Lebanon’s parliament elected retired general Michel Aoun as President on Oct. 31, ending a 29-month political stalemate during which the country had no head of state. Aoun’s ascension fills a vacuum but provides few long-term answers as Lebanon attempts to avoid a political and sectarian crisis like the one consuming neighboring Syria:
Lebanon shares a border and a long and complex history with Syria, so it was little surprise that Aoun stressed stability in his inaugural remarks, saying he wanted to avoid “regional fires.” Aoun also promised to combat terrorism and to push Syrian refugees in Lebanon to return to their country. More than 1 million Syrians are currently in Lebanon, a country of only 6.2 million.
An 81-year-old Maronite Christian and an ally of the Shi’ite-led militant group Hizballah, Aoun embodies the contradictions of Lebanon, where politics is still shaped by the legacy of the multisided civil war that pitted Maronites against Palestinian-led militias. He went into exile in 1991 for 14 years after his forces failed to expel the Syrian military from Lebanon. Now he’s in a coalition with Hizballah, which is fighting alongside Syria’s regime.
Aoun’s inauguration represents a victory for Shi’ite powerhouse Iran in its regional struggle for influence with Saudi Arabia, whose leaders supported a rival candidate. But his election is also the result of long negotiations among Lebanon’s local political forces. With the key power blocs entrenched in their positions, few expect major reforms to the dysfunctional government.
This appears in the November 14, 2016 issue of TIME.
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