It is unclear who came up with the idea first: Abdullah Gul in Turkey or Michel Aoun in Lebanon? Both have come out, within an interval of 24 hours, calling for direct popular voting for presidential elections, thereby bypassing their respective parliaments, which are giving their presidential ambitions a hard time.

Gul's nomination raised red sirens in Turkey, where opponents accuse him, because of his Islamic roots, of wanting to do away with the country's secular system.

Elsewhere in Beirut, Aoun came out addressing the cabinet of Faoud Siniora and the March 14 Coalition in parliament saying: "You have two choices. Either early parliamentary elections or electing a president by the people."

If that happens, it would be the first time in Lebanon's history that people vote directly for a president. Aoun seems certain that if the Lebanese vote - given his popularity among Christians and Shiites (who outbalance the Sunni Muslim vote of the Hariri Bloc), then he would certainly become the new president of Lebanon. His opponents argue that the emotions that surrounded Aoun's return in 2005 are over.

Last year, the Arab press enjoyed drawing parallels between Aoun and president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy of France, since both were obsessed with entering the presidential palaces in their respective countries.

The parallel with Aoun no longer applies since Sarkozy has become indeed president. His victory undoubtedly inspired the Lebanese general who probably said to himself: "I might be next." His opponents, however, now prefer drawing parallels between him and Segolene Royal.

Had I been Turkish or Lebanese, I would have voted for Aoun and Gul. Aoun, a Lebanese nationalist par excellence, represents the true face of Christianity, I believe, and wants to crush the feudal system of Beiruti politics and balance out between Sunni, Shiite and Christian ambitions in Lebanon.

Rising tension

Given the confessional system, and the rising tension and political gridlock of today, that can only be achieved through co-existence and sharing of power with the Shiites.

Gul is pro-Western - do doubt about that - and has worked relentlessly with Prime Minister Erdogan for Turkey to enter the EU. Someone with a "hidden" Islamic agenda would not work for his country's entry into the EU.

Although his wife is veiled, and his party preaches an Islamic platform, it nevertheless represents true, moderate, and modernised Islam - better than all other systems in the Arab or Muslim world. A system in which political Islam is courted is better than one in which it is oppressed, because it can -and will - turn into the underground and become violent.

Their craving for political office reminds me of leaders throughout history who had the ability to become president, and wasted it, for one political reason or another.

One example comes to mind is that of former Syrian speaker of parliament Rushdi Al Kikhiya. He was offered the presidency twice, in 1955 and 1961 but turned it down, saying that he will not share power with the officers in the Syrian Army.

The result: the officers came to power, in 1958 through union with Egypt (which he opposed) and in 1963 through a military revolution. Kikhiya was exiled and died in Cyprus, far from the country he could have served brilliantly, had he become president.

A relentless seeker of presidential office is better than one who shies away from it. The Middle East is not a place of ideology and convictions. It is a place of pragmatism and action. Sarkozy and Aoun live by Churchill's famed "never give in. Never, never, never."

It is a place of cult leaderships where the name of leaders becomes synonymous with their nation's success or failure. One has to be a popular, able and skilled politician, however, to make a good president.

The love of power - and its opposite - are what make the Arab world such a miserable and confusing place. Able politicians should aim at government, and aim at being good leaders because history will judge them fairly many years after their fall from grace.

It is a challenge that Aoun, Gul and Sarkozy should accept for the sake of Lebanon, Turkey, and France. It is a duty. Would they make good presidents? It is unclear, but history, and the upcoming weeks, will tell.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.