Interview with Ali Hamdan: "We Want a Referee for the Political Game"
Ali Hamdan is the Head of the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Amal Party. The interview took place in the parliament building on September 18, 2007.
WSN: What do you think of the progress or the potential lack of it regarding Nabih Berri’s initiative? What did Amal accomplish on the ground?
AH: Actually, the initiative that was launched by Speaker Nabih Berri who is the head of the Amal movement, on August 21 in Baalbek and also the time of the annual memorial of the kidnapping of Imam Musa Sadr by Gadaffi. So as I said, the initiative immediately affected the fever of the political climate. First of all, it reduced the fever. It was highly welcomed by the Lebanese people and I mean by the Lebanese people, not just the Amal movement. Statistics showed that 80% or 79% of the of Lebanese people support Speaker Berri’s initiative to find a solution through the presidential elections.
In addition to this, we have seen support from the Saudis, Syrian-Iranians and from the Arab League. Europe in general through the triangle of Spain, France and Italy encouraged Speaker Berri to go ahead. Aside from that we have the Vatican. The Vatican is in favor of this initiative and it is doing all it can to ensure that the elections will be held according to the constitution and in consensus with all Lebanese. This includes not only Lebanese living in Lebanon, but also Lebanese citizens residing abroad. The Secretary General of the UN also called in person to show his support to the speaker to continue with this. This is the situation in terms of support. On the other hand, the speaker already has a schedule and he wants to move on. Regardless of all the support, the majority (bloc - March 14) waited almost two weeks, 14 days to reply a shy answer that they are for the dialog. It is a yes, but also French Foreign Minister Kouchner was here and he made a great appeal to the speaker to forget about the answer and to go ahead. The speaker has done an interview recently. Maybe you were around. He announced that no matter what he hears he will continue.
The forgiveness and the dropping of the demands of the National Unity government, as Speaker Berri said in Baalbek, are for Lebanon and for the Lebanese people. This effort to save Lebanon out of this dark, unknown tunnel is not for the sake of a political group; he wants this tunnel to be a secure safe and to reach the presidential elections. Since he announced the initiative it is like a snowball and things are growing locally, regionally and internationally. For the time being we don't have high expectations, but surprises could happen. He will visit the Patriarch who is on the other side, the other hand to tango with so to speak. He (the Patriarch) is doing a great job also; he was in the Vatican and I think that with Lebanon's special flavor, its 18 sects and with the President from the Maronite sect, I think this is important for the Maronite sect. President Berri listens to Patriarch Sfeir and to all of his advisors to help him determine the pros and cons of the elections. He takes everything into consideration. In this way the elections will appear as a mutual understanding of the Lebanese and it will be a win-win situation for all. We have been living with this crisis for almost three years and the Lebanese deserve to reach an exit.
What the speaker is trying to do with the initiative is quite simple. We wanted a National Unity government, and they wanted presidential elections. Then we gave up our demand and now we want to go on with the elections, yet they refuse. We want a referee for the political game. Through the constitution, the president is the legislative referee. He has to make sure that the constitution is not violated and that the different authorities work together as they are supposed to.
Everyone knows that since the assassination of Hariri and UN Resolution 1559 the President of the Republic, Emile Lahoud, remained outside the political game that has been created for many reasons. If we manage now to get a president we are getting a judge and a referee and the game can continue. We have these talks about majority and minority but according to the constitution they do not differ that much one from another. We have a consensual democracy in Lebanon and we should respect the 18 sects and the 6 major sects. This is something you cannot see in our constitution because they made the rift trying to change the rules of the game.
WSN: Why is it an advantage for Lebanon to have a consensus but thus a weak president? Someone who is neither your man, nor is he their man. In the end, this person will not have ties strong enough with either side to push reforms.
AH: A weak President you said? It is an advantage but allow me to correct you. Consensus president means that if he is weak he will be strong. If he is weak before the understanding, then after the understanding he will be strong. This is how a consensus makes him strong. This is something 180 degrees to the opposite of your question.
In modern history most of the presidential elections were won with majority, sometimes 100% and that was possible because it was done on mutual understanding. If no agreement is reached, there will be two candidates. Like in 1970 when the two camps agreed on two and they accepted the result that Suleiman Frangieh won by one vote. In Lebanon, generally there is something called the national pact and convention. This has to do with coexistence. We have a different regime and different democracy than in the rest of the world. In the end, it is a Lebanese national industry. We respect the 18 sects and all their wishes. Not more than the national interest. But from this point of view, an agreement is essential. The solution should always be found in Lebanon. There is no way Lebanon can be ruled by a group opposing the other or oppressing the other.
WSN: If the initiative fails to produce effects what do you think will happen next?
AH: We hope that won't happen. But the worst-case scenario - we lived part of it during the civil war and we are watching part of it in places like Palestine and Iraq. So there is no need to add a new one - another collapse in the region. I believe Lebanon deserves from the powers that claim to interfere in our political life in order to help... well we want them to help and not to allow Lebanon to become like Iraq or Palestine. We are not in need of a crisis, so we look for international and regional conferences to solve the issues. We can give what we call a prevention dose for Lebanon and we can save it.
WSN: Could you give a name for the presidential chair? Did you agree on a name?
AH: If I had the name this would mean that the solution was found and there would be no need for this interview. But everybody knows there are few names on the table. This does not mean that one is better than the other. But sometimes you need the best possible fitness in a candidate if we can say so. That's how it works.
WSN: I appreciate it.