Lebanon Elects Christian Hezbollah Ally Michel Aoun To Help End Political Vacuum

Lebanese President Michel Aoun
Lebanese president-elect Michel Aoun walks on the red carpet past an honor guard as he arrives at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on October 31, 2016, after he was elected ending a political vacuum of more than two years. The deeply divided parliament took four rounds of voting to elect Aoun, whose supporters flooded streets and squares across the country to celebrate his victory. Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty

The Lebanese parliament elected former military commander Michel Aoun as the country’s president Monday, bringing to a close a two-year political vacuum.

His election sparked celebrations in the Lebanese capital Beirut, but some of the biggest influencers in Lebanon will also be celebrating. Aoun’s win is also a win for his ally Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, supported by Iran and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The vote laid bare the dwindling influence of Iranian rival Saudi Arabia in the country, with Riyadh’s patron and Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri conceding to the position of prime minister after striking an agreement with Aoun.

“This is a closing of the page of the past, of political struggles, and the start of a new phase,” Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, a senior member of Hariri's Future Movement, told journalists, according to Reuters.

Aoun, the Christian president-elect, said at his swearing-in speech at the Lebanese parliament building in Beirut that he would fight extremism. Jihadists have targeted Lebanon’s Shiite’s targeted in Beirut, Christians in the country’s east and attacked the country’s military in the northern Bekaa Valley.

He also warned against the country becoming embroiled in “regional fires”, pointing to the five-year conflict in neighboring Syria.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the election of Aoun on Monday, calling for a new government to be formed without delay. He said he “hopes that Lebanese parties will now continue to work in a spirit of unity and in the national interest,” in a statement released by his spokesman.

He added that he “encourages the formation without delay of a government that can effectively serve the needs of all Lebanese citizens and address the serious challenges facing the country.”

The election of Aoun comes after more than two years without a president at a time when the effects of the Syrian civil war are continuing to spill over into neighboring countries. Lebanon has absorbed more than a million Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011.