Old Enemies Set to Elect Aoun for President of Lebanon

تم نشره في Mon 31 October / Oct 2016. 01:00 AM
  • A Lebanese flag flutters near a picture of Christian politician and FPM founder Michel Aoun on a building prior to presidential elections in Beirut, Lebanon October 30, 2016. - (REUTERS)

BEIRUT — Twenty-six years after being forced from Lebanon's presidential palace and into exile by the Syrian army, Michel Aoun is set to be elected head of state on Monday, backed by many of his old enemies.

Barring a surprise, many of Lebanon's sectarian politicians will back the 81-year-old Christian leader in the parliamentary vote.

Aoun can rely for support on Iranian-backed Hezbollah, with which he has been allied for a decade. But he will fulfil his long-held ambition thanks to the unlikely endorsement of Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri, who waged political war for years against the Shi'ite Hezbollah movement and its allies with Saudi backing.

Hariri is to become prime minister under the new deal which he hatched with Aoun.

Aoun's election would end a 29-month-long vacuum in the presidency, part of a political crisis that has paralyzed Lebanon's government and raised concerns over its future as civil war rages in neighbouring Syria.

However, doubts remain over his ability to forge the cross-community consensus needed to make his administration succeed. "I do not know to what degree he will be able to reconcile the great contradictions that his rule will group together," said Nabil Boumonsef, a political commentator at An-Nahar newspaper.

A Aoun victory would mark a remarkable turn of fortune for the former general who fought two wars in the late 1980s at the end of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war – one against Syria and the other against rival Christian forces.

His subsequent alliance with Hezbollah backed by its Syrian and Iranian patrons helped to cement divisions in the once dominant Maronite Christian community. But it also angered the United States, which views Hezbollah - a heavily armed group and Syria's strongest Lebanese ally - as a terrorist organization.

His election will also be viewed as a victory for Hezbollah, Tehran and Damascus over Hariri's Sunni allies in Riyadh at a time when Saudi Arabia has appeared to retreat from Lebanon as it prioritizes fighting Iran in the Gulf. It will also raise questions over Western policy towards Lebanon, whose army depends on U.S. military aid.

Triggered by financial misfortune, Hariri's concession is seen as the last resort to secure the political survival of a man who has accused Syria of killing his father, Rafik. Hariri's standing in Lebanon has been hit by the financial crisis caused by troubles at his Saudi-based construction firm.