Significance of Concurrent Regional Tours of Michel Aoun and Michel Suleiman

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ali Hekmat

The fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran is an influential player in the political and power scene of Lebanon is not hidden to anyone. Among the Lebanese groups, the scope of this influence is not limited to the Hizbollah which due to ideological reasons has special solidarity with and is influenced by the IRI. Most of the political forces in Lebanon have friendly relations with Iran in one way or the other. Most of these groups and even the March 14 faction which is opposed to Iran have maintained cooperation with Iran for long years and have acted as indirect policymakers of IRI in the power structure of Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt, the political leader of the Lebanese Druze clan is now an important member of March 14 coalition but has been following policies in line with IRI for long years.

The influence of IRI is even evident among important Sunni groups in Lebanon. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami visited Iran recently and held talks with IRI officials. This is under conditions that Saad Hariri is thought to represent a large group of Sunni forces in Lebanon but this is not true. He only represents a small group of Sunnis and there are more influential and famous groups who are reluctant to operate under March 14. They naturally regard an undeniable role for IRI and believe in Iran’s positive and constructive role in relation to the Lebanese developments.

Nevertheless, Michel Aoun’s visit to Iran concurrent with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s visit to Saudi Arabia can be reviewed from various dimensions.

Aoun is the leader of Lebanese Free Political Movement (FPM) which mainly comprises Christian, and particularly Maronite Christian forces. The Maronite Christians play a significant role in the Lebanese power structure. For instance, the president and the commander in chief of the army are from this group.

Aoun’s position as a veteran politician in the leadership of FPM, his role in relation to the Maronite Christians and more importantly his coalition with the opposition groups such as the Hizbollah and Amal have added to his prominent role in Lebanese politics. Therefore, Aoun’s current visit to Tehran could have numerous meanings.

Although the coalition of Hizbollah and Amal with FPM under Aoun’s leadership is known as an opposition faction, however, in terms of quality and quantity of their forces, they are more influential than the March 14 coalition.

The concurrence of Michel Suleiman’s visit to Riyadh with Aoun’s visit to Tehran can be evaluated in the framework of Lebanon’s efforts to use all the potentials to overcome the existing problems.

Lebanon is on the threshold of serious and significant developments and part of the problems in the country has been settled after election of Suleiman as president upon an agreement reached between March 14 group and opposition forces. But there are many other unresolved issues which need to be settled.

Considering the influence of IRI over March 8 group, Hizbollah and their allies, and in view of Saudi influence on March 14, particularly Al-Mustaqbal group, these visits and consultations mean that the political forces in Lebanon want all the regional powers to play a positive and constructive role in securing a better future for Lebanon.

It seems that Aoun’s Tehran visit and Suleiman’s Riyadh visit carry the message that Lebanese statesmen want to hold simultaneous consultation with all the influential players who are eager to play a more effective and positive role in the political scene of Lebanon.


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