Monday, October 02, 2006

A Bouquet of Generals

General Michel Aoun (above right), is a man of ambitions; at 75 he is still full of energy to nominate himself for Lebanon’s presidency. A retired army aommander, he seeks to win the presidency from the current incumbent, General Emile Lahoud (above left)- also a retired army commander.

The tale of these two generals has always been melodramatic. Lahoud took over the Army command from Aoun in 1990 after Aoun was forced into exile in France for 15 years. When Lahoud became president in 1998, Aoun was a fierce critic of him as a pro-Syrian and corrupt president. But upon his return from exile in spring 2005 and in the wake of Hariri Assassination and Syrian withdrawal, Aoun shifted into protecting and defending Lahoud against critics from the anti-Syrian control group of 14 March Alliance who were demanding his resignation.

It appeared that the two generals have struck some kind of a formula: if Lahoud has to go, then Aoun is to replace him. The General has left, long live the General formula. But expectedly the 14 March Alliance rejected this proposal fearing that Aoun is a continuity to the authoritarian rule of Lahoud; two generals of the same coin.

Ironically, the choice beyond the two generals looks to be ……a general; not retired though. Slowly but surely, the current Army commander General Michel Suleiman is raising his profile as a strong contender in the Presidential race. So far, he has played it right. He did not clamp down the anti-Syria demonstrators during the Beirut Spring 2005 but ensured that Lahoud is protected if demonstrators move to the presidential palace. He sends troops to South Lebanon as a result of the 1701 UN resolution but makes it clear that his army is not disarming Hezbollah; and that the Army along with Hezbollah will be protecting the ‘land and the people’. In so far, he has succeeded in playing a win-win formula.

Today, General Suleiman scored more points. Amid the political bickering and while General Aoun has not stopped giving populist but content-less speeches and while General Lahoud has been waging a ‘Idi Amin – style’ war on the French President, General Suleiman chose the right moment and the right place. In a victory celebration and with news that Israel finalised its withdrawal from South Lebanon, he raised the Lebanese flag on the last point of the Israeli-Lebanese borders.

A third General is rising. More sensible than other generals? yes indeed. But more democratic? time will tell.

Army commander, Michel Suleiman (Middle) at the borders at Laboune today celebrating Israeli withdrawl


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