Lebanon Without General Aoun

THE surrender of Gen. Michel Aoun to Syrian forces and the government of President Elias Hrawi is leading some people to declare the end of Lebanon's civil war. But this long long war has seen numerous heroes and villains rise and fall. It is unlikely that General Aoun will be the last troublesome militia leader in Lebanon. A combination of local and external factors have determined the fate of Lebanese war leaders. Aoun's defeat was more the result of self-destruction. He went too far in pressing his grandiose demands, and he challenged too many factions and power centers. He wound up with Iraq's Saddam Hussein as his sole ally, which is not an advantage in today's international relations.

Aoun also confused his Lebanese audience. He claimed he wanted to rid Lebanon of foreign intervention and occupation, yet he drew the Iraqi regime into the Lebanese quagmire and urged the PLO to send forces to provoke the Syrians.

It is tempting to indulge in wishful thinking about the future of Lebanon. It is easy to attribute all recent bloodshed and destruction in Lebanon to General Aoun. The Lebanese government appears to be claiming that General Aoun single-handedly started the civil war. This is deceptive.

While Aoun should be held responsible for much of the ferocity of fighting in the past two years, the war itself has been raging for over 15 years. To be sure, Aoun was an obstacle to ending the war, but he was not the only obstacle. Among the various sects, new men with messianic visions and ruthless means to eliminate rivals always seem to emerge.

The peace formula of the Hrawi administration is based on the 1989 Taif Agreement, which was reached under Syrian-Saudi auspices by deputies of the Lebanese parliament (the survivors of those elected in 1972). The agreement moved toward a more equitable distribution of political power after decades of Muslim underrepresentation.

But the Shiites, who constitute the single largest sect in Lebanon, and whose unaddressed grievances have been the most important factor in perpetuating the civil war, emerged empty-handed from the Taif meeting.

New powers were given to the prime minister, a post reserved for a Sunni Muslim. The Shiites are again restricted to the ceremonial position of speaker of parliament. But any redistribution of power according to a sectarian, arithmetic formula (which is the foundation of the Lebanese political system) will inevitably fail to satisfy all the country's sects.

Only a political system that eliminates all sectarian tags from the constitution, from personal status laws, and thus, ultimately, from people's consciousness can have a chance in removing the underlying causes of civil war. Political and economic competition in Lebanon will only become healthy when put on an individual, nonsectarian basis. Sectarian allocation of posts and benefits have ingrained tensions and conflicts in Lebanese society.

For now, Syrian forces and their allies have to be careful how they exercise power in East Beirut. Humiliation and oppression of the Christian population could very well lead to the emergence of a new Aoun. If the Syrians allow the militiamen of former Lebanese forces chief Elie Hubayqah (once Israel's man and currently Syria's Arab nationalist ally) to engage in vendettas against enemies in East Beirut, the conquered population could rise up against the Hrawi government. There are already signs that the recent assassination of Aoun supporter Dany Chamoun created deep resentment.

The Hrawi government is attempting to include representatives of all militias in Lebanon in a new ``national unity'' cabinet. Even Hizbullah (the Iran-backed Party of God) is said to have been invited to join the cabinet, and Sheikh Subhi at-Tufayli, secretary-general of the Hizbullah, could become a minister for the first time.

Militia representation is important if an end to current mini-wars is desired, but the causes of the civil war are deep and complex. The Taif accord could be tranformed into a glorified truce if the tensions within and between the sects are not addressed.

The impoverishment of the Shiite population and Israeli occupation of parts of South Lebanon, for example, contribute to the radicalization among Shiites. A free and prosperous South Lebanon would have no place for the radical slogans of the Party of God and similar fundamentalist groups.

If implementation of the Taif accord is treated as the beginning of a process leading to the end of sectarianism, it could help contribute to peace and reconstruction in Lebanon. Only complete secularization can build national unity and eliminate sectarian tensions that invite fratricide and the intervention of foreign forces.

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