Saturday, January 20, 2007

NYT profiles "enigmatic wild card" General Aoun.

Today's New York Times includes an interesting profile of General Michel Aoun, a controversial Maronite politician who would like to be Lebanon's next president but stands accused of fomenting divisions within his country's embattled Christian community:

In this land of divisive politics and sectarian tension, few have embraced controversy quite the way the Christian leader Gen. Michel Aoun has.

Currently, General Aoun is one of the leaders of the opposition demonstrations that have overtaken Beirut and have threatened to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. But this gambit is just the latest in a decades-long series of political surprises and controversies that have made him a political wild card here, breaking all the rules of Lebanese politics while charging the country's political debate.

To his supporters, he is a Lebanese de Gaulle seeking to unite a fractious country and rebuild trust in its institutions. To his critics, he is a divisive megalomaniac willing to stop at nothing to become Lebanon's president.

Some accuse him, a Christian, of splitting Christians in Lebanon into rival camps, further weakening them, while others blame him for abetting Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia. But most of all, many say, General Aoun has embraced a populist agenda for personal gain.

General Aoun, as always, is unfazed by the critics. "You could say I brought Lebanese politics back to life," General Aoun, 71, said in his home atop the hills overlooking Beirut. "Until now, politics here has been moribund."

A former army commander and longtime opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon, General Aoun returned to his home country in 2005 after fifteen years in exile and almost instantly became a political lightning rod. While some Christians hailed Aoun as a savior, others detected a softening in his rhetoric toward Syria and were stunned by his alliance with Hezbollah. If some saw this move toward d├ętente as crass opportunism, Aoun depicts himself as a political realist seeking stability. The NYT quotes him as saying: "It's not like I love Hezbollah. I am not trying to defend Hezbollah as much as I am trying to find a solution with them, because a clash with them would ruin us." Whether General Aoun's gamble will pay off for his country and for the Christian community to which he belongs remains to be seen. I'm going to keep watching, and all the while I'll be praying for the people of Lebanon. AMDG.

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