Hezbollah’s control over Lebanon’s governmental institutions will turn the country into an “axis of resistance”, with Beirut’s foreign policy now being dictated by one party’s views, Sami Gemayel, the head of Lebanon’s Kataeb opposition party, told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview.
Speaking to Al Arabiya’s Reema al-Maktabi, Gemayel said that Lebanon today is “aligned with the Iran-Hezbollah-Bashar al-Assad axis”, adding that several political parties “agreed to electing Hezbollah’s candidate as president of the republic and to then manage political life under a clear ceiling which is not to discuss Hezbollah’s weapons.”
“It’s become clear that Lebanon’s foreign and defensive strategic decision is in the hands of Hezbollah while other parties are concerned with electricity, waste, economic matters, contracting out,” Gemayel added.
Gemayel also said that the problem concerning his party, which he says is the only opposition party in Lebanon’s parliament, is that Hezbollah has taken up the role of defending the country’s borders, which should be the task of the national army.
“Kataeb has the problem of all states that respect themselves, states that are supposed to be sovereign and independent. There’s something called the national army whose role is to defend the country’s borders. There is no country in the world where there is a militia tasked by the state to perform this duty,” he said.
Currently, the Kataeb opposes Hezbollah over many of its domestic and regional policies.
The party believes that Hezbollah is trying to impose its culture and will on the Lebanese society by means of its illegitimate arms, thus undermining Lebanon’s sovereignty and pluralistic nature.
Kataeb has also publicly opposed the group’s close ties with Iran and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Below is the full transcript of Al Arabiya’s interview with Sami Gemayel:
Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel, Welcome to this special interview with Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel. Thanks for having us.
We’ll begin with Lebanese affairs. This is the third government which the Lebanese Kataeb decides to boycott, knowing that the Kataeb is one of the most prominent political parties in Lebanon. Why and what’s the point of boycott?
In 2015- 2016, a settlement in Lebanon allowed Hezbollah to put its hand on the Lebanese decision making.
We rejected this settlement beginning with the presidential elections, forming cabinets, the electoral law, and everything that this settlement produced in terms of having Hezbollah having a hand over the country. Since we opposed this, our place was in the opposition during this entire time until today.
Hezbollah has been a fait accompli since the 1980s and it’s not a new party in the country so how will you deal with the fait accompli?
Hezbollah was a fait accompli until 2016 but there were political parties that reject this fait accompli.
The political decision in Lebanon was not in Hezbollah’s hand.
After 2016, and after electing the president, who is an ally of Hezbollah, and after Hezbollah and its allies won the parliamentarian majority and after a cabinet was created according to Hezbollah’s conditions, in which 18 out of 30 ministers are allied with Hezbollah all constitutional institutions became under its control.
This is the new thing that we have been living in Lebanon for two years now.
The Lebanese foreign policy no longer dissociates itself but it has become a party. And they’re taking one step at a time to take Lebanon to the axis of the resistance.
We reject this. We have two options, either be false witnesses in a cabinet where the decision is not in the hands of the parties that form it but in the hands of Hezbollah or be in the opposition and give people another option, hence provide people with an alternative and with a different voice and maintain the democratic system in the country in a way where there is an efficient opposition that voices its opinion and that does not fear saying the truth.
I think that Lebanon is in a desperate need to have political powers that freely take a stance and that are capable of confronting and saying the truth, especially before the international community and also inside Lebanon.
Other countries must know that Lebanon is under domination and that the Lebanese people’s decision is not a free decision.
You are the only opposing party or will you form a front?
In the parliament, we are currently the only opposing party.
Our goal in the next phase is to gather a larger popular and national opposition that includes independent groups and political parties that did not get engaged in the deal and that reject the presidential settlement in order for our opposition be more efficient on the national level.
Hezbollah is saying that it is a resisting party and its role is defending Lebanon’s lands and that there are lands occupied by Israel and its role is to defend them, so what’s the Kataeb’s problem with this issue?
The Kataeb’s problem, is the problem of all states that respect themselves, states that are supposed to be sovereign and independent.
There’s something called the national army whose role is to defend the country’s borders.
There is no country in the world where there is a militia tasked by the state to perform this duty.
This is the duty of the state, and the latter must provide all the needed capabilities for the army so it can be the one executing this task.
This is first of all. Second of all, Hezbollah’s second problem is that it used these weapons for the sake of internal political balances and for the sake of shifting governments and to pressure the prime minister. It used these weapons internally during several occasions. These arms are present in the political life even if they’re not being used today.
The mere fact that they were used in the past means that they have become a moral power that influences the emergence of any authority in Lebanon.
Proof to that is that Hezbollah set its conditions for the last government and they were all met.
It downsized whoever it wants to downsize, imposed Sunni ministers, a Sunni minister affiliated with it and a Druze minister affiliated with it.
It downsized the share of the Lebanese Forces and the share of the president so it can be within a government where it’s comfortable and where it can impose its conditions and take Lebanon to wherever it wants.
Therefore, the role of weapons is not just to defend Lebanon. The problem of these weapons is that they influence political life, distort the country’s democracy and take Lebanon to a completely different place.
In your speeches, you talk about the Kataeb’s role that breaks the collective agreement surrendering to arms, this agreement is between who and who?
In 2016, a political agreement which included the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Future Movement, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, all these political parties, agreed to electing Hezbollah’s candidate as president of the republic and to then manage political life under a clear ceiling which is not to discuss Hezbollah’s weapons and not bring this issue up at all.
It’s as if the issue of weapons and the state’s sovereignty were put aside in this political agreement.
It’s become clear that Lebanon’s foreign and defensive strategic decision is in the hand of Hezbollah while other parties are concerned in electricity, waste, economic matters, contracting out, etc.
This is the playground which Hezbollah specified for political parties, and this is what I called collective agreement surrendering to arms because it led to giving Hezbollah control over the state’s decision on one hand and to the silence of all parties regarding these weapons on another.
This silence has become official, and when we ask them about this, the answer is ‘we’ve taken a decision not to come near the weapons’ issue’ and ‘this issue is bigger than us’ and ‘we do not want to create a problem in the country,’ and ‘we want to deal with other issues.’
However, there is no reasonable national logic that accepts to overlook sovereignty or a militia that’s present on its ground and that uses these arms in all occasions.
No logic accepts that there be summer and winter under one ceiling in Lebanon, that there be Lebanese people above the law and others under its ceiling, and that there be Lebanese who can fight in Syria and Bahrain and who involve Lebanon in problems with the international community, the UN and Arab countries.
You can see this today when we had an Arab summit in Lebanon around a month ago, how many Arab presidents came to Lebanon?
Usually, when an Arab summit is held in Lebanon, all Arab countries attend but today all Arab countries boycotted Lebanon.
Why? It’s because the Lebanese government is today under the control of Hezbollah and the official Lebanese decision has become somewhere else.
Are you saying that Lebanon is today Hezbollah’s state?
I am saying that Lebanon today is aligned with the Iran-Hezbollah-Bashar al-Assad axis, and proof to that is Lebanon is today defending Syria’s existence in the Arab League, defending Hezbollah’s arms.
I am talking about the official Lebanon, and it’s also standing in the face of sanctions, etc. We are in this positioning, and if we do not want to see this, we’d be like those who are putting their head in the sand.
To solve Hezbollah’s problem, you’re saying that arms should be removed. Historically, the Lebanese Kataeb was an armed party in Lebanon and back then it was perhaps as strong as Hezbollah is today. Does the Kataeb Party have advice for Hezbollah regarding the disarmament and becoming a political party?
The Kataeb Party did not have weapons before the Lebanese war.
The Lebanese state’s abandonment of its duties in maintaining security and implementing the law in Lebanon is what led to the chaos which happened during the war and which made each Lebanese person take up arms to defend himself.
We, as the Kataeb, our purpose and our project is the state.
This is why the last thing we wanted was having arms.
This is why we immediately handed over these arms once the state existed in Lebanon.
The Kataeb Party was the first to hand over its weapons to the Lebanese state.
Today, with the presence of the state, we want to all comply with the state under its umbrella and hand over our weapons to the state so the latter can defend us.
Is this decision Hezbollah’s or the decision of regional countries?
Frankly, I cannot differentiate today between Hezbollah, and for instance, Iran.
Hezbollah itself is saying that our weapons are from Iran, our food, clothes and money are from Iran.
Therefore, it’s not possible to separate between Hezbollah and Iran.
They are an integrated unit, ideologically, financially, politically and regionally.
Hezbollah has today become a regional organization and not a Lebanese organization.
It’s fighting in Syria, it’s present in Bahrain, in Yemen and in Iraq.
It’s present everywhere in the Middle East and it speaks on behalf of Iran in many of these countries.
Let’s conclude with the part about Lebanon, and also quickly, you were outside the presidential settlement, is there a personal dispute with President Michel Aoun?
Not at all, there is a problem of choices. Michel Aoun has a political choice that’s different than ours as ever since 2006 when he allied with Hezbollah, he decided to cover up these weapons. We think this violates the sovereignty of the state, and this is why he walked in the path, the option, of defending these weapons.
But we confront these weapons. How can a party that fights for sovereignty and that rejects Hezbollah’s project elect Hezbollah’s candidate for the presidency?
We did the normal thing as a party that’s keen on being honest with itself and with people.
The behavior which is not normal is to claim defending sovereignty then electing Hezbollah’s candidate as president.
This would be the abnormal behavior.
For us, we were honest with ourselves and with people and with those whom our martyrs died for.
The Christian-Christian dispute in Lebanon is old and caused war throughout history. After everything that Lebanon went through in terms of political and sectarian problems, why don’t we see a unified Christian front? Perhaps you do not get along with the Free Patriotic Movement but there is, for example, the Lebanese Forces or other Christian parties.
I’ve already explained that our problem in Lebanon is first the sovereignty of the state.
The different points of view among Christian powers are due to this issue.
Our disagreement with other powers, whether it’s the Free Patriotic Movement or the Lebanese Forces, happened because they accepted the presidential settlement which made Hezbollah become the governor of the state and own the decision in the Lebanese state.
This is where the big disagreement in points of view happened, and it’s translated in their presence in the government and our presence in the opposition.
What will the purpose of an absolute Christian front be? Will it be neutralizing Lebanon’s sovereignty or accepting Hezbollah?
Do we agree on the positioning of the Lebanese state and on a single concept of the state’s sovereignty? If yes, then we must be together, and if no, we cannot be together.
We reject the Lebanese Forces’ and the Free Patriotic Movement’s approach to Hezbollah regarding the latter having its hand on the Lebanese state.
We reject this, and we are in the opposition, and they are present in the government and they are part of the agreement which led to Hezbollah’s access to authority.
The Russian bases in Tartus are two hours away, we are in Center Beirut and if we take a car to Tartus, it’s perhaps two hours away. Are you reassured as leader of the Kataeb Party, as perhaps the Christians have become a minority in the Middle East, that Russia, a strong state, is present in Syria and it’s saying that one of its tasks is defending minorities in the Middle East?
Frankly, the Kataeb has always said we have to be neutral regarding what’s happening outside our borders.
We do not want to engage in any argument that has anything to do with Syria’s future as this is something that the Syrian people decide.
Of course, we have our point of view on the matter and this is normal as we suffered at the hands of the Syrian regime and we have our opinion about it.
However, at the same time, when it comes to the balance of power between the Russians, the Americans and regional countries in the region, it is not our task to involve ourselves, as Lebanese, in this conflict that exceeds our capability.
We must look after our country and not interfere in what’s happening outside.
There are more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. I understand that Lebanon decided to be neutral although there’s a major party in Lebanon, a militia, fighting in Syria. Many Syrians took a stance towards the Lebanese due to this fighting but there are also 1.5 million Syrian refugees, what’s the vision to resolve the problem of displacement?
To us, part of the displacement problem is in our hand and another part is not in our hand.
We begin with the things that are in our hand.
Lebanese diplomacy did not perform its role enough in order to first set a strategy to redistribute the Syrian refugees to countries that are more capable of hosting them than we are.
Lebanon has during seven years received 1.5 million refugees.
It fully performed its role. It’s time after seven years to do one of these two thing, either the international community finds a way to return the refugees to Syria or someone carries this burden instead of Lebanon.
Lebanon can bear the burden but only as much as it can and today it’s bearing much more than its capacity.
Lebanon cannot go on like this as it’s collapsing. This is why, today I, as a Lebanese, hold the government responsible, the government that was present when the Syrian crisis. I hold it responsible for not taking any measure to organize the Syrians’ entrance into Lebanon in a disciplined manner and in a way that provides enough aid to the refugees to provide them with a decent life and not having Lebanon become a big shelter for refugees.
Among the information is that Russia is saying that it’s early for the refugees’ return and that reconstruction and the political solution come first in Syria and then their return.
It’s clear that the issue of return is today a huge debate among the Americans, the Russians, Bashar al-Assad and all the countries that have interest in this regard.
Today, I am not saying that Lebanon will efficiently and successfully solve the issue and that by force it will take a decision on its own to return them or not,
I am saying that their return is obstructed for several reasons that exceed our ability as Lebanese.
We have the ability, through our contacts with other countries, to cooperate with these countries to host these refugees.
Do you fear for the demographic fabric in Lebanon? Today, there is a Christian minority, a Sunni minority, a Shiite minority?
This is not what I fear, but I fear for all the Lebanese people.
You think that the Sunni sect isn’t suffering from unemployment due to the presence of Syrian refugees?
And that the Druze sect does not suffer from unemployment ?
And is not escalating in the Beqaa?
There are Syrian shops that compete with Lebanese ones.
All the Lebanese people suffer from this problem and not just the Christians.
Are the Lebanese accused of racism due to this rhetoric?
I think this is shameful, the Lebanese people have for more than seven or eight years, since 2011, hosted 1.5 million Syrian refugees
At a time when countries that claim defending human rights every time they receive 500 refugees would not stop boasting about it for two years.
We received 1.5 million, which is half of Lebanon’s population, and we did not talk about it,
but we reached a place where we are suffocated.
We are suffocated on an economic level and on the level of infrastructure.
We are suffocated on all levels as Lebanon cannot tolerate this because it’s small.
Lebanon ranked 19th as the most densely populated country in the world, now it ranks 3rd.
We have 580 people per square meter. Lebanon cannot tolerate this.
It’s as if you are saying that today in France where there are 60 million people, 30 million people entered it, so who can bear this?
We tolerated this but we reached a point, after eight years, where we say that we are not capable as we are suffocating.
Don’t we, as Lebanese, have the right to ask friendly countries to help?
What do you tell Bashar al-Assad?
Frankly, we are harmed a lot by Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese people were destroyed at the hand of this regime. Our homes and villages were destroyed. It occupied us over the course of 30 years.
It assassinated our presidents and our members of parliament, and it continues to threaten the stability of Lebanon until today, as today we know that there is senior official in the Syrian regime named Ali al- Mamlouk who had an arrest warrant issued against him by the Lebanese judiciary for attempting to blow up mosques in Tripoli.
The Syrian regime is also accused in the issue of explosives which Michel Samaha was supposed to bring into Lebanon, etc., and I do not want to talk about the detainees in Syrian prisons and about the damage which this regime has inflicted against the people and those were killed at its hand in the country.
There’s a track record between us and the Syrian regime. This keeps the relation between Lebanon and Syria tense until these crimes are acknowledged.
But the international community may accept Bashar al-Assad again.
It is its right to accept and do what it wants.
We, as Lebanese people, have our dignity and might, and we have our judiciary and law, and we have our people just like we have our national dignity.
It’s our right to say, before there is any normalization of relations with Syria, that Syria must say where the detainees are, and it must take measures against the people who tried to blow up a segment of the Lebanese people, and it’s our right to know what is the fate of Ali al-Mamlouk, will they hand him over or not?
There are arrest warrants, and there are all these unresolved issues between Lebanon and Syria, we must turn the page, and open a page as if nothing has happened .
To us, Bashar al-Assad has today proven that he’s capable of killing half of his people or kill 500,000 people in a destructive civil war in order to stay in power.
We know that Bashar al-Assad does not feel remorse towards his people so he will not have feelings of guilt towards another country which is Lebanon and which suffered at the hands of the regime which today is defending him and maintaining his presence.
Who killed Pierre Gemayel, your brother?
Frankly, this is a painful question. Until this moment, we do not have any proof or evidence against any party, but we know what Pierre Gemayel was doing when he was martyred, he was defending Lebanon’s sovereignty and fighting against Syria’s return to Lebanon.
He was fighting in the face of weapons and against the violation of the state’s sovereignty. This is what Pierre Gemayel was defending.
After all these years passed without holding the perpetrators accountable for the murder of Pierre Gemayel and the murder of Rafiq Hariri and the murder of any of the prominent political and media figures in Lebanon, do you still believe in the international tribunal or is it ink on paper or media headlines?
Frankly, and without upsetting anyone, we still believe in the international tribunal but the one who is supposed to believe in it no longer does.
Whom do you mean?
The first one concerned is Saad Hariri.
The international tribunal issued a clear indictment and it gave evidence and provided content.
How can we come and say that to maintain Lebanon’s stability, we do not want to talk about this issue?
Against people from Hezbollah?
Yes, true. To us, this is the last hope to catch a thread of truth regarding what happened to my brother, it is that the international tribunal issues its verdicts and reveals all the facts whether regarding the case of Rafiq al-Hariri or Gebran Tueni or Elias al-Murr and others.
This all opens a door so I know who assassinated Pierre Gemayel.
I only have this hope, and if I have another framework in which I get my right as a family of a martyr then it’s the fact that this tribunal has its position and is performing its role and issuing its rulings.
One final and personal question. Did you ever think that one day you will be the leader of the Kataeb Party? There is a conviction that if it hadn’t been for the martyrdom of your brother Pierre, your political life may have been different. Or you did not have political ambitions?
I have been fighting for 20 years, and I have tolerated all forms of responsibilities in the party before the assassination of Pierre and after his assassination.
To me, my post as head of the party falls within a fighting framework. I did not have any personal ambition to assume any responsibility.
Up until now, it’s not my personal ambition, and proof to that is that in my political performance, I never favored the interest of the party, the posts and the ranks over the interest of the cause which I defend.
Every Maronite can be a candidate in Lebanon, do you see yourself nominated for the presidency of the republic one day?
Frankly, I think the role of Pierre Gemayel, the founder of the Kataeb Party, was efficient in Lebanon more than all the presidents who followed.
This is why I think the presence of the Kataeb Party is influential and big on all presidents in the future.
This is more important than the person being president of the republic.
This is why I care about the interest of my country, and if I am required to be a candidate, I will be, and if I am required to be influential on the president because this is in the interest of Lebanon, then so be it.
In your opinion, will the president of the republic always be a Christian as the years pass by?
This is part of Lebanon’s uniqueness.
Lebanon is one of its kind in the East because it has this political feature and the Christian presidency is part of this feature.
Everything is up for discussion but Lebanon’s uniqueness is essential, and we must maintain it as without the diversity and plurality that are present in Lebanon, Lebanon will no longer be Lebanon.SHOW MORE