- Dozens of supporters gather at the palace to see off Aoun
- He leaves without a successor, the caretaker cabinet
- Critics blame it for calamities, including the port explosion
BAABDA, Lebanon, Oct 30 (Reuters) – Michel Aoun, the 89-year-old Christian president who presided over Lebanon’s cataclysmic financial crisis and deadly Beirut port explosion, vacated the presidential palace on Sunday, leaving a void in the superior of a failed state.
Parliament has so far been unable to agree a successor in the role, which has the power to sign bills, appoint new prime ministers and green-light government formations before they are voted on by parliament.
As for more than half of Aoun’s time in office, Lebanon is currently ruled by an interim cabinet, as the first appointee has been trying to form a government for six months.
Dozens of supporters gathered at Baabda Palace to say goodbye to Aoun, wearing the orange associated with his Free Patriotic Movement party and holding portraits of him as president and from decades ago when he served as commander of the army
A 73-year-old man in the army clothes he wore when he served under Aoun in the civil war told Reuters he wished Aoun had three more years in office.
Therese Younes, a 16-year-old who had come with other teenagers, said she had supported Aoun since she was eight and was sad to see him go.
“If I was 18, I would have left the country. There is no Lebanon left after Michel Aoun,” Younes said.
Aoun is a deeply divisive figure, adored by many Christians who saw him as their defender in Lebanon’s sectarian system, but accused by critics of enabling corruption and helping the armed group Hezbollah gain influence.
Aoun won the presidency in 2016, endorsed by both Hezbollah and rival Maronite Christian politician Samir Geagea in a deal that returned Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri as prime minister.
The six-year term that followed saw Lebanon’s army battle Islamist militants on the Syrian border in 2017 with the help of Hezbollah, a new electoral law passed in 2018 and major companies energy companies began exploratory drilling in offshore blocks in 2020.
In his final week in the palace, he signed a US-brokered deal demarcating southern Lebanon’s maritime border with Israel.
His fans have celebrated these achievements, but his critics say these modest achievements pale in comparison to the 2019 financial crisis, which pushed more than 80% of the population into poverty and sparked widespread anti-government protests.
Aoun’s tenure was also marked by the massive explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020 that killed more than 220 people. Aoun later said he was aware of the chemicals stored there and referred the file to other authorities for action. The victims’ families said he should have done more.
He told Reuters in an interview on Saturday that his presidential powers were not broad enough to address the economic crisis.
“He was by far the worst president in the history of Lebanon,” said Michel Meouchi, a lawyer and father. “I prefer a vacuum to the presidency to him.”
Aoun’s path to the presidency began in the 1975-1990 civil war, during which he served as commander of Lebanon’s army and head of one of two rival governments.
He returned to Beirut after 15 years in exile, once Syrian forces withdrew under international pressure following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
In 2006, the FPM formed an alliance with Hezbollah, which gave the armed group significant Christian support.
In his interview with Reuters, Aoun credited Hezbollah with its “useful” role in acting as a “deterrent” against any Israeli attack during talks on the maritime border.
He said his departure on Sunday, a day before his term officially ends, was not the end of his political career.
Reporting by Maya Gebeily Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Written by Maya Gebeily and Tom Perry Editing by Dominic Evans, Alison Williams and Frances Kerry
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