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Lebanon: October 13th 1990 Revisited

Lebanon: October 13th 1990 Revisited

Thursday, 25 October, 2018 - 15:15
To many young Lebanese men and women, the events of October 13, 1990, mean nothing. Those who were little children surely do not remember the day when General Michel Aoun was adamant in rejecting ‘The Accords of the National Entente’ (in short ‘The Taif Accords’) that were signed in the Saudi city of Taif in 1989.

Aoun, who was then the head of a ‘military government’ consisting of three army officers, not one of whom was Muslim, regarded all national agreements as null and void. His claim then was that Lebanon was living under Syrian military hegemony, and these agreements were reached through regional and international deals.

In fact, Aoun was opposed to key constitutional reforms included in the ‘Accord’, aiming to eliminate the primary causes of the Lebanese War of 1975-1990.

The core issue in those reforms was eradicating the feeling of injustice long suffered by the Muslims, and the obsession of fear long haunting the Christians. To that end, the ‘Accords’ instituted an equal division of parliamentary seats instead of the old 6 to 5 advantage for the Christians, and re-defined the powers of the highest offices in the Lebanese state. The wide powers that were enjoyed by the President (whose post was reserved for the Maronite Christians) were scaled down in favor of the cabinet as a whole; thus, the Prime Minister (always a Sunni Muslim) became a true major partner in government, not merely a ‘senior’ minister. The powers of the Speaker (a Shiite Muslim) were also enhanced, by being elected for the whole term of the parliament.

However, those reforms, which Aoun viewed as “weakening and marginalizing the Christians”, provided very significant advantages to the Christians; perhaps the most important of which was that the power-sharing apportionment became a written item enshrined in the Constitution as opposed to being only an unwritten convention. Furthermore, although the powers of the President were scaled down and the Muslims’ parliamentary representation increased, the Christians kept almost all their top posts despite being a population minority making up only 40% against Lebanon’s Muslim majority of 60%. The Christians, actually, retained the posts of President, Army Chief, Governor of the Central Bank, and Chief Justice.

The finely-tuned equation reached and spelled out in ‘The Taif Accords’ was accepted then by the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and Dr. Samir Geagea the commander of the strongest Christian militia. Still Aoun rejected it openly, and went on to fight the ‘Accords’. In the meantime, the ‘Accords’ were verbally welcome – but tacitly opposed and undermined – by both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, the entity founded by Iran but nurtured and cared for by Damascus.

Indeed, the roots of what happened on October 13, 1990, go back to the 22nd/23rd of September 1988 at the end of President Amin Gemayel’s term in office. At the time, Lebanon was in the throes of a deep political crisis, as a result of a conflict between President Gemayel and Prime Minister Dr. Salim Al-Hoss which led to the latter’s resignation.

Hence, fearing a power vacuum, Gemayel asked ‘The Supreme Military Council’ made up by six senior officers from the country's largest six sects to become an interim government with then the Council’s head and Army Chief General Aoun (a Christian Maronite) to become an interim Prime Minister. However, no sooner had the Presidential made the announcement that the three Muslim Council members (a Shiite, a Sunni and a Druze) resigned, refusing to serve in the new cabinet.

Aoun ignored the significance of these resignations, as he did not believe that having no Muslim ministers was contrary to both the Constitution and the ‘National Pact’ convention; and to justify his position he claimed that they only resigned under Syrian pressure.

This development aggravated the situation, as the country became divided between two cabinets: one a civilian cabinet that had already resigned headed by al-Hoss, the other military without Muslim representative led by Aoun who insisted it was ‘legitimate’, and consequently regarded himself as a legitimate Prime Minister. As such, he refused to acknowledge the election of the late Rene Moawad as President on November 5, 1989, and refused to leave the Presidential Palace to the newly elected President.

After 17 days of his election, Moawad was assassinated in an explosion in central Beirut on Independence Day (Nov 22nd). Within two days, Lebanon’s parliamentary deputies elected Elias Hrawi as a new President, and a decision was taken to end Aoun’s mutiny, while the latter continued to resist local, regional and international pressures, and mobilize his supporters.

By October 13, 1990, after all advice, cautions and threats proved futile, Syrian army tanks attacked both the Presidential Palace and the nearby Ministry of Defence, while Syrian fighter-bombers strafed the two compounds where Aoun conducted his mutiny. Almost immediately, the General gave up the fight and sought refuge in the close by French Ambassador’s residence, and so the mutiny was ended.

Later on, Aoun left to live in exile in France, and from there lead an incessant ‘war’ against the Damascus – Hezbollah axis. He even took ‘war’ against the Syrian regime and the party that would become Iran’s power base in Lebanon to Washington. There, he attended hearings in the Congress in 2003, after which he would claim that he was the ‘father’ of the ‘Syria Accountability Act’ and the UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

Despite all this, however, the end of Syria’s military presence in Lebanon came only after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri on February 14, 2005. That crime brought most of the Lebanese together, as they stood up against hegemony, and set in motion internal and foreign pressures that forced the forces of the Syrian regime out. The crime also led to two more very important developments:

1- The emergence of the true nature and role of Hezbollah, as well as Iran, in Lebanon.

2- The return of Aoun from exile after striking a ‘deal’ with both Damascus and Tehran; and soon after his return, citing his former allies refusal to recognize his ‘real political following’, he reached an ‘understanding’ with Hezbollah based on which he would become President.

Today, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) – Aoun’s party – is very much the ally of those who fought him on October 13, 1990!

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