in July 2005 (Source: Dept. of State)
Michael Totten recently published an excellent piece examining the tactical alliance between Michel 'Aoun and Hizbullah in Lebanon. It is definitely worth reading to understand some of the socio-economic frustrations that account for the attraction felt by a segment of the Lebanese Maronite Christian population - and other Lebanese - to this populist leader.
Totten's piece reminds us not to fall into the trap of reducing Lebanese politics to a conflict between Iranian and Syrian-backed Hizbullah, on one side, and the western-leaning Seniora government on the other. There are other elements in the opposition that do not share most or any of Hizbullah's values, especially not the foreign policy of the movement.
In his latest post, Totten reconstructs a meeting with two 'Aoun supporters at a coffee house, which reveals that his supporters are not simply blindly following a charismatic leader. Totten's Christian informants in fact identify corruption and monopolistic tendencies in Lebanon - which they associate with the Hariri family - as being at the root of their support of 'Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement (al-Tayyār al-Watani al-Hurr).
Throughout the conversation with his Lebanese interlocutors, Jack and Antonios, Totten confronts them with his critical views of 'Aouns political manoeuvres and challenges them to explain an alliance that seems destined to fail to the detriment of the former Maronite militia leader. Notwithstanding their tendency to think in more conspiratorial terms (something that is understandable in Lebanon, as Totten explains), the pair reveal themselves to be quite level-headed. Their only flaw - and it is a big one - seems to be that they have wholeheartedly accepted the notion that the alliance with Nasrallah can be treated as a means to an end: to secure enough votes from Lebanese Shi'a to allow 'Aoun to become elected as Lebanese president and to give the Free Patriotic Movement a greater voice in the Lebanese cabinet. In other words, they think that Hizbullah can be restrained once it is given even more power in cabinet and parliament.
I have no idea how many non-Shi'i Lebanese back the Free Patriotic Movement at this stage. The FPM's website has a detailed break-down of a poll it conducted recently and claims that 66.2% of poll respondents (of all confessions) said they would back an FPM candidate for the Presidential Office reserved to Maronites according to the Lebanese constitution. The website also asserts that 69.7% of those polled said they would back the FPM "and its allies" (i.e. Hizbullah). I might take a closer look at the poll in a future post.