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Aoun Was Here

Aoun Was Here

Monday, 31 October, 2022 - 07:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

I know the harshness of the title “former president”. I know that Michel Aoun adores the palace. He would rather leave it in a vacuum than see it occupied by a successor. He had for decades believed that the palace was stolen from him.


I had hoped that his farewell would have respected the pain of the Lebanese people, the position of the presidency and the experience of being a president.


A few months ago, I was delusional in believing that Aoun would declare early on his support for the election of a president through consensus, abandoning his demands, that of his movement and son-in-law, who addresses the Lebanese people as though he invented Lebanon and allowed them to live in it. Aoun did not.


I was also delusional in believing that the president would depart the palace by offering an apology because calamity struck during his term and he failed in easing the bare minimum of their suffering.


His farewell address was interesting and unfortunate. It was also beneficial to those following up on Lebanese developments.


For example, we were unaware that salvation had arrived in the form of the demarcation of the maritime border with Israel. Oh my. We were unaware that Aoun had lived in the presidential palace for six years, but never assumed the presidency. Rather, he had lived in the palace as an opposition figure disguised as a president.


We were unaware that the head of the Higher Judicial Council, honorable Judge Suheil Abboud is a dangerous criminal who is responsible for impeding the probe in the Beirut port explosion and the assassination of the capital. Luckily, he did not accuse Abboud of deliberately planting the ammonium nitrate to the port. Oh my.


We had hoped for your success, for the sake of the country and people. We had hoped that your term as president would have made up for the mistakes and sins you and others had committed in the past. That did not happen.


You have no right to offer justifications, analyses and observations on your final day at the presidential palace. Do you recall how General Charles De Gaulle left the palace? Do you recall how Fuad Chehab did? Why do you speak as though you were never at the palace or part of the war?


I address you with full respect for your position, age and supporters. But you have no right to appear before us on the final day to deride the corrupt ruling system. Why did you allow the same system to carry you to the palace, you, who sought all possible channels to reach it?


I don’t want to open old wounds and bring up past unrest, but you simply have no right to wash your hands clean of the developments that took place during your term. For example, why didn’t you threaten to resign when the Central Bank governor was not put to trial when he should have?


From your palace window, you observed the rapid collapse of a country that had expected the opposite from you.


A little over three decades ago, I, along with Asharq Al-Awsat, visited the presidential palace in Baabda. At the time, it was held by General Michel Aoun. The palace carried the wounds of two wars waged by the general: One against the Lebanese Forces and the other against what he described as the “Syrian occupation.”


The general was dressed in his army fatigues and decisive in his manner. I left the palace with a sense of alarm, not because the man refused to acknowledge the balance of power, but because he appeared to support the view of “either the palace or the grave.”


Michel Aoun is a player that does not lack the skill in stirring the feelings of his supporters and stoking their fears. He did not choose the grave at the palace. He put on the guise of the victim and headed to the French embassy and from there, exile.


I visited him at his exile in France. It was no secret that he wanted to return to Lebanon, like a De Gaulle figure, as if such a fate is viable to any officer dreaming in the darkness of the barracks.


His ability to draw wrong conclusions only spurred me to know more about him, follow up on and ask about him.


It is inappropriate to raise the victory sign amid the rubble of a dying country.


I say dying and I mean it. A hungry country that is languishing in the abyss. A country that has lost its youth, role and meaning. Lost its port, capital, universities, hospitals and tourism.


A country that has been forgotten by the region and world and only slightly remembered when the need for gas arose. Perhaps even because Israel will become a main source of gas to Europe that is grappling with the war on Ukraine.


It is inappropriate to raise the victory sign by the president and his rivals. Raising such a sign is disdain to people who had boarded “death boats”, escaping land sharks to fall victim to the sea. It is disdain to people scavenging in garbage bins in search of scraps of food for their children. It is disdain for weeping women as they bid farewell to their children who have resorted to immigration.


It is disdain to the martyrs, the dead and the living. The blood of the martyrs - all martyrs - has been shed in vain. How can martyrs be victorious if their country is dead?


It would be wrong to portray Aoun as solely responsible for the calamity. It is also wrong to shift some blame from him. One must remember that Aoun has been a leader for decades. He may have lost two wars, but his popularity never waned. In his exile, he spoke of his yearning for the presidential palace until he finally made it.


Now is not the time to discuss the accuracy of what the skeptics are saying. They say he was awarded the palace for his role in breaking up the March 14 movement, his stance on assassinations, his leaning towards the alliance of minorities and his acceptance of coexistence between the “semi-state and state of arms”.


Aoun does not show mercy to his rivals and neither do they.


Some believe that Aoun assumed the presidency, but never practiced his duties. He sat as a leader, not as a president, at the palace. His problem is that he could not shed the image of the leader and assume that of a president.


Aoun at the palace was a leader to his followers, not a president of the republic.


We have spent our lives chasing after “saviors”. Moammar al-Gaddafi, Jaafar Nimeiry, Ali Abdullah Saleh and others. Now, comes the conclusion of the tale of the Lebanese “savior” who cost his country dearly. It is a thorny and sad tale. The man did not save his image nor his country. He rode the palace on an empty horse and now leaves the palace on that same horse.


Who knows, maybe one night a military officer may sneak into the presidential palace to write a painful statement on its wall: “Aoun was here.” It was a sad farewell address. A new magnificent chapter in the world of delusions.


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