Sheikh Samy Gemayel: "I hope we are heading for democracy"

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

Sheikh Samy Gemayel, son of former President Gemayel

The following is an interview with Sheikh Samy Gemayel, son of former President Amine Gemayel of Lebanon. Sheikh Samy Gemayel is a political activist and a lawyer.

WSN: What is your political background?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: I became politically active in 1997, as a member of the student movement that opposed Syrian presence and interference in Lebanese domestic and external affairs. Back then, everybody was against us including some members of the present opposition. If now they are against Syria, at that time they were against us.

WSN: Were you the leader of the Kataeb student group in 1997?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: Not at first. I was just a student that took part in every demonstration organized by other student groups and organizations. After a while we decided to create a student cell in Kataeb and I took over its leadership for a period of a few years.

WSN: Besides the opposition towards Syria, did you also oppose the policy of the Lebanese government?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: I have opposed both. It was a difficult struggle. When I began to oppose the government, the government was more aggressive than it is now. We were not allowed to demonstrate on the streets, so we had to do it on campus. The government even sent the army and security forces to the campus to brutalize us. Approximately 700-800 students demonstrated. We did not have the mobilization that we see nowadays on the streets of Beirut. Most people preferred to keep a low profile, although they also believed in our cause. For years, we were alone. No one in Lebanon or outside of Lebanon seemed to care about our struggle -- I'm referring here to the political level.

WSN: What made you decide to oppose the regime? I am asking because I am aware of the violent way they treated you in the past.

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: When you are a citizen in an occupied country, it is a normal reaction. I felt that I needed to get involved in the process and help the Lebanese people as much as possible.

WSN: What is your personal view on the opposition's group?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: When we were fighting the Syrian occupation, a part of the opposition fought against us and defended Syria. Walid Jumblatt, the Hariri group, Fares Boueiz -- all were part of the government. Now, they are on the other side.

WSN: Should Taef be implemented instead of UN Resolution 1559?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: I support the implementation of UN Resolution 1559, followed by a new regime and a new constitution. The Syrians were the ones who imposed the Taef Accord, although it was obvious even then that they would not respect it. The deputies who signed the Taef Accord were not representative of present-day Lebanon. The last Parliamentary elections were held 17 years earlier, thus the deputies who signed the agreement were not connected anymore with the realities of Lebanese society or with its change of political attitude. Also, the agreement was signed under the tight supervision of the Syrian intelligence -- all the above make the Taef illegal and illegitimate. The very fact that the Lebanese people were not consulted in a referendum raises a big question mark about the intentions of the Syrians and the unorthodox interests of the deputies who agreed with the Syrians. Moreover, the Christian community was not represented when the decision was made to sign the Taef Accord. Michel Aoun, Amine Gemayel and Dory Chamoun were in Paris, and Samir Geage was off the political stage. Therefore, it was a decision imposed on us.

WSN: Lebanon is at a crossroad. Which path is it likely to follow?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: I hope we are heading towards democracy. We will achieve this aim when each party, group or community -- although each may have a different vision for Lebanon -- is able to sit together at the same table, discuss their differences and not impose them on others.

WSN: We now hear many versions of what a democratic Lebanon should be like. Can we talk about several models of democracy that may suit Lebanon's long-term and short-term interests?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: It is exactly because so many versions are being placed before us that we should come up with a new agreement between the Lebanese. We have Hezbollah, asking for an Islamic country, not officially, but as a long-term goal of theirs. Then we have the members of the opposition who failed so far in advancing a united vision for the future of Lebanon. We (the Christians) want a democracy open to Europe, open to Western civilization. How can one conciliate these opposite views -- ours and Hezbollah's?

The best solution for Lebanon would be a regime based on two levels of government: A central one and also a second political unit that can be a province, or a territory. We have this model in Switzerland, Canada and in some other countries. We should let each community decide how it should be governed; after all, this is what freedom of diversity is all about. We (the Christians) tried to impose our rules on others for 30 years, and then we had the war because the others were not satisfied with our rule. Now, we have the Muslims who are imposing their views on democracy, on laws, on us. Do we want to see Lebanon dragged into another war?

WSN: Can Muslims decide the country's future without having a dialog with Christians?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: Realistically speaking, no one can have the upper hand in Lebanon. We are a diverse society and this or that group of people cannot decide what is best for everyone without asking all the parties involved in the process.

WSN: Do you think that Hezbollah should be permitted to keep its weapons, as some are now asking?

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: I will answer this question with another one: Which country in the world would accept what we have here in Lebanon? We have the Lebanese army, and then we have the Muslim militias. We cannot accept this. As for the South and the fact that Hezbollah pretends it needs weapons to protect it I ask: Can we give a part of our country to a militia? What about the people who are living there and have the right to be protected by the national army, not by this, or that militia? What to do with them? Let them be ruled by Hezbollah? It is not only unacceptable, but it also pure nonsense. The South is part of Lebanon, and all of us should be respecting the same constitutional laws.

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

Sheikh Samy Gemayel: I believe it is time for change in Lebanon. We should all meet and think about the new Lebanon, a new political formula that can benefit each community. We need to recognize the rights of each group and each individual. On the other hand, if we continue on the path we are on now, without a clear vision after the Syrian withdrawal and with people from the old regime holding on to their positions, in 10 years we will have a new war. The ones who are calling themselves the opposition have no viable plan, actually, no plan at all for the future. They do not have the spirit of change. They will take Taef and maybe implement it, but without thinking further than that.

We should have learned by now from the mistakes of the past. We cannot impose our rules on others; we live in a multicultural society, and we need to respect our diversity. We need to respect the differences of opinion, religion and culture - basically respect each other. If the Shiias in the South want to take Friday off instead of Sunday, let them do that; if they want to feel Arab, go ahead, but then let Christians who are open to the West follow their path as well. Let this country breathe some air; let it develop socially, economically and politically. Let it be free of any interference and free of regional conflicts.

WSN: I appreciate your comments, sir. Thank you.