The Syrian influence did not go away

Posted in Broader Middle East | 04-Jun-09 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

MP Sethrida Geagea

It was the first time I went further than Tourza into the Christian villages of the mountain. The area is beautiful, the villages have a certain appeal especially during the winter season, as I was told. Since I am not a big fan of winter sports I was glad to take this trip during the summer. The village is at over 2000 meters in altitude, and the view and history of the place made the experience all more rewarding.

Thankfully I arrived half an hour earlier than scheduled. I was asked to wait in the lobby. A journalist from Denmark was scheduled to interview the MP just before me. I did not mind waiting while enjoying a cold lemonade and a chit chat with the media and PR staff members. The meeting started almost on time which is rather surprising for Lebanon.

She had meetings and interviews all day long and I understood I should keep it as brief as possible. At the talk there was also present MP Elie Keyrouz and the personal advisers of the MP.

I read and heard about Sethrida Geagea but I did not meet her before. As expected she was very courteous when we were introduced and during the whole meeting.

Although she speaks fluent English she preferred to reply in Arabic. Every once in a while when she wanted to emphasize a certain point or to make sure she understood my question or comment, she used English.

She has been the de facto leader of the Lebanese Forces party while Dr Samir Geagea, her husband, was in jail.

Later on she joined the Qornet Shehwan gathering and then the year 2005 came and Rafiq Hariri was assassinated. The unbelievable shock and the tragedy it brought with it translated into a massive political and social movement that asked the immediate withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon. This time the Lebanese whether politicians, technocrats or average citizens were not about to take no as an answer. It was a major accomplishment that could be compared to the fall of Berlin wall.

I was on the verge of asking about the accomplishments of her mandate as an MP but somehow she intuited it and reminded me that for few years the majority MPs were a target, that the parliament was closed down, the economy paralysed and the whole society suffered. Her voice resembled a mix of annoyance and disappointment when she spoke of recent history. Without pointing fingers she explained that the state could not have function in such a context.

The May 7 2008 events came followed by Doha agreement and a sense of normalcy. In between the tense moments there was little time left to have something more than a barely working institutional apparatus.

One of the questions I did not want to give up at was about the difference (s) between the Christian group in March 14 alliance and the Christian group in March 8 alliance. She replied immediately in English pointing out that the differences are significant. The policies employed, the partnerships forged and the vision for the future of the country is different.

For the Lebanese Forces (LF) the Syrian influence did not go away with the trucks that transported Syrian soldiers from Lebanon back to their home land.

An interesting moment was when I mentioned a possible abolishment of sectarianism. Half jokingly I was asked if I want to cause an uprising. No doubt the subject is sensitive for almost all parties.

General Aoun and the Free Patriotic movement brought into discussion the concept of a third republic, implying that the era of Taef and post -Taef is by now gone or should be considered as such. It is up to the Lebanese themselves to decide which era ended and which one is about to start. However, in a country where there is little trust between those that should be partners, moving forward is difficult and a complete change of the political system is almost inconceivable for the time being.

Maybe the most important aspect of the whole meeting were the comments on sovereignty and the need to have a strong, capable state for all. Without a state of law, there is no real independence, sovereignty or accountability.

I left the Cedars wondering whether the Sunday election will bring a positive and constructive environment and working frame work for the country.

While passing through the villages that just a couple of hours ago seemed sleepy and inactive I saw youngsters that proudly exposed on their cars and t-shirts the flag of the Lebanese Forces (LF) and the pictures of MP Sethrida Geagea and Dr Samir Geagea. I stopped and asked where they were heading to. They were driving and some were walking towards a near by village center where elections were to be discussed. I liked the energy I saw in them as I have seen in other groups of young men and women in Tripoli, Beirut, Byblos and elsewhere in the country. Soon enough they and the rest of us will find out if these elections bring anything else than the status quo.