The Sunni political elite’s alliance with the West - notably the US and France has put the Maronite political elite (specifically, General Michel Aoun) in a somewhat awkward position. Traditionally, Maronite politicians were the ones who were closely tied to Western governments, whereas everyone else was stuck with either the USSR or some other “brotherly/sisterly/motherly” Arab country. These strong political bonds between the West and the Maronites were manifestations of broader cultural ones (as well as economic ones) that go as far back as the early 17th century.
Today, the seismic shift of political alliances has made the chess board unrecognizable and provided Lebanon with a unique opportunity. The shift should have created an opening for the Sunni and Maronite political elites to, at the very least, form the most solid political alliance since Lebanon’s independence – one that is based on both parties’ strong relations with Western powers and a shared vision for Lebanon. Unfortunately, that reality has yet to take place. Instead, the top Maronite politician of today, General Michel Aoun, has lead the Maronites into a very unnatural alliance with Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Aoun’s calculation in refusing to join the March 14 forces was a short-sighted political one, and the support that he has received from the Maronite population is based solely on sectarian competition. He wanted to enter Lebanon the way Yasser Arafat entered Palestine. He saw himself as the true representative of the Maronites, and completely disregarded those politicians who stayed behind. His self-righteousness and short-sighted vindictiveness has, among other things, helped to destroy March 14 and has turned the Maronite population into supporters of Tehran’s agenda in Lebanon!
The justifications one would find in Lebanon for Aoun’s behavior on the Lebanese Maronite street are the following:
- He is actually “neutral”
- He is protecting the Maronite population while the Muslims duke it out amongst themselves
- He is teaching both Jumblatt and Nasrallah a lesson because they formed their Baabda-Aley electoral alliance and left him out in the cold
- Finally, there is old Dr. Victorino’s line, that the Hariri’s are nothing more than Wahhabists in disguise – and that if the Maronites had to choose between Wahhabists and Khomeinists, they prefer the latter.
It is so disheartening to witness how sectarianism manifests itself in politics… Whereas this conflict could easily have been framed as a conflict between Culture, Ideals and Visions, it is now framed in purely sectarian terms. If the March 14 alliance had included Aoun, Hizballah would have been isolated and had no choice but to face all of Lebanon. Given those circumstances, this current crisis we now face would have ended a long time ago.
Of course, the cement – or glue – that would bring all of the March 14 forces together (with Aoun) would not have been sectarian – there is no sectarian reason why Druze Sunnis, and Maronites should converge against Shi’as. Rather, the glue of the coalition would have been:
- a shared vision for Lebanon and Lebanon’s future – one that is modern and economically prosperous as well as one that is not in a perpetual state of war with Israel (fighting for Tehran’s and Damascus’s interests)
- a shared belief that modern civilization along with an open society and liberal economy is the path that Lebanon will take in the future – rather than a religiously conservative one that suggests visions that compete with modernity and secularism.
Of course, rather than take this path, Aoun has decided that political calculations are the more pertinent ones. Just look at the way he handled MP Naim’s death! Ultimately by doing so, Aoun may have gained more political stature – and consequently given the Maronite community the loudest voice they have ever had since the late 1980s. But at what price???
Where will this take Lebanon as a country??? Where will Aoun’s politicking lead us?
I believe that the Maronite population will eventually regret Aoun’s entry into Lebanese politics. For the first time in Lebanon’s history, the Sunni and Druze political elites screamed “Lebanon First” with the backing of the West, and the Maronite elite quietly swam in the other direction! What a shame! This lost opportunity will be recorded in our long, sad and bloody history.