June 19, 2005


From exile to Lebanon's political dynamo: Michael Aoun has solidified his place in Lebanese politics as voters went to the polls for the final parliamentary round. (Nicholas Blanford, 6/20/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Once one of Syria's most ardent critics, General Aoun has struck electoral alliances with some of Lebanon's most pro-Syrian politicians. Furthermore, Aoun, who has long campaigned to abolish Lebanon's sectarian political system, has found himself the de facto leader of the Christian community.

The seeming contradictions have angered his opponents, who were hoping to form a unified anti-Syrian front in parliament. But his broad appeal has further solidified this 70-year-old former Army commander as a future contender for the country's presidency.

"[The Christians] accepted my nationalist speech," says Aoun in an interview with the Monitor. "They came to me, I didn't change my speech and I didn't make any appeal to them to vote for me because I am a Christian and a Maronite."

Operating from a heavily-guarded villa in the hills above Beirut, the 70-year-old general has mounted an intensive electioneering campaign, adopting the color orange and the Greek letter omega (the symbol of resistance in electrical terms), and publishing a 43-page manifesto outlining a comprehensive overhaul of Lebanon's political, judicial, and economic system, ridding it of 15 years of Syrian influence.

He delivered a stunning blow in the third electoral round on June 12 when his list of candidates routed the opposition alliance in the Christian heartland north of Beirut, raising the stakes considerably for the final stage in the north. Final results will be announced Monday.

"If Aoun wins [in the north] it's going to be the most interesting parliament we have had in a long time," says Timur Goksel, university lecturer in Beirut who served with the United Nations in south Lebanon from 1979 to 2003.

Having felt disenfranchised since the end of the 1975-90 war and the onset of Syrian hegemony, many Christians are looking to the former general to defend their interests in parliament.

"It's good General Aoun did well because now there is an equilibrium. The Christians have a strong leader to match the others," says Habib Abi Khater, a shopkeeper here. Those "others" include Saad Hariri, the son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who represents the Sunnis; and Nabih Berri, the parliamentary speaker, and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the militant Hizbullah organization, who together lead the Shiites.

Marriages of convenience are great at any given moment, but sooner or later the place has to devolve back into its constituent parts.

Anti-Syrian bloc wins landslide in N.Lebanon (Lin Noueihed and Alaa Shahine Sun Jun 19, 2005, Reuters)

An unofficial count for north Lebanon showed an alliance led by Saad al-Hariri sweeping all remaining 28 seats, while its rivals conceded they were heading for defeat. [...]

The victory means the 128-seat assembly has an anti-Syrian majority for the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Pro-Syrian Christian former minister Suleiman Franjieh conceded he and his candidates were heading for defeat in the mainly Sunni Muslim north, though they had done well in Christian areas.

"What we feared is happening. I think the north has been divided along sectarian lines," Franjieh told LBC television station. "We have arrived at what we used to warn against."

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2005 6:39 PM
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