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Lebanon … the Night the General Was Summoned

Lebanon … the Night the General Was Summoned

Monday, 22 November, 2021 - 10:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The atmosphere was gloomy inside the hall of the remote hotel. Melancholy autumn erased the freshness of features, while the majestic trees took off their royal cloak. Leaves piled up like memories of a violated republic. When they accompanied him to the meeting room, his anxiety mounted. He saw in the corner a Lebanese flag… A flag that looked frail, humiliated, and confused, as if looking for a way to hide its face. The feelings of apprehension heightened as the meeting was held on the eve of Lebanon's independence anniversary.

He was haunted by a fear that he had never known throughout his tumultuous life. Did they bring him here to question him about the state of independence? It would be bitter if his assumptions are correct. Suddenly, he felt a defensive arrogance. He will respond by laying the blame on them. He will say that the explosives that they had accumulated over the years detonated during his tenure. He might think of using the phrase "turning the table on those present," but he dreaded the wrath of two men who would take part in the meeting and knew him inside out.

Before reaching his seat, he went through the names of the participants. Presidents Bechara El Khoury, Camille Chamoun, Fouad Chehab, Charles Helou, Suleiman Franjieh, Elias Sarkis, Bashir Gemayel, Rene Moawad and Elias Hrawi. He also noticed a private row for three presidents who were invited as observers: Amin Gemayel, Emile Lahoud and Michel Suleiman.

He tried to awaken his defensive memory, as he might need it. He could remind Bechara El Khoury that he was forced to leave the palace in wake of a popular storm, and after his brother overly interfered and took advantage of his influence. Camille Chamoun may be reminded that he left following a violent revolution, but deep inside he was jealous and afraid of the attractiveness of this fox.

He will feel embarrassment in front of Major General Fouad Chehab, who assumed the presidency without soaking his hands in blood, and always looked greater than his post.

Charles Helou is not a problem. He can be reminded that the Cairo Agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization - which undermined the sovereignty of the state - was signed during his term.

He will also feel humiliated in front of Elias Sarkis, who cannot be accused of shedding a drop of blood or of theft. He assumed the governance of the Central Bank with absolute integrity and passed through the Presidential Palace, not only refusing to beg for an extension of his stay, but insisting on leaving according to the constitution.

Bechara El-Khoury opened the session, pointing to its convening on the anniversary of Lebanon's independence on November 22, 1943. He said that the residents of the distant hotel, who were very worried about their homeland, decided to summon and listen to President Michel Aoun. They also invited the living former presidents, as observers.

The attendees were surprised by Fouad Chehab's rush to ask to speak, despite his usual honorable tendency to remain silent.

"I want to take the opportunity to apologize to the Lebanese people because the presidency was subsequently used badly and harmed both the country and the military," Chehab said.

"When I agreed to take over the presidency after the events of 1958, I felt the country's need for institutions to protect it from collapse. Fortunately, I did not have a son to whom I would renounce the constitution, or a son-in-law who hijacked the country to secure his own future. The truth is that if they had existed, I would not have hesitated to distance them from the state and its institutions."

Chehab added: "Corruption led to the transformation of the presidential palace into the retirement home of those who successively assumed the position of army chief… Promoting this idea was aimed at weakening both the army and the presidency. It is a shame there are those who were could not control their appetite, so they were weakened, along with the republic and others. It pains me to hear that the Lebanese are digging in waste to find something that can fill their hunger… that the soldier's livelihood is threatened, and that the country's institution is collapsing. That is why I want to apologize to the Lebanese people for what the generals did in the palace."

Aoun said he refuses to be addressed in this way, and that he would be forced to withdraw from the meeting. Chamoun gave him a hard look and said: “I know you were a pure Chamoun supporter before becoming excessively captivated by Bashir Gemayel. This is not strange. But I would like to ask what you have done with Bashir's own legacy and with those following his ideas.

"I want to ask you: Is it true that the Lebanese currency registered during your tenure a terrible collapse that culminated in the theft of the citizens' savings in banks? Is it true that people are longing for the era of the militias due to the excessive decline in the authority of the state during your term? Is it true that you entered the palace to implement the Mar Mikhael Agreement with Hezbollah and that you are defying the Taif Accord that is enshrined in the Lebanese constitution? Is it true that you have contributed to weakening the state in order to become president, and when you did, you only found an exhausted old widow so you pushed her toward her coffin?

"How do you deign to accept the change of the face of Lebanon and that it turn into an isolated island, that it lose its friendships and opportunities for a dignified life for its people? What good does it benefit a man to secure his son-in-law's victory and lose himself in the process?"

Aoun became confused and said that the legacy that preceded him was difficult and heavy, alluding to the policy of Rafik Hariri. A quarrel erupted between him and Elias Hrawi. He heard the latter say: "They accused Emile Lahoud of swimming, but you outdid him. You swam from the bank of Bashir Gemayel to the bank of Hassan Nasrallah, which caused an internal coup and the collapse of Lebanon's relations with the outside."

Uproar ensued. Bashir Gemayel intervened, addressing a confused Aoun in a stern tone: "I understand that you are incapable, but I do not see how you allow the collapse to bear your signature. How do you accept that the state be buried in your era? That the Lebanese throw themselves in the boats of death? That poverty and humiliation afflict an orphaned people? How can Lebanon exist without a developed hospital and a modern university, without a judiciary and without police?"

Aoun had a difficulty finding answers. Then Gemayel asked him the thorny question: "Is it true what Elie Hobeika wrote in his memoirs that you were his partner in the 'tripartite agreement' sponsored and engineered by Damascus? Is it true that your dream was limited to entering the presidential palace, and when you did, you found it poisoned after you paid the high entrance fee?"

Bechara El-Khoury sensed that the consultation session was about to turn into a trial. He asked the Lebanese not to celebrate Independence Day this year. He urged Aoun to apologize to the citizens on the occasion, not to remind them of the achievements, foremost of which is the forensic audit, which is like medicine that had arrived only after the death of the patient.

Before Aoun left to the Baabda palace, the Lebanese flag was seen sneaking up furtively to throw itself in one of the "death boats" departing from the coast of Tripoli.

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