UN envoy hails 'optimistic' Lebanon after President Aoun's election

UN envoy hails 'optimistic' Lebanon after President Aoun's election
A "mood of optimism" has taken hold in Lebanon following the two-year wait to elect a president, its UN envoy has said, as the country faces ongoing challenges
2 min read
11 November, 2016
The UN envoy to Lebanon has hopes for more political breakthroughs [Getty]
A "mood of optimism" has gripped Lebanon following the election President Michel Aoun after a two-year political stalemate, said a UN official.

More political breakthroughs are expected, the country's UN special coordinator Sigrid Kaag has said, while acknowledging the burden of hosting millions of refugees and potential threats to its security.

"Lebanon is a unique country. It needs to be preserved and shielded," said Kaag as she called upon the international community to do its part.

Following Aoun's election last month, the UN Security Council urged the new government to build on efforts to ensure the nation's stability in a region rocked by Syria's civil war.

Lebanon is currently hosting 1.1 million Syrian refugees in addition to the 300,000 Palestinians since 1948, which posed security challenges, Kaag said.

"There are risks of incursion, of armed extremists from neighbouring Syria," she said. "There is a continuous slow undercurrent, a risk of radicalisation within the country. And, of course, the broader socio-economic conditions that have negatively affected Lebanon in view also of the Syria crisis - that creates new tensions within."

Kaag applauded the Lebanese government and its people for their generosity of spirit, though she acknowledged a population where one in four people are refugees was not sustainable for the small country.

However, according to Kaag, the matter is "less of a security issue and more of an overall containment of a situation which presents a challenge for Lebanese citizens and of course the refugees who look forward to a safe return when time permits".

She commended the nation's tolerance and accommodating response, but also noted that people remain anxious as the refugees' return depends on a political solution to the crisis in Syria.

"In the meantime we have to do as much as we can to provide support to the refugees: protection, access to school, healthcare, and employment opportunities where possible. But we also have to make sure that [those who are] vulnerable [in Lebanon] do not feel left behind and that they are taken care of," she said.

Aoun, leader of Lebanon's largest Christian political party filled the presidential void left following the end of Michel Sleiman's tenure in May 2014.

Aoun is a polarising figure and many Lebanese, both within the country and in diaspora communities, have expressed reservations and even outright criticism at the election of the former general, who is politically aligned with Hizballah.