Michel Aoun: Elections or Doom
By: Hiyam Kossayfi
Published Saturday, September 22, 2012
Al-Akhbar sat with the head of the Free Patriotic Movement and asked him about the hot issues in Lebanon these days; from the latest round of national dialogue which was held this week to the parliamentary elections which are slated for next summer.
Hiam al-Qussaifi: What do you make of President Michel Suleiman’s defense strategy paper?
Michel Aoun: The president’s working paper is technical, except for one paragraph which defines the framework of the relationship between the armed forces and the resistance. In practice, the idea is 100 percent correct, because the Lebanese army in no way has the capability to confront any power in the region. Therefore, military action has to be complemented by resistance. The army is guardian of the borders and the only internal strike force in ordinary cases, resisting terrorism and supporting the security forces in combating crime. But if Lebanon is subject to any aggression, the army cannot defend it or mount a sustained fight under the existing balances of power, especially against Israel. That is where the job of the resistance to liberate the land begins. The president put forward a general framework and I’m presenting my concept.
HQ: Did the March 14 coalition reject this paper because it recognizes Hezbollah as a security establishment?
MA: The resistance does not have a security role. But in case there is a security threat and the army cannot resist and retreats. Then, resistance becomes the only means of confronting a regular army, with cells trained in guerrilla warfare.
HQ: Isn’t it odd that a general and former army commander accepts the existence of a parallel security institution?
MA: It’s not about feelings or making a personal point, but a question of complementarity in order to defend the country. The resistance is an essential component of Lebanon’s defense. In all countries militias have been used as an auxiliary force, such as in France after its liberation. It is the role of the security agencies to control security, as happened when they raided Dahiyeh [Beirut’s southern suburbs] to go after smugglers and there were casualties. Is the withdrawal of the occupation guaranteed? They gave us guarantees in 1978 supported by UN resolutions, but the withdrawal didn’t come until 2000 under pressure from the resistance.
HQ: If Iran wanted to use Hezbollah to retaliate against Israel on its behalf, would that be a war against occupation?
MA: Israel says its maneuvers on the northern border are directed against Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. When it talks of waging war on Iran, it means the three together. I don’t know if it intends to do that or not, but can anyone be sure it won’t? If Israel sees the three of them as a single front, then it is in its interest to hit Iran, then Syria, and then Hezbollah – in sequence. If we want to draw up plans for Lebanon’s defense and ignore that possibility, we would be donkeys. Anyone who knows about the military or defense takes all contingencies into account. We don’t know what the limits of Israeli military action will be if it begins with Iran. I am not saying that Lebanon should be a launching pad, but let’s [suppose we] hand defense to the Future Movement. Let one of their officers come and say that they know what Israel’s intentions are and that this threat doesn’t exist, and show me the evidence. Risk assessment has to be done professionally. Everything should be evaluated, and then the government can decide whether it wants that or not.
HQ: What if the agreement that the resistance’s arms are for the defense of Lebanese territory is violated, and they are used in defense of Iranian rather than Lebanese interests, as the March 14 coalition says?
MA: That’s another matter. First of all, they are imputing motives to a Lebanese party, when they themselves defend foreign interests. Do they not defend the people they support in Syria, and the interests of Saudi Arabia and Turkey? We all agree that the Israeli threat extends to land, water and the resettlement of the Palestinians. We live in a country full of threats, and we have not managed to apply the policy of dissociation. They expelled me from Lebanon for 15 years because of Syria, and after Syria left they wanted to attack it and attack me. They accuse me of using St. Maroun as a pretext to go there and meet President Bashar al-Assad. I wonder at what tomb and in which church they pray when they go to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
And what about this alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Syrian Army? Why haven’t I heard from those who raise the sword of Christendom that they object to what happened in Tripoli and the tearing up of the Pope’s pictures in that way? What is to be hoped for from the Arab Spring? I think of it as an Arab hell, because I do not believe in changing regimes through bloodshed. Also, a country inexperienced in democracy cannot take it all at once. Before one is allowed to demonstrate one must learn how to demonstrate, not to eat in a restaurant and then burn it down. Demonstrating is not mob action but a civilized activity.
HQ: You were faulted for being over-hasty when [last year] you said it was all over in Syria. How do you see it today? Is the regime still capable of surviving?
MA: They quoted me selectively then. Back then, I said things would end on Tuesday for reasons linked to the position of the Arab League. There was an Arab initiative, which the Syrian opposition and the Americans rejected, but instead of the Arab states taking a stand against the opposition, they went along with the American decision. As for today, I want to ask whether the regime’s foreign policy has collapsed, or the courts or the administration. There is a security breakdown, but the administration of the state is continuing. The fact that Western states ordered their embassies to leave doesn’t mean Syria has collapsed, but that it is besieged.
HQ: In that case, how will the war in Syria end? With a Western military strike?
MA: A military strike would be impossible. At the first Security Council meeting to discuss new sanctions against Syria, the dual Chinese and Russian veto was accompanied by a warning to the West that military strikes came to an end with Libya. There is no stamina in Europe for war in the current economic conditions, and nobody should get it into their heads that Americans can do whatever they want. There are big countervailing powers that are becoming more powerful, and the region is seeing a new world order take shape. The Syrian situation will end either through political dialogue, or through the defeat of one of the two sides – and I don’t think that will be the regime’s side, but the opposition’s. Although there are people gathering Afghans and al-Qaeda and sending them to Syria, what do the Syrian people have to do with that game?
HQ: What is the point of continuing the National Dialogue roundtable talks in Lebanon?
MA: So far, it’s a photo op.
HQ: Is that enough to ensure stability?
MA: Domestic stability is imposed. There is an imbalance of power internally. Those who are capable of causing trouble do not want to, and those who want to cause trouble are not capable. The imbalance of power has imposed a kind of stability.
HQ: What about international approval of the government as a guarantee of stability?
MA: If the Lebanese did not want the government it would have gone.
HQ: But the March 14 forces want to bring down the government.
MA: They want to form a national unity government, also as a guarantee of stability as they see it. But they do not want to risk a vacuum.
HQ: Do you think that if the March 14 parties are successful in the elections they will form a national unity government or a one-colored government which is purely theirs?
MA: That’s their dream [to have their own government], but I don’t know if it will be realized or not.
HQ: Will the elections be held?
MA: They are a constitutional requirement and must take place. Not holding the parliamentary elections would be a sign of danger.
HQ: Who has an interest in them not being held?
MA: March 14. We reached an agreement with some of the Christian groups on two plans, the Orthodox Gathering proposal and proportional representation. They want 15 electoral districts, so we told them they’re welcome.
HQ: If the proportional representation law is amended to provide for 15 electoral districts, will the Lebanese Forces (LF) agree?
MA: We want to expose intentions, because they are taking people for a ride. I want to know what the common objective is of their meetings with Hizb al-Tahrir. The Orthodox Gathering plan is the proposal of the Phalangsists and the LF. We proposed proportional representation in any form, and I said I support Lebanon being a single electoral district. I got my friends to back the law that I proposed, on the understanding that they bring their friends behind the law they proposed, and I will break with my allies if they manage to get their friends to support the Orthodox plan. But they want a law that they can tailor to their specifications. There is a danger if no new law is agreed and parliament’s term is extended. That would violate both Doha and the agreement reached at Bkerke [the Maronite Church’s headquarters]. The LF and Phalangists would be culpable whatever happens.
HQ: Is there fear of retaining the 1960 election law because Jumblatt is the scale-tipper and both sides need his bloc’s votes?
MA: I’m not interested in a scale-tipper, but there needs to be a majority that can reform things. It’s not right for one or two MPs to block the proportional representation law. We said at Doha that the 1960 law would be used just once.
HQ: Have preparations begun for the election contest? We have heard people saying they are General Aoun’s candidate.
MA: I haven’t started preparing, it’s still early. And there is nobody called the General’s candidate today, and nobody says they are my candidate. They could say they are committed to the General’s line, and they know I will choose those who have commitment and the best chance of winning. There will be some sitting MPs nominated and some new candidates. There are conditions for the appointment of anyone who is in my political line. A sitting MP will not necessarily be made a candidate again. Before the electoral test, there is the test of public opinion, who it wants and who it doesn’t want. Their commitment has been demonstrated over the years. Those who have been allies or backed by us are given renewed endorsement, and there is a moral contract between us. Any observation could be made about the MPs, such as someone saying they failed to keep their promises, or that one of them was not involved in any scandals. There is justice in the selection of MPs, and in the selection of ministers, and there’s a share for the [Free Patriotic] Movement and a share for favored candidates.
HQ: What’s the share of the funders on Aoun’s lists?
MA: (Laughing) Yeah, all my supporters are billionaires...In the rest of the world, supporters raise funds for a candidate to defend their rights. In Lebanon, the candidate pays people money to usurp their rights, sell their causes, benefit from the treasury or through projects and contracts, and then use the proceeds of this corruption to win another term.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.