On August 9th, general Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free patriotic Movement and a Hezbollah ally in Lebanon, gave this post-election interview to Le Temps (Genève). The interview appeared in Le Monde. It is part of their paid archives now.
By Alain Campiotti
Lebanese live in bubbles, against their own good, prisoners of archaic and sectarian institutions set by the French mandate which administered the country after the fall of the Ottoman empire until 1943. There are maronite bubbles very high in the mountains. Shia bubbles at the periphery of Beyrouth and in its south. Sunni bubbles in Tripoli and Hamra… Michel Aoun’s bubble is in Rabieh, on a wooded hill, where luxurious villas are protected by multiple layers of high-tech security. “Six assassination attempts including three who died around me”, says Aoun.
Since his return, two years ago, from a 15 years exile in France for fighting the Syrian occupation in his country, this politician and military has been fighting the sectarian bubbles. Or at least that’s what he declares forcefully he is doing in Politics. His adversaries in the Sanyura government, furious at his alliance with Hezbollah, accuse him of the contrary. As a justification, Michel Aoun accpeted to be interviewed by le Temps in his eagle’s nest, the headquarters of his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement.
Le Temps : Since you defeated ex president Amine Gemayel in an election last sunday, Your Maronite adversaries are saying that you lost, that you don’t control, like in 2005, the Maronite community.
Michel Aoun : They are deluding themselves and they still have an old way of thinking politics in Lebanon. Those among them who are in parliament today were elected by a sunni majority in an elctoral law devised by Rafiq Hariri and Syria destined to dilute the Christian vote. Our candidates’ electorate is half Christian and half non Christian. I am ready to sacrifice 20% of my popular support if this is the price to pay in order to prevent a confrontation in the country. That’s what we were looking for when we signed last year an agreement with Hezbollah.
Le Temps : Is putting an end to the system of confessional parity in the state’s institutions, inherited from the French mandate, the goal of such a move ?
Michel Aoun : This is a bankrupt system destined to become extinct. We want to establish, step by step, a secular state. Lebanese must get themselves used to excercise power and take decisions on a political level without resorting to a confessionnal organisation of¨Politics.
Le Temps : Isn’t your agreement with Hezbollah an example of this confessionnal organisation ?
Michel Aoun : Our agreement with hezbollah is not an empty agreement meant to exercise parity for the sake of parity. It is a political program ! On the reform of the state, its independance, relations with Syria, and with the Palestiniens (Aoun actually wanted to discuss this program with other parties and sects in Lebanon but they were not interested). Hezbollah is convinced by the idea that Lebanon needs a civil code. Its chief, Hassan Nasrallah, declared, ten days ago, that he was ready to discuss the following: laying Hezbollah’s arms and armistice between Israel and Lebanon, independant of the situation in the rest of the Middle East. I challenge our adversaries, supported by th West, to have the courage to come up with such a program as we did.
Le Temps : But is Hezbollah independant ? Aren’t they tied directly to the supreme guide of the Iranian revolution by the principle of “Velayat al-faqih” in the Shia religion ?
Michel Aoun : Political leaders, as ordinary people change over time and according to circumstances. To assume that Hezbollah’s allegiance lies outside Lebanon, within the Shia principle of “Velayat al-faqih”, is to assume that the human being is a rigid stone that does not change over time. Hezbollah used to refer to “Velayat al-faqih”, as much as Samir Geagea, the Maronite chief of the Lebanese Forces, used to refer to some areas in Lebanon as Christian cantons, and as much as Walid Joumblatt, the Druze chief, used to refer to Druze frontiers in Lebanon. Times have changed. Hezbollah, today, is claiming its fair share of power in Lebanese politics, nothing else.
Le Temps : Isn’t Syria still yielding much more political influence than Iran in Lebanon ? And didn’t you meet recently in Germany, according to the Saudis, with a Syrian emissary ?
Michel Aoun : That’s a fabricated and defamatory lie intended to hurt me. I caught Amine Gemayel repeating this calumny. Syria is playing against me. Some pro-Syrian movements have called last sunday to vote for my candidate. This has costed us votes because Lebanese have developped a rejection of the Syrian diktat.
Le Temps : Do you consider the West, and especially the US, as your adversary ?
Michel Aoun : The US is refusing any attempt at ending the isolation of Hezbollah in giving their full support to the Sanyura government in order to maintain this isolation. George Bush had announced last week the freezing of assets of any individual who acts against the “legitimate government” of Lebanon. We have been disputing the legitimacy of this government for a year now. Bush’s announcement came three days before the August 5th sunday election as to scare those donors who support us.
Le Temps : You have called for a national unity government. Do you believe that Lebanon’s unity is under threat ?
Michel Aoun : Our agreement with Hezbollah on a political program for Lebanon, and the unity we are calling for, are the only way to salvage the country. The West doesn’t want to discuss our proposal. I suspect the US is working to destabilise Lebanon, after having destabilised Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, etc. I believe that the US wishes for a new armed confrontation in our country. Their goal is to create, amid the confusion of a new confrontation, the conditions for a permanent implementation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. That’s because the US does not intend to give those Palestinians a homeland.