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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June 2005, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Profile: Michel Aoun
Michel Aoun
About 20,000 people cheered Michel Aoun on his return to Beirut
If Michel Aoun is, as he claimed on his dramatic return to Beirut, "the father, the grandfather and the son of the opposition", then the outspoken ex-army chief has had an almighty family row.

His triumphalist homecoming at the start of May after a 14-year exile in France came with the tacit blessing of Lebanon's Druze, Muslim and Christian factions.

They felt that Mr Aoun, 70, a lifelong opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon, could help unify the emerging anti-Syrian coalition and close the book on Damascus' long domination of its much smaller, war-torn neighbour.

Amid riotous celebration and grand rhetoric, Mr Aoun, a former army commander commonly known as "the general", called for an end to sectarianism and division in Lebanon, for an end to corruption and for a new start for the nation.

Yet within weeks Mr Aoun had split from the rump of the anti-Syria bloc, allying his Free Patriotic Movement with some pro-Syrian elements in Lebanon's Christian heartlands.

Some see the move as a canny political manoeuvre, jockeying for a presidential bid if pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud should lose his grip on power.

His move and subsequent electoral success has infuriated Druze leader and old rival Walid Jumblatt, who has accused Mr Aoun of being little more than a Syrian stooge.

Bloody uprisings

Born in Beirut in 1935 into a Maronite Christian family, Michel Aoun rose to prominence in Lebanon's military after passing out into the artillery corps in 1958.

His star was at its brightest during the bleak days of the country's civil war, when he became Lebanon's top army commander in 1984 before being named interim prime minister in September 1988.

General Michel Aoun in 1991
Mr Aoun says he wants to unify Lebanon and end sectarianism
He never shied away from conflict, even in war-ravaged Beirut, and pitched the Christian-dominated Lebanese army into violent clashes with rival militias.

As interim prime minister, the general was explicit in his opposition to Syria's control of Lebanon, repeatedly vowing to free Lebanon from foreign domination.

He was fond of historical imagery, portraying himself at different times as a latter-day Napoleon, or as Lebanon's General de Gaulle, leading the nation to freedom and glory.

Sacked as prime minister in 1989, Mr Aoun refused to stand down, instead launching a furious six-month rebellion against the Syrians - a move that failed almost entirely, leaving thousands dead and forcing the general into exile.

He found sanctuary in the French embassy - reportedly after scurrying, pyjama-clad, through the battle-scarred streets of Beirut - and 10 months later left for the south of France.

In his wilderness years Mr Aoun continued to lobby against the Syrian influence, backing both the Syria Accountability Act in the US Congress and UN resolution 1559, which called for Syria's departure.

Now, joyously welcomed back by his Maronite constituency but viewed with distrust by other factions, Michel Aoun has clearly reclaimed his position at the centre of Lebanon's political world.


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