Michel Naim Aoun ( ميشال عون) is a politician and former military commander. From 22 September 1988 to 13 October 1990, he served as Prime Minister of one of two rival governments that contended for power. He was defeated by Syria in the war of liberation and forced into exile. He returned to Lebanon on May 7, 2005, eleven days after the withdrawal of Syrian troops. Known as "General," Aoun is currently a Member of Parliament. He leads the " Free Patriotic Movement" party which has 27 representatives in the 128 member Lebanese parliament.
Background and early career
A Christian Maronite, Michel Aoun was born to a modest family in the mixed Christian and Shiite suburb of Haret Hreik, to the south of Beirut. He finished his secondary education at the College Des Frères in 10/1/1955 and enrolled in the Military Academy as a cadet officer. Three years later, he graduated as an artillery officer in the Lebanese Army. He is married to Nadia El-Chami & they have three daughters: Mireille, Claudine and Chantal.
During the Lebanese Civil War in September 1983, Aoun's multi-confessional 8th Mechanised Infantry Battalion fought Muslim, Druze and Palestinian forces at the battle of Souq el Gharb.
On September 22, 1988, the outgoing President, Amine Gemayel, dismissed the civilian administration of Prime Minister Selim Al-Hoss and appointed a six-member interim military government (as prescribed by the Lebanese Constitution should there be no election of a President as was the case at the time), composed of three Christians and three Muslims, though the Muslims refused to serve. Backed by Syria, Al-Hoss declared his dismissal invalid. Two governments emerged - one civilian and mainly Muslim in West Beirut, headed by Al-Hoss, the other, military and mainly Christian, in East Beirut, led by Michel Aoun acting as Prime Minister. Gemayel's move was of questionable validity, as it violated the National Pact of 1943, which reserved the position of prime minister for a Sunni Muslim. Gemayel argued, however, that as the National Pact also reserved the presidency for a Maronite Christian, and as the Prime Minister assumes the powers and duties of the President in the event of a vacancy, it would be proper to fill that office temporarily with a Maronite. Gemayel referenced the historical precedent of 1952, when General Fouad Chehab, a Christian Maronite, was appointed as prime minister of a transition government following the resignation of President Beshara El-Khoury. Aoun could rely on 60% of the Lebanese army, including nearly all tanks and artillery, the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia headed by Samir Geagea, Dany Chamoun and the National Liberal Party, as well as the support of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. Aoun controlled parts of east Beirut and some neighbouring suburbs. In the Spring of 1989, the alliance with the Lebanese Forces fell apart when former ally Samir Geagea turned against Aoun. Geagea broke ranks with Aoun after he began to question Aoun insistence with continuing the losing war against the Syrians. When Aoun tried to dissolve the LF Geagea fought back violently. Then Michel Aoun used the army to wrest control of LF held ports, in order to collect customs revenues for his government.
Liberation War against Syria
On March 14, 1989, after a Syrian attack on the Baabda presidential palace and on the Lebanese Ministry of Defense in Yarze, Aoun declared Liberation war against the Syrian army which was better armed than the Lebanese forces (some 40,000 Syrian troops were in Lebanon at the time). The Syrians were supported by the US government led by George H. Bush in exchange for their support against Saddam Hussein. Over the next few months Aoun's army and the Syrians exchanged artillery fire in Beirut until only 100,000 people remained from the original 1 million, the rest fled the area. During this period Aoun became critical of American support for Syria and moved closer to Iraq, accepting arms supplies from Saddam Hussein.
In October 1989 Lebanese National Aseembly members met to draw up the Taif Accord in an attempt to settle the Lebanese conflict. Aoun refused to attend, denounced the politicians who did so as traitors and issued a decree dissolving the assembly. After it was signed, Aoun denounced the Accord for not appointing a real date for the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon. After they signed the Taif Accord, the assembly met to elect Rene Moawad as President in November. Despite heavy handed pressure from Syria to dismiss Aoun, Moawad refused to do so; his presidency lasted just 17 days before he was assassinated. Elias Hrawi was elected in his place. After assuming office as president, Hrawi appointed General Emile Lahoud as commander of the army and ordered Aoun out of the Presidential Palace. Aoun rejected his dismissal, and his position was weakened after attacking the "Lebanese Forces" a Christian militia, that lasted from January to October 1990.
The end approached for Aoun when his Iraqi ally Saddam Hussein, launched his invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Syria's President Hafez Al-Assad sided with the United States. In return, the United States agreed to support Syria's interests in Lebanon. On October 13, with American permission, Syrian forces attacked the presidential palace in Baabda, where Aoun was holed up. Not very long after the attacks, Aoun was asked to leave Lebanon with the full support of the French Ambassador. There he surrendered to Syrians via a radio address, leaving his troops at the mercy of the Syrian forces. Ten months later Aoun went into exile in France, where he led a political party, the Free Patriotic Movement. In 2003, an avowed Aounist candidate, Hikmt Deeb, came surprisingly close to winning a key by-election in the Baabda-Aley constituency with the endorsement of such right-wing figures as Solange and Nadim Gemayel (the widow and son of former President-elect Bachir-Gemayel, who was assassinated in 1982), as well as leftists like George Hawi of the Lebanese Communist Party, although most of the opposition (constituted mainly of Qornet Shehwan Gathering) supported the government candidate, Henry Helou. Aoun's ability to attract support from key figures of both the left and right revealed that he was a force to be reckoned with.
Return to Lebanon
Aoun ended 15 years of exile when he returned to Lebanon on May 7, 2005, 11 days after the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon. He held a short press conference at Beirut International Airport before heading with a convoy of loyalists and journalists to the "Grave of the Un-named Soldiers and Martyrs" who died in the cause of Lebanese nationalism. After praying and expressing his gratitude and blessing to the people, he went on to the grave site of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated on 14 February 2005 to pay his respects there. Then, he visited Samir Geagea who was still in jail for 11 years. His journey continued to Martyr's Square where he was greeted by supporters of the Cedar Revolution.
Since his arrival, Aoun has moved into a new home in Lebanon's Rabieh district, where he was visited on 8 May by a large delegation from the disbanded Lebanese Forces (LF), who were among Aoun's former enemies. Aoun and Sitrida Geagea, wife of the imprisoned LF leader Samir Geagea (since released), publicly reconciled. Aoun later visited Geagea in prison (he was the first of all opposition leaders to do so) and called for his release. Other prominent visitors that day and the next included National Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun, Solange Gemayel, Nayla Moawad (widow of assassinated President Rene Moawad), and opposition MP Boutrous Harb. Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir of the Maronite community sent a delegation to welcome him, and even the Shiite Muslim Hizbullah Party sent a delegation.
2009 Elections and Government Formation
Poster of General Michel Aoun on a House in Keserwan around the Elections, 2009
The results of the 2009 Elections granted the FPM 18 parliamentary seats. These results showed improvement, and kept the FPM's bloc the second largest in the Lebanese parliament, as well as being the largest bloc with Christian-based popularity. However, the FPM's bloc was then increased by 9 members when other newly elected deputees from pro-Syrian parties (Marada, PSNS, Tachnag) decided to join the parliamentary bloc thus boosting the FPM bloc to 27 members. The FPM gained 7 more seats then the [Lebanese general election, 2005|2005 elections], earning at least triple the number of deputees of any other Christian-based single bloc in the parliament, but less than the number of MPs scattered between the March 14 parties.
Main article: Lebanese general election, 2009
In November 2009, and after 3 months of strong political pressure by General Michel Aoun himself, by refusing participation in the government that was inferior to the 2008 participation, Prime Minister Saad Hariri eventually gave in, especially that the armed group of Hezbollah was standing behind Aoun's demands, and the president Michel Suleiman supported Aoun's cause for the sake of national unity. The Free Patriotic Movement nominated five ministers to join the first government headed by Saad Hariri, and kept the ministry of Telecommunications, as well as the ministry of Electricity, in addition to Tourism and Industry. This government formation gave Aoun's party one third of the Christian seats, and along with allies, one third of the government despite the fact that his party and allies are in minority situation, and are members of the opposition.
In August 2010, General Fayez Karam was arrested by Lebanese security forces for treason and collaboration with Israel. The arrested General was appointed by Aoun as Head of Anti-Terrorism Unit in 1988. Having served in the army under Aoun, accompanying him in his 15 years of exile in Paris, and returning with him in 2005, Fayez Karam was one of Aoun's close companions. After his return in 2005, General Aoun unsuccessfully nominated Fayez Karam to the post of Head of Internal Security Forces, and twice as a Member of the Parliament of Lebanon. Aoun commented at first that he would not defend Karam and hoped that the maximum punishment be imposed on him, after he and his family had received letters of confession from Fayez Karam that he was collaborating with Israel.
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