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Aoun’s Path to Baabda: Wars and Reconciliations | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Christian politician and FPM founder Michel Aoun talks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Beirut- Change and Reform bloc chief MP Michel Aoun has not had an easy path to the presidential palace. The “impossible” was made possible by Future Movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri’s approval to back Aoun for the presidency.

The doors of Baabda Palace, which have been closed since ex-President Michel Suleiman’s tenure ended in May 2014, will open again after the parliament’s expected vote to end the presidential vacuum.

In his efforts to reach Lebanon’s top post, Aoun waged bloody and cruel wars. He also carried out reconciliations that challenge the logic of politics. The result was in his favor after the last obstacle to his path to Baabda Palace was dissipated.

Aoun’s presidential dream began in September 1989 when former President Amin Gemayel appointed him as prime minister to a six-member interim military government after the parliament failed to elect a new president.

But the country fell into more chaos as a result of the presidential vacuum and the resignation of half of the government’s members. The rival government of Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss continued to control large parts of Lebanon.

Liberation War and Syria

Aoun then moved to Baabda Palace and controlled Beirut’s eastern sector.

According to Free Patriotic Movement officials, Aoun had contacts with Syria before and after his appointment as prime minister of the interim military cabinet.

Elie Mahfoud, a former FPM official, said that Aoun had sent an envoy to meet with then Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. The message that Aoun sent to Assad was clear in asking the Syrian leader to consider him “a small officer in his army.”

He said in the message that “we should legitimize its (Syria’s) military presence in Lebanon to confront any possible attack against it.”

Despite Mahfoud’s claims, FPM sources strongly denied the presence of such a letter, telling Asharq Al-Awsat that the intentions of the people behind such rumors are known.

The sources stressed that “Aoun’s history is pure as snow.”

After all efforts failed to reach a political settlement, Aoun declared a Liberation War against Syria that failed to make huge geographic changes but led to destruction and war on both sides of the Green Line that separated East and West Beirut.

Aoun later decided to impose his authority on the rest of the Lebanese territories after he rejected the Taef Accord, which was signed by Lebanese deputies in Saudi Arabia, under an Arab and international sponsorship. But fierce fighting in East Beirut broke out in 1990 between the two sides. It was called the Elimination War.

Elimination War

Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea joined the parties that backed the implementation of the agreement, and Aoun’s military influence became limited to Baabda Palace and the southern sector of Mount Lebanon.

When Aoun refused to abide by international agreements, the Syrian regime received the “green light” to invade the general’s area of influence. On the morning of October 13, 1990, Syrian warplanes entered Beirut’s airspace for the first time to bomb the presidential palace and army bases that fell under Aoun’s control.

Syrian troops backed by Lebanese soldiers allied with President Elias Hrawi then moved from three fronts towards the areas of Aoun’s influence.

Aoun then fled to the French embassy from where he instructed his units to follow the orders of Army commander Gen. Emile Lahoud who had been appointed by the Hoss government.

He then went into exile in France.

The French Exile

During his presence in France, Aoun worked hard to end Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon. He was a main backer of the Syria Accountability Act, a bill of the United States Congress passed into law on December 12, 2003.

Resolution 1559 that was adopted by the U.N. Security Council in 2004 came against the backdrop of the Syria Accountability Act, said former MP Ghattas Khoury.

Anti-Aoun activists have recently broadcast an old voice recording in which the FPM chief describes Syria as a terrorist state and criticizes the so-called Hezbollah as an extension of the Iranian regime.

Aoun’s Return and the Era of Agreements

The confrontation between Aoun on one side and Syria and Hezbollah on the other drew to a close following the end of the neighboring country’s hegemony on Lebanon.

Syria withdrew from Lebanon after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, paving the way for Aoun’s return to Lebanon after a 15-year exile.

Aoun’s supporters joined the March 14 alliance that was formed during large-scale demonstrations held against Syria following Hariri’s murder. But the FPM chief surprised the public by announcing that his “problem with Syria was over. We will build the best of ties with it.”

Less than a year after his return to Lebanon, Aoun struck an understanding with Hezbollah, which is Syria’s main ally. His FPM became a de facto member of the March 8 alliance.

During the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, Lebanese areas whose residents are Aoun’s supporters opened their doors to the people escaping the Israeli aggression. Aoun soon became Hezbollah’s candidate for presidency. But the party’s support for the FPM chief wasn’t enough to bring him to Baabda Palace after the end of President Emile Lahoud’s term.

His dream was shattered as a result of the March 14 coalition’s strong opposition to him.

Normalization of Ties with Assad

The reconciliation with the Assad regime was culminated during a visit that Aoun made to Damascus in 2008. He considered the trip as “the end of an old stage and the beginning of a new era.”

When the term of President Michel Suleiman ended in May 2014, Aoun’s ambition to reach Baabda Palace took a strong hit as result of different alliances in the parliament.

Things became worse when the legislature’s term was extended twice. But the lawmakers of his bloc and Hezbollah MPs continued to boycott parliamentary sessions aimed at electing a new president.

Parliament’s Paralysis

Aoun and his ally Hezbollah resorted to paralysis in their confrontation with the March 14 alliance. The boycott of their MPs of the sessions set for electing a head of state caused lack of quorum at the parliament, which left the country without a president.

Saad Hariri’s agreement with Marada leader MP Suleiman Franjieh to back him for the presidency angered Geagea, who dropped out of the presidential race and announced his support for Aoun after the two sides signed a “Declaration of Intent.”

The Christian Alliance

The “Declaration of Intent” between the FPM and the LF stated the importance of abiding by an independent foreign policy that serves Lebanon’s interest and respects international law by having friendly relations with all countries, mainly Arab states, to consolidate Lebanon.

After the LF’s support for Aoun, the only obstacle left was Saad Hariri, who has the largest bloc in the parliament (33 MPs.) Despite years of counter-accusations and disputes, their paths crossed and Hariri backed Aoun’s presidential aspirations.

Aoun, who is expected to be elected on Monday, was eventually able to clinch a deal with Hariri despite accusations by the FPM chief’s critics of being “edgy and stubborn.”

He made a lot of diplomatic maneuvers to appease his staunchest foes to realize his big dream.