Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Recent history of Lebanon - Part 7

Here is part 7 of the recent history of Lebanon. The previous installment of this series can be found here.

Despite the rumors about a backroom deal between Michel Aoun and the Syrian regime, he was still highly popular when he returned to Lebanon. Being a former general, most people still called him General and his supporters were convinced that he would deal effectively and strongly with the corrupt political establishment. His renewed presence in Lebanon caused a small panic among the Opposition: what was the General up to?

At first, he tried to contact the Opposition leaders, who like him, were strongly opposed to Syria. These attempts, however, didn’t result in anything because they couldn’t agree on the exact number of ministers of Aoun’s party after the elections.

Another cause for the failure of the cooperation with March 14 was that the General failed to see that Lebanon had changed drastically after the murder of Hariri. Many felt that it was his death that had triggered the departure of Syria from Lebanon. Yet, during his very first speech upon his return, Michel Aoun claimed full responsibility for removing the Syrians, as if Hariri hadn’t died a martyr for the cause. Statements like this, made him unpopular among many March 14 supporters. They felt he took credit for someone else’s achievements, especially for the suffering by those Lebanese who had stayed in Lebanon and had experienced the brunt of Syria’s presence. Scornfully, people talked about the luxurious life in Paris that the General has lived before coming back to his own country.

Contributing to his fall out of grace with many Lebanese, was the fact that he kept on supporting president Lahoud, who had lost most of his prestige and was the subject of much ridicule at the time. Most leaders of March 14 wanted Lahoud to make way for a less pro-Syria candidate, but Aoun felt that in order to protect the dignity of the presidential seat, Lahoud should be allowed to fully serve his term.

The strongest criticism against Lahoud was leveled by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Sunni leader Saad Hariri, who was forced into the spotlights after the killing of his father. Aoun reasoned that any Maronite president, even Lahoud, should not step down because of non-Maronite pressure. While valid in theory, the reality of those days was such that these nuances were not much appreciated within March 14.

Still, Michel Aoun brought various points to the attention of the other politicians that could hardly be denied. Especially his constant hammering against corruption resonated with many voters. Also, Aoun reminded the Lebanese time and time again that most of the March 14 politicians were part of the government before and were functioning just fine under Syrian tutelage. He questioned their sudden change of heart and accused them of being opportunistic.

Another point that Aoun scored was the way the March 14 rallied against the election law. Lebanon is quite unique in that the election law that defines the electoral districts is constantly changing in order to favor the government. By changing the geographic boundaries of these districts, it is possible to substantially change the outcome of the elections. It was said, e.g., that most Christian members of parliament were elected by non-Christians because the electoral districts were set that in most districts the Christians formed a minority. It was no wonder that Aoun, a Christian leader himself, would have seen changes to the electoral law in order to increase the fairness of the representation of the Christian politicians.

March 14, however, decided not to pursue a change right now, despite their influence in Parliament and government. One has to remember that many of March 14 were members of parliament and they could have argued forcefully for change. But when push came to shove, they reneged on their promise to change the electoral law, mostly because both Sunnis and Druze were favored by the law, and went ahead with the old law, a product of the Syrian area. For Aoun this was a clear indication that the current clan of politicians was highly corrupt and part of the problem, not the solution.

The General certainly had a point, especially when rumors started claiming that Jumblatt had agreed with Berri that the latter could keep his post as president of Parliament in return for supporting Jumblatt’s party during the elections. Furthermore, coalitions were formed during the elections between Hezbollah and various anti-Syria Sunni politicians. The ever-flexible Lebanese politicians didn’t lose sleep over exchanging the high road for a short cut to Parliament.

The next episode can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Recently I watched an Al Jazeera documentary about the recent history of Lebanon. (you can find it here:
What striked me most is the similarity with the situation in 1957-58 and the actual situation.
The final outcome in 1958 was the election of the commander-in-chief of the Lebanese army. It even turned out to be one of the best presidents Lebanon ever had.
Am I wrong when I suspect Aoun sees Chehab as his predecessor ?

Riemer Brouwer said...

Well, who am I to tell who is right and who is wrong. But, Fouad Chehab's contribution to Lebanese history was the neutrality of the army, if I am not mistaken. He stayed neutral, pretty much regardless what happened out of fear the army would break up according to sectarian lines.

Michel Aoun on the other hand, had no problem using the army into fighting against militias and even took on Syria during his 1988-1990 rule.

If you would be making any comparison, perhaps Michel Suleiman would be proud to be considered the heir of Chehab's legacy. After all, Suleiman goes towards great length to stay neutral.