Reprinted from NewsMax.com
Lebanon’s Divided Christian Camp
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 8:58 AM
By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
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A defiant Gen. Michel Aoun defended his alliance with the
Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and vowed to press his
claims for the presidency in an exclusive interview with Newsmax,
despite widespread opposition from other Christian leaders and the
During the interview at his heavily-guarded home in Rabiyeh, a suburb
of embassies and estates in the hills just north of Beirut, Aoun
rejected claims by his opponents that he was “in league” with Syria,
whose forces he once vowed to expel from Lebanon while serving as
interim prime minister of Lebanon nearly two decades ago.
“I am still the same,” he said, recalling earlier conversations with
this reporter, when he had called for Syria to withdraw its forces from
Lebanon. “I am not in league with Syria.”
To his supporters, the 71-year Aoun is a Gen. De Gaulle figure who has
rallied his nation’s resistance to the long-time Syrian occupation. It
is a reference he has nurtured throughout the long years of his exile
To his detractors, he is a megalomaniac, who will do anything just to
achieve his nation’s highest office.
“We are fighting Mussolini and Hitler,” said Roger Eddé, a
prominent Lebanese Christian businessman who had been a supporter of
Aoun’s until the general’s alliance with Hezbollah last year. Edde
compared Aoun to Mussolini, and Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan
Nasrollah to Hitler.
Aoun signed the controversial pact with Hezbollah in February 2006,
five months before Hezbollah kidnapped three Israeli soldiers inside
Israel, igniting last summer’s war.
“It is not an alliance,” the general insisted. “It’s a memorandum of
Aoun argued that the agreement brought Hezbollah into the mainstream of
Lebanese politics, rather than taking him to the fringes.
“Before this agreement, all Hezbollah could talk about was liberating
Jerusalem, liberating Israel. Now they hardly ever mention Israel, so
this is a real change,” he said.
The general noted that when he returned in Lebanon in May 2005 after 14
years in exile in France, Hezbollah was already a political force on
“Hezbollah was what it was,” he said. “I didn’t create them. There was
an entente among Lebanese to support them.”
But Aoun’s political opponents aren’t buying it, and question the
general’s motives in attempting to mainstream a group the United States
and many Lebanese view as a major international terrorist organization.
“General Aoun has no strategic goal other than to make himself
president,” Lebanese forces leader Dr. Samir Geagea told Newsmax in a
separate interview last week at his fortress-like redoubt high in the
Christian mountains north of Beirut.
“There is no political problem with Aoun, only a psychological problem.
He looks at things differently than the rest of us,” Geagea added. “He
has no long-term rational calculations. Only ambition.”
Aoun caught his enemies off guard by meeting with arch-rival Amin
Gemayel on Oct. 21 in an effort to defuse the tensions that have driven
many Christians to despair.
Few observers here believe the rival Christian camps will take up arms
against each other, as they did in 1989 when Geagea and Aoun waged a
fratricidal war that devastated the Christian community and ended with
Syrian troops encircling the presidential palace, where Aoun had holed
up with his supporters.
Instead, they fear that Aoun and his allies will block the elections of
an anti-Syrian president and thus allow Syria to consolidate its
gradual return as Lebanon’s overlord.
Aoun claims that his “understanding” with Hezbollah explicitly bars a
“Our accord calls for official Syrian-Lebanese relations,” Aoun told
Newsmax, “not a return to Syrian tutelage.”
Aoun claims to have widespread popular support, and won one-third of
the popular vote in the 2005 parliamentary elections.
Private polls taken for Saad Hariri, son of the slain former prime
minister Rafic Hariri, show Aoun and Geagea polling evenly at between
12 percent to 15 percent each, sources knowledgeable of the polls told
“If General Aoun would put aside his personal ambitions, he would play
a positive role in Lebanese politics,” one Western diplomat stated.
Lebanon’s respected French language daily, L’Orient Le Jour, suggested
in a recent editorial that Lebanese leaders were prepared to allow Aoun
to play a “king maker” role in the upcoming presidential elections, on
condition that he withdraw his own candidacy.
Aoun’s campaign posters are plastered all over the Hezbollah-controlled
neighborhoods of South Beirut but are scarcely visible in the Christian
The 87-year old Maronite Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir,
has been playing a prominent role in the back-room negotiations to find
a compromise presidential candidate.
The patriarch told a visiting U.S. fact-finding mission led by former
South Carolina Gov. David Beasely that he was hoping for stepped-up
U.S. efforts to bring the opposing parties together.
U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman has been meeting regularly with
potential presidential candidates and with leaders of the Cedars
Revolution, the broad-based anti-Syrian coalition that sprung up in the
wake of the assassination of Hariri in Feb. 2005.
The patriarch also has been meeting with presidential hopefuls,
including Aoun, in an attempt to reconcile the pro- and anti-Syrian
camps, but said he could assert no religious authority over the rebel
“We hope to find a solution,” a source close to the patriarch told the
visiting Americans last week. “But at the moment, it is very cloudy.”
After meeting with the patriarch and his top aides, Father Keith
Roderick of Christian Solidarity International told Newsmax that these
elections come at a crucial time for the Christian community in Lebanon.
“The patriarch needs to hear that Christians in America care and are
concerned about the survival of the Christian community in Lebanon and
the Middle East,” he said.
“If the Patriarch loses hope, the whole thing begins a downward
spiral,” Roderick added.
© 2007 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
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