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Lebanon News

Aoun, Hezbollah ties resilient so far

FPM leader Michel Aoun speaks during an interview with The Daily Star in Rabieh, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s opposition to extending Parliament’s mandate, set to be agreed Friday, is unlikely to affect his alliance with Hezbollah, but ties between the two groups could cool over the resistance party’s increasing involvement in Syria, analysts say.

Retired Army Gen. Elias Hanna said Aoun was having a “strong disagreement” with Hezbollah over Parliament’s extension and its participation in Syria’s war.

Hezbollah and its allies – except for Aoun – are expected to join their rivals in the March 14 camp Friday to ratify an extension of Parliament’s term for over one year due to the failure of various political factions to reach consensus on an electoral law and the worsening security situation in the country.

Aoun has publicly come out against the extension, saying he favors holding elections under the current 1960 Law – opposed by most political parties. He said he would boycott Friday’s Parliament session.

“When Aoun boycotts the Parliament session, he is telling Hezbollah: I gave you so much, so why aren’t you giving me in return?” Hanna told The Daily Star. “But Hezbollah only supports Aoun when the latter’s stance serves the party’s project. But when it does not, Hezbollah carries on without caring about Aoun.”

Fadia Kiwan, head of the Political Science Department at Universite Saint Joseph, dismissed the idea that Aoun’s stance on Parliament’s extension would affect the FPM’s ties with Hezbollah. She said Aoun was trying to gain popular support with his position.

But she expects cracks to emerge in the seven-year alliance over Hezbollah’s heavy involvement in fighting alongside the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Christians cannot accept that a Lebanese group gets involved in fighting outside Lebanon. This issue will spark differences.”

“Aoun said that he supports resistance in Lebanon rather than Syria ... ties could cool down [between the FPM and Hezbollah],” Hanna agreed, but, he added, “they will not be severed.”

Echoing Kiwan, Hanna said the Parliament extension issue would not prove to be a deal breaker: “Aoun cannot break his alliance with Hezbollah. If he does so, he will be proving to his supporters that [Lebanese Forces leader Samir] Geagea’s stance rather than his is the right one.”

Geagea has repeatedly criticized the FPM’s alliance with Hezbollah, questioning whether the friendship is in the interest of Lebanon’s Christian community. He called Wednesday for Aoun to break with the party over its involvement in Syria.

Knotty relations between the country’s Christian parties have been further complicated by the electoral law debate. Hanna said Aoun believed his popularity had received a boost after championing the Orthodox proposal, which would see each sect elect its own MPs.

“General Aoun believes that the current context makes it favorable for him to run for elections under the 1960 Law. He believes the outcome will enhance his situation as far as the number of MPs in his bloc,” Hanna said.

Geagea said earlier in May he no longer supported the Orthodox draft as it could not win Parliament’s approval.

“He [Aoun] thinks that once he has the majority of Christian MPs in his bloc, he can have the final say in the election of a president ... in the appointment of an Army commander, Central Bank governor and appointments in other key state posts reserved for Christians,” Hanna said.

Hanna said Aoun’s ties with his ally, Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh, were also not at their best, as they too have differed over Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and the extension of Parliament’s term. “Shortly after Aoun’s stance on the role of the resistance in Syria, Suleiman Franjieh said that he supports the resistance in Lebanon and [the Syrian city] Qusair.”

Hanna and Kiwan said presidential elections next year may also be affecting relations, as both are default candidates due to their status and Maronite sect.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 31, 2013, on page 3.

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