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May 7, 2005
The Return Of Michel Aoun

The Cedar Revolution either gained a large amount of credibility or a giant headache this morning as exiled resistance leader Michel Aoun returned to Lebanon for the first time since Syria forced him to flee in 1990. Aoun wants to run for office in the newly-freed country, describing himself as the "grandfather, father and son" of the democracy movement:

Exiled Lebanese opposition leader Michel Aoun has arrived in his homeland for the first time in 14 years. The anti-Syrian former prime minister's chartered flight from France touched down in Beirut at 1400 GMT.

He is due to address crowds at a mass rally celebrating his homecoming in the capital's Martyrs Square.

Mr Aoun, 70, a Christian hardliner, was expelled from Lebanon in 1991 after failing in his attempt to end Syria's military presence.

Aoun didn't exactly represent unfettered democracy during his tenure as Prime Minister. He tried to retain Christian ascendancy over Lebanon and at the same time drive the Syrians out, a combination that led to his downfall. However, he has impeccable anti-Syrian credentials that many in Lebanese politics lack after 29 years of military occupation. That credibility might make Aoun a key ally for a younger politician to have as the head of state, rather than have the conflicts that Aoun might provoke if made Prime Minister once again.

Interestingly, his supporters compare his return to Beirut as analogous to the triumphal entry of Charles de Gaulle to Paris in 1944. While both men have annoying personalities and -- as the BBC put it -- 'Napolaoun' complexes, the difference between the two is that de Gaulle played a part in the liberation of Paris, albeit not as large as he made it out to be. Aoun may have lobbied the international community to get Syria out of Lebanon, but the Cedar Revolution erupted from those within Lebanon, not so much from those without. This dynamic will not be lost on the Lebanese electorate, who may discount that point somewhat with Aoun (who was forced into exile), but will definitely be felt with those who fled Lebanon rather than stick around to work for its freedom. It's a problem we saw with the Iraqi National Congress after the liberation of Baghdad as well.

The other issue with the de Gaulle analogy was that the Allies allowed the French general to build his mythology as that was seen as essential for the rebirth of French republicanism and the rejection of Communism. However, in the long run, that mythology has kept France from recognizing its status as a second-tier nation for decades, keeping it from solving its problems and eventually resulting in a stupid attempt to make itself a diplomatic superpower by gainsaying anything the Americans do. The Lebanese, who really did freed themselves, have no need for any such mythology.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 7, 2005 10:12 AM

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