Lebanon: Michel Aoun calls for street protests

Lebanon: Michel Aoun calls for street protests
Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement in Lebanon has called on supporters to stage protests on Wednesday, as the dispute over top military and security appointments intensifies.
3 min read
12 August, 2015
Lebanon has seen successive crises since 2005, with lulls in between [Anadolu]
A month after holding similar protests in Beirut, Michel Aoun, former army chief, current MP and leader of the largest Christian faction in parliament the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) has instructed his supporters to take to the streets on Wednesday.

The new protests are taking place on the back of a dispute over top military appointments - and what Aoun sees as a drive to marginalise Christian representation in the Lebanese state.

The protests follow Defence Minister Samir Moqbel's decision last week to extend the terms of army commander Jean Kahwaji and other top generals by an additional year, after they expire in September.

We want a country governed by law and a constitution rather than garbage, theft and corruption
- Michel Aoun
Aoun is strongly opposed to the move, and wants new officers - including his son-in-law Shamel Roukoz - to be appointed.

After a meeting of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc that he heads, Aoun told his supporters: "There is no longer a constitution respected in Lebanon."

He added: "I call on the Lebanese to take to the streets; we want a country governed by law and a constitution rather than garbage, theft and corruption."

Wednesday's protests will be a "rehearsal" of bigger protests Aoun vowed to stage on Thursday outside the prime minister's headquarters in the Grand Serail, unless a deal is reached before.

The protests will begin with gatherings in several areas in Lebanon in the late afternoon, following which FPM supporters would travel in convoys towards Beirut, waving flags and placards, before stopping at as-of-yet unspecified areas.

On July 8, several soldiers and protesters were wounded when clashes broke out between the Lebanese Army guarding the Grand Serail in downtown Beirut and FPM supporters. This prompted Aoun to warn the army this time against deploying soldiers to deal with the protesters.

Aoun is also seeking to put pressure on the government to discuss in its Thursday session, in addition to the military appointments, a mechanism for the cabinet to discharge presidential powers in the absence of a president.

Parliament has so far failed to elect a new president even though more than a year has passed since Michel Suleiman's term ended.

Vehemently seeking to become president himself with the backing of Hizballah, Aoun and his allies have repeatedly obstructed presidential election sessions in parliament, which under the Lebanese constitution chooses the country's president.

Aoun cannot guarantee enough votes to win but believes that as the head of the largest Christian faction in parliament, he is entitled to be the Christians' representative in the Lebanese sectarian "troika" consisting of the president, who must be a Christian; the speaker, who must be a Shia; and the prime minister, who must be a Sunni.

Aoun's calls for protest has drawn the ire of his opponents. In a statement, the Future Movement, the country's largest Sunni faction, said that threatening to take to the street should not mean inciting to chaos."

The statement added: "The political, security and economic situation in the country is too delicate, and we should avoid irresponsible actions."

Spillover from the conflict in Syria, a massive influx of Syrian refugees and chronic political paralysis have left the country unable to cope with many of its problems - including a crumbling infrastructure, harsh power outages and a recent garbage collection crisis that left waste piled up on the streets of Beirut for weeks.