Michel Aoun: General Disappointment

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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.

By: Ghassan Saoud, Roula Ibrahim

Published Thursday, July 5, 2012

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.


An Open Letter to His Excellency, President of Lebanon, His Excellency the Prime Minister, all Members of the Lebanese Parliament, all leaders of Lebanese political parties and all Lebanese both in Lebanon and around the world,

Firstly, I wish to regret the events of the Achrafieh bombing, and God rest the souls of all those killed in the event. This is a tragic event for Lebanon, particularly the families who have lost a father or mother, a son or daughter, a brother or sister.

I am a Lebanese expatriate, born in Australia, with Lebanese citizenship. My father’s family left Lebanon over a century ago, my mothers, 40 years ago – therefore I have never lived in Lebanon. I have visited Lebanon, which I still consider my home, several times. I love it with all my heart and will never deny it as my home. Each day I work tirelessly to make a living in Australia and keep up with life, and keep my family fed and comfortable. I also work tirelessly to help the image of Lebanese in Australia – as many see us as a barbaric peoples thanks to a minority of the community who the media use to portray Lebanese here as ungrateful Australian citizens.

I write to you in hurt for a country that I hope one day, me, like many other expatriates around the world, would be suitable enough to return to, make a living, raise a family in a decent and orderly society, and contribute to its development – but in the current climate, the country offers me nothing but a holiday destination, that I can only dream of living in.

My first question is to all of you, why do the affairs of Syria, Israel and the whole region dominate political life? Rather than discussing the issues of our own country, the government is still discussing interference of Israel and Syria in the government, in political life, in day to day life. But what about the other more pressing issues that never get discussed by government, but would change the lives of Lebanese, such as:

1. Finding the thousands of missing persons who were taken during the Civil War, and since;

2. Responding to day-to-day issues such as traffic, public transport, social welfare and the like;

3. Providing at least the basic infrastructure to help the economy grow, such as high speed and readily available internet, running electricity and clean water to all, a public transport network that connects the countries great cities, a proper sewerage system that does not damage our environment (and the list goes on);

4. Actually implementing laws such as an electoral law, that does not serve the interests of a party, but rather, the electorate; and one that does not give rise to sectarianism, but rather, builds trust between sects so we don’t feel the need to protect our sects against others;

5. Supporting our youth so they stop moving out of the country, by creating employment by investing with the private sector on large nation building projects such as mass transit systems, a second international airport, rebuilding Tripoli, and establishing a high speed nation wide internet network.

Will any of the above ever be considered?

My second question is, (if I do have the right to vote at the 2013 election from Australia), who do I vote for? As a Maronite, I have two options, the March 8 or March 14 alliance. There seems to be no alternatives. So do I vote for a party allied with another party who still holds weapons in the name of resistance (but nonetheless weapons that have been used in 2008 against Lebanese for political gain); or do I vote for the other bloc who are allied with Islamic extremists who wish to associate themselves with the Syrian crisis? My options are limited. Whilst I respect that each party has a political ideology, there just seems to be no choice for me, a young individual, who would prefer to vote for a party that will actually invest in nation building, invest in its youth, and make Lebanon a viable alternative for living, so maybe then I can consider coming home permanently, sending my children to a great Lebanese school and university, and allowing them to grow up in a tri-lingual word with the potential to use this as an advantage and become wordly people.

I have such a deep respect for those young people in Lebanon who remain. I love seeing tweets and facebook posts with vision, with talent and with a hope for Lebanon by these young people. My heart breaks when I see tweets and facebook posts by these same people saying they can hear gun-shots, or saying they can’t wait to flee Lebanon. Why should they have these thoughts? Do you want them to join me, and the millions of other Lebanese around the world in becoming expatriates?

To these young people, I hope you do remain, because you can use your vote to make change. I can’t (well not yet anyway).

I haven’t lost hope in Lebanon, but as a citizen of our great country, I just ask of our leaders, that they reflect on the below, and try to re-set our leadership’s priorities (just a little bit, just to make our home a better place):

1. Rather than trying to rid our government of Syrian intervention, or backing the downfall of the Syrian regime, why don’t we focus on building true Lebanese politicians with a national plan for Lebanon that does not make mention of any other country but Lebanon;

2. As an expat, part of a body of people that bring $12 billion into Lebanon’s economy, I would really appreciate being able to have a say over who represents me in parliament. I would love to vote for the region my family come from – not because I want to keep its sectarian balance, but because this is where my family own property, stay and spend when we are in Lebanon. It is therefore in my interests that I vote for who will best meet my needs in this area.

3. Can you make me WANT to move to Lebanon? I would really appreciate this. Life in Lebanon is great. I love the fact that I can walk down the street in Achrafieh, Hamra, Saida, Sidon, Tripoli, Batroun, Bcharre, Zgharta, Jezzine etc etc etc, and talk to anyone about anything. I can’t do that in Australia, because people would just think you’re have something wrong with you. But in Lebanon, our openness and love for other people is something I treasure and would love for my children to grow up in this environment.

4. Have we thought of solving any of our problems diplomatically? Politically? Yes, I know. This will take such a long time. But why don’t we sit down with Israel (as against their very existence as I am) and set out an action plan for peace, the return of the Palestinian people, the demarcation of our border and the withdrawal of their troops from our nation. Yes, there are so many points of contention, and this could take decades, but patience is a virtue and persistence is the key. Or is violence the only answer? Just checking whether the former has been seriously considered? Or Is this too dangerous?

5. When will there be serious attempts to build national infrastructure? Or will political bickering and disagreement over the smallest of matters mean that these items never get consideration???

6. Why are party’s so sectarian based? Why can’t the 50-50 Christian/Muslim allocation in parliament be maintained (if necessary), but filled in with members from parties based on liberal, democratic, republic or labour-based parties. Parties with national not international interests? Is this possible? Can we ever have any serious parties with a sectarian mix? PS> I don’t consider March 8 or March 14 to be such, these are groups of parties that are either Pro-Syrian regime, or pro-Free Syrian Army. They are not groups they are Pro-Lebanese Mass Transit System, or Against-discrimination of women. Sectarian tendencies still seem to dominate.

7. Finally, will I ever be able to move back home? A tear is bought to my eye trying to think this day will ever come.

Anyway, I hope you’ve had time to read this amid all of the current chaos, but please put our people’s interests first. We have such a beautiful country, but we make it looks barbaric. We have such a beautiful culture, but we make it looks barbaric. We have history as good as the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians, but we don’t give time for anyone to focus on these.

Please work to make Lebanon a home where we can all re-consider whether we need to live abroad.

I love Lebanon, I love you all, and I hope you can love us too.

Best regards,

Lebanese expatriate.

Lebanon has long history in corruption and feudal family history date back centuries.
After the 1991 Saudi- Taef agreement that was forced on the lebanese by excluding or clipping the christian role and powers.
The Lebanese people were forced to accept the same warlords who divided the nation,causing them sorrow,pain and suffer to control their country and manage its financial and government related matters.
Aoun the general of the army (beforeTaef agreement that lead to his exile to France) was and still fighting corrupted warlords mafia elite to rebuild a true liberal independant and modern nation .
It is a long and difficult job for one man to stop or remove arabs,regional and religiously backed corrupted figures from power without a fight.
At the end no matter how long is the journey,a day will come when the lebanese people from all parties and political views ,like the phoenix bird will rise again and reclaim their rights and their nation .

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