Dory Chamoun: "Some members of the opposition were Syrian puppets"

Posted in Broader Middle East | 19-Apr-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Dory Chamoun, Leader of the National Liberal Party: "Lebanon became a base for terrorism"

WSN: Sir, please brief us on the background of the National Liberal Party.

Dory Chamoun: I am head of the National Liberal Party, founded in 1958 by Camille Chamoun, President of Lebanon at that time. We are not liberal in the American or European sense, and we are democratic to the extreme. We are not national in the Nazi sense of the word. However, the nationalist feelings in Lebanon are a bit confusing with regard to what the Lebanese identify with: Are the Lebanese Arab, or are they more Lebanese than Arab?

During my father's mandate as President, he suffered and his regime suffered a mini revolution that was triggered by Abu Nasser and his followers. It was sort of a pan-Arab feeling, the resurrection of the Syrian desire for hegemony. They insisted in their attempts to include Lebanon in this pan Arab Republic.

We have been functioning since 1958, and prior to 1975 we had the largest parliamentary bloc. During the war, we took part in the fight for a free Lebanon. Mr. Kissinger at the time had planned to turn Lebanon into a Palestinian replacement for housing all the refugees that could not be taken back to Palestine. The plan was to solve part of the problem - which was not the Arabs' problem in the first place - by making Lebanon "Palestine number two." In the meantime though, Lebanon had also failed. The Americans then decided that the only way to stop the fighting was to send in the Syrian army, and the Syrian army has been here ever since. Then we fought against the Syrian army. Politically speaking, we have always been in the opposition. We refused to join the government in spite of the many offers we have received. We refused to participate in the elections because we knew from the start that they would be fraud; we boycotted the elections and we isolated ourselves to a certain extent, but we preferred this path over settling for the plot against the integrity and independence of Lebanon.

WSN: Sir, how well known is the National Liberal Party on the Lebanese political stage?

Dory Chamoun: Some might think that we do not exist anymore. We are functioning under a certain cover because we don't want to endanger our people, but we do exist and still in big numbers. It was not easy for a party such as ours, which has always been loyal to Lebanon's democratic and independence aims, to continue activities in a Syrian state in Lebanese clothing.

WSN: When exactly did you take over the leadership of the party?

Dory Chamoun: I came into the picture after the assassination of my brother, Danny, who was head of the party and was killed in 1990, together with his wife and two children. At this point I was obliged to become involved, and since then we have tried many ways to convey our message to the outside world: To the UN, the US, Europe - to all democratic nations. Nonetheless, no one supported our cause, mainly for two reasons: The existence of Israel as a state, and the US policy regarding Israel.

We were treated with the back of the hand, as if we did not exist. The policy in Lebanon was wrong; it hurt the Lebanese and eventually it affected the Western and democratic world. At the time, they did not care too much about what was happening in Lebanon, and then we saw Lebanon transformed into a nest of terrorist organizations. We had Carlos functioning here, Baider Main Kaumph, the Japanese Red Army, Abu Nidal and other minor organizations. Lebanon became a base for terrorism. Then, terrorism was exported to the rest of the world, but mainly to the Arab world. The one-sidedness of Western policy in the Middle East region is obvious to all. This type of policy heightened feelings of hate and distrust towards the West in the Arab and Muslim world.

When finally the dangers that we were warning the western world of became a reality, they decided it is better to do something about the problem. Now we have the Road Map peace plan, which so far has not been fully implemented, but we hope it will be. It is the key to the Muslim- and/or Arab- related issues that stand between the Arab world at large and the US/Western world; we need to find a fair solution to the Palestinian problem, and find it as soon as possible.

WSN: These days, the subject of democracy is at the top of the agenda for most Lebanese political parties. In this context, how would you describe the relations between Lebanon and Syria?

Dory Chamoun: We were the only country in the region that has experienced democratic rule. The Syrians considered us a zero entity and they have said that Lebanon is a French creation, with 18 confessions, ready to jump at each other's throats, only to justify their hegemony over Lebanon. The US allowed the Syrians to enter Lebanon as peacekeeping troops; we have paid heavily for the stupid mistakes the West has made in Lebanon. Many people died and many atrocities have occurred here, yet the West seemed not to realize that its policy hurt us. It could also be that they simply just did not care.

The Syrians have put a whole bunch of yes-men in all the important positions: In politics, administration, justice, etc. This army of yes-men are to say the least, inefficient. They are driven only by their own interests, not the country's interests. We ended up with a huge debt because of their mismanagement. The administrative and judicial branches of government are just as rotten as the political system.

Changing all of this will be a long and difficult task, but what comforts us in a certain way is the fact that the international community is finally listening to what we have been telling them for years. We have to thank the Syrians for this. They have brought us all together. Once the Syrians leave Lebanon, we will not kill each other, as they stated with their rubbish speech for decades. On the contrary: We will rebuild the country although it is harder to rebuild something that was seriously shaken than build from scratch. I am optimistic that we can achieve this.

WSN: What do you think about Omar Karami's repeated attempts to form a government? Is he stalling for time for the pro-Syrian camp?

Dory Chamoun: I do not think about Omar Karami. He is not worth the effort. In Arabic there is a proverb that says that if you try something that has failed and you try again, this means that your mind is failing you. Mr. Karami has tried a few times to form a government, but he is hopeless and useless, as all the guys around him. They are still hoping that the Americans and the Syrians will strike (again) a deal on Lebanon. However, these days are over. Mr. bin Laden has made sure of it.

WSN: How do you see the opposition?

Dory Chamoun: Seeing Muslims and Christians together is not something new for Lebanon. The Liberal Party is a multi-confessional one. Without Syrian influence, we will prevail. We need the following: Syrian withdrawal, Iranian involvement in Lebanon should be chopped off - otherwise they will continue to do whatever they are doing at the moment - and Israel should keep quiet. But, part of the problem is the fact that not long ago, some members of the opposition were Syrian puppets and thus they have an undemocratic view and behavior. More modern politicians should replace them and there are many who could successfully restore Lebanon's democracy.

WSN: What are your thoughts on Hezbollah?

Dory Chamoun: Hezbolalh today managed to impose itself as an important party. Syria helped them directly; Israel helped them indirectly in order to keep tensions high. Israel was also jealous of Lebanon's coexistence, because there is no coexistence in Israel. Lebanon is the antidote of the Israeli secular state and it would like Lebanon brought down, but it is up to us not to allow them to succeed.

Hezbollah's excuse not to disarm is the Shebaa Farms. Now, the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory, but this problem could have been solved ago years ago. If the Israelis wanted Hezbollah disarmed, then they would have struck a deal with the Lebanese government. After all: Who handed the South to Hezbollah? There are a few issues that we should take a careful look at: Israel dealt with Hezbollah when exchanging prisoners as if Hezbollah were the Lebanese state. Although from time to time Hezbollah attacks Israeli posts on the border, it never really hurts them. On the other hand, Israel still provides Hezbollah with an excuse to carry weapons.

Why all the above? There are many questions that need to be answered by Hezbollah's leadership. So when the US administration comes and tells us that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, we tell the US that they should inform their friends, the Israelis, instead of us. Hezbollah is a state within a state. It has an income of $20 million per month with 27,000 people on the payroll. Any party whose aim is sectarian is a danger to Lebanon. That is not democracy. The recent handshake between Assad and Katsav may have given Hezbollah a lot to think about.

WSN: In your view, what should President Lahoud do taking into consideration that his mandate was extended by Syria?

Dory Chamoun: President Lahoud became President because of the Americans and the Syrians. He managed to play a dirty game with the parliament, because of the Syrians. Now, they are out. He will have to step down at one point.

WSN: Will the National Liberal Party join the Lebanese political system in an active way?

Dory Chamoun: Hopefully, we will soon have free and fair elections. Afterwards, we will join the government if there is a program we agree with. We are not with this or that government; we will follow a program that promotes the democratic ideals we believe in.

WSN: Thank you, sir for your comments.