Michael Aoun to return to Lebanon after 15 years in exile

Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun is set to return to Lebanon after 15 years in exile on Saturday hoping to stake a claim to high office after last month

Ahead of Saturday’s return, posters have appeared on the walls of Beirut comparing it to the triumphant return of France’s exiled World War II leader Charles De Gaulle after the expulsion of German troops.


“De Gaulle 1945, Aoun 2005,” proclaimed one poster put up by his supporters. Aoun has made no secret of his political ambitions now that Syria’s presence in Lebanon is gone.


“The job that goes to the Christians (under Lebanon’s unwritten constitution) is that of president,” Aoun said to a news agency last month.


“If there is a national consensus, I will assume my responsibilities at that time.”

In a separate interview with Beirut’s top-selling newspaper An-Nahar, he said he had big plans for Lebanon.


“My ambition is to achieve something big, not political toying,” he said, adding he sensed a demand from young Lebanese for him to return “to achieve their objectives” of freedom and democracy.


Aoun’s supporters broke with most of the rest of the opposition on Monday, announcing they would maintain a “freedom camp” in Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut that became a symbol of this northern spring’s protests.


The rival Lebanese Forces movement of jailed Christian leader and former warlord Samir Geagea joined Druze and Sunni factions in ending its presence in the camp.

It is not the only issue that divides the opposition alliance.

The main opposition factions accepted a proposal by pro-Syrian parties to keep the old electoral law from 2000 for parliamentary polls due late this month.

That law was seen as unfavourable to Christian parties in its drawing up of parliamentary constituencies, and its re-adoption sparked a furious reaction from Aoun.


The opposition’s agreement to the law amounted to treason, he told pan-Arab news channel al-Arabiya.

Aoun also has plenty of historic enemies in Lebanon from the 1975-90 civil war, even if he has moved to mend fences in recent months. In April, Aoun received Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose militiamen fought fierce battles with Lebanese army units under the general’s command, for a 30-minute meeting at his Paris residence.


Aoun also faces outstanding charges against him in his home country that have already prompted the postponement of his homecoming more than once. They are connected with testimony he gave to a U.S. congressional committee in 2003, which helped pave the way for Washington’s adoption of sanctions against Syria and which Lebanon’s government at the time deemed damaging to relations with its larger neighbour.