Interview with Ibrahim Kanaan, Lebanese Member of Parliament of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)

Posted in Broader Middle East | 22-Sep-07 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

"Lebanon should always respect its constitution, which is based upon consensual democracy"

The following is Manuela Paraipan’s interview with Lebanese Member of Parliament Ibrahim Kanaan of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).

WSN: When did you join the FPM?

Ibrahim Kanaan: It's a long story. It started before the inception of the FPM with General Aoun when he was commander in chief of the Lebanese army and Prime Minister in a very critical period. Back then, the Syrians were occupying Lebanon and he made the national appeal to the Lebanese to 1) consolidate the idea of the state of Lebanon rather than militias and 2) to end the Syrian occupation. He was wearing two hats; the one of the commander in chief of the Lebanese army and the other that of the prime minister so it was a very attractive appeal to all the young Lebanese in 1988-89 who were fed up with both Syria’s presence in Lebanon and with the logic of militias rather than the logic of a state and democracy in Lebanon. Just dictatorships run by warlords in Lebanon. Also, he was against sectarian rivalry and sectarian beliefs. He was more for national ideas and a national program without distinction between Christians and Muslims. This is when I started to know about this General and we were participating sometimes in the activities that were organized at the time by the community.

WSN: Were you in Lebanon at that time?

Ibrahim Kanaan: Yes I was. I met him at Baabda Palace when I was a young lawyer and I started to lobby for these ideas with some of my colleagues and also with outside organizations from France to Geneva to other places, like the UK. So we were working for this idea of liberation of Lebanon. Unfortunately, on the 13 of October we had the Syrian invasion where Michel Aoun was removed from the Baabda Palace. At that time I was recently married and I left the country a few weeks before the 13 of Oct 1990 with my wife. I stayed outside Lebanon when this operation took place and it was life threatening for everyone who spoke against the Syrians. I stayed in London. I got an offer from a law firm there and then I started to lobby for my country in London inside the Lebanese community there. We organized a number of events and we formed an organization called the British Lebanese Civil Liberties Association in which there were a number of British MPs as well as Lebanese expatriates. Then we formed the Liberation Front of Lebanon, and in 1996 in Paris the Free Patriotic Movement started. I was also very active in my career, I went higher and higher. At some point and time I was elected as secretary general of the British Middle East Law Council at the Law Society of England and Wales. When the parliamentary elections were decided in 2005, I was the first candidate that was announced by General Aoun from his exile in Paris. It gave me a boost to start my campaign and I was elected on June 12, 2005 by 57, 000 votes which was a very big score that had not made before in Lebanon in the Metn district where I was a candidate.

WSN: Why the alliance of FPM and Hizbollah?

Ibrahim Kanaan: Because Hizbollah is the other side. It is not an alliance. First of all, it is an understanding. When you want to make a compromise you make it with the other side - someone with whom you have contradictions. We considered Hizbollah for long time and still now to be the other side in Lebanon. We were the heart of the 14 of March movement for 15 years. We were alone. Later, others joined us. We consider that we have to have dialog with the other Lebanese people and we have to try to bring Lebanon and its people together. We believe that we cannot preserve its independence and sovereignty without an understanding among the Lebanese.

WSN: And you have issues only with Hizbollah? What about the Sunnis?

Ibrahim Kanaan: The Sunnis joined the 14 of March so we were considering that the national conflicting ideas with them were solved. So we had to solve with them only the issue of power sharing. But unfortunately the issue of power sharing prevailed on all other issues. They had this issue of power prevailing over the national issue of democracy in Lebanon. We want a democracy because we cannot protect the sovereignty that we have been fighting for more than a decade without creating a democratic system where everyone feels that it is participating in the future of Lebanon. Otherwise we will again have the Syrians, the Iranians, the Saudis, the French -everybody will be interested to have a stand in Lebanon when Lebanese are disagreeing and fighting each other. But when the Lebanese can agree on a vision for Lebanon, the space to maneuver for the outside world is reduced. This is why we strategically took the decision to speak to the other camp. To try to find something in common where we can build a state in Lebanon. Not mini-states. We don't agree that we have to have two states, that anybody should keep its arms in Lebanon – not even Hizbollah. That's why we thought that by speaking to Hizbollah and by trying to make it accept to deal with its concerns and maybe to reach a stage where it will support the state and give up at some point in time when UN Resolution 1701 is implemented, give up the idea of having separate arms organization. We believe that the only way to consolidate Lebanon and its unity is to have one state and one army.

WSN: How do you explain the tensions created around the presidential elections?

Ibrahim Kanaan: It is also the group of people that went with Hizbollah and made an alliance with it. The actual majority got Hizbollah votes, in the Baabda Alley for example.

There was an actual difference of a couple of thousand votes. So if Hizbollah had their support at the time they would have lost 10 seats in the parliament. It was clear that they only had power sharing on their minds instead of thinking about the national program and discussing with Hizbollah the very serious issue of arms. They only discussed power sharing with Hizbollah. So again now with the presidency they have only this power logic in their mind. Rather than looking to the presidency as an occasion to control power they should look at it as an occasion to solve the political problems we have between the Lebanese and afterwards to try to reconcile the Lebanese concerns with the concerns of the international community by finding a way to execute the UN resolutions and the international tribunal. What I am trying to do here is explain the problems with the presidency. The majority had the alliance with Hizbollah and then left it without saying why. They could not really meet the promises and the guaranties they gave Hizbollah for the arms because they have to comply with the international resolutions. They got the country in this mess. We have contradiction in the government even though the Shias are out. Until the government is made up of Sunnis and the Shia at the end of the day this alliance will have been a complete failure. We don't want such an alliance with Hizbollah. That's why we made an understanding on few crucial issues such as democracy, civil society - not religious society, an independent state from Syria and others and that's why we have a chapter about Lebanese/Syrian relations and we confirmed that we want bilateral diplomatic relations with Syria, delimitation of the border and to solve the prisoners issue. Also we spoke about the Palestinians and we were very firm about disarming them in Lebanon and we spoke about the Lebanese people in Israel (SLA) and we ask for their return. Hizbollah agreed to find a way to solve this. We also talked about their arms. Maybe the Israeli/Arab conflict will end in 100 years. They cannot keep the arms. Then we have to find a common ground and then for the first time ever, Hizbollah accepted to limit their conditions to the Lebanese conditions which means not the liberation of Israel but only the Shebaa and the Lebanese prisoners (three of them now) and now they also have prisoners so they can exchange them. And that's it. We have to move to a strategic defense under the government’s authority. We had a major breakthrough with Hizbollah and we did not make an alliance with them. The others did the contrary. They made the alliance without the political understanding and that is the problem with the majority. They always have this logic of power prevailing instead of a new vision for Lebanon of forming a state. It is the logic of state against the logic of power.

WSN: Within the opposition did you agree on who would be the candidate for the presidency? Is it Michel Aoun?

Ibrahim Kanaan: For the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) we have Michel Aoun. As for the opposition you can ask them.

WSN: You didn't agree on one candidate yet?

Ibrahim Kanaan: It’s not that we didn't agree, we did not have this debate yet. I think we prefer to announce our candidate and whoever from the opposition or from the majority wants to support General Aoun is welcome.

WSN: What do you think may happen next in Lebanon?

Ibrahim Kanaan: There are a lot of things going on now, a lot of movement internally and externally that should lead to an election by 2/3 because otherwise it would be a disaster for Lebanon to have half of the Lebanese outside the consensus. Lebanon should always respect its constitution, which is based upon consensual democracy. We don't want two governments and we don't want a president with half plus one. We want a vision for Lebanon first and then from this vision we can decide that we want a president who can implement the vision. Everyone can have a vision. Everyone can talk about the arms of Hizbollah, but who can deliver? In my view, Michel Aoun can deliver because he already addressed these concerns with Hizbollah. He reached an understating and he has the signature of Hassan Nasrallah, so why don't we give him the chance?