Analysis: Aoun´s return boosts opposition (JERUSALEM POST) By DAVID RUDGE 05/09/05)
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The return to Lebanon on Saturday of former Lebanese Army commander
Gen. Michel Aoun, some 15 years after being forced into exile by
Syrian forces, is a symbol of hope for those Lebanese seeking a
democratic, independent and sovereign state, according to analyst
Aoun, an ardent opponent of Syria´s control over the Land of the
Cedars, was given a hero´s welcome by a huge crowd of supporters in
Beirut´s Martyr´s Square shortly after alighting at the capital´s
airport from a flight that had brought him, his wife and scores of
aides, from Paris.
The man, who led a "war of liberation" against Syria in 1989-90 and
had to take refuge in the French Embassy in Beirut after the bombing
of his palace by Syrian Air Force planes that brought an end to the
fighting, seems to have his sights set on the presidency.
Aoun, however, first has to open lines of communication with
potential political allies in the ranks of the so-called opposition
forces whose anti-Syrian protests in the wake of the assassination of
former prime minister Rafik Hariri were instrumental in forcing
Damascus to withdraw its military from Lebanon.
It was the pullout of Syrian troops, which was completed at the end
of April, and the cancellation by a Beirut judge of an arrest warrant
against, Aoun that enabled him to return to Lebanon.
"Aoun might have been in exile for 15 years but in practice he has
remained very much involved in Lebanese affairs and he received many
visits from Lebanese seeking his advice," Marzouk, a former senior
officer in IDF intelligence, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
"Aoun´s return to Lebanon is a symbol of hope for those opposed to
Syria´s occupation and those who want Lebanon to be free. It also
represents a symbol to those opposed to the strengthening of
extremist Islamic forces, especially Hizbullah, and who want to see
Lebanon as part of the West and not part of dictatorial Arab states,"
Marzouk, now a senior researcher at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary
Center´s Institute for Counterterrorism, noted that Aoun´s
reappearance in Lebanon on the eve of the national elections was
likely to have an effect in the political arena.
"I believe that the internal political struggles between the various
factions, and especially between pro-Syrian elements and opposition
forces, are likely to become more blatant in the run-up to the
elections, which are scheduled to be held from May 29 to mid-June,"
Lebanese parliamentarians are currently engaged in heated debates
over the size of constituencies and the number of representatives
that would be returned to the parliament from each district.
Smaller constituencies would favor the Christians, Druse, and Sunnis
while larger ones would give a bigger representation to the Shi´ites,
who compose the majority of the population in Lebanon.
Mapping the districts in advance could help pre-determine the outcome
of the elections by ensuring, for instance, that there would be
sufficient support in certain expanded constituencies for pro-Syrian
Aoun, as someone who is viewed by many as a Lebanese patriot and who
has not been actively involved in politics for 15 years and cannot be
accused of corrupt practices, could play a pivotal role in helping
unify the opposition forces to thwart such attempts.
Marzouk stressed that Syria, which has reportedly left its
intelligence network and security apparatus intact in Lebanon, would
do its utmost through these agencies and its Lebanese proxies to
undermine all the efforts of Aoun and the opposition forces.
He said it was highly unlikely that Syria would sanction any attempts
at this stage to assassinate Aoun because of the potential
ramifications in light of the spontaneous reaction by tens of
thousands of Lebanese to the killing of Hariri.
"The Syrians and their Lebanese supporters will do everything
possible to ensure a pro-Syrian majority in the parliament and that
pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will continue in office to protect
Syrian interests and ensure continued close ties between Beirut and
Damascus," said Marzouk.
Aoun in the past expressed his interest in a peace accord between
Lebanon and Israel and of the need to disarm Hizbullah and extend
Lebanese sovereignty over the whole of Lebanon, including the south.
In the intervening years, however, he and leaders of his Free
Patriotic Movement have adopted the stance that any peace accord with
Israel should be part of a general peace treaty with neighboring Arab
states and that there should not be an agreement solely between
Israel and Lebanon.
Marzouk said the attempt in 1983 to reach a separate peace accord
with Lebanon was one of the biggest mistakes ever made by Israel and
one that should never be repeated.
"Israel is not involved in any way in internal Lebanese affairs and
has nothing to do with Aoun and that is how it should be. Aoun is
identified as a politician and leader who is concerned first and
foremost with Lebanon," he said.
Aoun has not, apparently, changed his mind about the need for
Hizbullah to be disarmed and for it to become a political movement
but he may have decided to adopt a more pragmatic approach, given
reports that a channel of communication is to be opened between him
and the extremist Iranian-backed and Syrian-supported Shi´ite
The former Lebanese Army chief was acting as prime minister and, in
practice, as president at the time he led the armed struggle against
Syria and its Lebanese allies in the battle he lost in 1990.
Aoun does not hide his intention to become president in place of
Lahoud. To achieve that, however, he will need to win the support of
all those in the opposition who, in turn, will need to win a clear
majority in the parliamentary elections.
The only other way to oust Lahoud would be by people power and a
resumption of the mass demonstrations, backed by the international
community, that paved the way for the withdrawal of Syrian troops
In the interim, Aoun will have to tread very carefully through the
minefield of Lebanese politics if he is to capitalize on the support
he has received on his return from exile and turn the symbol of hope
for a genuinely free Lebanon into a reality. (© 1995-2005, The
Jerusalem Post 05/09/05)
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