General Michel Aoun

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President of Lebanon

Quotes:

"[Hizbollah is] one-third of the Lebanese people. We cannot isolate them. We cannot kill them."

“Yes we are extremists: extremists in preserving the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, in safeguarding the free decision making, in leading moderate lives. Moderation is in the coexistence and reaching out to the other.”

"You cannot say to Hezbollah, "We have to dismantle your organization," since Israel is provoking Lebanon and it is attacking. Hezbollah has become a component of the regional crisis. If we have to solve the problem of Hezbollah, it would be within a general solution to the Middle East crisis, especially in Syria."


Background and the Lebanese Civil War:

You were born to a poor Maronite Christian family from southern Beirut in 1935. You say that you grew up in a religiously mixed area, so from a very young age you learned to look at Muslims and Christians from an unbiased perspective. You were hardworking and ambitious from a young age, but in Lebanon, where politics was traditionally the past time of elite Christian, Sunni, and Druze families, your poor background limited your potential upward mobility. You chose the only route available to you, and joined the army. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s you received advanced training in France and the United States, and progressed steadily up through the ranks of the Lebanese army. You were a powerful but relatively unknown figure until the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, where you earned a reputation for bravery and loyalty to the embattled Lebanese government, regardless of your own sectarian background. In 1982 you were the only Lebanese general to actively confront the invading Israeli army as it entered Beirut, and in 1983 your elite 8th Brigade successfully defended government positions against Palestinian, Druze and Syrian attacks. For your bravery during these dark years you were appointed overall commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Army in 1984, and by the end of the war you were so respected that Lebanese of all sects simply referred to you as “The General.”


Syrian Intervention and Exile:

In late 1988 outgoing Lebanese president Amin Gemayel appointed you interim prime minister of the Lebanese government until elections could be called: since the Prime Minister of Lebanon must by law be a Sunni Muslim and you are a Maronite, Syria’s allies seized on this opportunity to attempt a pro-Syrian coup. Beirut divided into a Syrian-backed western enclave and a small eastern territory controlled by your government. After a number of skirmishes with Syrian forces, you actually declared war on Syria in March 1989. You received moral support from the west, but most observers abandoned your cause as hopeless. Ironically enough, your biggest international supporter was Saddam Hussein, who was a staunch enemy of the Syrians. Despite this grim situation, your government, supported by Lebanese citizens of all faiths, actually survived until October 1990, when Syria launched an all-out assault on east Beirut. At this point the US and its allies were preparing to eject Saddam Hussein’s troops from Kuwait, and they had secured Syria’s help at a heavy price: the United States agreed to allow Syria to occupy Lebanon. In the wake of Syria’s assault you sought asylum from the French, and began a 15 year life in exile, while Syrian supporters assumed control of Lebanon. In exile, you started a political movement known as the “Free Patriotic Movement” devoted to freeing Lebanon from Syrian occupation; in the course of your exile you met heads of states, testified before the US Congress, and even appeared on the 700 Club to denounce Syrian encroachments on Lebanese sovereignty. You went into exile as a legend, the only soldier in Lebanon who had consistently served the government and defended the country against all foreign aggressors. This came at a terrible price, however; your war against Syria turned 90% of Beirut’s residents into refugees (almost 900,000 people out of an original population of 1 million) and was ultimately unsuccessful at securing your country’s independence. Some people said you had fallen victim to yourMISSY own legend, and led your country into a catastrophic situation that produced nothing more than the continued suffering of the Lebanese people.


Return From Exile:

You dramatically returned to Lebanon in May 2005, following the withdrawal of Syrian troops as a result of the “Cedar Revolution” that sprung from outrage over the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. You were greeted by cheering throngs in the streets of Beirut, and using you Free Patriotic Movement supporters, you immediately became a strong contender in the chaotic 2005 parliamentary elections. The overall winners of this election were a broad Sunni-Druze coalition called the “March 14th Alliance,” headed by allies of the assassinated Rafik Hariri: his son, Sa’ad Hariri, the Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt and Hariri’s longtime associate, the new Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

You fared well in Christian areas, but ultimately lacked the votes needed to seriously challenge this coalition; you moved into parliament as the leader of the opposition (your FPM gained 21 out of 128 parliamentary seats), and you began attacking the new government with a vengeance. You accused them of voter fraud in the elections, as well as being narrowly devoted to Sunni and Druze interests. In a more serious set of accusations, you asserted that the new government’s leaders, elected on a staunch anti-Syrian platform, had actually enriched themselves during the Syrian occupation. To prosecute your new role as leader of the opposition, you began to make a number of unusual political alliances, particularly with pro-Syrian Maronite strongmen who had been your enemies during the civil war and the subsequent Syrian invasion. Your political enemies have accused you of cynically abandoning your old national loyalties to further your political fortunes; you have shot back that the government is in no position to accuse others of corruption or cynicism. 


Alliance with Hizbollah:

Your most unusual political move came in February 2006, when your FPM signed a memorandum of understanding with the Shiite movement HizbollahHezbollah. This agreement calls for a crusade against corruption in Lebanese government. The memorandum proposes an invigorated Lebanese judicial inquiry into corruption at all levels of government, with a definite timetable to ensure its enacting. More distressing to your Christian base, this memorandum also calls for a broader “national consensus” in government, which effectively means opening the government to greater representation by the Shiite Hezbollah. You defended this action by claiming that the only path to security for Lebanon’s Christians lies in cooperating with their more numerous Muslim neighbors, especially the increasingly numerous Shiites.

You claim that your current cooperation with Hezbollah is based on acknowledgement of Hezbollah’s leading role in Shiite affairs, and not necessarily any endorsement of that organization’s military agenda. Your opponents disagree. Supporters of the former Siniora government saidy that you only made this alliance to increase your own political power, exploiting the credibility Hezbollah gained by surviving their war with the Israelis in July 2006. Moreover, they claim that Hezbollah is using you, and will dump your from their agenda as soon they have finished exploiting the divided Christian community through your Free Patriotic Movement. 


Open Opposition to the Presidency

In December of 2006 every Shiite minister resigned from Fouad Siniora’s government, and, directed by Hezbollah, began the largest series of protest rallies in Lebanese history. They protested the government’s refusal to set up a tribunal looking into alleged voter fraud in the 2005 parliamentary elections, as well as making the more general Shiite criticism that the current government is represented a purely Sunni-Druze alliance. Hassan Nasrallah has promised that the Shiite community will would overturn the Siniora government if they dido not become more responsive to Shiite demands. Your Christian followers have joined in these protests, though you and your FPM representatives have not resigned from government. In a massive rally on December 10, you threatened to march on the capitol if the Siniora government did not resign, proclaiming that the corruption of Hariri, Siniora and company could no longer be ignored. You have called for an immediate “national dialogue” to hammer out the terms of a constitutional commission to investigate these corruption charges, echoing the demands of the Shiite community. In the Doha Agreement, reached on May 21, 2008, a national unity cabinet was approved and a revised census (that acknowledged the growth of the Shi'a population) allowed Hezbollah to secure governmental veto power with eleven out of thirty cabinet seats. 

The June 2009 elections were essentially a proxy battle for regional political influence, fought between your Iran/Syria-backed opposition and the US-backed "pro-Western" March 14 coalition. Although the Hezbollah-led opposition failed to win a majority, an agreement with Prime Minister Saad Hariri allowed them to retain veto power, and in December 2009, the national unity government adopted a bill to allow Hezbollah to keep its weapons, counter to UN Resolution 1701 that called for Hezbollah's disarmament.  The government was often deadlocked, however, and in 2011, 11 FPM and Hezbollah-allied ministers withdrew from cabinet prior to the release of the UN’s Special Tribunal on Lebanon (STL) report. This report would soon condemn four Hezbollah agents, acting at the behest of Syria, for the 2005 murder of Rafik Hariri, and Hezbollah had been pressing PM Saad Hariri to reject the results of the report. However, at the urging of Western backers to the Sunni-led government, including Presidents Obama and Sarkozy, Hariri resisted, prompting the resignations. While many feared that Lebanon could go for years without a new government, as had already happened from 2006-8 following a similar Shiite-led walk-out, a new cabinet was announced five months later under a March 8th-supported PM, Najib Mikati.

In 2013, Mikati resigned. At the time of his resignation, the Syrian civil war had begun to take its toll on Lebanon, with armed conflict flaring up Tripoli – the capital of Mikati’s home district – resulting in more than 12 dead and 100 injured. Mikati had wanted to hold new parliamentary elections, which would probably have given the anti-Assad March 14th Coalition another majority. However, this would not have sat well with Hezbollah, who was and is working to support Assad, both politically and militarily. They therefore used their position in the March 8th Coalition to hijack the elections, in part by refusing to appoint members to the Supervisory Commission for Election Campaigns. After Mikati’s resignation, the parliamentary election was cancelled, and in 2014 President Michel Suleiman’s term expired. These two factors meant that from 2014 to the end of 2016, Prime Minister Tamam Salam served as both Prime Minister and President. Meanwhile the members of Parliament, having last been elected in 2009, continued to extend their own terms of office, with the next elections not due until May, 2017.

Finally, on October 31, 2016, after 29 months and 43 rounds of voting in parliament, you were elected president. The deciding factor in his election was Saad Hariri’s support, which he had announced earlier in October. To some extent, this change of heart reflected Saudi Arabia’s decreased presence in Lebanese internal politics, partially due to their ongoing war in Yemen, and partially due to their dissatisfaction with the growing influence of Hezbollah. Without their traditional backing, Hariri felt the need to throw his support behind a compromise candidate, and was rewarded himself when you, in your capacity as president, asked him to form a new government on November 3rd, and appointed him Prime Minister on December 18th.


Roleplaying Hints:

In the shadowy world of Lebanese politics, you are an especially complicated player. You have publicly avowed that your current actions are for the good of Lebanon, as you try to create a real bridge between the Christian and Shiite communities while simultaneously forcing Druze and Sunni politicians to acknowledge the need for a more inclusive political system. There is good logic to back up such a claim, seeing as the majority of Lebanon’s recent history has been devoted to warfare along religious lines. All the same, your choices strike many as very cynical. You claim that political offices mean less to you than the establishment of a stable Lebanon, but it cannot be denied that the web of alliances you built up since your return to Lebanon has helped you secure the presidency. Your alliance with Hezbollah might stem from your feelings of betrayal on returning to Lebanon. You devoted half your life to resisting Syrian control over your country, even during exile, and returned home to find that your country had been taken over by Walid Jumblatt, Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri, all individuals who prospered under the Syrian occupation and had only recently declared themselves “anti-Syrian.” You, on the other hand, were exiled for such beliefs, left out in the political cold by this new Sunni-Druze alliance. If this is true, you have shown that you are willing to seriously bend the rules of Lebanese politics in order to oust individuals you see as collaborators, even if that means allying with the traditional Syrian ally Hezbollah. Your patriotism is undeniable, and this might prove your political undoing: in safeguarding the sovereignty of Lebanon you have become an implacable foe of the Syrians and their constant attempts to meddle in Lebanese affairs. You have also drawn the suspicion of the Israelis, not only because of your alliance with Hezbollah, but because of the portion of your inaugural address in which you declared that you would “not spare any efforts to protect Lebanon from Israel and liberate the remainder of our lands.” You have also stated that you would do whatever possible to effect the return of the 1.1 million Syrian refugees who have settled in Lebanon, though with the conflict still ongoing, it is unclear to what extent this relocation is possible. Your advocacy of so-called “safe zones” within Syria, an option also favored by the Trump administration, may indicate the way forward.

You resisted the former government because they were corrupt, and represented to you the type of cynical political elite who have always ruled Lebanon in an almost feudal style, cooperating with the Syrians to ensure their own political survival. To effectively combat this group you have made an alliance with Hezbollah, the most powerful political faction (other than your own) which operates outside the March 14th alliance. Unfortunately, this means you have allied with a traditional ally of Syria, and many analysts believe that this will ultimately be a political situation you cannot sustain. If and when you break from Hezbollah, it is unclear what other allies remain for you, and your attempts to safeguard the interests of Lebanon’s Christians might backfire and ensure their total alienation from an increasingly Muslim political order.  Going forward, it will be up to you to choose a new course for Lebanon – a task which, even given your new political freedom as leader of the country, remains a delicate balancing act. Many are skeptical that anything will change; you must prove them wrong.


References:

http://www.meib.org/articles/0101_ld1.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aoun

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Patriotic_Movement

http://www.mideastmonitor.org/issues/0602/0602_3.htm

http://www.tayyar.org/elections/political_program_fr/data/downloads/programanglica.pdf

http://www.tayyar.org/tayyar/englishdis.php

http://www.tayyar.org/files/gma1/030917aoun_congressHearing.htm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4086828.stm

http://www.beirutbeltway.com/beirutbeltway/2006/11/michel_aoun_the.html

http://www.voltairenet.org/article144278.html

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-fg-aoun20dec20,1,2981590.story?page=1&coll=la-news-a_section&ctrack=1&cset=true

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