Michel Aoun: General Disappointment
Beirut - Nobody believes Change and Reform bloc leader General Michel Aoun’s theories about reform and change more strongly than Aoun himself.
Aoun believes in what he says, and most of what minister Gebran Bassil and MP Ibrahim Kanaan say, as well as what he reads in the reports he receives detailing problems and proposing solutions. Instead of wasting his time in political halls, the native of Haret Hreik spends hours reading summaries of the rulings issued by the Audit Bureau – only to find his supposed partners more dismissive of his efforts than his enemies, besieging his dreams with their promised subsidies.
Aoun’s problem is that while he learned by heart the plan for reforming the electricity sector that was drawn up by his son-in-law Bassil, others take issue with him over it without having bothered to read it. He cites MP Walid Jumblatt’s response to it, and laughs. Aoun put forward a more or less comprehensive plan, and Jumblatt responded with a personal attack on him, unrelated to the actual issues.
“Make a note of this,” a smiling Aoun tells Al-Akhbar. “It is a hollow response because he is a hollow man. If he cannot respond to the substance of what we are saying, let him keep quiet forever. I am proud of my record, which he berates me for. So are my voters. At least I am not a feudal son of a feudalist,” he says.
“I renew myself,” he adds, quoting one of Napoleon’s generals. “I might even be the first in this line, while he is the last in his.”
Aoun has more to say about “Jumblattism as an illness” before moving on to the crisis that has erupted in parliament and the cabinet.
The Change and Reform bloc has a problem with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on the one hand, and its other partners in government on the other.
It begins with Berri, who Aoun says is holding up a number of legislative bills drafted by the Aounists in the drawers of his office, most of which were submitted by Aoun himself. These include legislation on the formation of a security committee, benefits for the elderly, granting citizenship to people of Lebanese origin, resolving the problem of Lebanese who fled to Israel, foreigners’ property rights, compensation for former detainees in Syrian jails, oil, gas-fuelled cars, the separation of cabinet and parliamentary posts, and many other issues.
These laws were supposed to help the Aounists’ persuade their voters of their effectiveness in parliament, and reassure them that they have not abandoned political issues that their constituents consider important.
But Berri “is hiding our bills”, says Aoun. The bill regarding the elderly, from which all Lebanese would stand to benefit, has been “hidden” for six years.
So there’s no talk of the cup being half-empty and half-full. The cup has been filling up with negatives, and with the electricity workers’ row, it overflowed.
Aoun is an emotional man. He has not yet forgotten the “sacrifices” he made a few months ago in order to build trust with Berri, particularly the abandoning of Minister Charbel Nahhas. Yet the Speaker went on to besiege the Électricité du Liban (EDL) and the Free Patriotic Movement with his day-workers, refusing to comply with legal standards for resolving their case. Aoun cannot believe what his allies’ allies in EDL did.
He stresses that the quarrel has nothing to do with the sectarian apportionment of jobs. “We talk about administrative, organizational and legal standards, and they accuse us of being sectarian,“ he says. He is angered by the way the issues have been personalized and sectarianized, through “lies, slander and cheating.”
While he laughs mockingly when talking about Jumblatt, Aoun’s features sharpen when discussing Berri. The anger is visible on his lips does as he runs through an accumulated litany of mistakes, and cases of “the Speaker responding to well-intentioned initiatives with initiatives that confirm his bad intentions.”
But what about the understanding with Hezbollah? Aoun urges all concerned to be clear about his position. “In resistance, meaning the weapons directed at Israel that protect and defend Lebanese territory, I am with Hezbollah. As for political issues, we can cooperate on some of them. It has been proven that the Free Patriotic Movement’s priorities differ from Hezbollah’s priorities. I am not saying we have had a separation with the party. I am saying we have freed it of the burden of a domestic political approach which it may find exhausting or cannot bear.”
Aoun also does not conceal his fears for the resistance. “Nobody should consider themselves incorruptible,” he says. “That does not mean that I am accusing any of its members of being hostage to money mafias. It is merely a warning.”
So is the understanding over? As the Aounists see it, the understanding effectively applied to six strategic files, and they have not reneged on their commitment to them. But Hezbollah has merely been “watching,” both inside and outside parliament, as the Speaker stalls the implementation of the policies in the strategies. They note that the majority of the legislative bills mentioned earlier were covered by the understanding, so their obstruction damages it.
Regarding the government, Aoun is succinct: The machinery of state moves “at a snail’s pace,” and someone is responsible for that. In parliament, the Speaker is responsible, and in government, the responsibility is shared with others.
“We cannot continue keeping quiet about this, he says. “Aounists are dynamic and active by nature. They hate paralysis and slowness in getting things down.”
To his mind, political realism means accepting what is acceptable and rejecting what is bad, not accepting everything you cannot change, as what he terms “American realism” would have it.
Aoun certainly does not fear political isolation or being ganged up on by his adversaries. He says he reflects the behavior of the Christians, who to his mind do not cower in silence when they are in a weak position. He gets up to find a document in his files, and reads an extract from one of the bulletins he used to issue to his supporters from exile in Paris: “Christian strengths are not material or measurable by money or the number of troops, guns and tanks, but lie in not falling for the lure of money and not fearing the soldiers, guns and tanks.”
Two hours with the general leave one with much to consider.
He flatly ridicules the links made by the press between his latest escalation and the approach of parliamentary elections, still over a year away. His outburst is clearly not a quest for a deal or a compromise. Rather, Aoun has become convinced that his credibility in the eyes of the public is on the line, and that keeping silent while he is foiled time after time is tantamount to slow political suicide. And he is convinced that his movement’s prospects hinge on its achievements in terms of change and reform, not on regional political changes.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.