Michel Aoun’s Waiting Game in Paris

Published March 15th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

By Nigel Thorpe 

Senior English Editor 

Albawaba.com -- Amman 


Anti-government and anti-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut on Wednesday marked the 11th anniversary of General Michel Aoun’s failed attempt to drive the Syrians out of Lebanon.  

A hero to his fellow Lebanese Christians, Aoun is viewed by many of the country’s pro-Syrian politicians as a traitor whose “aim is to destabilize Lebanon’s internal security.”  

Born in 1935 into a humble farming family, Aoun completed his military education in France and the United States. In 1988, Army Commander, General Michel Anon was appointed as Lebanon’s prime minister. Three years later, however, he was banished form Lebanon after being ousted from the presidential palace by Syrian and Lebanese forces led by the current president Emile Lahoud who at that time was the commander of the fractured Lebanese army.  


Even while exiled in Paris, Aoun remains a key player in the complex power game of Lebanese politics which continues to be dominated by its stronger neighbor, Syria. In an uncanny parallel to Iraq’s attitude towards Kuwait, reports claim that Syria has for the past eighty years, made no secret of its hope to make its weaker neighbor part of the "Big Sister."  


The outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 between numerous factions gave Damascus the opportunity to act. After receiving the Arab League’s approval, Syria moved its troops into war torn Lebanon in 1976 after Lebanese Druze warlord Kamal Jumblatt refused Syrian President Hafez Assad’s demand for a cease-fire.  

By 1978, Syrian troops were the main power in the northern two-thirds of Lebanon after forming an unexpected alliance with the leftist coalition of Palestinians, Druze and Muslims against the Christians. The Christian forces were led by Michel Aoun during the late 1980s who rose to the rank of brigadier general in 1984 at a time when the army had disintegrated into Druzes, Shiite Muslim and Maronite Christian factions. During his period of command, he made additional enemies by fighting both the PLO and Syrian forces.  


Following Syria’s deployment of surface-to-air missile batteries in Lebanon, and its alleged policy of allowing the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and other terrorist groups to attack Israel from Lebanese soil, the Israeli army invaded southern Lebanon during its “Operation Peace for Galilee” in June 1982 at the start of the Lebanon War.  


In September 1988, after Amin Gemayel’s presidential term ended, Gemayel named Aoun as prime minister of an interim government but when Lebanese leaders were unable to agree on a new president, rival Christian and Muslim factions established their own administrations. This highly unsatisfactory arrangement continued until, in late 1989, negotiations in Taif, Saudi Arabia brought the 15-year-old Lebanese civil war to an end. The new negotiated constitution gave more power to the majority Muslims who had historically wielded less power than the minority Christians. Aoun, being a Christian, rejected the constitution and fought on until President Elias Hrawi, with the help of the Syrian army, put down the general’s rebellion in October 1990. The defeated Aoun was forced to take refuge in the French Embassy in Beirut until the then French president, Francois Mitterand, declared General’s Aoun’s safety was a matter of honor to France and negotiated Michel Aoun’s safe departure to France along with members of his government. 


The northern part of Lebanon continued to be strongly under Syria’s influence, while the southern part of Lebanon remained largely under Israel’s control until the withdrawal of the Israeli army in May, 2000 after Hizbollah spearheaded a fierce resistance against the Israelis and their proxy militia the Christian South Lebanese Army. 


Today, there are about 35,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon, although this is not considered as occupation as far as Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Sfeir is concerned. Vehemently opposed to the Syrian presence, Sfeir refused to call it “occupation,” in an interview with al Jazira satellite channel on Wednesday. But he said the consequences of the Syrian influence “are refused by many Lebanese.” 

Some political observers and anti-Syrian activists view the government in power in Lebanon as a puppet in the hands of Damascus and charge it with denying Lebanese citizens the freedom of speech. There are also daily reports alleging arrests without warrant and accusations that the Syrian intelligence service continues to terrorize and torture Lebanese citizens. The deteriorating economic situation is Lebanon fuels the growing political unrest and demands for reform and liberation from Syrian influence.  


Fearing his presence as a serious catalyst for political unrest, the current Lebanese government has warned the exiled Aoun that he would be arrested and charged with treason if he sets foot in Lebanon again. In a recent article published on the unofficial Free Lebanon website, Pierre Rafoul comments “He (Aoun) is the brave educated leader whom the Lebanese have been waiting for years, to save them from the conspiracy and open their eyes to the truth. The truth that has been shadowed by collaborators, puppet officials, mercenary media men, opportunists and all those betraying Lebanon and its people for their own interests.” 


Will Aoun be able to return, someday, to Beirut in triumph as the “conquering hero?” 

His supporters hope so, but the masters of the game in Lebanon’s politics will not allow this, especially in light of the fact that the US is turning a blind eye to Syria’s role in Lebanon, trying to court it into accepting Washington's policies towards Iraq.  


© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

You may also like