Lebanese General*/Prime Minister*/President* (*depending on his mood) Michael Aoun has returned to Beirut. I’ve come to save you, it’s ok now – let’s continue where we left off 15 years ago: “Today is a day for joy, a day for jubilation. I’m back.”
Now, where exactly did we leave off 15 years ago. Ah yes, he extended the Civil War by a year, prolonging the suffering of Lebanon. Aoun was installed as interim Prime Minister in 1988 to help work towards elections. But as a supporter of democracy, he ignored the elections, insisted that he should stay on as PM and exploited his position to help his military campaign. And this is the man who might run for office this month.
Even after a new PM was elected, he still didn’t accept that he should step down, so he set up the the ‘alternative Presidential Palace’ – Lebanon had two Presidents. Some say the Civil War would have ended a year earlier if he had not persisted – his extra year of war was the bloodiest since the war began in 1975.
A year before he fled the country in his pyjamas, the rest of Lebanon had said enough – they agreed to stop fighting, and all elements of Lebanese society eventually signed up to the Taef Peace Accords – except, that is, our friend Michel Aoun.
Some of his biggest enemies are in the Christian community. They believe he sacrificed them for his personal ambition, and left them divided and in a weaker political position coming out of the war.
When he arrived back in Lebanon yesterday he was driven to Martyrs’ Square to speak to a packed audience. Except that nearly all of the protesters took their camps down a week ago. Only Aoun’s FPM party was left standing.
He has promised to fight corruption (oh, there’s that word fight again) even though he was convicted of embezzling state funds.
“I am the grandfather, the father and the son of the opposition” he proclaimed. That’s interesting. I’d say the grandfathers of the opposition are the hundred and fifty thousand people who died at the hands of warlords like him, the millions who’ve painstakingly rebuilt Lebanese society, the people of the camps and slums and prisons who fought an Israeli occupation, and Syrian military presence. Was Aoun, with his baguettes and his panoramic apartment overlooking the Sienne really the inspiration for Lebanon’s opposition?
Aoun with his civil war mentality, who hasn’t witnessed Lebanon’s revitilisation, reconcilliation and rebirth, will do whatever it takes to finally make something of himself. Even if that means trampling over the bones of the man who rebuilt Lebanon: Rafiq Al-Hariri. Aoun really is the anti-Hariri.
Robert Fisk: “Life in [Aoun’s “liberated”] East Beirut was becoming more like life in Baghdad than a ‘free’ Lebanon.”