political force in Lebanon, has yet to choose a president from among its two main Christian allies: Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, and Suleiman Franjieh, a grandson of Lebanon’s fifth president, also named Suleiman Franjieh. Hezbollah fears that favoring one means losing the support of the other.

Expert Analysis

“Lebanon has four living former presidents and half a dozen former prime ministers, but only one actual ruler: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. The statelet of Hezbollah now dominates the failing state of Lebanon, replicating the Iranian model where a supreme leader and his militia control the country, rendering popular elections irrelevant.”
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, FDD Research Fellow

Why the Presidential Vacuum?                                          

Hezbollah is a state-within-a-state that has its own institutions, budget, and army. Its self-sufficiency has partially shielded its partisans from the ongoing Lebanese economic crisis but has not been enough to retain the support of key parliamentary allies, including Shiite Speaker Nabih Berri and a slew of lesser factions, such as the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and the followers of Druze Chief Talal Arslan.

In this context, because Hezbollah seeks to retain as many allies as possible, it has refrained from voicing a preference regarding Aoun’s successor. Thus, the parliament is now stuck in gridlock, with some members supporting Bassil, others Franjieh; neither has received the two-thirds majority support necessary for a quorum. The two candidates do not hold significantly different policy views and would both support Hezbollah’s agenda.

A Weak Interim Prime Minister

Without a sitting president, the interim prime minister, Najib Mikati, has become the acting chief executive. In an acting capacity, the prime minister and his cabinet cannot stop or mitigate Lebanon’s economic freefall. For example, they cannot implement any of the reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as a prerequisite for receiving economic rescue packages.

U.S. Policy on Lebanon

Over the past decade, U.S. policy on Lebanon has been one of crisis management. America has been bankrolling the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to prevent a complete collapse of law and order. For example, Washington has supplied the LAF navy with boats to preempt a flood of refugees out of the country. The United States has also been funding the World Food Program and other humanitarian programs to ensure that the Lebanese — as well as refugees from Syria and elsewhere who reside in Lebanon — receive the minimum required daily sustenance.

A complete collapse of the Lebanese government not only would spill over across the Mediterranean to Europe, sending it refugees and narcotics, but would also make it harder for Hezbollah to control an impoverished and restive nation. This means that by subsidizing the LAF, which ultimately answers to Hezbollah, America has made it easier for the pro-Iran militia to maintain its iron grip over the country.

Related Analysis

America’s Regional Integration Scheme Benefits Iran,” by Tony Badran

Missing the Mark: Reassessing U.S. Military Aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces,” by David Kilcullen


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Lebanon