Aoun in Saudi Arabia: A New Page?

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Saad Hariri and Michel Aoun at a national dialogue meeting on March 9, 2010. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Wafiq Qanso

Published Thursday, January 29, 2015

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader General Michel Aoun and Future Movement leader Prime Minister Saad Hariri have maintained a relationship, albeit a low-profile one. The exceptional welcome Aoun received during his first visit to Saudi Arabia signalled the possibility of opening a new page in the relationship between the contentious general and the new Saudi ruler, and indicated that the doors of Riyadh are open to the chief of Rabieh.

Although FPM sources downplayed the political nature of the visit — which was primarily a social visit to pay respects to the deceased Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz — they did not deny its “political dimension.”

The nature and timing of the visit indicate that it was “prearranged” and carefully planned from Beirut. The warm reception, from the airport to the royal court, was also notable. The Royal Protocol reserved a seat for Aoun in the first row of mourners, after he offered condolences to the new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Many members of the official delegation accompanying House Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam did not get the same treatment , including members of the March 14 delegation. Also, it was clear that the Royal Protocol made sure to arrange a seat for Aoun next to Hariri, along with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil (FPM). In keeping in line with the current milieu, the FPM media devoted significant coverage to show the hospitality that accompanied the visit.

The warm kisses Aoun and Hariri exchanged indicate that the “blessings” from the previous dialogue between the two parties continue to affect the two men’s relationship, which appears to be more intimate than shown in the media, although Aoun was not “dismissed” from Hariri's house.

According to information available to Al-Akhbar, communication between Bassil and Hariri’s adviser, Nader Hariri, never ceased. Sources within the FPM are convinced that this “continuous low-profile communication” has positively affected the ongoing internal dialogues in the country between Christians and Muslims.

No one in and outside the FPM wants to assign these matters greater importance than they deserve. Despite the political talk that accompanied the “social duty meeting,” it doesn’t imply a convergence of positions between the two parties. However, this does not diminish the significance of the visit or the mutual “messages” that accompanied it, or the hope that they will be built on in the near future.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar English's editorial policy. If you would like to submit a thoughtful response to one of our opinion pieces, send your contribution to our submissions editor.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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