Thursday, August 24, 2006

Divisions in Lebanese society and an interview with Aoun

In today's Guardian, Declan Walsh writes about "fears of fresh divisions within Lebanese society" in Rifts over Hizbullah form Lebanon's new green line.

And Mideastwire has translated one of Michel Aoun's interviews. It's an interesting read for those who wonder about the Muslim-Christian "divide" in Lebanon focused on by the Western media. Nicholas Noe has kindly forwarded me a copy:

On August 20, General Michel Aoun leader of Lebanon's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and head of the parliamentary Reform and Change Bloc said on Al Jazeera: "...The resistance represents a big part of our people. In victory and in defeat we will live together. There is a balance and an existential link between us as Lebanese. We will accept victory together and we will also bear defeat together. I believe what Al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah said that it is a victory for Lebanon and he means all the Lebanese."

"...All such reports [as to the collapse of the Taif Agreement] emanate from threatened political positions. You know in this stage there are now political options, or certain political wagers that are misplaced. Those who hold such positions believe they are now threatened in those positions. That is why there is a kind of hostility in producing such rumours in order to frighten the Lebanese people. There is no cause for fear."

"... we said at the time that the human being will obstruct the destructive machine. Perhaps that equation made some people ridicule that assessment at the beginning, but it seemed that the assessment was correct. We said Hezbollah was not an armed group, it is the people - it is the people in reality."

"...There is a difference between criticizing a military action and an offensive criticism of the matter. No-one in Lebanon wanted a war. There is a will of resistance and objection to a war that was launched on Lebanon. That will of objection was steadfast and achieved what no-one had dreamed of. It should be preserved as a model. Of course, there is a time for everything. They argue that in Israel they are now taking the prime minister to task, but they are not taking him to task because he declared war, but perhaps because he made mistakes in managing the war, since he did not win it. That is the taking to task there. But in defense we must all be one front, regardless of various views, especially in humanitarian work, it is the duty of every citizen to engage in it. I believe this stage has strengthened the ties among the Lebanese. There is no fear that there will be unexpected political results from the military action. There is no need to frighten people. I believe there is a bad intention if some people continue to insist on
circulating rumours. I consider them people on the fringe who want to harm the Lebanese people and are planning for something else."

"...There is a little deception there. We must be objective, we have to criticize ourselves. I want to level criticism at Hezbollah, but I cannot consider the military operation carried out by Hezbollah a declaration of war. It was not a declaration of war. It was a limited military operation. The other side exploited it and used it as a pretext to declare war. But it was exposed. The preparations for war were exposed, the meetings were exposed. I believe it was the Americans who exposed it in their newspapers."

"...It was part of the general climate in which the incidents between Hezbollah and Israel have been occurring from 1985 to this moment. At this moment Israel changed the rules of the game and launched an all-out war on Lebanon. In that all-out war, the Lebanese should concentrate on Israel's transgressions in the war. To hold Hezbollah responsible for the destruction and for hitting the infrastructure, and
the destruction of Lebanese ports and the airport, and the killing of innocent people - to ignore all that and concentrate only on Hezbollah's mistake, is wrong. We can criticize Hezbollah but we must not forget the massacres that took place during the war and Israel's responsibility. We are today wholly concentrating on condemning Hezbollah on the matter of the war and we are forgetting Israel's
responsibility. Often in Lebanon, the victim bears the responsibility for the crime committed against him. When some political assassinations occur, one hears public opinion saying: Couldn't he have kept quiet? Why must he speak out?"

"...We have drawn up a mechanism so that Hezbollah's weapons will go to the state, but where is the state that will receive Hezbollah's weapons? The state still does not exist."

"...If Israel wants to launch another war of destruction that means it is as though there is a decision, which is agreed upon internationally, to condemn Lebanon to death. The United Nations must now shoulder its responsibility, and especially the great powers in the UNSC, the permanent members. Such threats of another round are unacceptable. Why another round?"

"...I believe the Americans are pragmatic. Everyone talks about American pragmatism. It is inconceivable that Hezbollah which stood fast in the face of the best army in the Middle East can be considered a terrorist party. Secondly, it was fighting on its own land. Hezbollah was not fighting on anyone else's territory. We have put forward solutions and we would not have had got to this war had they adopted those solutions. We have two simple rights: 40 square kilometres in the Shab'a Farms and three prisoners in Israel....Our responsibility towards Israel in this matter is to ensure calm and security on the border. Israel can ask about security along the border, but it has no right to ask us to account for what we do inside the country."

"...The reformation of the government. It is futile to try with the present government which is wholly responsible for the present situation. It is collectively responsible, I hold Hezbollah responsible and I hold the majority responsible. They are the government and I am in opposition. I tried to reconcile them and I did not succeed with the paper of understanding. Now they bear the responsibility for what happened. Previously, I was asked on a television programme: You had an understanding with Hezbollah, why are they still in the government? Therefore Hezbollah together with the government bears responsibility for the situation if it deteriorates. The present government is fully responsible for the present situation. It couldn't do anything suitable to curb the violations which led to this hot stage.

"Here I would like to point out, because every time it is said that Hezbollah is covered by the ministerial statement in its operations: They say we gave it the vital backing to start the war. They are escaping the responsibility of military action and they are shifting it to the FPM. Most of them, the merchants of politics, say Gen Aoun is responsible. If they were men who shoulder their responsibilities they should have all resigned from the government and formed a new government when the disagreement with Hezbollah occurred. However, since they remained together with Hezbollah in the same government they all together bear the responsibility. They cannot say that I gave a cover to Hezbollah in the ministerial statement and I am its partner in the government and then hold a third person responsible. That is a
political innovation of the negligent members of the government who are subservient to the majority. That is something regrettable and we have been silent on it for a long time, but it must end with them taking all responsibility."

"...They bear moral responsibility. From the day the government was formed I said it lacks harmony and solidarity and it will be a disaster for Lebanon. I said this to Ms. Rice when she came to the US embassy and asked me why I did not join the government. I said to her the government lacks harmony and solidarity, and it will be a failure...When we tried to have the members of the government agree on the main contentious points, the majority also refused to heed our advice. Now you see the result. It is not important that in the end we say it is Hezbollah that bears the responsibility for the outbreak of the war. What did we do to put an end to the series of events that brought us here? That is the responsibility of the government which lacked foresight and vision."

"...The reason is that the existence of a moderate line of thought, which is also independent and is not mortgaged to any external will, means it could stand up and be decisive within government. And it's a moderate Christian line of thought. And it is possible that I can resolve the matter. That is why they were exposed in front of me at the dialogue table with regards to Syria. When matters became confused I
proposed the idea of a joint delegation to go there and we said let's all of us together reach an understanding with Syria or let's all of us together disagree with Syria. The plan didn't work because each one had his own calculations. If we were in the government, not just at the monthly session of the dialogue, the matter would have been forcefully put forward and then no-one could escape it. That is why I am present with all my strength and I am prepared to help with all my mind. However, I cannot avoid all the ploys that are concocted."

"...I do not fear such a political coup [by Hezbollah] at all. That is the kind of fear intended to mobilize the people against Hezbollah. In the present stage, Hezbollah should be left to remove the rubble. Where is the dynamism of the state in keeping abreast with the events? We did not see the state with those who left their homes and we did not see it with the returnees, and we did not see it with those who are lifting the rubble and removing the dead and wounded."

"...A national unity - I am not asking to take part in government, but if they want a solution that is the solution. Call it a national unity government or call it reformation of the government in a balanced manner - not a national unity government where you bring all the sides in an unbalanced manner. There are real forces that must be represented, each according to its strength - not represented by the strength of its neighbour. You cannot have anyone represent the Christians, or anyone represent the Shi'is, or anyone represent the Sunnis, or anyone represent the Druze. There are real forces that have a representative capacity which must be present in a national unity government. Now there is a numerical balance, but is there a balance in the power to make decisions? We want a balance in the power of decision making. We want participation in the power of decision making. If a
minister goes abroad we want a report from him, a report that is binding on him so that we have a state with documentation, a state that knows what it is doing. They are taking Hezbollah to task, but shouldn't they do better than it?"

"...Until they hold elections. If they do not acknowledge this, then let elections be held tomorrow and let them win the majority. As long as I am in this parliament, I represent the majority of Christians, the votes. That does not mean if they lose the votes with other alliances I have lost my representative capacity or I have become a minority. I am not a minority. I represent an overwhelming majority and I have the right to represent the Christians regardless of my secular thinking which I seek to implement in the future. However, until now I - and not any other person - represent the Christians. We are in a political system in which I have a right to represent them. They are not represented by subordinates whose voice we hardly hear. We hear them on television, but we have never heard them in the cabinet."

"...I am General Aoun. You know me in military life since 1955, from the time I became a cadet in the army. I rose through all the military ranks and all combat positions, and I fought for Lebanon, and you know me. I also fought politically for Lebanon. At one stage I confronted all the political forces, and they included Syria, the United States and Israel in 1990. I refused to submit to decisions that infringed on Lebanon's sovereignty. My stand is still the same. In my view I adopted
the right stand in order to assure you and for the sake of your future, and to protect you and protect your livelihood, and so that you remain dignified, assured and respected in this homeland. Even if there is an international game against Lebanon, God forbid, you must remain stable and calm. There is nothing on your conscience; you have not done anything wrong. On the contrary, your attachment to your homeland and your openness to others, mean you have a clear conscience. Persevere in this behaviour and do not listen to rumours..."

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