Former President Amine Gemayel: "The main challenge is Syrian hegemony"

Posted in Broader Middle East | 18-Apr-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Former President Amine Gemayel: "Hezbollah should play a political role and not a military one"

WSN: During your mandate as the President of Lebanon, you took some daring steps against both the PLO and Syria. Can you please comment on your policy?

President Gemayel: My policy was not directed against anyone in particular, but rather it was for Lebanon. It served Lebanon's national interest. I was trying to restore the sovereignty and independence of the country. When I took office in 1982, Lebanon was under several occupations: The Israeli occupation, the Syrian and Palestinian occupations through the Palestinian enclaves all over Lebanon and the Iranian occupation through the presence on our soil of the Pasdaran, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Therefore, my struggle was multidimensional at that time.

WSN: What is your view on the so-called troika formed by Nabih Berri, Omar Karami and President Lahoud–that we see now acting on the Lebanese political stage?

President Gemayel: It is unconstitutional and undemocratic in general since it leads to confusion between some branches of government, mainly the executive and the legislative ones. The Legislative branch is supposed to balance the power of the executive branch, and not be a part of it as is actually the case in Lebanon. At this time, there is complete confusion between the two branches.

WSN: Beside the political problems, you also experienced a huge economic deficit. Would you blame the poor management ability of Lebanese officials or would you place the blame with Syrian interference in all aspects of Lebanese society?

President Gemayel: Both. Lebanese officials were appointed by Syria. Thus, they are the Syrian proxies in Lebanon. The economic problems are the result of Syrian hegemony and the terrible misconduct of the administration, which is completely and directly controlled by Syria; this created a debt of over $40 billion for a very small country. It’s a huge and unprecedented deficit.

WSN: How do you perceive the political situation at large in the region, given your long time contacts with both the US and Europe?

President Gemayel: Washington is trying to implement democratic systems in the Middle East. President Bush is trying hard to push the various countries in the area to join the democratic trend. The Europeans are also trying to push the region towards democratization, freedom and a free economy. We hope they will succeed in accomplishing this task. Lebanon used to be an example of such a democracy in the region and restoring the Lebanese democratic system will be a real incentive for the whole region.

WSN: What are the main challenges Lebanon will likely face in the upcoming months?

President Gemayel: The main challenge is Syrian hegemony. It will not be very easy to eradicate Syria's influence even after the withdrawal of its army and intelligence apparatus. After 30 years of Syrian hegemony, the Syrians had enough time to infiltrate our institutions and our society. We will need some time to wipe away this kind of infiltration from our society.

WSN: What is the future of the current opposition? Is there a good chance to see them as one unified group after the elections?

President Gemayel: We have to work very hard to keep this consensus and to preserve our unity in order to maintain a genuine and constructive dialog between the various communities for the sake of Lebanon.

WSN: Are there any differences between the Taef Accord and UNSCR 1559?

President Gemayel: There is absolutely no contradiction between the two. UNSCR 1559 was issued by the Security Council because the Lebanese and Syrian governments failed to implement the Taef Accord.

WSN: What should be done with regard to Hezbollah?

President Gemayel: Hezbollah should play a political role and not a military one. Ever since Israel withdrew from the South in 2000 in accordance with UNSCR 425, which was passed in 1978, Hezbollah's raison d'etre has ended.

WSN: The Kataeb Party is now split. What is its future?

President Gemayel: The Kataeb Party is a victim of Syrian hegemony. Syria used to exercise direct control over the various constitutional institutions in Lebanon as well as over the political parties. Historically, the Kataeb was the main supporter and the main defender of the sovereignty of the country. Therefore, it became a target of Syrian attacks and a threat to Syria's agenda, because we could not accommodate Syrian interests and goals in Lebanon with our party's role to serve the interests of the Lebanese people. This is why Syria could not afford leaving the Kataeb Party free and independent. What we are focusing upon after the withdrawal is the liberation of the Kataeb Party. We need to get rid of the confiscation of the party.

WSN: Is it likely that a new political formula will emerge in Lebanon instead of the political system organized along largely sectarian lines that you now have?

President Gemayel: It is too early to talk about the future of the political system or of the constitutional system in Lebanon. Now, there is the Taef Agreement that we must implement and if there is a need for further improvement of the political system, then it should be discussed at a later date.

WSN: For years you have promoted and struggled for an independent and democratic Lebanon, either from Lebanon or from abroad while in exile. Do you see any role for you on the Lebanese political stage after Syria's withdrawal?

President Gemayel: It is still my task and my mission to serve a democratic and free Lebanon regardless of where I stand. As a member of parliament before 1982, as President until 1988, in exile until the year 2000 and in the present time, it is my duty to serve my country. I know I can do a lot for Lebanon and I am trying to be as helpful as I can.

WSN: Thank you for your time Mr. President. I wish you good luck in all of your future activities.