The Iran Project

What’s behind Lebanon’s Pres. Aoun Riyadh and Cairo visit?

Alwaght– Following a vote of confidence by the Lebanese parliament that installed Michael Aoun as the president of the country and ended the two and half a year of division and political crisis in Lebanon, the speculations of majorly anti-Resistance media began streaming out about the political inclinations of the new president.

Aoun, a one-time army general, picked Saad Hariri, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, as a prime minister, tasking him with forming the government. The new Lebanese leader chose Saudi Arabia as first destination of his first foreign trip. With these in mind, the media propaganda majorly came to seize Lebanon’s political success and propagate the idea of isolation of Hezbollah among the other Lebanese political factions in a bid to put strains on it in the future developments to help disarm the resistant movement.

Now that President Aoun has visited Egypt as second destination of his tour, the same media atmosphere began to brew, giving rise to some questions: What are Aoun’s intentions behind these visits? And to what degree do these visits show the veracity of the media analyses that suggest there are gaps between the government’s and the Resistance’s– predominantly represented by Hezbollah– approaches?

Before going to the reasons motivating such foreign trips by President Aoun and shedding light on his government’s approaches according to the West Asian as well as Lebanon’s domestic developments, it looks quite necessary to note that the nature of politics is defined based on existence of differences, and essentially where there is no differences the politics loses its real sense and function.

Accordingly, the discords between the Lebanese political parties including the conflict of ideas of the Aoun-led Change and Reform Bloc with the Hezbollah-led Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc in the parliament lie beside variance of ideas between other political parties. But this does not mean that Aoun’s party seeks driving Hezbollah out of the political equations, because if that was the case, basically it wasn’t possible for the country to witness an agreement and government formation.

Terrorism, the Syrian crisis, and Lebanon’s security status

Without any doubts the Syrian crisis, deriving from war in the country, has influenced emergence of security challenges in Lebanon. The first clashes in Lebanon broke out in May 2013 under influence from the Syrian conflict. The Bab al-Tabbaneh–Jabal Mohsen conflict happened between the pro-Syrian Alawite majority and the Sunni minority with anti-Damascus tendencies. A total of 18 rounds of clashes took place throughout 2013 between the rivals in the area, wounding and killing hundreds of Lebanese as well as Syrian citizens from both sides.

Additionally, the terrorist blasts across Lebanon pushed the country to enter a period of terror bomb attacks like other countries. The chain terror bomb attacks in Lebanon began in July 2013 as a powerful bomb ripped through a public parking in southern Beirut. The terror attacks continued through to 2014. Furthermore, Ahmad al-Asir, a takfirst sheikh, declared war against Hezbollah and its ally Amal Movement. He supplied his fans with arms in Sidon, a southern city in the country, immersing Lebanon in a multi-week period of domestic armed struggle.

So it is with consideration of these developments that Aoun visited Saudi Arabia, which has had a glaringly noticeable role in inflammation of war in Syria, and Egypt with its president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who has embarked on a constructive approach in dealing with the Syrian and Iraqi crises to fight the takfirst terrorism and provide political stability and peace in the region. Now if we consider the frayed ties of Riyadh and Cairo that came at the heels of stances of the new Egyptian leader, we can conclude that Michel Aoun’s Cairo visit at the present time is driven by his conflict of viewpoints with Riyadh leaders.

“Discussions have touched on the heated situation in the Middle East. Egypt, which is known for its moderation and openness, could launch an Arab rescue initiative to fight against terrorism which hits us at home and sheds our bloods,” said President Aoun in his joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart.

On the other side, Aoun’s emphasis on the need to battle terrorism in the region and in the neighboring Syria is seen as a kind of recognition of legitimacy of Hezbollah’s presence on the front lines of fight against terrorism in Syria. This, certainly, refutes the Western and Arab claims about his condemnation of Hezbollah’s anti-terror battle. Talking to an Egyptian newspaper, the leader of Lebanon defended the arms in the hands of Hezbollah, asserting that “Hezbollah’s arms are not against the Lebanese government’s legitimacy, and they actually make up an integral part of Lebanon’s defense.” It was because of these Aoun’s Hezbollah-related stances that Saudi Arabia, after nearly three years of announcement of the former King Abdullah who pledged a $3 billion aid package to the Lebanese army and the security forces, backtracked from delivering the financial present to Beirut.

Delicate alliance and need for independent approach adoption

President Aoun’s struggles to strike a balance between the varied political forces present in the coalition government to maintain the country’s alliance-based government– knowing that due to the shape of political structure and parliamentary system of Lebanon the fragility of government goes high in case of lack of a party with a majority of seats– is another reason against the recent propaganda spread by the media. In fact, the life of Aoun’s government much depends on setting in motion long Lebanese political forces’ debates to obtain agreements on distribution of shares of different sides in the cabinet. And Hezbollah, a movement with credit and weight on the country’s political stage, is influential in drawing government policies, particularly when it comes to the foreign policy.

Aoun’s efforts to create balance in the foreign policy were well manifested in his remarks after his return from Saudi Arabia visit. He said: “we hold normal relations with Iran and they should not put barriers ahead our relations with the Arab world.” He added: “Iran’s support of Hezbollah can go on unlimited.”

On January 25, 2017, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil of Lebanon in his meeting of Hussein Amir-Abdollahian, the special aide on international affairs of the Iranian parliament’s speaker Ali Larijani said: “just contrary to the biased propaganda and promotions of some media, election of President Michel Aoun was a national and domestic option, and that Iran since the beginning has backed the current government. The Lebanese FM has also told of Lebanon President’s upcoming Tehran visit, continuing that Lebanon “welcomes” boost of ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran in political, economic, and parliamentary fields.

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