Fares Boueiz: "We are living a historic moment!"

Posted in Broader Middle East | 16-Apr-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Fares Boueiz, MP and former Minister for Foreign Affairs

The following is an interview by WSN's Manuela Paraipan with Fares Boueiz, Kesruoan MP, former Minister of Environment and former Foreign Minister. He was first appointed as a Member of Parliament in 1991, was elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1996 and 2000.

WSN: What is your background in political affairs?

Fares Boueiz: I come from a political family. Both my grandfather and father worked in public affairs and both were members of the Lebanese Parliament.

Before becoming Foreign Minister, I was a special envoy and had contact with the Vatican, Syria and France. In 1990, I became Foreign Minister at the time when Lebanon's civil war had just ended. I took a destroyed Ministry into my hands, and I am not only referring to the building, but also the human structure. The ambassadors were similar to princes: They were not accustomed to accepting the rules of the state. In those days, we only had three or four foreign embassies in Lebanon. Therefore, my role was to rebuild the human structure within the ministry, to convince other countries to open embassies in Lebanon and to reconstruct the building of the Foreign Ministry that had been used by different militias during the war. Then the Gulf War came and there were certain consequences for Lebanon, as well. We have had to deal with the fall of the Soviet Empire, but maybe the most important event was our participation at the Madrid Peace Conference.

WSN: What were your political activities during the war?

Fares Boueiz: I can say that during the terrible war we had in Lebanon, one of my main activities was to oppose the war and religious extremism. Already back then my involvement was very closely linked to the unity and independence of Lebanon.

WSN: Returning to the present, what was your relationship to the regime of President Lahoud?

Fares Boueiz: When President Lahoud wanted to renew his mandate and the government adopted the same line, I resigned from my position as Minister of Environment, together with three other ministers of Walid Jumblatt. I decided to resign because I thought that Lahoud's ambition would lead the country to disaster. Together with my colleagues, I started to build a national opposition that up until 2004 was merely a Christian opposition, a bit isolated. With Walid Jumblatt and indirectly with Rafik al-Hariri, we have created a strong, coherent opposition, larger than the previous one.

WSN: When you resigned, was it only because of Lahoud's ambition and policies, or also because of Syrian interference in Lebanese internal affairs?

Fares Boueiz: For both reasons. First, the perception of renewing Lahoud's mandate was that Syria wanted to keep its control over Lebanon, and I did not agree with this. Secondly, because Emile Lahoud's policy was against national unity and dialog. It was a policy based on intelligence.

WSN: The opposition is a diverse group. What further steps will you take?

Fares Boueiz: For the moment, we have three goals: 1) A complete Syrian withdrawal, 2) a change of regime, including a change in the Presidential Institution and 3) to find out the truth regarding Hariri's assassination.

WSN: What is your personal view regarding Hezbollah's current stance on UN Resolution 1559?

Fares Boueiz: Hezbollah is a Lebanese party with an important role in the South, but not only in the South. The problems with Hezbollah should be solved among themselves. It is true that there are a few differences of opinion between Hezbollah and the opposition, but in a climate of confidence we can reach common ground. On the other hand, Hezbollah's aims are not different from ours, and they have a leadership anchored in Lebanese and regional realities.

WSN: Is Lebanon benefiting from the US policy in the region?

Fares Boueiz: There are certain differences between the US position towards the Arab/Israeli conflict and the Lebanese position towards this conflict. The US position is to totally support all Israeli requests, while ignoring the legitimate demands of the other side. Nonetheless, we are living a historical moment with the EU, the US and the UN focusing attention on the region all at the same time. It is a moment with great potential.

WSN: Is it likely that Lebanon will be able to establish friendly relations with all of its neighbors? I am mainly referring to Israel, but also to Syria.

Fares Boueiz: With Israel we are now in a state of tacit conflict, with almost daily confrontations in the South. Thus, we cannot establish peaceful relations with Israel until Israel leaves Shebaa and recognizes the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Under no circumstance can we accept the permanent presence of the Palestinians in Lebanon.

In our future relations with Syria, two points have to be made clear: 1) The Syrians have no role in our internal affairs and 2) in external affairs mainly regarding Lebanon's relations with Israel we must with Syria.

WSN: What will be the next political phase Lebanon will enter after the May elections?

Fares Boueiz: I am sure we will have a democracy in Lebanon. When most of the world had no idea what democracy is, in Lebanon this concept was fully accepted and implemented.