War to bring democracy to Mideast, ex-Lebanese PM says: 'Despots
throughout the region may fall like dominos'
The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Page: A9
Section: News
Byline: Charles Enman
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
Michel Aoun, former prime minister of Lebanon, says a U.S. invasion of Iraq may nudge dictatorships toward democracy throughout the Middle East."There are despots throughout the region that may fall like dominos," Mr. Aoun said this week in Ottawa. "The American action may bring the Middle East into the 21st Century."Mr. Aoun, prime minister of Lebanon from 1988 to 1990, cautioned that, though the war may be over quickly, the establishment of democracy may take some time. "How long, I don't know," he said. "Democracy is not natural, but cultural. It requires a sense of collective responsibility, something that must be taught in the Middle East, where we confuse democracy with anarchy."He agreed with the U.S. view that democracy will be a bulwark against terrorism.
"Democracy will strengthen the majority, and throughout the Middle East, most people are moderate. Unfortunately, they are also passive. It's the extremists who are the activists."Once finished in Iraq, Mr. Aoun believes the U.S. should turn its
sights on neighbouring Syria, which has had military control of Lebanon for more than 20 years.Mr. Aoun believes Syria poses as great a threat to peace in the world as Iraq. "Syria is the hub of terrorism," he said. "They support Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist groups. And the first victim of terrorism has been Lebanon."
Lebanon is today completely controlled by Syria, he said. Syria vets Lebanon's political leaders. "I would even say that the Vichy government in France had more freedom under the Nazis than the Beirut government has under the Syrians today."
Mr. Aoun said Syria has destroyed the Lebanese economy. The Syrian army, he said, profits from the drug trade in the Bekka Valley, a source of much-needed foreign currency. "They have sacked us and killed many of us, including two of our
presidents, journalists, and leaders of all faiths. We have suffered like Bosnia."In 1982, the UN passed Resolution 520, which required all foreign forces to leave Lebanon. Only Syria's troops, 20,000 strong, still remain. The U.S. has tolerated that presence, but Mr. Aoun believes that  policy is about to change. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Syria's military presence in Lebanon an "occupation," and said the U.S. goal "is to see Lebanon governed by its own people
without occupation."
Democracy in the Middle East will take only shallow root unless it is established in many countries of the region, Mr. Aoun said."Lebanon was democratic," he said. "Our press was one of the freest anywhere. We had political refugees from across the Arab world. And the dictators had to squash us, because we invalidated them by our existence." Mr. Aoun, a Maronite Christian, also believes that the Koranic schools in the Arab world must be reformed. "We cannot have children taught that the road to paradise is through killing Jews. To propagate hatred through the education system is inhuman and bad Islam."
Mr. Aoun, a resident of Paris since his flight from Lebanon in 1991, has been visiting Ottawa, Montreal and Washington this week, speaking with officials and visiting members of the Lebanese communities.
Mr. Aoun, surprisingly, did have some kind words for Saddam Hussein. "When I called out to the world for help against the
Syrians, he helped, unconditionally. At that moment, he was an ally. I remember that, though I can't speak to what his motives may have been."
Mr. Aoun offered no opinion on whether Canada should join the U.S. coalition against Iraq. "If the Canadian government decides something, I will not interfere. If we want our sovereignty respected, we must respect that of others." The world may call Mr. Aoun a former prime minister, but he describes himself as a prime minister in exile. "I never resigned -- I was evicted by foreign troops. And I still have the sympathy of 70 per cent of the people. They may not all like me, but they will side with me against the Syrians." Mr. Aoun sees a Middle East ripe for the sort of changes that swept through Europe following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. "A long list of dictators are now at risk. I hope for big changes. And I feel the time for me to go back to Lebanon is approaching. We have so much to rebuild."
Michel Aoun, the prime minister of Lebanon from 1988 to 1990, cautioned that, though an Iraq
war may be over quickly, democracy would take time to establish.