By: Elias Bejjani

The image was so emotional, genuine, natural and significant: the leader is again surrounded by his loving people... all full of hope, zeal and faith. General Michele Aoun, was for fifteen consecutive days physically among his own people in Australia, for the first time since 1990, although he has never been separated from them spiritually or intellectually. General Aoun's visit to Australia was an ongoing public festival in every place he visited. It was extremely successful, beyond description and proved once again that honest, patriotic, courageous, decent leaders are always respected, loved and cherished by their people, no matter where they reside or what positions they hold. According to the Australian media, that country has never before seen such a welcome to a foreign political guest, as the one enjoyed by General Aoun.

Twelve thousand members of the Australian-Lebanese community were at the Sidney airport waiting to welcome the leader, and more than six thousand gaily gathered in a huge football stadium at Sidney to listen to him saying: A the Diaspora be Lebanese and only Lebanese, leave your political, familial, territorial and religious differences aside, work altogether for the liberation of your occupied Lebanon... be faithful to your new country, Australia, but never, ever forget Lebanon. Your differences will be settled through democratic venues when Lebanon is free and independent again.

General Aoun's exile is in fact an exile for all the patriotic Lebanese people and an expatriation for every free national and honest stance. His forced absenteeism from Lebanon is an absenteeism for the whole Lebanese people, and a plain infringement of Lebanon's pride, history and identity.

All hearts and minds accompanied Aoun in his exile, an exile for all Lebanon. His holy, patriotic mission has never changed, still the same in spite of all difficulties and hardships. The mission is liberation of occupied Lebanon. He portrays our life aspirations, hopes and dreams, and in him we see ourselves, Lebanon's true conscience and future. He is one of us, he is the dream, he is the hope, he is all we want to be.

His visit to Australia is the first since he was forced from Lebanon to live in exile. It comes to break the vicious chain of banning, fake accusations, harassment and other atrocities to which he and his supporters were illegally exposed. He decided to visit Australia because currently he can not return to Lebanon and because the Lebanese living in Australia present an ideal model for the real future Lebanon...the openness, coexistence, respect of law , freedom, tolerance and democracy. In Australia the state of law portrays an ideal model for a modern, strong system that Lebanon could take as a role model after liberation.

The Australian-Lebanese community's welcome for the leader was astounding and overwhelming. Thousands came from all provinces, different religions and political affiliations to participate in all the receptions that were given in honor of the leader. The Australian media expressed its fascination with this phenomena, never before seen during the visit of any foreign political guest. Aoun also left a very positive impression on all the Australian officials. His approach was sincere and his presentation of the Lebanese crisis was honest, simple, clear and practical. All the officials he met, admitted that they were taken by his self-confidence, simplicity, humility, knowledge and, ability to answer questions and inquiries without any hesitation or fear. Aoun asked Australia to help Lebanon be again a sovereign, independent country, as it did during the Second World War when its army under the flag of the allies, freed Lebanon from the Vichy French occupation.

General Aoun went to Australia asking for its support for an international conference, similar to the one which helped in salving the Bosnian and Irish crisis. He told the Australians and their government that Lebanon is occupied and its regime does not represent the people of Lebanon, and that the decision-making process is controlled completely by the Syrians. He declared loudly and courageously that A Free National Current is a peaceful, public phenomena fighting like Ghandi's movement, peacefully, to reclaim Lebanon's freedom, independence and sovereignty. He did not ask for anything for himself. His focus was and still is on Lebanon and the prosperity of its people, on the withdrawal of all the foreign forces and the implementation of UN Resolutions 425, 426 and 520.

What makes General Michele Aoun very different from all other Lebanese politicians and leaders is his solid belief in the cause, his courage in confrontation, his faith in the ultimate victory of the great patriotic people of Lebanon, his ability to lead wisely, his honesty. He practices politics to serve the cause and not his own interests. He does not sell or buy as others do. He does not compromise when it comes to national interests.

Australia's visit is going to be followed by visits to all countries of the diaspora where Lebanese communities live. All these visits will be step-stones to his victorious return to Lebanon. Cardinal Clindsy of Australia said to General Aoun when they met in Sidney, AGeneral, keep your faith. All great leaders lived in exile before returning to liberate their occupied countries.

Lebanon and its people remain in exile as long as General Aoun is not back in Lebanon. General Aoun is the conscience of his people and this conscience will know no rest as long as Lebanon is occupied and its freedoms denied.