On the 46th try, Lebanon gets a new president General Michel Aoun
Written by Malek   

Congratulations to the new President of Lebanon from khazen.org. We hope a Lebanon Strong under a strong and safe Lebanese Presidency full of prosperity and peace for Lebanon, the land of the Saints.

List of several articles from Reuters, Al Jazeera,  Gulfnews, New York Times,  daily star, cs monitor, naharnet, foreign affairs below. All of these articles represent the opinion of the authors.

People carry pictures of newly appointed Lebanese President Michel Aoun while waving Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) flags in the Haret Hreik area, southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon October 31, 2016.

REUTERS/Khalil Hassan


Women carry a picture of newly elected Lebanese President Michel Aoun in the Haret Hreik area, southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Hassan

By Reuters, The Lebanese parliament elected former army commander Michel Aoun as president on Monday, ending a 29-month presidential vacuum as part of a political deal that is expected to make Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri prime minister. Aoun, who is in his 80s, secured the presidency by winning the support of 83 MPs, well above the absolute majority of 65 needed to win, according to a tally of votes read out in a televised broadcast from parliament.  Fireworks echoed across Beirut as the tally showed Aoun the winner. Aoun, an MP, was shown smiling in his seat. The Lebanese presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian in the country's sectarian power-sharing system.

Hariri's decision to endorse Aoun marked a major political concession reflecting the diminished role of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon, and the decisive influence wielded by the Tehran-backed Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia had backed Hariri and his allies through years of political struggle with Hezbollah and its allies. Hariri's own financial misfortunes have also played a big part in bringing about the breakthrough. His political network in Lebanon was hit by a cash crunch caused by financial troubles at his Saudi-based construction firm, Saudi Oger.

Analysts say the position of prime minister, which he previously held from 2009 to 2011, should help him shore up his support ahead of parliamentary elections that are due to be held next year. Aoun is due to meet MPs later this week on their preferences for prime minister. He is obliged to designate the candidate with the greatest support among MPs, expected to be Hariri. (Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

Pictures of past Lebanese presidents hang on a wall inside the presidential palace prior to presidential elections in Baabda, near Beirut, Lebanon October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

A man hangs Lebanese flags along a road prior to presidential elections in Baabda, near Beirut, Lebanon October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir


A general view shows the interior of the presidential palace prior to presidential elections in Baabda, near Beirut, Lebanon October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

A general view shows the presidential palace prior to presidential elections in Baabda, near Beirut, Lebanon October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir



By Gulfnews - Joseph A. Kechichian, London: Free Patriotic Movement leader (FPM) and March 8 candidate General Michel Aoun, 81, was elected President of the Republic of Lebanon yesterday with 83 votes. There were 36 blank votes cast, which sent a clear signal that opposition to Aoun’s rule will be present, even if scores of Future Movement and Lebanese Forces (LF) deputies cast favourable ballots. What the full six-year term will entail is a mixed bag of surprises, as Aoun will have to hone his compromise skills in a country that lost such attributes among elites anxious to destroy each other

Quorum was established on Monday for the 46th session, and when the first vote was taken, Aoun managed to secure the support of 83 deputies, which was short of the required two-thirds majority of 86 (out of 128). He prevailed in the second round, but the actual voting was repeated three separate times as illegalities abounded. While 128 ballots were counted, there were only 127 deputies present in parliament, given that Robert Fadel resigned several months ago. In addition to the 36 blank ballots, 7 were invalidated and one went to Sethrida Geagea, the wife of the LF leader Samir Geagea.

Sulaiman Franjieh, the Marada leader and candidate, had requested blank votes and he seems to have gathered those of the Amal Movement, the Phalange Party and at least the following independent parliamentarians: Najeeb Mikati, Ahmad Karame, Dory Chamoun, Boutros Harb and Nayla Tueni. Even if Aoun failed to win all of the votes he had repeatedly requested during the past two years, his mandate was now a fact of life, with the immensely critical task of forming a government, presumably under the leadership of Prime Minister Sa‘ad Hariri.

Hariri’s task, should Aoun and Hezbollah honour the deal they made to select him, will now spend weeks or months to put together a government, though the first indications that this will be a gargantuan task appeared a few days ago when Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, tasked Speaker Nabih Berri to negotiate over the line-up of the new government on behalf of the March 8 forces. This was a stunning development because Berri harbours deep distrust of Aoun and objects to the Aoun-Hariri deal.

In fact, Hezbollah’s failure to reconcile Berri, Franjieh and Aoun prompted Nasrallah to authorise the Speaker to act, which was likely to end any bets on a dispute between the Shiite duo in the next few weeks and months. Nasrallah swallowed his pride and let Berri and Amal cast blank votes though he and his acolytes insisted that everyone backed “their” contender.

Not only had Berri openly announced that Amal would not vote for Aoun and that it would join the ranks of the opposition, the Speaker was livid that Aoun and Hariri engaged in “bilateral” agreements that marginalised Shiites in power, starting with Berri himself. This was unacceptable and it is clear that Aoun and Hariri will now have little choice but to negotiate with Berri.

Once a government is composed, it remains to be determined whether much of anything will change on the domestic front, ranging the gamut from collecting accumulating garbage in Lebanese streets to eventual solutions to water and electricity. Corruption, which everyone practised with a vengeance because it was profitable, will continue on Tuesday just as much as it was on Monday, although many Aounists will be giddy that their man will now clean-up the country.

More serious foreign policy clashes will emerge quickly as well. Assuming that Hariri kowtows to Hezbollah’s demand that the Cabinet apply the “tryptic of the people-army-resistance” in its declaration, differences over the war in Syria will muddy the waters. Aoun and Hariri will thus need to find a solution to explain what cannot possible to be justified — Hezbollah’s military presence on behalf of President Bashar Al Assad — or else face severe internal divisions. Under the Taif Accords, much of the real source of power resides with the premier, and it will be impossible to know whether Hezbollah and the FPM will honour the deals they reached with Hariri who, it is worth recalling, is openly opposed to Al Assad.

Equally important is the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation by the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose citizens are urged not to travel to Lebanon. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other GCC partners may invite Aoun to visit, but beyond protocol, few anticipate dramatic changes because of Hezbollah’s critical role throughout the region as a tool in the hands of Iran, a GCC foe.

In fact, there is no denying that Nasrallah holds a Damocles Sword over Aoun’s head, who will now need to figure how to ingratiate himself with the Arab Gulf States while keeping internal stability. The new president will require stamina to negotiate, wisdom to advance the national interest, and patience to see some of his projects through. He might well succeed although few should expect dramatic changes in the near term.

By The New York Time, Mr. Aoun, 81, has developed a fervent political base of supporters who consider him a last hope for the country’s dwindling Maronite Christian community. But his detractors are just as passionate, blaming him for allying with his onetime enemies, the Syrian government, and with the militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria and listed as a terrorist group by the United States. The Lebanese Parliament met in a ceremonial session in Beirut on Monday to formally anoint Mr. Aoun, who secured the requisite number of ballots after four rounds of voting. Gunfire and honking broke out in East Beirut after Mr. Aoun passed the voting threshold in Parliament, and the proceedings were broadcast on every major Lebanese television network.

The voting itself made clear the condition of a legislature that failed on 45 previous occasions to even muster a quorum for a presidential ballot. On Monday, the speaker of Parliament had to cancel two rounds of voting simply because someone had slipped an extra ballot into the transparent box. The whole process took two hours and included votes cast for the pop star Myriam Klink and Zorba the Greek. For all that, Mr. Aoun’s ascendancy was assured last week, when the main Lebanese political parties finally brokered a deal that would put Mr. Aoun, Hezbollah’s favored candidate, in the presidential palace. That agreement gave the prime minister’s post to Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim and former prime minister who is preferred by Saudi Arabia. Top positions in Lebanon are allocated by religious sect in a delicate balancing act.

The resolution of Lebanon’s painfully drawn-out leadership battle marks a small victory for Iran on the score card of its regional struggle against Saudi Arabia, which had indirectly pushed for a different presidential candidate, Suleiman Frangieh. The choice kicks down the road any decisive action to revamp the dysfunctional consensus model for Lebanon’s political system, which enables any of the country’s sectarian warlords to veto government decisions. As a result, Lebanon has been unable to effectively address any of its recurring crises, including questions as diverse as how to manage millions of refugees or how to pick up the garbage.

“I believe that for the time being and for the foreseeable future, nothing is going to change,” said Ramez Dagher, an analyst who runs a blog about Lebanese politics called Moulahazat. Unless there are other secret agreements, Mr. Dagher said, which is always a possibility in Lebanon, then Mr. Aoun comes into office unusually free from constraints, other than choosing Mr. Hariri as prime minister. “He is in a better position to maneuver,” Mr. Dagher said. “But that might also mean that the deadlock might be transferred from the presidential elections to the government formation and everything else that comes afterward.” In a combative inaugural address to Parliament, Mr. Aoun vowed to defend Lebanon from terrorism, strengthen the military and take measures to push Syrian refugees to return home. “Lebanon is walking through a minefield but is still at a safe distance from the flames in the region,” he said. “One of our priorities is to prevent igniting a spark and to adopt an independent foreign policy.” Known to his followers as “the General,” Mr. Aoun has pursued the presidency for decades. In the 1980s, during Lebanon’s civil war, he served as chief of staff of the army and led one of two rival Lebanese governments. During the last two years of that war, from 1989 to 1991, Mr. Aoun’s forces clashed with rival Christian militia groups and with the Syrian military — a round of fighting that did nothing to alter the final outcome of the conflict but was one of its most destructive and violent chapters. Mr. Aoun boycotted the peace talks that ended the war.

Mr. Aoun won much of his popular support because of his reputation for independence. He has railed against Lebanese corruption and the tradition of warlords’ handing political parties from father to son. The political party that Mr. Aoun founded in 2005 upon return from a 15-year exile in France, the Free Patriotic Movement, immediately emerged as the dominant Christian political party in Lebanon. Soon after, Mr. Aoun rocked Lebanon’s political landscape by making peace with Syria, his longtime enemy, during a visit to Damascus. In 2006, he formed an alliance with Hezbollah. As his party garnered greater power, however, Mr. Aoun’s maverick reputation took a beating. His son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, has been accused of graft and corruption. But that did not stop Mr. Aoun from handing over the party’s leadership to Mr. Bassil in 2015, in an opaque transition that many party activists decried as antithetical to the party’s stated democratic principles. Lebanon has reeled under the strain of the civil war next door in Syria, which at times has spilled over the border. At least 1.5 million displaced Syrians have fled to Lebanon, meaning that one in three residents of Lebanon is a refugee. And the country’s main political factions support opposing sides in Syria.

The previous president, Michel Suleiman — also a former army chief of staff — finished his term in May 2014. Since then, Lebanon has navigated a series of political crises with a caretaker cabinet but with no president. The major political parties in the country had been deadlocked in the search for a consensus president. They failed to negotiate a new election law, which had been another major sticking point, but finally reached a deal on Mr. Aoun and Mr. Hariri, while leaving the rest of Lebanon’s affairs in limbo. The parties reached the agreement after years of discussions, in close consultation with representatives from foreign powers including Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Traditionally, Lebanese politics has reflected regional and international power struggles, most notably the competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia for influence across the Arab world. But, some analysts say, those two regional powers largely lost interest in Lebanon as their power struggle intensified in Syria. The Saudis grew disenchanted with Mr. Hariri and his political vehicle, the Future Movement, which steadily lost influence over its Sunni constituents after the assassination of Mr. Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005.

“As the theater of conflict between the stakeholders in the Middle East has shifted to places like Syria and Yemen, Lebanon has become less significant,” said Elias Muhanna, a historian at Brown University and an expert on Lebanese politics. “The reins have slackened between Lebanon’s political parties and their regional backers, and the country has drifted aimlessly for the past five years.” Iran and its local ally, Hezbollah, have had the upper hand in Lebanon since Saad Hariri was forced to resign as prime minister in January 2011.


W460

By Naharnet

President Michel Aoun received phone calls Monday from a number of heads of state who congratulated him on being elected as Lebanon's 13th president.

French President Francois Hollande expressed “France's permanent readiness to help Lebanon in light of the historic ties that gather the two countries,” Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

Aoun for his part thanked Hollande for congratulating him, stressing “the firmness of the Lebanese-French ties” and lauding “the efforts that France has exerted to assist Lebanon in all fields.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meanwhile congratulated Aoun and hoped his election will boost bilateral ties between Lebanon and Iran.

“Your election comes at a very critical time during which the region is facing the threats of the takfiri movements and the terrorist groups and the ambitions of the Zionist entity (Israel). Iran is confident that your election will strengthen the axis of the Lebanese resistance in the face of these threat,” Rouhani added.

Aoun also received congratulatory phone calls from Syrian President Bashar Assad, Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Assad hoped Aoun's election would contribute to "reinforcing stability" in Lebanon, Syria's state news agency SANA said.

Aoun's election ends a presidential void that lasted around two and a half years.

Analysts have warned that Aoun's election will not be a "magic wand" for Lebanon, which has seen longstanding political divisions exacerbated by the war in neighboring Syria and has struggled to deal with an influx of more than a million Syrian refugees.

In addition to pledges of economic growth and security, Aoun said in his oath of office that Lebanon must work to ensure Syrian refugees "can return quickly" to their country.

Aoun also pledged to endorse an "independent foreign policy" and to protect Lebanon from "the fires burning across the region.

W460

Britain on Monday congratulated President Michel Aoun on his election as Lebanon's 13th president, saying it “looks forward” to cooperating with him.

“I congratulate General Michel Aoun on his election as President. His election brings an end to a two and a half year presidential vacuum and opens a new chapter for the country,” UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a statement.


“I hope this breakthrough will bring renewed hope to the Lebanese people, who want to see functioning institutions which deliver security, stability and prosperity for all,” Johnson added.

“I look forward to continued strong UK cooperation with Lebanon on the basis of commitment to the Baabda declaration; strengthened Lebanese institutions; and international agreements including U.N. Security Council Resolutions and the commitments made at the 2016 London conference,” Britain's top diplomat went on to say.


And noting that “this is a challenging time for Lebanon,” Johnson said Lebanon needs a “unifying leadership that works in the interest of all Lebanese.”

“The UK remains steadfast in its commitment to Lebanon and looks forward to working with President Aoun,” Johnson added.

Aoun's election ends a presidential void that lasted around two and a half years.

Analysts have warned that Aoun's election will not be a "magic wand" for Lebanon, which has seen longstanding political divisions exacerbated by the war in neighboring Syria and has struggled to deal with an influx of more than a million Syrian refugees.

In addition to pledges of economic growth and security, Aoun said in his oath of office that Lebanon must work to ensure Syrian refugees "can return quickly" to their country.

Aoun also pledged to endorse an "independent foreign policy" and to protect Lebanon from "the fires burning across the region."

OP-ED: Michel Aoun’s unredeemable promises

The Daily Star BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun’s rival candidate Sleiman Frangieh was among the first of Lebanon’s political leaders to congratulate him Monday following his victory in the presidential election. “I congratulated Gen. Aoun. He is the president for all of Lebanon, and he is our ally in politics. Our political path [has emerged] victorious,” the Marada Movement leader told reporters as he was leaving the Parliament vote session. Frangieh and Aoun, both hailing from the March 8 coalition, were frontrunners in the presidential race. Frangieh made his comments just two days after he urged his supporters to submit blank ballots in Monday’s vote, saying that he wanted to record his position in an election that Aoun was widely expected to win.

Aoun's main ally, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, held a phone conversation with the president to congratulate him and wish him good luck with his new responsibilities, a statement issued by the party's media office said.  The Free Patriotic Movement founder’s presidential ambitions were all but secured after Future Movement leader Saad Hariri shifted his support from Frangieh to Aoun earlier this month. “We hope there will be a national unity government for all the Lebanese,” Hariri told reporters. “We now have a president, and we will work together with him on every issue that will be good for Lebanon,” said MP Fouad Siniora, the leader of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc. Siniora was among the few opposing voices within the Future Movement against Aoun. Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri, who had opposed Aoun’s presidency, expressed hope that the era of the newly-elected president would turn a new page in Lebanon’s history.

"We pledge to you to lead the ship to the shores of safety, as winds and waves surrounding us are threatening more divisions. ... Your election should be the start and not the end," the speaker said, expressing Parliament's readiness to "extend the hand" to rise in Lebanon. Aoun managed to secure 83 votes in the second round of the presidential election session. He needed just 65 to win.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, who shifted his support to Aoun over the weekend, called on all factions to cooperate and put their differences aside in this “new page” for Lebanon. Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea also stressed cooperation between political parties, saying it will “guarantee" a new era.

Geagea declared support for Aoun, his war-time enemy, earlier this year. Aoun’s arrival at the presidency was also welcomed on the international front. The European Union's High Representative Federica Mogherini lauded Aoun’s election.

"The election of Michel Aoun as President of the Republic of Lebanon more than two years after the end of term of his predecessor is crucial for the future of the country," a statement from her office said. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “Congratulations to all Lebanese on election of President Aoun. Stability and progress assured when Lebanese themselves decide for Lebanon.”

Italian President Sergio Mattarella released a statement saying that he hopes this election will be a "sign of the will of the Lebanese political forces to work together" for stability and development in the country.

The International Support Group for Lebanon congratulated Aoun on his victory, describing it as a long-awaited step to overcome Lebanon’s political and institutional crises.

The ISGL, made up ambassadors from the Arab League, the EU and the United Nations Security Council, was established to help Lebanon better cope with the Syrian refugee crisis by supporting state institutions and the Lebanese Army.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement carried out by his country's mission in Beirut that the positive political event "puts an end to political stalemate ... and give hope that the Lebanese democracy was strong enough to overcome challenges."

The statement described Lebanon as a "model for coexistence," prioritizing its "stability and prosperity.”

Hamas representative in Lebanon Ali Barakeh joined the list of congratulators, hoping that the new president would be able to "lead Lebanon to the safety, prosperity and stability shores."

He urged Aoun for a "comprehensive approach to the Palestinians' conditions."

by naharnet

W460

The U.S. on Monday described Michel Aoun's election as president of Lebanon as a “moment of opportunity,” while urging the next government to “uphold Lebanon’s international obligations.”

“The United States congratulates the people of Lebanon on the election of President Michel Aoun, in accordance with Lebanon’s constitution. This is a moment of opportunity, as Lebanon emerges from years of political impasse, to restore government functions and build a more stable and prosperous future for all Lebanese citizens,” said U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby in a statement.

“As Lebanon forms a new government, we look to all parties to uphold Lebanon’s international obligations, including those contained in U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701,” he added.

Kirby also underlined that Washington will “continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Lebanese people and support Lebanon’s independence, sovereignty, security, and stability.”

The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon meanwhile took to Twitter to congratulate the Lebanese people and Aoun on “today’s election and this moment of opportunity for Lebanon.”

Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel while Resolution 1559 calls for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, including Aoun's ally Hizbullah.

Earlier in the day, Lebanese lawmakers ended a lengthy political vacuum by electing as president ex-army chief Aoun, who promised to protect the country from spillover from the war in Syria.

Syria's five-year war has been a major fault line for Lebanon's political class, and analysts have warned Aoun's election will not be a "magic wand" for divisions that have long plagued parliamentarians.

The next challenge will be forming a government, which is expected to take months of wrangling. Presidential media office chief Rafik Chlala told reporters consultations on naming a premier would begin within 48 hours.

The parliament that elected Aoun has twice extended its own mandate, avoiding elections, because of disagreements over a new electoral law.

Aoun had long eyed the presidency, and his candidacy was backed from the beginning by Iran-backed Hizbullah, his ally since a surprise rapprochement in 2006.

Aoun was tipped to become president after receiving key support for his nomination earlier this month from al-Mustaqbal Movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri, who is close to Saudi Arabia.

By The Daily Star BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kanaan Sunday called on foreign powers to accept Lebanon’s agreement over the presidency, saying that Michel Aoun will be the first truly Lebanese head of state in decades. In an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3), Kanaan said that Lebanon was on the verge of “collapse and disintegration” if political factions did not reach an understanding on the president.
 His comments come one day before Lebanese lawmakers are set to head to Parliament to elect a new head of state, ending the more than two-year presidential vacuum. FPM founder, Aoun, is expected to be voted president, as he has secured the support of the country’s main factions including Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces and most recently, the Future Movement. “The election of Aoun is the only solution to preserve the state and constitution by reactivating the work of the institutions,” Kanaan said. He added that as president, Aoun will work to build good ties with everyone and not get involved in the affairs of regional states and their conflicts.

“He will try to find a middle ground in the disputes between different sides and political factions concerning many issues,” he noted. Kanaan said that following the elections, Aoun will immediately begin consultations with politicians on the formation of a new government. “The Cabinet is the right place for the development and applications of the (country’s) future visions,” Kanaan said.


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------

Al Jazeera Beirut - Lebanon is on the brink of filling its presidential vacuum after two-and-a-half years without a leader.  On October 20, Saad Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement, endorsed his political opponent, former general Michel Aoun, for president. Hariri - the son of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 - said that his endorsement was made in the interest of Lebanon's overall well-being.

But some of his party's most notable figures quickly condemned Hariri's endorsement of Aoun, whom Hezbollah has supported from the beginning. The endorsement signals a weakening of the Future Movement. The next parliamentary session to elect a president will be held on Monday. If Aoun moves into Baabda Palace as president, what will that mean for Lebanon? With a president finally in place, will the Lebanese government be able to take a more proactive role in confronting the major security and economic issues facing the country?

Many Lebanese citizens say no. Julia, a Beirut resident and owner of a small family business, is not optimistic that having a president will improve Lebanon's fragile and indebted economy. "Lebanon's rulers have been changing alliances and making different kinds of deals," said Julia, who did not provide a last name. "It's what we expect from them. I don't see a new president leading to the improvement of the economy - at least not for ordinary people."

Like Julia, political activist Rana Khoury believes that it will be business as usual with a new president. "The cake would be once again divided between sectarian leaders, and the people are always paying the price," she said. Nor would having a president necessarily put an end to Lebanon's ongoing political crisis. Bassel Salloukh, a professor of political science at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, said the recent developments reflect Lebanon's post-war politics, characterised by perpetual crises.

According to Salloukh, the endorsement is symptomatic of a crisis within Lebanon's sectarian elite: "My guess is that, in the coming months, we are going to witness an intensification of this crisis." For instance, the election of a president could be followed by another struggle over forming a new cabinet. Allocating ministerial positions in such a way that maintains political and sectarian balance could take months.

In some respects, Lebanon has been lucky: The current presidential vacuum has not appeared to majorly harm the country. Aside from Lebanon's rubbish crisis, the result of an emergency plan implemented in 1997, no new domestic political issues have emerged since former President Michel Suleiman's term ended in 2014. Lebanon experienced a much more severe political crisis in 2008 during its last presidential vacuum. That May, violent clashes broke out between Hezbollah and its allies against opposing militias, the most intense fighting since the end of the civil war. It was not until an agreement was signed in Doha that Suleiman was chosen as a consensus presidential candidate. The country was relieved, and the Doha Agreement and Suleiman's election put an end to the clashes.

While many doubt that having a president will lead to any real change, some civil society activists worry that Hariri's endorsement and its political repercussions could actually make their position worse. Last year, Lebanon's garbage crisis sparked months of anti-establishment protests by groups unaffiliated with political parties. Activist Samer Abdullah said that during this time, relations between Lebanon's two rival political factions - the March 8 Alliance and the March 14 Alliance - thawed somewhat, and a new narrative emerged: The people versus a single political establishment.

However, the new web of alliances and rivalries created by Hariri's endorsement could bring about a return of "ruling" and "opposition" factions within the establishment. "With political leaders like [Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt] and [Amal leader Nabih Berri] opposing Aoun as president, there is now a more defined political opposition," Abdullah said. This, he believes, may shrink the political space available for independent movements and threaten the momentum they had achieved.

Twenty-seven years ago, when the Taif Agreement was signed to put an end Lebanon's brutal 15-year civil war, Lebanon had the potential to thoroughly rebuild itself from the ground up. And it has been rebuilt in a physical sense, with the rubble left by the fighting in downtown Beirut replaced by skyscrapers. But many Lebanese sense that the country's political establishment remains largely the same - even when new alliances form between politicians once entirely at odds with each other, such as Saad Hariri and Michel Aoun. Source: Al Jazeera



By Tom Perry and Laila Bassam | BEIRUT

Twenty-six years after being forced from Lebanon's presidential palace and into exile by the Syrian army, Michel Aoun is set to be elected head of state on Monday, backed by many of his old enemies. Barring a surprise, many of Lebanon's sectarian politicians will back the 81-year-old Christian leader in the parliamentary vote. Aoun can rely for support on Iranian-backed Hezbollah, with which he has been allied for a decade. But he will fulfill his long-held ambition thanks to the unlikely endorsement of Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri, who waged political war for years against the Shi'ite Hezbollah movement and its allies with Saudi backing.

Hariri is to become prime minister under the new deal which he hatched with Aoun. Aoun's election would end a 29-month-long vacuum in the presidency, part of a political crisis that has paralyzed Lebanon's government and raised concerns over its future as civil war rages in neighboring Syria. However, doubts remain over his ability to forge the cross-community consensus needed to make his administration succeed. "I do not know to what degree he will be able to reconcile the great contradictions that his rule will group together," said Nabil Boumonsef, a political commentator at An-Nahar newspaper. An Aoun victory would mark a remarkable turn of fortune for the former general who fought two wars in the late 1980s at the end of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war – one against Syria and the other against rival Christian forces.

His subsequent alliance with Hezbollah backed by its Syrian and Iranian patrons helped to cement divisions in the once dominant Maronite Christian community. But it also angered the United States, which views Hezbollah - a heavily armed group and Syria's strongest Lebanese ally - as a terrorist organization. His election will also be viewed as a victory for Hezbollah, Tehran and Damascus over Hariri's Sunni allies in Riyadh at a time when Saudi Arabia has appeared to retreat from Lebanon as it prioritizes fighting Iran in the Gulf. It will also raise questions over Western policy towards Lebanon, whose army depends on U.S. military aid.

Triggered by financial misfortune, Hariri's concession is seen as the last resort to secure the political survival of a man who has accused Syria of killing his father, Rafik. Hariri's standing in Lebanon has been hit by the financial crisis caused by troubles at his Saudi-based construction firm.

UNLIKELY SPECTRUM

Parliament is due to convene at noon (0900 GMT) on Monday to elect the president. If Aoun doesn't secure the two-thirds majority required to win in the first round, he seems certain to prevail in a second, where he needs 65 votes in the 128-seat chamber. His opponent is Suleiman Franjieh, a fellow Maronite Christian, who is unlikely to command much support. Under Lebanon's sectarian system of government, the presidency is reserved for a member of this community.

Aoun, who headed one of two rival governments in 1988-90, has long coveted the post. His victory would mark a new phase in Lebanese politics, and the final collapse of the Saudi-backed alliance that had struggled against Hezbollah and its allies since the 2005 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri.

Hariri and his allies initially accused Syria of killing Rafik. A U.N.-backed tribunal later charged five Hezbollah members over the killing. Hezbollah denies any role.  Aoun inspires both adulation and enmity in Lebanon, where he made his name as a combatant in the 1975-90 civil war, like many Lebanese politicians. With Aoun heading the biggest Christian party in parliament, it will be the first time since the war that one of Lebanon's main Maronite leaders becomes president.

The unlikely spectrum of support for his candidacy includes civil wartime enemies Samir Geagea, a rival Christian, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. But he still has powerful adversaries opposed to his election, foremost among them the influential Parliament Speaker and Shi'ite leader Nabih Berri.

Hezbollah's steadfast backing for Aoun has been critical to getting him this close to the presidency. Last year Hariri proposed Franjieh, another Hezbollah ally, for the position. But rather than ditching Aoun, Hezbollah declared him "the obligatory path" to the presidency. Aoun is a controversial figure abroad as well as in Lebanon, with a reputation for erratic decision-making.

After lobbying for years against Syria from exile, he returned to Lebanon in 2005 after Syrian forces withdrew from the country in the wake of the Hariri killing. Aoun received a hero's welcome from supporters in Beirut's Martyrs Square.

Less than a year later, he struck his alliance with Hezbollah, positioning himself squarely in the pro-Damascus camp that later mobilized to try to topple the U.S.-backed government at the time.

Aoun's move to Hezbollah drew anger from the United States which believed he had given political cover for it to keep its weapons and "moved a long way" from his support for a U.N. resolution that sought the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks.

In the 2006 cable, then U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Feltman concluded Aoun's presidential ambitions were "overriding any other concern". Aoun told the Americans the alliance was an attempt to draw Hezbollah into the political mainstream.

TWO WARS

In the final years of the Lebanese war, Aoun led one of two rival governments and set up his administration at the presidential palace at Baabda, southeast of Beirut.

In that period, he fought the "War of Liberation" against the Syrian army and the "War of Cancellation" against the Christian Lebanese Forces militia. The Maronites lost much of their political power in the deal that ended the war - an agreement Aoun had initially opposed.

Aoun visited Syria in 2009, where he met President Bashar al-Assad. In a 2014 interview, Assad said he would welcome Aoun's election as president, calling him a believer in "the resistance" - a reference to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is fighting in Syria in support of Assad.

Aoun has defended Hezbollah's role in Syria, saying that it was defending Lebanon and Lebanese Christians from the threat of jihadist militancy. Hezbollah's Lebanese opponents say its role there increases the risks to the country.

(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by David Stamp)


Lebanon’s lengthy impasse over electing a new president appears to be almost over after Saad Hariri, a former prime minister, made a bold and politically risky decision to support a political rival for the top seat.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014, when the last incumbent, Michel Suleiman, stepped down at the end of his six-year term. The absence of a head of state has been costly, not only hampering parliament's ability to pass legislation and hold elections but causing economic deterioration and underperforming state institutions, including a garbage collection crisis that has lasted more than a year.

The 128-seat Parliament, which elects presidents, has convened 45 times over the past 2-1/2 years.

Aoun wins Jumblatt's support for presidency

By Daily Star - BEIRUT: Presidential hopeful MP Michel Aoun Friday secured the support of the majority of Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt's parliamentary bloc for the upcoming election session. “The majority of the [Democratic Gathering ] bloc agreed to support Aoun for the presidency,” Jumblatt, the head of the bloc, told reporters.

However, he said that the bloc will hold a final meeting Saturday. “Some might object but most of them [bloc members] are with his candidacy and election after 2-1/2-years of vacuum,” Jumblatt said. Jumblatt's backing guarantees Aoun major parliamentary support for the presidential election parliamentary session scheduled for Monday. He has already gained the support of the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, Hezbollah and some of its March 8 allies.

Aoun thanked Jumblatt for his support. Ahead of his talks with Aoun, the PSP leader met with Speaker Nabih Berri, who strongly opposes the election of the Change and Reform leader.

"I explained to Berri my stance from Monday's session. If there are any differences, they are mild," Jumblatt said, describing Berri as a "statesman, who is keen to protect Lebanon's stability and institutions."

Aoun, accompanied by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail ahead of his talks with Jumblatt at the latter's residence in Beirut's Clemenceau neighborhood.

A statement issued by the premiership’s press office said talks focused on recent local developments.

Jumblatt's declaration means that he has dropped his support for Aoun's rival, Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh.

The meeting was held in presence of MP Henri Helou, who was nominated by Jumblatt in April 2014 for the post.

A candidate needs a two-thirds majority, or 86 MPs, to be elected president in the first round of voting. But in the second round, an absolute majority, or 65 MPs, is sufficient to declare a candidate a winner.

Frangieh, a key figure in the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, is determined to stay in the presidential race, despite former Prime Minister Saad Hariri dropping his support in favor of Aoun.

Hariri's decision was made after political consultations with various rivals in Lebanon and an international tour that led him to Moscow, Riyadh and Paris.


W460


By Naharnet

Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan held talks Friday with several political leaders on the second day of an official visit to Lebanon.

Sabhan's talks involved meetings with al-Mustaqbal Movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri, Progressive Socialist Party chief MP Walid Jumblat, Free Patriotic Movement founder MP Michel Aoun, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi.

The Saudi envoy did not make statements after the meetings.

According to a statement issued by Geagea's office, the presidential file "was the focus of the one-hour meeting."

Sabhan had held separate talks in the morning with former premiers Najib Miqati and Fouad Saniora.

His talks with Saniora addressed “the political developments in Lebanon and the region and the bilateral ties between the two countries.”

Reports have said that al-Sabhan might stay in Lebanon to attend Monday's presidential election session.

The Saudi minister had arrived in Lebanon Thursday evening. His Thursday activity involved meetings with Prime Minister Tammam Salam and ex-presidents Michel Suleiman and Amin Gemayel.

The Saudi envoy will also meet with other Lebanese leaders in the coming hours.

Quoting Saudi Embassy sources, LBCI said Thursday that Sabhan might voice a stance on the developments at the end of his visit.

Al-Akhbar newspaper had reported Wednesday that Sabhan would express the kingdom's support for Hariri's presidential initiative.

“The Saudi envoy will carry suggestions aimed at resolving the obstacles and lowering the level of opposition that the speaker (Nabih Berri) has showed against the agreement between Hariri and General Michel Aoun,” the sources added.

Media reports have said that the “real battle” will only begin after Aoun's election as president in the October 31 session and that some parties will not facilitate the formation of a government led by Hariri.

Aoun was tipped to become president after Hariri formally endorsed him last Thursday.

Berri has voiced concerns over the Aoun-Hariri agreements that preceded the endorsement while openly declaring that his bloc will “vote against Aoun” and that it might “join the ranks of the opposition.”

Lebanon has been without a president since the term of Michel Suleiman ended in May 2014 and Hizbullah, Aoun's Change and Reform bloc and some of their allies have been boycotting the parliament's electoral sessions, stripping them of the needed quorum.

Hariri, who is close to Saudi Arabia, had launched an initiative in late 2015 to nominate Hizbullah's ally and Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh for the presidency but his proposal was met with reservations from the country's main Christian parties as well as Hizbullah.

The supporters of Aoun's presidential bid have argued that he is more eligible than Franjieh to become president due to the size of his parliamentary bloc and his bigger influence in the Christian community.


By

After lying vacant for two and a half years, Lebanon’s presidential post will finally be filled by a parliamentary vote on Monday. The move reflects a temporary and rare confluence of interests among a majority of the country’s oligarchs and is a necessary step forward in bringing some life back to the country’s atrophying constitutional institutions. But politics in the country will remain tense and divided and noticeable improvement to governance is unlikely.

The expected winner is Michel Aoun, 81, the leader of the majority Christian Reform and Change Party, an ally of Hezbollah, and member of the March 8 coalition, which is aligned with Iran and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Aoun largely clinched the nomination two weeks ago when Saad Hariri, the leader of the opposition, a coalition between the Future Movement and other March 14 parties, came out in his support. In exchange, Hariri expects to be named prime minister. Despite resistance to Aoun’s candidacy—from parliament speaker Nabih Berri and rival presidential candidate Suleiman Frangieh, both of whom are March 8 coalition members—Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared to seal the deal in a public address endorsing Aoun, as well as accepting Hariri’s possible return as prime minister, a position he had previously held from 2009 to 2011.

The presidential office has lain vacant since May of 2014, when President Michel Suleiman’s six-year term expired. Initially, the rival March 14 and March 8 coalitions each put forward their own candidates, but neither of them garnered enough support. Nor could the two coalitions agree on a third-party candidate. Government business continued during this period, albeit at a low level of efficiency, under the national coalition government headed by Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

Many political leaders and parties exhibited little urgency in filling the presidential vacancy, but Hariri has felt more need to do so. In the recent local elections, his party lost in the northern Sunni city of Tripoli and only narrowly won the critical local elections in the capital, Beirut. Hariri is experiencing financial difficulties as well, with his late father’s construction company, Saudi Oger, facing serious decline in Saudi Arabia. This has created a shortfall in party funding, and the Future Movement has reportedly been unable to pay its employees across some of its institutions, such as its media channel Future TV. Hariri needs the presidential vacancy filled so that he can return to the premiership. Last year, Hariri had nominated Aoun’s rival, Frangieh, but the selection triggered a rapprochement between Aoun and longtime rival Samir Geagea. Together, Aoun and Geagea whipped up strong opposition to Frangieh’s nomination within the Christian community and it was scuttled.

Hariri’s current pick, Aoun, has also divided the March 8 coalition. Frangieh is a natural rival, and Berri has had long-standing differences and political clashes with Aoun and his nephew Gebran Bassil, the current foreign minister. The March 8 coalition is facing a situation not unlike that of the U.S. Republican Party and its nominee Donald Trump: having created the conditions for his rise, it is now worried about whether he has the temperament to be president. Similarly, the March 8 coalition is worried because Aoun is notoriously mercurial. He has been allied with Hezbollah since 2005, but when he was last in power as interim prime minister from 1988 to 1990, he waged a campaign against armed nonstate actors, including Hezbollah, and declared war on Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad. Aoun also might be seen by Berri and others as potentially difficult to deal with as president because he will be the first one since the early 1970s to have a fairly large Christian-community power base. The previous five presidents had small or no significant political following, and hence ended up as fairly weak leaders.

Both Hariri’s past and present picks include leaders allied with Hezbollah, Assad, and Iran, but Frangieh has been a more long-standing and reliable ally of the Assad family, Hezbollah, and Iran and would have been the safer pick for the March 8 coalition. In any case, Hezbollah’s support is decisive within the coalition, while Berri’s current opposition is useful as a bargaining chip. After Aoun’s election there will be much negotiation over the formation of the next government, Berri’s own reelection as speaker, and the development of lucrative sectors such as offshore gas fields. 

Unsurprisingly, both pro-Hezbollah candidates have been very poorly received among Hariri’s Sunni base. It has split his majority-Sunni Future Movement party and the anti-Assad March 14 coalition. If he succeeds in heading the next government, the influential position of prime minister will help him to rebuild some of the power base that he has lost since 2011.   

Regionally, Aoun’s election would be a victory for Iranian influence in the Levant and a blow for Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has been downgrading its interests in Lebanon. In February, it cancelled a $4 billion aid package to the Lebanese security forces after foreign minister Bassil refused to support an Arab League resolution condemning the sacking of the Saudi embassy in Tehran. And the Saudi leadership has appeared markedly lukewarm toward Hariri. Whether the Saudis have written off Lebanon as under Hezbollah’s thumb, are overwhelmed with domestic concerns and the war in Yemen, or have lost faith in Hariri’s leadership capacities, is hard to determine with accuracy.

Aoun’s election to the presidency will be followed by constitutionally mandated presidential consultations with parliament to designate a prime minister, most likely Hariri. Hariri would then go about forming a new government. There is nothing necessarily quick about this process; the last negotiations to form a government lasted ten months. The various oligarchs all want a piece of the pie, and the negotiations would have to include difficult discussions on a new parliamentary election law, horse trading on offshore gas deals, and many other contentious matters.

On the one hand, Aoun’s election to the presidency is a welcome example of a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power in a region where that is a rarity, and where just next door in Syria, the question of presidential succession has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. On the other hand, Aoun’s elevation to the presidency by the country’s oligarchy will largely perpetuate the dysfunctional political system and is unlikely to bring the kind of change and improvement in governance that much of the country’s youth and non-aligned citizenry yearn for. Lebanon remains a remarkable example of relative stability and communal coexistence and power-sharing in a region set aflame by sectarian civil war, but its government continues to fall far short given the vast potential of its people.

Christian politician and FPM founder Michel Aoun talks during a news conference in Beirut

OP-ED: Michel Aoun’s unredeemable promises

By Makram Rabah

On Oct. 31, the Lebanese Parliament is slated to convene to elect a president for the republic, a post which has remained vacant since former president Michel Suleiman left office in May 2014. The previous 45 attempts of the national assembly to elect a president ended in failure, as legislators belonging to the pro-Syria/Iran March 8 alliance boycotted the elections, preventing the required quorum of 2/3 for the sessions to proceed.

The end of this projected deadlock was prompted by [former prime minister] Saad Hariri’s endorsement of his former archenemy Michel Aoun as president, thus securing enough votes for the latter to defeat his opponent Sleiman Franjieh, who, ironically, had been named by Hariri over a year ago.

This strange turn of events will possibly allow Aoun, the omnipresent presidential contender, to legitimately occupy the presidential palace in Ba’abda, after he had done so illegally as an intern prime minister in 1989. The crux of the matter, however, might not be the election of Aoun but rather how this controversial figure will honor the promises he had issued to the factions which secured his election.

As it stands, Aoun has signed what amounts to three Faustian deals: one with [Shia group] Hezbollah, a second with Samir Geagea and the Lebanese Forces, and the third and most recent one with Hariri and the Sunni Future movement. These conflicting contracts cannot logically or legally be implemented unless one of them gains primacy thus annulling the other two.

By going forward, Aoun will place himself in a political and legal estoppel. This legal concept which Aoun naturally does not acknowledge precludes people “from denying or alleging a certain fact owing to that party's previous conduct, allegation, or denial.” In layman’s terms, one cannot go into contract with any entity and then sign another contract or act in a way which prevents the initial contact from being fulfilled.

Complicating matters further is the fact that Aoun’s initial contract was the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) he signed with Hezbollah in 2006, which granted the pro-Iranian faction the much-needed Christian cover which they lacked at the time. By empowering Hezbollah, this MoU also further weakened the Lebanese state which was gradually engaged in reconstruction efforts for the damage inflicted by Hezbollah’s war with Israel.

In January 2016, Aoun proceeded to sign another contract with Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, ending a somewhat primordial enmity which included a mini Christian civil war between the two in the late 80s. Among the items which Aoun agreed to endorse was a pledge to “empower and encourage the rise of the Lebanese state institutions and to foster a culture of legality and a shunning of violence in settling any dispute, regardless of circumstances and cause.”

The Aoun-Geagea pact, sound as it may seem, openly clashes with Aoun’s MoU with Hezbollah, whose overall spirit and aim allow the latter to keep a parallel state structure that tolerates this Iranian militia to operate outside the realm of Lebanese state sovereignty. These allegations are substantiated by previous instances where Hezbollah has resorted to violence to enforce their political will. The May 7, 2008 attack on the [Fouad] Siniora government is a case in point.

Finally, Aoun’s last contract recently signed with Hariri is more simplistic in nature and involves more practical provisions which envisage the division of political booty once Aoun is elected president. However, Hariri, who is a patron of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, clearly expects Aoun to adopt a more constructive approach in dealing with the kingdom. This entails abandoning his support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad and taking a somewhat unsupportive position on Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.

This process of wishful thinking, however, on the part of Hariri was shattered as [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah took to the pulpit shortly after the Aoun-Hariri pact was announced, declaring that Hezbollah would leave Syria only after a complete victory was achieved. Nasrallah, regardless of what Aoun has promised his new ally, will persist in his attacks against Saudi Arabia, which in the midst of the new developments in Iraq and Yemen, is only expected to further escalate.

While Aoun is perceived by the majority of the regional and international actors as unfit to rule due to his close association with Hezbollah, the real challenge is elsewhere. Next Monday, once Aoun leaves the parliament building and heads to the presidential palace to serve his six years in office, which Faustian deal will he honor? Will Aoun’s promises and debts be void, or will this aging politician keep signing more checks which no one can cash; pushing Lebanon further into chaos?

* Opinions expressed in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy.


Al Sharq Al Aswat

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.


Election to reactivate economy, banks

BEIRUT: Bankers brushed off rumors that Lebanon will face dollar liquidity crunch if MP Michel Aoun is elected as president, noting that a new head of state will restore long overdue confidence in the country. “These news media reports are not accurate and not in the right direction. It’s true we have abundant liquidity in Lebanese pounds but there is no panic in the market and the dollar purchase is not out of the ordinary,” Joe Sarrouh, the adviser to the chairman of Fransabank, told The Daily Star.


Some Arabic language newspapers claimed there was concern that many Lebanese will make a run on the Lebanese pound and switch to the U.S. dollar when the Parliament convenes on Oct. 31, to elect a new head of state.

Most indications show that Aoun is the likely candidate to win the majority of the votes in the parliament after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri endorsed his candidacy.


One Lebanese newspaper suggested that Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh was considering a proposal to prohibit Lebanese banks from converting their existing loan portfolios from dollars to the Lebanese pound.

The paper claimed that such a proposal would cause panic in the market and could induce Lebanese depositors to buy dollars in large quantities.

All bankers who spoke to The Daily Star dismissed this report as “utter nonsense,” insisting that the monetary market was stable and the governor was keen to preserve the stability of the national currency.

Sarrouh and others agreed that the election of a president will have a positive impact on the economy and not the other way around.

“The arrival of the Saudi envoy to Lebanon shows that the kingdom is still interested in Lebanon and this will also send a positive message to the market,” Sarrouh added.

Makram Sader, the secretary-general of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, hailed the expected election of a president on Oct. 31, as a step in the right direction.

“The election of a president will definitely have a positive impact on Lebanon on all levels. This election and the formation of the Cabinet will probably encourage Gulf nationals to reinvest in Lebanon and pave the way for more inflows of money from the Gulf states to our country,” Sader stressed.

He also categorically denied some media reports that the election of a president could lead to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound.

Sader noted that the Central Bank intends to issue certificates of deposit with long maturity to absorb the excess liquidity in Lebanese pounds held by commercial banks.

It is estimated that lenders in Lebanon have more than LL11 trillion due to the financial engineering by the Central Bank.

Some banks are concerned that if the interest rates on the Lebanese pound deposits decline, many depositors could switch to dollars.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2016.