Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14, My articles

Bring it Aoun


I’ve written an article for The National about Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement. If you start reading now, you may just finish it before the election (it’s a little… long-winded). Many thanks to the one they call Jonathan Shainin, an editor’s editor if there ever was one.

Bring it Aoun

Michel Aoun’s supporters revere him as a reforming hero, the only man able to repair a nation’s woes – and he agrees. Elias Muhanna on the overlooked core of Lebanon’s opposition.

When General Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), took to the stage at a campaign rally in south Beirut two Saturdays ago, a sea of citrus-coloured flags – the orange banners of his own party alongside the yellow standards of Hizbollah – churned before him. The choice of venue was strategic and symbolic. One kilometre to the west lay Haret Hreik, the mixed Christian and Shiite neighbourhood where Aoun was born in 1935. A kilometre to the east, perched in the foothills above Beirut, sat the presidential palace, the scene of his defeat at the hands of the Syrian Army during the civil war. And lying just to the south was al Dahiya, the epicentre of Hizbollah’s military resistance, much of which was bombed to rubble by the Israeli Air Force in the summer of 2006.

The bespectacled general glared out over the lectern into the falling dusk. “Why do they reject the Third Republic?” he bellowed, referring to his rivals and invoking his party’s ambitiously- titled electoral platform. “Is the strengthening of democracy and the creation of a secular state that safeguards equal rights for all of its citizens the reason for their rejection?”

Like his electoral ally Hassan Nasrallah, Michel Aoun is a deeply polarising figure in Lebanon. A Christian general who led the Lebanese Army against various adversaries during the civil war – including the PLO, Lebanese Christian militias and the Syrian Army – he has, since 2005, locked horns repeatedly with the March 14 coalition, an alliance of several parties backed by the United States that holds a slim majority in parliament. Now Aoun – whose career in politics stretches from his days as the leader of the resistance to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon to his rapprochement with Damascus two decades later – is at the helm of an opposition campaign that vows to replace the corrupt structures of a troubled republic with a new order.

To his supporters, Aoun is a larger-than-life figure who has come to lead Lebanon’s Christians – weak and divided since the end of the civil war – back to their former prominence, and to set the country on a path to national reconciliation and economic sustainability. To his detractors, “Napolaoun” is a power-obsessed megalomaniac who will do anything – even join forces with his former arch-nemesis Syria and its Lebanese allies – in order to fight his way to the top of Lebanon’s political hierarchy.

If the opposition prevails on June 7, headlines around the world will read “HIZBOLLAH WINS” even though the Shiite party is likely to hold no more seats in parliament than the dozen or so that it occupies today. It will, in fact, be the gains of the Free Patriotic Movement – and the affiliated parties of its Change and Reform Bloc – that will push the opposition into the majority, giving Aoun and his allies control of the largest block of seats in parliament.

Analysts and commentators have produced millions of words in an attempt to understand Hizbollah and its intentions, but Aoun and his movement have been overlooked. The FPM touts its ambitious and sweeping reform agenda, but the party – which sent representatives to parliament for the first time in 2005 – has only a brief track record in government and a leader renowned for his mercurial behaviour. Predicting the country’s course after the election is impossible, but it is clear that Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement are poised to play a major role – one that will test the party’s sincerity and determination to reform what it regards as a weak and ineffectual state.

(Read the rest)
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13 thoughts on “Bring it Aoun

  1. Very well done.

    I could quibble, but most of my points would only have made your piece even longer!!!


    Posted by dadavidovich | June 3, 2009, 8:17 pm
  2. QN,
    Really good article. It confirms my impression that Aoun is the best and the worst thing that happened to the FPM. On the one hand, his arrival made it the political force it is today. On the other hand, he overpowers the bottom up grass roots movement that it is. I think without Aoun they could have gotten to where they are now in about 10 years, but with a stronger institutional base. There is a danger that he will transform it from the mass movement that it started out as, into yet another za’im’s vehicle for political domination.

    I think the two big questions for this election are: What will the FPM do if M8 wins (which is what your article dealt with), and what will Hizbullah do if M8 loses? Thankfully, I have the superhuman patience to wait a week or two to find out.

    Posted by RedLeb | June 4, 2009, 12:45 am
  3. At the risk of knit-picking and sounding like a school teacher, how is it possible for Aoun to be both a “leader renowned for his mercurial behaviour” and also having a “longstanding distaste for the parties who rode the surge of anti-Syrian sentiment into power.” Isn’t longstanding the antithesis of mercurial?

    I suppose Jumblatt is a political weather vein and astute, not mercurial. You’ve been reading too much Michael Young. Try forming your own opinion.

    Posted by John G | June 4, 2009, 1:33 am
  4. Dear QN,

    I live in Sydney, Australia where, I am willing to bet, the largest contingent of Aoun supporters reside! My father being one too … Eventhough he has not been back to Lebanon since his migration in the 1970s he follows Lebanon’s events, especially Aoun-related ones, like no one I’ve ever met. I recently taught him how to use the net …. what a mistake!

    I have not read the article yet but I will and I’ll pass it to my father because I am sure he’d be excited to read it (for some reason articles about Aoun and the FPM in English make him extra happy).

    Back soon

    Posted by the Sydneysider | June 4, 2009, 1:42 am
  5. mabrook ya elias… Matt Yglesias commends you on your piece… you’re moving up in the blogosphere…
    keep it up, but drop that 3iqab sakr! lol

    Posted by F | June 4, 2009, 1:46 am
  6. A very glowing assessment of the FPM, but an enjoyable read nonetheless.

    Posted by Antoun Issa | June 4, 2009, 2:51 am
  7. Dr. QN are you Aounist? or a closet case ?

    Posted by V | June 4, 2009, 8:44 am
  8. I thought of letting you know the Tayyar.org posted your article on their website.


    Posted by Rami | June 4, 2009, 9:39 am
  9. Far too much history, not enough analysis. I was waiting for you to propose a theory of why the FPM/Hizbullah alliance has held (despite ideological differences) and whether you thought it would hold after the election. You let Alain Aoun do the talking, but there is clearly more too it.

    Also, it would have been interesting to go into more detail on how M14 will react to their defeat. How long will it take before Future gives up it’s strategy of confronting Hizbullah (and what happens then)? or a brief analysis of the inter-Christian conflicts (and how this reflects the prospects for FPM’s agenda of reform)… You alluded to these questions, but never really hit them on the head.

    Also, when you were talking about the Orange Room, it sounded like you wanted to make the parallel between disenfranchised FPM cadres and disenfranchised Shia… I am glad you didn’t go that far.

    Posted by Joe M. | June 4, 2009, 9:43 am
  10. Well done, QN! That was a very good read.

    A couple of year ago, there was much disgruntlement within the party base about the nepotism within FPM. Whatever happened to that?

    Posted by Ms. Tee | June 4, 2009, 3:15 pm
  11. ردت والدة الشهيد النقيب الطيار سامر حنا حرب ايفيت على كلام رئيس “تكتل التغيير والاصلاح” النائب العماد ميشال عون في مهرجان لائحة 8 آذار الاحد الفائت في البترون عندما سأل “اذا كان حزب الله قد خطف او قتل احدا من منطقة البترون وقالت: “صحيح أنك كنت قائدا للجيش ولكن ليس لك شهيد من لحمك ودمك لتقدر قيمة شهادة سامر”.

    ولفتت الى أنه “من المؤسف أن حزب الله اعترف وسكت إلا ان العماد عون يرفض السكوت”.
    وأسفت لصدور هذا الكلام عن قائد سابق للجيش، وسألته عن التحية التي كان من المفترض ان يوجهها لروح الشهيد سامر حنا خلال زيارته لتنورين فاستبدلها بالدفاع عن قتلته الذين هم اعترفوا وسكتوا بينما هو يرفض السكوت

    Posted by mike | June 5, 2009, 1:46 am
  12. I’ve done a roundup of reaction to Obama’s speech. If you print something I’ll add the link


    Posted by Leila Abu-Saba | June 5, 2009, 10:28 am
  13. Bring It Aoun is the worst pun I have heard for a long time (or the best, as puns are supposed to be awful)

    Posted by Wee Beastie | June 5, 2009, 1:21 pm

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