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Aoun, Michel (1935–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY

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Lebanese general-turned-politician Michel Naim Aoun was once the prime minister and acting president of Lebanon. He served under these titles from 22 September 1988 until 13 October 1990 when he was exiled by troops from Lebanon and Syria. Aoun returned to Lebanon on 7 May 2005, nearly two weeks after Syrian troops left. Once a military commander, now Aoun is a member of parliament and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement party.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Aoun was born on 17 February 1935 to a poor Christian Maronite family, in a mixed neighborhood of Muslims and Christians, in the suburbs of Haret Hreik, located on the outskirts of Beirut. He obtained his secondary education as a cadet officer at the College des Freres, a military academy, in 1956. Three years later he became an artillery officer in the Lebanese army. For one year, starting in 1958, he trained at Chalon-Sur-Mame, France. In 1966 Aoun went to the United States for further military training at Fort Still in Oklahoma. Aoun returned to France in 1978 to train at Ecole Superieure de Guerre for two years. He became the head of the Defense Brigade in 1980. Two years later he was given command of a new Eighth Brigade, which was a multi-confessional army unit. In 1988, the outgoing president, Amine Gemayyel appointed Aoun as a caretaker prime minister of Lebanon. Soon Aoun was fighting with the Lebanese Forces headed by Samir Geagea, the Syrian Army, and other Lebanese groups. Due to pressure from Syria and other Lebanese factions, Aoun was forced to go into exile in France, but returned to Lebanon after the assassination of the former prime minister. To the surprise of many, General Aoun joined the pro-Syrian camp, and served as the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Party.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Aoun led an army battalion to Baabda in order to defend the Presidential Palace in the event of an attack. In September of the next year, Aoun led his Mechanized Infantry Battalion (Eighth Brigade) in the battle of Souq el Gharb against Palestinian, Druze, and Muslim forces. Aoun was picked to be commander/brigadier-general and military chief of staff of the Lebanese army in June of 1984.

On 22 September 1988, the president dismissed the civilian government of the prime minister and put an interim military government of six in its place. It was half Christian and half Muslim. This act was unconstitutional, and Muslims rejected the offer, so Prime Minister Selim Al-Huss controlled west Beirut under a civilian government. Aoun became acting prime minister and led the mostly Christian east Beirut under a military government. Aoun had alliances with the Lebanese Forces army and militia, along with the National Liberal Party and even SADDAM HUSSEIN . In 1989, Aoun’s alliance with the Lebanese Forces was ended as he tried to gain control of ports, especially the harbor in Beirut, in an effort to raise custom revenues for the government. A few months later, in Beirut, artillery fire was exchanged between Syria’s and Aoun’s army, which led to thousands of casualities on both sides.

With support from France and Iraq, Aoun declared a war of liberation on Syria, on 14 March 1989. During this time, Aoun received arms supplies from Iraq, which were used to kill and displace many civilians. To end this problem, the National Assembly met and wrote up the Ta’if Accord in October. Aoun boycotted the meeting and called all participants traitors to Lebanon. He made a decree to dissolve the assembly, but failed. Although the accord had no timetable for the evacuation of Syrian troops, it would elect a new president within the next month. Elias Hawri was elected and appointed commander of the army and ousted Aoun.

The Syrian army was backed by the United States, who supported their mission in Lebanon. Aoun hid in the Presidential Palace, then fled, and later surrendered by a radio address. The Lebanese government offered Aoun conditional amnesty, and France offered him asylum. Months later, Aoun went to live in exile in France. He continued his efforts to end Syrian influence in Lebanon through the Free Patriotic Movement Party. The views of this party are liberal and secular, promoting values such as civil marriage, women’s empowerment, citizenship laws, and corporate governance. After fifteen years, Aoun returned to Lebanon on 7 May 2005. He became involved in the parliamentary elections and his party won twenty-one of fifty-eight seats in the mostly Christian Mount Lebanon. He was also elected to be a member of the National Assembly. While in office, Aoun signed an agreement of understanding with Hezbollah on 6 February 2006, which resolved many long-standing differences. He also organized a National Dialogue Conference with representatives from all parties to resolve other disparities and plan for the future.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Michel Naim Aoun

Birth: 1935, Beirut, Lebanon

Nationality: Lebanese

Education: Lebanon, France and the United States; military academies

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1950s: Cadet and artillery officer at the Military Academy
  • 1960s: Military training at Fort Seale, Oklahoma
  • 1970s: Military training at Ecole Superieure de Guerre, France
  • 1980s: Head of Eighth Defense Brigade; brigadier-general and military chief of staff; appointed head of military government; made unconstitutional prime minister
  • 1990s: Exiled in France
  • 2000s: Returns to Lebanon and heads the Free Patriotic Movement Party

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Aoun was deeply influenced by his childhood upbringing in the secular neighborhoods of Beirut. Due to the diversity of the city, Aoun understood the religious divide, and learned quickly how to avoid it, by working through consensus across the split. Aoun recalled having close friendships with many Muslims during his early years. “We never distinguished between Ali and Pierre, or between Hassan and Georges,” he later said. “We ate together and slept at each other’s homes.” This made the future general and politician, serving in the national institutions such as the military, much more willing to cooperate and work through national consensus. He did this aiming to build national movements, and to maintain a free and independent Lebanon. Even before his return from exile, general Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement Party launched the idea of organizing a National Dialogue Conference with representatives from all Lebanese factions. They formed a commission to visit all Lebanese leaders. This strategy was successful, especially when the speaker of parliament Nabih Berri invited fourteen representatives and religious leaders to meet at the National Assembly in order to settle differences and set a strategy for the future. The occupation and interference in Lebanon by foreign nations, especially Syria, Israel and others, means that this tiny nation has never managed to maintain its sovereignty and has always been dependent on others. Recognizing this weakness, Aoun designed a platform that was liberal, secular, and democratic, and one wherein all Lebanese political parties and religious factions have a role to play. He argues in favor of allowing civil marriage, empowering women, changing the citizenship laws, establishing a system of corporate governance, and having external auditors help control the debt that Lebanon has accumulated since the beginning of the civil war.

THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

Global perceptions of Aoun generally have been positive since his reemergence from exile on the political scene in May of 2005. He is perceived both as a pragmatist and a moderate, committed to a secular, independent, peaceful, united, and strong Lebanon with good relations with his former adversary, Syria. Aoun broke ranks with most Maronites by signing an agreement of understanding with Hezbollah on 6 February 2006. The agreement constitutes a first step toward resolving the main differences between Lebanon’s political parties. This historical document allowed a bridging of the gap between the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah. Aoun argued that the March 14th coalition was making a political mistake by trying to isolate Hezbollah. In fact, some Lebanese historical analysts argue that the isolation of the Kataeb party was one of the reasons behind the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah came as a shock to both the United States and France, because both supported the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and did not count on his unconditional support of the Lebanese resistance to Israel’s occupation of Sheba Farms.

LEGACY

It is premature to provide accurate perceptions of Aoun, because Lebanon is divided between pro- and anti-government forces and a return to civil war is a real possibility. In the current crisis, Aoun is calling for the removal of the current Lebanese president EMILE LAHOUD , whom he is seeking to replace. Although the perception of Aoun is continuing and changing, he has demonstrated his political skills by reaching across the Lebanese divide and narrowing the gaps in his country’s confessional political landscape.

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