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Saturday, May 07, 2005

On the occasion of his return

From Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon:

I had met Aoun during his 1983 battles at Soukh al-Gharb, but when I saw him again in 1989 he seemed much smaller. His shell-proof bunker used to be part of the presidential palace's underground carpark. A short man in American combat fatigues moved towards me, right hand outstretched in an artificial, slightly embarassed way. There were dark bags under his eyes. He had been directing his artillery all night. His face was white and unhealthy -- he had already been living in his bunker for six weeks -- and he had the appearance of a mole emerging from a long sleep, his eyes bloodshot and blinking. There were loyal aparatchiks everywhere, in blue suits and ties, murmuring 'Monsieur le président' in Aoun's ear. The Napoleon of Lebanon was about to speak from his underground garage.

It was part monologue, part history lesson. Aoun wanted a westernized Lebanon, 'like France, like America' [1]. He could not see why this might not appeal to the Muslims, whom he also claimed to represent. When I suggested that his 'war of liberation' against Syria would turn into a disaster, he lectured me on how not one war of liberation had ever been lost. 'History shows this,' he said with a gleam of satisfaction. 'Look at the French Marquis in the Second World War. Look at the Algerian resistance to te French, look at the Vietcong.' So what were his plans, I asked? 'Plans? What plans?' Well, plans for the war, for the future of Lebanon. Aoun was frowning now. 'I am a soldier. I want the liberation of my country.'

Yet his war was to bring the death of at least a thousand men and women. No 'liberation' was to be vouchsafed to anyone. Moreover, Aoun himself was to rule his tiny, dangerous fiefdom with growing dictatorial powers [2], prohibiting Lebanese newspapers which disagreed with his policies, banning journalists who did not write what he wanted to read, acquiescing in the public humiliation of the head of the Maronite Church in Lebanon; the old patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, was forced to kiss the general's portrait by dozens of jeering Aoun supporters [3]. Aoun remained silent when the homes of Lebanese MPs who opposed him were blown up with explosives. Life in east Beirut was becoming more like life in Baghdad than a 'free' Lebanon. (p. 633-34)

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on 2 August, Aoun was one of the few personalities in the Arab world to remain silent. Neither condemnation nor approval issued from his bunker. But he continued to criticize America's interference in Lebanese affairs; his supporters had long ago forced the US embassy in east Beirut to close. [4] (p. 643)

1 Well, following the "opposition's" logic, he ought to have moved to USA or France right then, without even being forced to.

2 People tell me "well, that was so many years ago, maybe he's changed". But in Lebanon that's easier said than done. The country might change but the people never do. The nature of the Lebanese is a sad affair to be honest.

3 Hooligans?

4 I wonder why Mr. Aoun Monsieur le président never criticised Iraq's interference in Lebanese affairs; I wonder why he He (the God that Patriarch Sfeir should've worshipped) doesn't criticise America's interference in Lebanese affairs NOW. Perhaps because he's a hypocrite?

Marsden, thanks for the link, and for posting the writing of Robert Fisk. It is always refreshing to read his perspective.
I've linked to that in my piece about King Aoun's return - what an excellent piece Marsden.
We all know by now that how much Mr. Fisk is biased. I guess he has a personal problem with the General Aoun. In any case, truth to be told, General Aoun was the only person opposing the Syrian occupation when everybody, including the USA, were making dirty deals with the president Hafez Assad. It was a general in army uniform teaching the world about "Democracy", ironic isn't it?
Second, yes he made alliance with Saddam, only to liberate his country. Saddam at the time was enemy of Syria and "the enemy of my enemy is my friend".
Third, Mr. Fisk can accuse the General with anything he wants, that is freedom of expression, but he can't change the facts that this guy is the only person with the highest integrity in Lebanon, even in the arab world. Last, the wind of change are coming to Lebanon, whether you or Mr. Fisk like it or not, your narrow minded thinking cannot stop it. We will take democratic values from the West and mold them to our way and we, the Lebanese, will be the pioneer of the middle eastern democracy. We will contaminate the whole Arab world with it and we will offer a better future for our children.

If USA was making dirty deals with Assad, Aoun was making even dirtier deals with SADDAM (remember the dictator who gassed thousands of Kurds and killed thousands of Iraqis as well?) He was doing it for Lebanon's sake? Wow. You mean you would ally with a Hitler or a Saddam to kick out a Syria and bring 'liberation' to your country (which was sure to fail anyway, I guess Monsieur le president was either delusional or simply thirsty for blood), at the expense of thousands of civilians killed because you chose to deliberately fire on residential areas? How liberating.

And you, sir, ought to be the last one to accuse Mr. Fisk of being biased. Mr. Fisk has been the least biased person during the bloody war. He has reported on the massacres of Sabra & Shatila, as well as on the crimes of the Syrian army, criticised Hezballah, and exposed "Israel". In fact, if you will accuse him of bias, you should realise that he is biased in favour of the "opposition" at the moment. All you need to do is read his recent articles to realise that.
arch.memory - indeed; Fisk's book does offer an interesting perspective. I feel that this has changed as of late with his recent analyses of events - I think he's lost the edge on reporting. But I guess we all have our time.

Sasa, thanks for the link. :)

I remember very well the battles between Aoun and Geagea. I used to live in Mar Mikhael (St. Michel) just minutes away from the Electricite du Liban building, which was hit. I remember during the fiercest battles we used to run to the shelter across the street while the bombs were wheezing above us. Our apartment was hit. Twice. Once it made a hole in the balcony wall (we were in the shelter). The second time it came right in but didn't explode. The neighbours opposite our apartment had just gotten married. Their apartment was completely destroyed by a shell. I remember on February 15, a bomb hit the parking lot and cars burnt all day until someone from our building went out and removed his car and stopped the fire from spreading. Our car was right next in line to burn, but it didn't. On another occasion, our car was completely destroyed when a bomb fell right in front of our building where the car was parked. I remember how we used to stand in line for hours (when things had 'calmed') at the gas station for a gallon of gas. And even longer for bread. I remember watching the men in the building fill gallons with water for everyone, and use a pulley to take it upstairs. There was no water and no electricity. My mom used to light candles and we would sit there doing nothing. Sometimes, when there was school, I would do my homework. Later on my mom installed a fluorescent light powered with a car battery.

The people in our building were divided on who to support. Some were supporters of Geagea. Others of Aoun. Both sides would be scared of saying it out loud, for fear that they would be targeted by someone. The son of a family friend of ours was killed by a shell 100 metres away from our building. He was 18.

Now one has returned from 'exile'. The other is due to be released. And what are the REAL VICTIMS and SURVIVORS supposed to be feeling??! Happy?!

Both should be assassinated. The sooner the better.
Both assasinated? nice democratic solution... I know the war that took place between Aoun and Geagea is the biggest mistake and cost Lebanon, not just the Lebanese Christians dearly. It is a black mark in our history, just like the whole civil war. But now it is time to rebuild our country. I read you Russian Roulette article and I read your comment to Sasa, and I can tell you this with all good intention: Don't wait till the world feels sorry for you case. Take control of your life and start changing your country. Enough sad stories, this is the past which is useful only to learn from. Personally I will not wait for anybody to feel sorry for me and come help me. I will help my self, so each Lebanese needs to do.
Both assasinated? nice democratic solution...
I never claimed I was interested in democracy. It's an overrated word anyway.

now it is time to rebuild our country.
Right, but rebuilding can't be through releasing warlords who will surely go back to their same sectarian warmongering and propaganda.

Enough sad stories, this is the past which is useful only to learn from.
Learn from, yes. But how can you do that when the history of the country that is taught in high schools does not include the war? How can you learn from something when you refuse to talk about it because it might "upset the delicate sectarian ties"? And for the record, I don't see this changing any time soon, and most definitely not under Aoun's regime. Aoun himself has rewritten the truth to fit his own war criminal agenda.
Aoun is back, he has supporters. There is nothing called Aoun's regime. There will be election (eventhough with a biased law), and this election will dictate the future of Lebanon. This is democracy, get used to it. Regarding the remarks about the patriarch not opposing the foreign intervention. The last time I checked there were no american forces in Lebanon, neither French one. So what intervention you are talking about? Embassadors' visits? these visits don't kidnap people and torture them. While as we had Syrian forces and secret services all the time and you know the rest of the story. Second, definitely the hypocrite is Hezbolla's chief who is crying to stop the foreign intervention but he was OK with the Syrian intervention. Double standards to its greatest extents and what is ironic is I never saw a demonstration in front of Anjar or the Beau-rivage organized by Hezbollah, mmm I wonder why not, the Syrian regime was interfering left and right.But at that time, it was OK. Little bit of logic helps here.
Fisk is immensely biased, but not in all of the typical ways. Sure, he's a million times better than Tom Friedman, but he is strongly biased nonetheless.
I don't see why Aoun is such a horrendous tyrant. He prolonged the war, yes! But so did all of the Lebanese parliamentarians and warlords who offered Syria the chance to annex our country.
Aoun fought Christians and Muslims equally.
Yes, Amal did fight Hezbollah until they equaled out their turf. And Amal was tremendously stupid in attacking Jumblatt. However, they were doing it for personal gain and they admitted to it. Why not in war torn Lebanon?
Geagea kept talking about segmenting the country. Aoun always talked about preserving it.
I'm not a big fan of the guy, but the minute people jump off the deep end shouting factually incorrect arguments I'm drawn further into his camp.
I still don't get why he is the ultimate evil for wanting to fight off Syria and the Lebanese warlords as commander of the Lebanese Army. Personal problems? Sure, I've got a lot with the guy. But give him credit where it's due.
There is nothing called Aoun's regime.
LOL. Dream on...

This is democracy, get used to it.
Yes, I will have to agree with that. Except that the bad news (for you) is: you should get used to it too.

Regarding the remarks about the patriarch not opposing the foreign intervention.
No, it was not the patriarch Fisk was talking about, but Aoun.

The last time I checked there were no american forces in Lebanon, neither French one.
There used to be. Actually, scratch that. There still ARE. Proxies, that is. The last time I checked there are no Syrian forces in Lebanon, or Iranian "revolutionary guards" for that matter (although the U.S still insists that there are... same old story as Saddam's WMD?).

these visits don't kidnap people and torture them.
Oh booo hoo, so the Lebanese are just angels and have never kidnapped or tortured anyone. Yup. Khiam ring a bell, buddy? Supported and funded by none other than good ol' US of A.

definitely the hypocrite is Hezbolla's chief who is crying to stop the foreign intervention but he was OK with the Syrian intervention.
Admittedly Hezballah's stance about the Syrian "issue" has been hypocritical, but so was/is that of the "opposition". I don't see why Hezballah shouldn't be hypocritical when the "opposition" is allowed to be. So really, you ought to be the last one to talk about hypocrisy...
The funny thing, dearest Walid, is that Elaph, the liberal "Saudi Arabian" paper which was popular with the FPM for the entire duration of the so-called "cedar revolution" is now being laughed at because of a story on Aoun meeting up with "Israeli" defense ministers. Is this the model on which the FPM and the so-called "opposition" (if such a thing still exists) is going to base its reactions to the (embarassing) results of the elections?
I don't see why Aoun is such a horrendous tyrant.
Give me a break. You don't SEE why he's such a horrendous tyrant??!?! For Christ's sake, he declared himself to be the president when there were supposed to be elections. He used the LEBANESE ARMY to kill LEBANESE CIVILIANS. He accepted weapons shipments from SADDAM HUSSEIN. Among other things, including his dictatorial treatment of journalists, radio and TV stations, etc. And you STILL can't see?!??!\

Aoun fought Christians and Muslims equally.
And that somehow makes it OK?!?!?! Ya habibi, why are you talking to me with sectarian terms? I don't care if he fought against Christians AND Muslims. Fighting against and killing one is just as bad as the other. He was shellinh RESIDENTIAL AREAS. What makes HIM any better than the Syrian army?!?! The Syrian army was... Syrian. Aoun and his forces were LEBANESE. And they were killing Lebanese. It's one thing for a Syrian to kill a Lebanese, it's quite another for a Lebanese (and one who claims he is the president and is allegedly fighting for the freedom of all of Lebanon) to kill a Lebanese.

Geagea kept talking about segmenting the country. Aoun always talked about preserving it.
You see, this, this is the problem. Relativist thinking. The lesser evil is not necessarily good, and we should not feel obliged (by lack of choice or otherwise) to support it.

wanting to fight off Syria and the Lebanese warlords as commander of the Lebanese Army.
LOL. That sounded nice, except for the "Lebanese warlords" bit. He was ONE.
I guess I disagree with you fundamentally. I do differentiate between good war and bad war.
Amal fought very bad war. Jumblatt fought bad sometimes and good sometimes (kind of like his opinion). Aoun was like Jumblatt. Hezbollah fought good more than bad.
The reason Aoun and Hezbollah get along so well is because they are both nationalist parties fighting for nationalist causes, although using different allies.
Was Hafez better than Saddam? Can Hama be compared with Kurdistan? Can the Lebanese war be compared with Kuwait?
I think going through such lists leads to frivolity.
Aoun did kill, as do all generals. He was employed to do so. His assignment was to defend his country. When all leaders were gone, he took orders from himself.
He refused to give Lebanon away to Syria, which is why he fought instead of recognizing Taef. He refused to be bought and then given a cushy post-war position.
Few in this part of the world questioned Hezbollah's war of liberation before it was won in 2000. But they did a significant amount of killing against Israeli generals.
No, Hezbollah did not repeatedly shell Israeli innocents. No, they did not prolong an internal war. But their battle was fought in a different terrain at a different time with different allies.
To criticize a general for doing his job in a time of war seems to me a bit absurd.
It does mean something to me that he killed both Christians and Muslims. In a country where sect became the very reason for war, he fought for another cause. He fought for the liberation of all of those living under Christian and Muslim tyrants. He fought to keep foreigners from oppressing his countrymen.
For all of these arguments, I still don't love Aoun. But you might start to understand why I don't understand all of the arguments against him.
Put into context, which one must do, he does not look as bad as all of the accusations.
I do not condemn General Spears for killing Lebanese when he helped liberate the country from the Vichy (Nazi-allied) French.
Was Hafez better than Saddam? Can Hama be compared with Kurdistan? Can the Lebanese war be compared with Kuwait?
Your questions are valid, but they fail to arrive to a conclusion... One wrong does not justify another. Again, I am not talking in terms of war (perhaps Aoun thought alliance with Saddam was necessarily from a military perspective), but in terms of morality, something that the "opposition" seems to be using to argue against the Syrian occupation (and acts of violence against the Lebanese). You see, Aoun should be equally blamed for having used Iraqi-supplied weapons to kill Lebanese. THAT is my point.

Aoun did kill, as do all generals.
He was the self-proclaimed president of Lebanon, for Christ's sake. Presidents aren't supposed to shell residential areas in their own countries. Presidents aren't supposed to hide in a bunker and give orders to shell areas which would kill thousands of their countrymen.

Few in this part of the world questioned Hezbollah's war of liberation before it was won in 2000.
But of course they did. Hezballah was hated by Lebanese Christians (and I lived among them, so don't tell me I'm wrong) during the war of liberation. The Christians I know were all supportive of SLA. Moreover, where was the army? Why wasn't Hezballah given the army the way Aoun took over it back in his "war of liberation" against Syria?

To criticize a general for doing his job in a time of war seems to me a bit absurd.
Either he's a general or he's a president. Which one? He ought to make his mind, really. A president can't be a general at the same time, especially when it comes down to murdering the Lebanese citizens he was allegedly supposed to serve... Aoun might've really had good intentions in his fight against Syria (although I doubt it), but he was delusional, and even if he chose to "go down" fighting for Lebanon's "liberation", he also chose to take down with him thousands of Lebanese. In the end he fled when his life was in danger. Those thousands of Lebanese could not. They were already dead. Thanks to his shells, gifts from his ally Saddam. I guess the Lebanese should thank Aoun for his gift to them as a president.

He fought to keep foreigners from oppressing his countrymen.
Oh wow, so foreigners arne't supposed to oppress his countrymen, but he's allowed to. In fact, he DID. Just as he was claiming to "liberate" the Lebanese from... oppression. How ironic.
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