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Aoun’s Jbeil visit to stir up election fever, controversy

Michel Aoun speaks during a press conference in Rabieh, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. (The Daily Star/Charbel Nakhoul, HO)

The mere fact that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun will tour Jbeil a week after an apparent attempt on his life is an event in itself, without even considering the visit’s content. Perhaps among Aoun’s aims is to revive the support of his base a few months before parliamentary elections. But some segments of Jbeil society object to the visit of a man who they believe turned on President Michel Sleiman to ally with Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

As one such Jbeil resident said: “Aoun once bragged that he would break the head of Hafez Assad, only to become an ally of his son a few years later.”

According to FPM sources, noticeable divisions have begun to emerge among the party’s ranks. In Jbeil, there is competition between the three Aounist MPs.

MP Simon Abi Ramia is known for talking prolifically about development but accomplishing little, and his gift of the gab means he is excellent at marketing Aoun’s ideas. His colleague MP Walid Khoury has become popular even outside of FPM circles. In his hometown of Amsheet he has supporters, who consider him less extreme than Abi Ramia.

As for MP Abbas Hashem, he has been complaining about both of his colleagues. According to FPM sources, Hashem asked Aoun to personally select the two Maronite candidates on Jbeil’s next FPM list. He made this request because Jbeil’s Shiites, whom he represents, can tip the electoral balance in Jbeil and this has distanced him from Christian MPs.

The choices Aoun does make about his list and his campaigning will be crucial, because any mistakes at this point will benefit his rivals. Among those waiting to receive him in Jbeil will be ambitious politicians with hopes of making it onto his list.

Among these is Naji Hayek, who several days ago held a dinner at his Bijjeh home to honor Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law. Among those invited were FPM supporters who fought with Aoun in 1989.

There were rumors that Fadi Martinos, head of the Jbeil Municipal Union, was also preparing a reception for Aoun.

This chatter turned out to be false, and has been called an attempt to draw media attention to Martinos, a potential candidate for general director of Casino du Liban.

When Jean Hawwat, former secretary-general of the National Bloc, was asked his opinion on the visit, he said, “Aoun is making a private visit to Jbeil for a reason specific to him and his movement, thus his tour concerns him alone, and I don’t think others care about it as much as he believes they do.”

“Jbeil is known for its hospitality and openness to all political forces. Aoun knows how he was received in Jbeil in 2005, and he knows how it will receive him today,” Hawwat said.

According to sources, Aoun might visit the Sayidet Elij Monastery in Mayfouq, because of its religious and political importance for Christians.

It is there that many who died in the 1989 battles between Aoun’s supporters and the Lebanese Forces are buried.

Some families of the dead recently held a press conference calling on Aoun not to visit the cemeteries and place wreaths at graves, an act they consider a provocation.

“Even if we insist on Christian reconciliation, we will not be lenient with manipulation of history and truth and the exploitation of sacred places,” the families said.

Aoun will be guarded by soldiers known to support him and the Army during his tour, as he does not trust the Internal Security Forces, sources from Jbeil said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 29, 2012, on page 2.

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