By: Elias Bejjani

General Michel Aoun's visit to Australia came after a long period of enforced residence, sanctions and restrictions on movement and speech. It came after mandatory isolation banned him from any political, media or public communications.

General Aoun is a great man and a distinctive leader who displays a unique, holistic and patriotic image in the current political world. His silence, tolerance to hardship, power of confrontation, unshakable faith and perseverance equip him with all the necessary human tools for defending the rights of the Lebanese nation, its sovereignty and independence. These leadership characteristics have made him stronger, wiser and more and more popular.

A minority of our envious people refused to believe what their eyes witnessed and their ears heard during Aoun's two week, successful, productive and historic visit to Australia. They went frenetically searching for his mistakes and weaknesses. For heaven's sake, who on earth is perfect, and who except God is infallible... Aoun is a mortal man, one of us.

Maybe Aoun's mistake lies in his solid faith in the free world of nations he expects to defend and protect Lebanon's rights. Aoun believes in the international law, the legitimacy of the United Nations and human rights covenants. He trusts the great people of Lebanon who stood courageously behind him all the way, fought with him, and happily offered heroic sacrifices on Lebanon's alter of basic dignity, freedom, independence. The people of Lebanon supported Aoun and shared his physical, emotional and intellectual hardships, disappointments, frustrations, and sorrow.

Aoun's visit to Australia was distinguished. It was significant in its accomplishments in numerous public, official and academic events all through its 14 day duration.

Aoun's public meetings with the Australian-Lebanese community were authentic, joyful festivals, and thousands attended everywhere he traveled, at every gathering held in his honor. Arenas, squares and halls were too small to accommodate the community welcoming the leader in whom they see themselves, the leader they love because he is their own conscience, hope and symbol of resistance, faith and dignity.

As always, many politicians, like scared rabbits, hastily called for the boycotting of the leader's visit in a bid to protect their individual interests. The undeclared alliance of these frightened, envious groups was formed of some of the Free National Current's presumed alliances, its political opponents and enemies. Their call for a boycott encouraged people all the more to take part in every stage of Aoun's visit and proffered them the needed zeal to participate more actively in welcoming the great leader. Thousands from all over Australia, from all religions, different walks of life and from all political affiliations surrounded the leader and renewed their vows for a free Lebanon.

Australian officials from the ruling party, as well as from the opposition, shared in the happiness of the Lebanese community, welcoming the beloved leader and listening attentively to him lobby for the liberation of Lebanon. Aoun addressed the Lebanese crisis patriotically and holistically. He did not speak on behalf of one specific group, religion, party or denomination. He represented all Lebanon and all the Lebanese. He called on the international community to help the Lebanese resistance in reclaiming their country's sovereignty, freedom, independence and a free decision-making process.

The symbolic gift awarded Aoun by the federal Australian MP, Mr. Paul Zamit on behalf of the Australian MP'S, said it all. Mr. Zamit presented Aoun with the Australian flag that was raised on the Parliament Building in Canberra the day he visited the parliament, with a letter of appreciation signed by the house speaker.

The culmination of Aoun's visit was at Sidney University, at the peace and studies of international conflicts center. He delivered a lecture in the presence of an audience of six hundred academic professors, prominent politicians, diplomats, journalists, clergymen, MP'S, dignitaries from the Lebanese and Arabic communities, friends, enemies and opponents. He answered each and every question he was asked, rationally, with self-confidence, equanimity and knowledge. His message was loud and clear, a call for the liberation of Lebanon that was both authentic and powerful. He stood among the audience and said: Lebanon and its people gave to the world and humanity generously for thousands of years, and it is time now for the international society to pay back, to help my people make Lebanon once again an oasis for freedom, democracy and tolerance, to make it again a safe haven for all those persecuted in the Middle East because of their culture, roots, religious and political beliefs. He appealed to the free world to support the implementation of the UN resolutions, pressure the occupants to withdraw their troops and leave the great people of Lebanon to manage their own affairs. The head for peace and studies for international conflicts center, Professor Reith, announced at the end of the lecture that Aoun is a man of peace and justice.

Aoun's visit to Australia was an important step in the right direction, a promising development and an important stepping-stone in the struggle for the liberation of occupied Lebanon .

N.B. The concept and content of this article is based on an Arabic commentary published on 26/6/98 in the Lebanese National Congress news bulletin under the title, The "Visit".