Spectre of a coup hangs over Lebanon

As Army officers gather the intelligence that may anticipate a Hezbollah attempt to seize power, the possibility of an army coup d’état cannot be ruled out.

In November 2011, various reports alluded that Hezbollah planned to “seize parts of Beirut” should the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad fall, allegedly as a patriotic step to prevent foreign intervention in Lebanon. At the time, the discussion hovered around a military coup, although on a far larger scale than the May 7, 2008, manoeuvres that terrorised Beirut and cost the lives of more than 100 Lebanese citizens.

Given the government’s failure to extend the terms of the six-member Military Council, and because Army commander General Jean Qahwaji, who heads the council, reaches a mandatory retirement age in September, the country may well be exposed to a security vacuum. Coincidentally, the Army’s chief-of-staff, Major General Walid Salman, is scheduled to retire in August, while three other council members are now serving through emergency extensions.

In addition to Qahwaji and Salman, the government must find replacements for three “retired-active” officers who are now in limbo: Major General Nicolas Mozher, a Military Council member whose term ended on May 1 but who continues to handle all administrative and judicial matters; General Inspector Major General Michel Munayyir, a council member who reached the age of retirement on May 2 and who is responsible for implementing the Army Command’s orders; and Major General Abdul Rahman Shihaytli, director-general of the administration at the Defence Ministry, who retired on May 24.

Therefore, to say that a security void was coming to Lebanon would indeed be an understatement. Under the circumstances, it was critical to ask which of the two military powers in the country, the Army or Hezbollah, would take matters into their own hands?

Students of the Levant often recall the 20 coups that occurred in Syria between 1949 and 1970, overlooking the 13 coup de tetes [hot-headedness] that entertained the Lebanese between 1951 and 2010, ostensibly because Lebanon was the only Arab democracy. Most of these coup attempts were organised by politicians, although two were planned and carried out my military officers: The first by Brigadier Aziz Ahdab in February 1976, which led to the destruction of the Lebanese Army and the flight of President Sulaiman Franjieh, and the second in September 1988, when president Amine Gemayel surrendered the reins of power to Army Commander General Michel Aoun.

Few remember it today — on account of fresh alliances between them — but it was General Emile Lahoud who attacked the presidential palace and ousted Aoun in October 1990, to secure the election of president Elias Hrawi.

Thus, discrete coup d’etats occurred in the past, although the last two — on May 7, 2008, and again in October-November 2010 when Hezbollah targeted the “Information Section” of the Interior Ministry — were particularly violent.

Full article: Spectre of a coup hangs over Lebanon (Gulf News)

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