If Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s death in February 2005 united Lebanon in its grief, at present, there is an unspoken fear that the return of General Michel Aoun from exile will cause disagreement. This is how some analysts see the situation in the country, whiles others believe that Aoun’s return will usher in free and democratic Lebanon, not just a country liberated from Syrian troops. The first group regard internal dissent as the likelier scenario to occur, given the difficulty Aoun will face when trying to unite the Lebanese behind them.
It is perhaps wise to suspend judgment on the General’s homecoming until the Parliamentary elections take place at the end of this month, elections which will show who are the real winners and losers in the political arena.
Looking back at the recent events in Lebanon, one can’t help but be taken aback by the turn of events. The withdrawal of Syrian troops and the return of the exiled Aoun are, by no means, minor regional events. The return of exiled leaders to the Middle East is not very common. In fact, Aoun’s come back is the third of its kind in thirty years, with only Ayatollah Khomeini returning to Tehran, and Yasser Arafat to his occupied homeland.
But will the two flights from Paris, the General’s aboard a “Middle East Airways” plane and Khumeini’s on an Air France flight be similar? On his return, Khumeini ruled the Islamic Republic until his death. Charles de Gaulle also returned to France, supported by the Allied Forces. History is, indeed, cynical. Aoun’s return to Beirut coincided with Napoleon’s homecoming to Paris from his exile in St. Helen, with only two hundred years separating the two.
Two different sides of the General have emerged. On the one hand, Aoun the politician who strongly believe that there are important matters to resolve in Lebanon, beyond ending Syrian presence in the country, such as reforming the country’s entire political system and reestablishing a system based on legality and eradicating all the rot it has been suffering from. The other side of Aoun is that of a revengeful man who is returning to seek revenge on all those who took part in expelling him, not stopping until every political figure implicated in his forced exile is destroyed. With President Emile Lahoud, they are two sides of the same coin, inflexible and unable to communicate and reach compromise,
During his five years in Paris, the city of lights, Aoun spend his days in complete darkness, vowing to continue to fight until he reaches the light at the end of a very long tunnel. At the time, no one believed that the exiled General will ever see the light, except at his own death. The real test to Aoun’s political program starts now.
Opposition from Paris, and calling for freedom, sovereignty, and independence is much easier than from inside Lebanon. The dilemma the General now faces is how to manage inter- Lebanese conflicts that can so easily driver those involved into a vicious circle of violence. What will Aoun bring to a semi feudal, confessional, incoherent, angry country, where so many are reliant on external tutelage? How can voting in the upcoming elections be considered fair when the system is based on quotas? How can Aoun ensure stability in Lebanon when all the solutions to the country’s problems are temporary? How can politics be secular when Lebanon is governed by religious and military figures?