Lebanon News

Sami Gemayel looks to a multi-sectarian Kataeb future

MP Sami Gemayel speaks during an interview with The Daily Star in Beirut, Monday, June 22, 2015. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Newly elected Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel said Monday that his party’s dialogue with Hezbollah was indispensable, despite the myriad differences between them, and revealed that Muslims were joining his group.

“We will not stop the dialogue with Hezbollah because we believe that you cannot build Lebanon without people who represent at least one quarter of the Lebanese,” Gemayel told The Daily Star in an interview at the Kataeb headquarters in Beirut’s Saifi neighborhood.

“You need to speak to those people to come up with solutions, but at the same time you cannot submit ... to the logic which Hezbollah wants to impose on you,” Gemayel said. “We will not agree to abandon the sovereignty of Lebanon, and we will not accept that Hezbollah continues to expose the lives and livelihoods of the Lebanese [to danger].”

Lawmakers from Hezbollah and the Kataeb Party have held a number of meetings over the past two years, seeking agreement on a new election law and an end to the presidential interregnum.

But Gemayel noted that the talks have yet to yield any tangible results on these issues.

A member of the March 14 alliance, the Kataeb has been a staunch critic of Hezbollah’s arsenal and its military involvement in the conflict in Syria.

“We tried to come to solutions, but we realized that today, Hezbollah does not care about the situation inside Lebanon. Hezbollah today is fighting a military battle in the entire region and does not have Lebanon as its priority,” Gemayel said.

“We are telling Hezbollah, ‘The moment you decide to think of the future of Lebanon, and how we build a state, and coexist in Lebanon together, then we will be ready to discuss these issues with you.’”

Gemayel questioned the legitimacy of Hezbollah’s claim that it is defending the Lebanese from extremist militants, an argument the party uses to justify fighting alongside the Syrian regime.

“Did anyone task them with doing so? You defend me contrary to my will? I don’t want you to defend me,” he said, addressing Hezbollah. “Who gave them the right to decide, think and act for me? If they make a mistake, who holds them accountable?”

Gemayel said that the Lebanese Army was fully capable of defending the Lebanese border from ISIS and Nusra Front militants, and that it enjoys unanimous support in carrying out this mission.

“The Lebanese Army has completely assumed its [role]. It is deployed on ground, fighting, and its soldiers [have been] martyred ... Did the Lebanese Army say, “‘I am not able [to fight this battle] and I need Hezbollah’s support?’”

Gemayel, 34, was elected on June 14 as the new leader of the Kataeb Party, founded in 1936.

While announcing his electoral program, Gemayel invited Muslims to join the party, which was considered to be the strongest Christian party for several decades, particularly during Lebanon’s Civil War, which lasted from 1975 until 1990.

The overture appears to have been sincere – Gemayel said Muslims have already begun joining the Kataeb.

“I have been contacting Muslim youth from all sects for a long time, and we found that we think alike and have the same goals. We realized that we can set a new example ... of pluralist parties in the full sense of the term, which have members from all sects.”

He said any party wishing to propose credible solutions on a national level should be multi-sectarian.

Gemayel is the seventh leader of the Kataeb Party, succeeding his father, former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel. He is the grandson of late Minister Pierre Gemayel, the founder of the party.

Responding to the notion that he simply inherited the presidency from his father, Gemayel, a Metn lawmaker, stressed that he had worked hard to reach the post.

“I consider that I reached this place because of all the work I have done over the past 20 years of my life. I also know the level of democracy which characterized this election,” Gemayel said. “I also won the confidence of the Lebanese in parliamentary elections, even before the Kataeb elections,” he added, referring to the 2009 election to the Parliament.

“Throughout my four-year term [as head of the Kataeb], I have to prove to all those criticizing me ... that I deserve the post I am in.”

Serving his guests coffee as he puffed on a cigarette, Gemayel said his work methods differed from the other political parties in Lebanon.

“I don’t believe in the one-man show, I believe in teamwork, which of course has an engine [in] the president. I will play my role as this engine,” he added.

Gemayel’s ambitious platform includes improving socio-economic conditions, combatting corruption and the squandering of state resources, building a civil state, administrative decentralization and enacting constitutional reform among other goals.

“We will try to gather the support of the largest number of people to implement this project. We will cooperate with all people and parties who share the ideas of this project,” he said, adding that addressing deteriorating socio-economic conditions was a priority.

But despite such ambitious goals, Gemayel said his aim was not to restore the “inflated” size the party enjoyed during the Civil War years.

“Before the Civil War, the party was not much bigger than today. During the war, the party was transformed into a state,” Gemayel said.

“When the state disappeared in the Christian area, this area relied on the Kataeb Party ... the party began to provide social services, and had an army and even played the role of police.”

“It took on a size far bigger than the size of any political party ... I believe we are now back to a normal multiparty democratic life.”

“My goal is to develop the Kataeb and its project so we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves, whether through becoming more popular and having more MPs and influencing things, or through alliances and cooperation with other parties.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2015, on page 4.

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