Rallying Around The Renegade: A Realist Portrait of the Aoun Phenomenon in Lebanon

"From the perspective of Christians close to Aoun, however, talking to the Americans was pointless, for the Sunni ascendancy was seen as not at all accidental, but rather part of a strategic realignment that puts Sunni Arab regimes, and in particular Saudi Arabia, at the center of a pro-US alliance against purported radicals. “In the fall of 2005, Washington was facing a stark choice of what to support in Lebanon,” wrote Jean Aziz, who has since become the director of Orange TV. “It could choose either a pluralist, consensual system that may have set an example for the dialogue rather than the clash of civilizations, or a Sunni Muslim system with American leanings and pliant to American interests, a model for American presence in the region.”[10]

But then why turn to Hizballah, another party with a clearly Muslim character, and with a political agenda liable to embroil Lebanon deeper and further in regional struggles, something Lebanese Christians have always been loath to do? For Aoun’s detractors, the answer is simple and straightforward: Both Shi‘a and Christians are tiny minorities in a region dominated by Sunnis. In a system where sectarian considerations trump everything else, their alliance against a powerful Sunni-dominated regime now backed by Lebanon’s Sunni neighbors appears almost natural. With only 30-40 percent of the population, and with non-Arab Iran as its main sponsor, Lebanon’s Shi‘a have no hope of ever dominating the system, unlike the Sunnis, who draw economic and demographic strength from neighboring countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, all liable to be controlled by Islamists in the not too distant future. Additionally, Hizballah, with its disciplined fighting units, appears less scary in comparison to Sunni extremists such as Fatah al-Islam, who have been battling the Lebanese army for three months in the refugee camp of Nahr al-Barid, after allegedly being under the protection of the Hariri family -- developments dwelt upon by media sympathetic to the FPM. "

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Since March 29th 2006