What is Next for Lebanon’s Abbas Ibrahim?
Lebanon’s powerful commander of General Security formally ended as he reached retirement age. Is elected office next?
Abbas Ibrahim, the long-running director general of Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security (GSO), ended his term on March 2 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of sixty-four. Ibrahim, who was elevated to the position amidst the Arab Spring movements of 2011, held the position for twelve years. During that time, he forged cross-cutting relationships that would prove his capacity as a dealmaker in otherwise impossible scenarios. This included impressive efforts to free hostages in Syria and Iran, as well as reportedly passing messages to Hezbollah in the recent Lebanon-Israel gas deal. Yet as he stepped down, the major general made clear that he holds future political ambitions which hold substantial weight in the Lebanese political scene.
“It is my national and professional duty to serve others and their rights,” Ibrahim noted as he stepped down.“ Tomorrow, we will continue the path on several other grounds in order to raise Lebanon.”
Lebanon’s Hezbollah reportedly worked tirelessly to extend Ibrahim’s term, attempting to for Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s hand through the cabinet. Although supposedly on very good terms with Ibrahim, Mikati made publicly clear that he did not view this as a legal option for the cabinet, calling on parliament to do so itself. This proved even more difficult given the state of deadlock in the parliament because of disagreements over Lebanon’s next president.
The Lebanese Parliament has failed to elect a president eleven different times since former president Michel Aoun ended his term in October of last year. There is currently a substantial divide between two establishment camps—one led by the right-wing, Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) and once led by the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah—that has ultimately produced no qualified majority vote (two-thirds of parliament, or 86 of 128 votes) for a candidate.
As a result, dozens of members of parliament (MPs) have boycotted plenary sessions, citing dubious legal grounds for the parliament to do much of anything under the current constitutional crisis (i.e., without a president). This has mainly included MPs from Christian parties—interestingly including the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Hezbollah ally. FPM’s support for this stance stems, at least in part, from Hezbollah’s refusal to support FPM leader Gebran Bassil’s candidacy for the presidency. Unfortunately for Ibrahim, such a session was required to amend the law allowing him to remain in his GSO position.
To be sure, however, Ibrahim’s forced retirement is not strictly a coincidental result of adjacent parliamentary politics and Hezbollah expending far too much political capital on other issues. Rather, there are very real political rivalries that likely hurt his chances of staying at the GSO. Namely, this falls to the head of the Shi’ite Amal Party and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, who is reported to have negative views of Ibrahim given the former GSO director’s utility to Hezbollah. Given Berri’s good working relationship with Mikati, this likely explains why the latter chose not to unilaterally renew Ibrahim’s term through the cabinet.
Given Ibrahim’s capacity as a problem solver and bridge builder in various security, diplomatic, and political arenas, Berri could view him as a threat to his own relative power and relationship to Hezbollah. While Amal is the natural and historic go-to partner for Hezbollah as the other major Shi’ite party in Lebanon, Berri is regularly crowded out by Ibrahim as Hezbollah’s preferred mediator between the major Lebanese and international political leaders. Of potentially greater importance, however, are rumors that Ibrahim could be next in line to take the parliamentary speakership with Hezbollah’s blessing. Such a move would explain the group’s public admission of failure to renew Ibrahim’s term—an uncommon sentiment rarely expressed by Hezbollah—as it would suggest they possibly received something in return for the retirement.
It is no secret that Berri is likely nearing the final years of his political career at eighty-five years of age. He has served as the parliamentary speaker since 1992 and has ran Amal since 1980. He is one of a withering number of political heavyweights that arose from the Lebanese civil war between 1975–90. Yet while he represents an older age of Lebanese politics, the wrangling that will certainly arise around his position makes Ibrahim’s path to the seat difficult. Indeed, Amal will not give up the position so easily, regardless of Hezbollah pressure. Whether Ibrahim has the political relationships within Amal—all the while holding a rivalry with Berri—remains to be seen.
With parliamentary elections slated for 2026, such a conversation has time to fester. For now, Ibrahim appears to be eyeing a potential cabinet seat. Some reports have highlighted the foreign ministry as a natural landing spot for the adept general, given his strong cross-cutting relationships. However, such a role would be difficult within Lebanon’s highly confessional governance system. The foreign ministry is typically held by a Christian, and is a highly demanded ministry alongside others such as the ministries of finance and the interior. It is thus difficult to see Ibrahim finding his way there, barring a major political deal.
Regardless of Ibrahim’s future in Lebanese governance—and he will have a future in it—his fall from the GSO is notable amidst the broader context of Lebanese politics today. For a figure with as much popularity as the former GSO director, both amongst political elites and the people, to not see his term extended is another marked institutional failure in a long line of shortcomings for the Lebanese government.
This is not to suggest the man is a paragon of virtue—simply observing the GSO’s brutal treatment of Syrians offers enough to reject Ibrahim as an official. However, it does speak to the scale of institutional collapse pervading the country today, in which most would likely have wished to renew his term but viewed other political battles as more important. Unfortunately, this reality has long defined Lebanese politics, even if much more accentuated in recent years, and will continue to do so for quite some time barring major reform or a discovery of conscience amongst the political elites.
Alexander Langlois is a foreign policy analyst focused on the Middle East and North Africa. He holds an M.A. in International Affairs from American University’s School of International Service. Follow him at @langloisajl.