The politicking of Aoun since his arrival saddens me. His behavior has lead to disarray within the opposition camp that we once all belonged to, and has lead to a renewed rally by the security-apparatus and Syria’s zulum. One of the indirect consequences of Aoun’s truly earth-shattering entrance into Lebanese politics could have been Samir Qassir's death. For had he remained abroad until after the dissolution of the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus (along with its appendages), or had he allied with the opposition camp until its dissolution, the apparatus might have been too intimidated by a united front to take any initiatives – especially such blatant and brutal acts as what happened yesterday. Unfortunately, his bid to drill his way into the Lebanese political landscape by taking advantage of a volatile situation while it lasts has lead Aoun to adopt a different strategy, a strategy that may have already cost us dearly.
Aoun’s Political Strategy: treat them all alike; they're all the same!
One of Aoun's most powerful "political weapons" is the oft-repeated fact that he has been in exile for fifteen years. He never ceases to remind us that all the political entities in Lebanon today (other than himself, of course) were once part of the Sulta, and were as corrupt and incompetent as each other. Aoun's narrative is that he's the only one whose hands are clean - he never robbed the state, nor did he deal with the Syrian occupation. Therefore, Hariri is no different from Karami; Arslan is no different from Jumblatt; Murr is no different from Samir Franjieh; etc.… On that basis he deals with both camps on an equal footing, and plays one off against the other in order to better his own negotiating position. The notion that negotiations with Jumblatt and Hariri was not about seats is, in my opinion, a ridiculous one. Aoun wanted seats, and his threat to the opposition camp was that if he didn’t get them, he didn’t have any inhibitions about going to the other camp.
Aoun's perception of the Lebanese political elite is correct; but only partially so. Hariri, Jumblatt, and most of the other members of the opposition camp are not exactly role-model democrats who respect state institutions and the law. They have abused their powers, bypassed state institutions and lived above the "laws of the land." However, what distinguishes them from people like Lahoud and Murr is the fact that they do have popular mandates, and do not owe their power to Syria’s post-war tutelage of the country, or to the ability to utilize political violence. Furthermore, with regards to the Syrian occupation and Aoun's principaled refusal to deal with it, I wonder what would have happened if all of Lebanon's politicians decided to pack up their bags and leave the country because they could not accept the occupation on priciple? The General packed up and left because he could not reconcile himself to some very potent local, regional and international realities; a political disease that might be surfacing again, today.
Aoun’s agenda: gone with the wind?
One would like to think that in return for effectively dissolving the opposition and (inadvertently?) inflaming sectarian tensions, Aoun would offer something in return. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case. We are continually reminded of his reform agenda, but I’ve never heard him articulate this agenda once! Assuming it did exist however, and that it is taken seriously, I wonder whether the General’s new allies would be more supportive of it than members of the opposition. Would individuals who are even more dependent on kickbacks from the state for their power be more or less forthcoming to reform initiatives? I guess we will find out in the coming years.
Assuming that Aoun is truly an anti-sectarian reformer at heart, I would think that he’d be aware that Lebanon’s problems are systemic. I would also think that Aoun is aware of the fact that one election will not make that much of a difference, and that the issue is not so much about leaders, as it is about people and communities. Aoun once said as much. After arriving to Lebanon, he mentioned that his efforts did not center on elections, but rather the overall cause of reform. It now appears that Aoun is intent on two things:
1. winning as many seats in parliament as possible
2. he apparently seeks an all-out revolution of the Lebanese political elite
A more limited set of goals, along with more responsible rhetoric and political maneuverings could have ended this Lebanese political saga a long time ago. If only Aoun joined the opposition... If only he accepted that certain things come before others... Samir Qassir's words might still have been printed on an-Nahar's pages every Friday.