In his new book titled, “Guardian of the Republic’s Tomb”, Lebanese writer Fayez Azzi reviews President Michel Aoun’s term in office and presents documents and analyses that show that he placed the country in Iran’s clutches, instead of achieving his long-touted slogan of “freedom, sovereignty and independence” that he used to address the “great people of Lebanon.”
Azzi was very close to Aoun when the latter acted as army chief and then head of the military government in 1988. But he distanced himself from the general in 2006 after he signed the memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah – an agreement that Azzi saw as a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty and a change in the values that Aoun had long touted.
Asharq Al-Awsat is publishing two episodes of excerpts from the book, which will soon be published by Dar Saer Al-Mashreq in Beirut. This is the fifth book by Azzi, who had played a role in Aoun’s communication with the Syrians before his return from Parisian exile in 2005.
On the choice of the title of his book, Azzi said: “I hesitated a lot, and disregarded the advice of my friend (former information minister) Melhem Riachy, whom I visited a few days after he assumed the media portfolio in the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri…”
“I have a new book. But I am taking my time to publish it. Because it is related to Michel Aoun,” Azzi told Riachy, who replied: “What is its title and what is it about?”
He said: “Aoun... the Republic.”
“Why three dots?” Riachy asked.
“I don’t want to rush in judging the man’s tenure, after I have accompanied him sincerely and with conviction for more than twenty years. So I’ll wait a year into his tenure, at least, to fill in the blanks in the title. I am torn between two words: guardian or protector; knowing that I am inclined towards my first choice: ‘Aoun, the guardian of the republic’s tomb,’ instead of: ‘Aoun, the protector of the Republic Palace,’”Azzi told his interlocutor.
The information minister responded: “Without hesitation, I advise you not to wait, just choose the first option.”
In his book, Azzi says that Aoun was able more than anyone else to fulfill an urgent need to protect the return of the displaced to their villages after they were forced to flee in 1985 during Lebanon’s civil war.
“This was my first concern and the only project that took me on a new political adventure called the Aounist experiment, to which I committed to the point of intoxication.
“This clarification has become necessary and obligatory. Without it, the reader will not be able to understand my long relationship with General Aoun, especially when they discover how close the ties were at times […] until he surprised me on February 6, 2006, by signing a memorandum of understanding between the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah at the Mar Mikhael Church. I then dropped my understanding with him, turning it completely into a doctrinal enmity.”
Azzi recounts: “I knew Michel Aoun closely […]. He was practical and succinct and had convictions based on the purposes and intentions of reform and change. Here lies the secret of his strength and the fear that worried his allies before his opponents, especially if they (his allies) did not react to the general’s born or promised convictions.
“But this duality between the ‘rebellious’ general and the inconsistent president posed a great danger to the republic, specifically to the complex and almost impossible equation between a leader of the liberation battle and a president who was eager to satisfy the electorate.
“Therefore, I complete in this book a truth born of my conviction that the ‘former general’ who was elevated to the presidency, buried the dream of the republic, even before becoming an agent of the occupier and allied with the state’s rapists.”
On the general’s return from his exile in Paris, Azzi says: “Aoun’s visit to Syria was completed in a figurative sense. I was witness to the matter, on December 27, 2004, when Aoun and the Syrians agreed on his return to Lebanon […]. Gaby Issa (an official in the Free Patriotic Movement) visited Damascus and met with then-Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam.”
Azzi recalls: “After his conditional return from Paris, he agreed with the Syrians, who, after [former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri’s martyrdom, added two conditions to the agreement with Aoun: the first is to support [President] Emile Lahoud until the end of his term, and the second is to reach an understanding with Hezbollah.”
However, Aoun’s presidential ambitions collided with the endorsement of Hariri’s movement and Hezbollah of the election of Army Commander Michel Suleiman.
Thus, the Mar Mikhael understanding of 2006 did not fulfill the promise of Aoun becoming president.
Azzi said that at the end of Suleiman’s term, “the presidential elections turned into a theater for which two candidates initially competed: [Lebanese Forces leader Samir] Geagea and Aoun.”
“Michel Aoun, his team and his main allies did not spare any maneuver to disrupt the elections and maintain the presidential vacuum, as long as victory was not guaranteed […]. The speaker of parliament joined the scheme to disrupt the election in order to exploit the vacuum […].”
Azzi explained how Speaker Nabih Berri and Aoun both manipulated the constitution to hold the parliamentary session that saw the election of Aoun.
He says: “Aoun played an active role in disrupting the constitution, in letter and spirit, to reach the presidency.
“It was the end of the maneuver and the beginning of humiliation and surrender. Everyone welcomed [the elections] - some of them against their will – while failing to notice that the Lebanese politicians had abandoned the principle of free democratic elections, and submitted to the nomination of a biased president, who was increasingly submissive to the Iranian ruler. General Aoun repeated his old and constant phrase: ‘There is an empty chair, either they will invite me to it, or I will take it by force.’”
Episode 2/2: Geagea: We were unable to break Aoun’s position.