Interview with Bilal Sharara, Secretary General of the Lebanese Parliament

Posted in Broader Middle East | 31-Mar-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

The mourning site of murdered former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut
The mourning site of murdered former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut
WSN's Manuela Paraipan spoke recently for WSN with Bilal Sharara, assistant to the Lebanese Parliament and Secretary General of the Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Commission.

WSN: Spreading democracy throughout the Middle East is at the top of President Bush's agenda. Do you have democracy in Lebanon?

Bilal Sharara: We have yet to experience pure democracy. Democracy is not something that can be imposed, nor can it just emerge overnight. We first need to learn about the value of this concept in the family and in school. Therefore, we cannot pretend to enjoy a democracy -- by democracy I'm referring to people electing their leaders, their presidents. For example, General Aoun is talking about democracy, Walid Jumblatt is talking about democracy, but neither they nor Amal, Hezbollah or the Sunnis have experienced democracy. However, through dialog with each other, we will be able to reach a more democratic status in the near future.

WSN: You have a very vocal opposition in Lebanon, with Bahia Hariri, Patriarch Sfeir, Walid Jumblatt and others asking for the truth about Hariri's assassination and demanding major political reform. How do you see this diverse group and its demands?

Bilal Sharara: Hariri's assassination brought them together, but their goals are different. Hariri was an important and influential man. It is only normal that Bahia Hariri is struggling to find out who is responsible for killing her brother. As a matter of fact, we all need to know the truth. Many have said that Syria is behind the attack, and while everything is possible, the question remains: Would Syria assassinate a friend? Hariri's death did not bring anything good to President Assad. On the contrary. Assad now faces international pressure and anger not only with regard to Lebanon, but also Israel and his own regime.

As for the opposition unity, I will give you a simple example. Fares Boueiz is now part of the opposition, but when Hariri was alive he refused to meet him, to travel with him in the same airplane or even to stay at the same hotel. I describe this situation to you with only one purpose in mind: :I, like others from all of the communities, am looking for a reasonable solution to the present situation, but is Mr. Boueiz or even Walid Jumblatt doing the same? Or are they only looking to secure their own welfare and the welfare of their own communities?

WSN: Did the Shiias gain something from Hariri's assassination? What is your position regarding this difficult situation?

Bilal Sharara: The Shiias, especially Hezbollah, have lost their principal lobbyist for the resistance. As a consequence, Hezbollah now faces UN Resolution 1559. Although the Shiias are the majority in the country, neither Amal nor Hezbollah seek to transform Lebanon into an Islamic country. It is true that at the beginning Hezbollah's declared goal was to have an Islamic Lebanon, but it quickly realized that this is impossible. Hezbollah actually did not take any steps to implement this initial goal.

As for the Amal party of which I am a member and regarding President Berri's position, I can only say that we are against a military government. President Berri chose not to raise his profile in this current conflict, fearing that the fragile political balance we have in the country could break. On the other hand, Amal has invited all the Lebanese parties and movements to participate in a broader dialog. We do not need a "made in US" or "made in France" solution; we need a Lebanese solution to our problems.

So far, others have chosen for us; even the presidents were chosen by the United States or Syria. If we want a strong, united, independent and democratic Lebanon, we need to be allowed to choose our own present and future.

WSN: The international community is asking for the implementation of UN Resolution 1559. On the other hand, some people on the Lebanese street sustain that the Taef Accord better suits your needs. Is Taef the best solution at this point in time for Lebanon?

Bilal Sharara: It is true that some Lebanese believe in Taef more than in UN 1559, but even the Taef was not implemented, and that was not because of us. President Assad has recognized that he made several mistakes in Lebanon, but since we have borders only with Israel -- with whom we are technically still at war as is Syria - I believe it is important to solve the problems with the Syrians ourselves. Recently, President Assad said that the troops will be withdrawn from the Bekkaa Valley before April 7. Therefore, there will be no Syrian army or intelligence in the country by then.

WSN: Can the Arab League play the role of mediator between Lebanon and Syria? Are the other Arab countries able to help you, if you reject direct help from the UN, the EU or the US?

Bilal Sharara: As a consultative and decision-making body, the Arab League can be helpful, but we have to remember that in the Middle East there is no example of political democracy; we cannot say, "let's do like the Saudis or the Jordanians." Although we cherish a similar past and similar traditions, we are politically different. Lebanon is a country of religious and political diversity and any solutions we may find need to take these features into consideration. We need the assistance of the international community, but not its interference. We have had enough of that.

WSN: Does Lebanon still need the resistance in the South?

Bilal Sharara: The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said that he is open to holding a constructive dialog regarding the armed wing, but so far the international community has only tried to impose its decisions upon us instead of accepting us in dialog.

My personal view is that we need the resistance because we have no truce, or peace treaty signed with Israel. In this context, the chances are great that we could be attacked by them. Who will protect us? The US? The French? The international community? They will not, therefore we need to treat this problem very carefully and protect ourselves.

WSN: Are the Lebanese in particular, and the Arabs in general to be blamed for not seeking a solution to their direct or tacit conflict with Israel?

Bilal Sharara: I will respond to your question with other questions. Who killed Rabin? Who is now threatening the life of Prime Minister Sharon? The Arabs? No, the radical Israelis who are ready to kill all of their leaders that are interested in finding a peaceful coexistence with the Arabs. However, as in any dispute, both parties have their own faults.

WSN: What are your comments on the latest bombs from the Lebanese Christian areas? Who could be behind the attacks?

Bilal Sharara: In Lebanon, there are many big and small political parties, movements and militias. It is not only the Shiias, or Hezbollah that have weapons or the capability to build a bomb; the Druze have weapons, as well as the Christians and the Sunnis. I highly doubt that there are Lebanese behind these attacks. Those who target the Christian areas intend to transform Lebanon into a second Iraq. No matter what our political differences or goals are, we as Lebanese would never destroy our own country -- especially because it was not very long ago that we witnessed a terrible war in our country.

WSN: How do you explain the fact that the Lebanese secret services or police are not able to stop these incidents?

Bilal Sharara: Although very few talk about this problem openly, there are many secret services that are operating in Beirut since the civil war. We have different Arab intelligence, Western intelligence and we have the Mossad. In this context, it is very difficult to protect the country or find those who place the bombs. All we have so far are rumors and no proof.

WSN: Sir, in your opinion what do you need in Lebanon now?

Bilal Sharara: We need to stay together at the same table and ask what is best for the Lebanese people as a nation, not only as Druze, Sunnis, Christians, or Shiias. Obviously, we need common goals and a common way of action.

WSN: Thank you, sir for your comments and insight on Lebanese current affairs.