Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun is experiencing a cooling-off in ties with several former allies, and his recent meeting with President Michel Sleiman did little to break the ice between the two men, who have been at odds on a range of issues.
Aoun appeared in a television interview on his OTV Wednesday, but according to sources close to the FPM, he declined to go into detail about these disputes.
The sources said that Aoun was disappointed with developments on a number of domestic fronts, whether these involve dealing with Lebanon’s Syria refugee crisis, or earlier battles over the parliamentary election law, the extension of Parliament’s mandate and the extension of the mandate of Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.
They said he was also unhappy with the way that his ostensible allies in the government had approached draft laws proposed by FPM politicians, especially those dealing with oil and gas exploration.
Only Aoun’s Armenian allies remain in his Change and Reform bloc, after ties with Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement took a turn for the worse, the sources said.
However, Aoun has commissioned opinion polls and remains confident because they show that his popularity in Christian areas has not dipped, despite the setbacks.
The sources said Aoun’s visit to Baabda Palace Wednesday for a meeting with the president, at the request of the Maronite patriarch, was equally disappointing. The discussion produced no breakthroughs, but instead reinforced the distance between the two men.
In Aoun’s view, the president did not speak frankly with the FPM leader, or take seriously the various domestic issues put on the table.
The sources said Hezbollah, Amal and the Progressive Socialist Party appeared determined to avoid the taking of any significant decisions when it comes to any divisive issue in Lebanon – as with Parliament and Kahwagi, the solution has been to endorse an extension.
But a similar scenario for the presidency, with Sleiman’s term due to end next May, is unlikely, the sources said, due to the current preference by outside powers for Kawhagi to become the next president. This is likely because Christian political forces appear unable to agree on their own candidate, and because Kahwagi, with his military background, will be needed to help Lebanon weather its challenging security situation, the sources predicted.
Aoun remains at odds with many political groups because he insists on giving priority to dealing with pressing domestic issues, while the majority is seeking to delay decisions until a resolution of the war in Syria, the sources complained.
Aoun’s meeting last month with the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, also failed to produce the kind of results desired by the FPM leader.
There was the usual affirmation of the strength of the strategic alliance between the resistance party and the FPM, but little agreement on domestic policy issues – Aoun came away with the impression that the Hezbollah leader is preoccupied with the regional front. The sources stressed that Nasrallah was very frank during the meeting, pledging the party’s support for Aoun and its understanding of his stances on issues that he considers important, despite their differences.
But Aoun’s relations with Speaker Nabih Berri and Franjieh continue to suffer; FPM sources complain that the speaker continues to obstruct the passage of FPM-authored items of oil and gas draft legislation, while trying to portray caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, as being primarily responsible for Lebanon’s electricity woes. As for ties between Aoun and Franjieh, huge efforts at mediation are required to engineer a reconciliation between the two men, and there are no signs that a successful resolution is in the offing.