Mohamad Awdi: "Bekaa suffered most from the Syrian presence in Lebanon"

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

Manuela Paraipan is WSN Correspondent "Broader Middle East"

The following is an interview by WSN's Manuela Paraipan with Mohamad Ali Awdi, a Shiia Lebanese businessman and political activist.

WSN: Who is Mohamad Awdi and what are your immediate political plans?

Mohamad Awdi: I am an ambitious young man who grew up in Bekaa, the US and Romania. I came from a normal Shiite Muslim family in Bekaa and I am not from a leadership (zaama) family in Lebanon. My immediate political plan is to aim to be appointed the agricultural or tourism minister of Lebanon to enable me to put my ideas into action in Bekaa and throughout Lebanon. At this time, I have decided to abstain from running for parliament until I have gained more experience in helping my people. They also need to become better acquainted with me and I must familiarize them with my ideas, since I was away from them for 16 years and this has built a wall between us. Should I decide to run for parliament, it would be in 2010.

WSN: How do you see the Bekaa region in comparison with other regions of Lebanon?

MA: Bekaa is the poorest of all the regions of Lebanon since it has been the least interesting region to politicians since 1943. Even though the Bekaa region is home to many of the martyrs who have devoted themselves to the cause of liberating South Lebanon and Western Bekaa, I am sorry to say that the speaker of the parliament Nabih Berri (a Shiite from Tibnin) has not felt it important to develop Bekaa as much as the South. He built schools, hospitals, electricity stations, telephones lines, roads and highways for South Lebanon, but for the Bekaa region he has not done as much as he should have done since Baalbeck Hermel represents 30% of the Shiia in Lebanon and he represents Shiites in all of Lebanon. For example, my area depends on agriculture and the assumption is that the agricultural minister should be from this area. However, why is it that Elie Skaff from Zahleh (tourism city) should be the agricultural minister? The agricultural minister should look for new, exotic plants to bring to this area and not worry about the concerns of those exclusive dealers in Lebanon that are from one specific sect and control the prices of raw materials for the agricultural sector and thus make the cost of farming in Lebanon the highest in the Middle East. It is because of these dealers and their exclusivity that we are not able to compete in the Arab world and in Europe. We should also consider Syria's influence in the Bekaa region and particularly in the agricultural sector. There is a lot of smuggling of milk and other agricultural products into Lebanon such as potatoes and tomatoes. These goods enter Lebanon without passing through customs and with very bad timing, since in Lebanon and Syria the season is the same and the prices in Syria are cheaper. Our farmers will go hungry after waiting for months to make a profit that will end up being a loss because of Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian produce. The Lebanese minister of agriculture does not control the border and he cannot tell Syrian officers to stop the goods from not entering Lebanon because on the ground, the Syrian army is in control. The president, prime minister, the speaker and all politicians with the exception of Michel Aoun were receiving instructions from Syria and these instructions affected Bekaa because Bekaa is immediately next to Syria and it was full of Syrian soldiers and is still full of Syrian workers that are cheaper to hire than Lebanese workers. Bekaa suffered most from the Syrian presence in Lebanon because it depends on agriculture, and because the US pressured Syria and Lebanon to stop drug cultivation without having provided financial aid to Bekaa or other replacements for income for the people of Bekaa. Today, Bekaa is known for its poverty and Hezbollah's presence in Baalbeck with yellow flags at the entrance of the city.

Bekaa is also known for its car smugglers, since poverty makes people steal. The deputies of Baalbeck Hermel are mostly from Hezbollah, with the exception of Hussein Husseini and Ghazi Zouater. They participate in television talk shows where they discuss fixing the Bekaa region, but they cannot achieve much since talking never resolves problems. There is an American proverb: Actions talk, talk is just talk.

In the elections, they declared a fatwa that says to the people: Vote for me or you will go to hell. People vote for them fearing that God will punish them (taklif sharyii - legal order in Muslim religion). So, people brought them to parliament. It is in the parliament where there should be a debate about opinion not outside.

The blame here is on the people who voted for the Hezbollah deputies. It means there will be a continuation of poverty, lack of development and stagnation. The years have passed and nothing has happened since it the Amal leadership that has the power in government and embassies. Hezbollah never entered the government either because it did not want to or because of American pressure. Some of the problems of the Bekaa region stem from the many tribal families and because people vote for a candidate not because of his agenda or program, but because of tribal loyalty and support of Hezbollah's fatwas. Bekaa people are my people and I am proud to be one of them, but it is a pity that they cannot develop their minds and educate themselves. The people of Bekaa need schools, computers, agricultural policy, tourism policy, roads, highways, jobs, factories, and universities. People in Bekaa are patriotic and they gave their blood without receiving anything in return for liberating South Lebanon. It is time to reward them, especially now that Syria is out.

WSN: Hariri's assassination triggered the peaceful revolution you have had in Lebanon. What is likely to be the next political phase in the country?

MA: I think the new phase will be troublesome. The Christians will try to bring their glory back in terms of their control of state institutions. As evidence of this, just yesterday the defense minister, Elias Murr, tried to put a Maronite or Orthodox in the place of the outgoing head of general security, Jammil al Sayyed (Shiite). I can say to them that Lebanon is 40% Shiia. This means they make up almost half the country and if you want the head of general security, ok no problem: We want the head of the army to be a Shiite. Tell Michel Suleiman to resign and we will have a Shiite as the head of the army. We want our share completely in the government, including ambassadors, general directors, ministers, heads of the security apparatus and in terms of allocation of resources to all parts of Lebanon. Today, Shiites are 40%, Sunnis are 20%, Maronites are 22.1%, Orthodox 10%, Catholic 5% etc; each sect should get its share. In terms of the parliament, we will now have the elections based upon the current quota of 64 Muslims including the Druze of Walid Jumblatt and 64 Christians. However after the elections, we should amend the Taef Accord and fix the quota in the following manner: 30 Sunni deputies, 40 Shiites (70 Muslims), 34 Maronites and the rest should be comprised of other Christian sects (70 Christians) and Druze are not Christians and some do not consider them Muslims, so they can have separately 15 deputies.

I tell Elias Murr from here that we are an essential fabric of the Lebanese state and if anyone tries to infringe on our rights in Lebanon, he should not dare to think this way. It is like in Iraq: Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christian Assyrians and Armenians are all equal under the law.

WSN: How do you see the Syrian evacuation of Lebanon? Is it a victory and if so, who is the winner?

MA: I tell Syria that it did a good job in leaving Lebanon and I know what the Syrians were doing in Lebanon. They were using the policy of divide and rule between all factions of Lebanon and within each sect in Lebanon. It is the policy of Alhajaj bin Yousef and Mouawiya bin Ibn Sefian. It is a victory for all Lebanese, not only for those in the opposition or those in the loyalty group. It is a victory for those who were marginalized like me and a loss for those who were working with the Syrian hegemony in the country. I see today that some of those who were working with the Syrians are not attacking Syria on TV and talking different language. Through Syria leaving Lebanon, it served its interests and our interests and we can start a new relationship based on commerce, tourism and marriage.

WSN: The new government headed by the technocrat Najib Mikati promised free, independent elections. Can they deliver? What are your thoughts in this regard?

MA: He can deliver since there are parties involved like the UN, the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran, France, the EU and Syria. I think that the allocation of deputies in parliament is not right and we should amend this in the very good willing spirit that is done in Romania, France or the US. It is in the interest of all Lebanese to kill the seeds of civil war and plant the seeds of love between all Lebanon people. After all, the prophet Mohammad is a continuation to the prophet Jesus Christ and both complete each other.

WSN: Is the existing sectarian political system suitable for Lebanon? If it is not, then what should be changed in your opinion?

MA: I see it in this way. We should annul political sectarianism little by little, or proceed in the following manner:

President of republic stays Maronite

Prime minister stays Sunni

Speaker of parliament stays Shiite

Senate headed by a Druze

70 deputies Muslims, 70 Christians, 15 Druze and Allawite and one Jewish.

If the sectarian system were to be annulled, then a Shiia could become head of the army, or ambassador to the US or UN. Only Mahmoud Hammoud, a Shiia, has become foreign minister.

Also within each sect, the leader of this sect should work for all people in all areas of Lebanon and all Lebanese regardless of their political views and backgrounds. For example, Nabih Berri should help Shiites in Bekaa the same way he helps Shiites in south.

WSN: In Lebanon, the unofficial figures talk about 500,000 Palestinian refugees who after the Syrian withdrawal refuse to disarm. What are your comments on the subject and is there a reasonable solution for both the Lebanese people and the Palestinian refugees who have been your guests for more than 50 years now?

MA: I think that they should disarm and if not, we should ask Koffi Annan to disarm them because we don’t want a confrontation between the army and those groups. It is not allowed to have armed groups in Lebanon anymore.

WSN: Taking into consideration your actions over the years, you seem eager to contribute to Lebanon's welfare. More exactly, what are you willing to do for Lebanon?

MA: I am ready anytime if the people of Lebanon should ask me to serve as their minister of agriculture so I can work to mend all of the problems of Bekaa, South Lebanon, Akkar and the mountain regions. Until now I have tried to serve my country as a private person and as a patriot.

WSN: Is there anything else you would like to add?

MA: I hope that the Lebanese people have learned a lesson from the past that has taught them that only understanding for one another can resolve their issues. We have a very nice country, so why lose it and why let others interfere in solving our problems?

We love Lebanon, from Beirut to the Syrian border and from South to North. Lets save Lebanon from our selfishness.