Sami Gemayel – A Lebanese political phenomenon
The Gemayel family produced several prominent Lebanese politicians but never really enjoyed nationwide support
The Gemayel family, which produced several prominent Lebanese politicians, never really enjoyed nationwide support. The reason being that Sheikh Pierre Gemayel, the family’s “patriarch” founded a political party with candid sectarian overtones in 1936. Indeed, throughout Sheikh Pierre’s long leadership of the said party – called The Lebanese Phalanges – its ideological and political identities became ever more pronounced.
Although like most successful parties it has been able to develop an ideological cliché that was relatively free from static sectarian boundaries and more open to interacting with the “others”. This cliché took the shape of Lebanese nationalism against those speaking of Syrian or Arab nationalisms.
The Lebanese Phalanges, which developed from a youth and sports movement into the most powerful and highly organized Christian political party in Lebanon thanks to Sheikh Pierre Gemayel, had other co-founders some of whom later left it. These include Charles Helou (President of Lebanon from 1964 to 1970) and leading journalist and intellectual Georges Naccache. Furthermore, Sheikh Pierre’s two sons Bechir and Amin were successively elected presidents of Lebanon.
Later, the founder’s grandson and namesake Pierre Amin Gemayel entered the Lebanese Parliament and became a cabinet minister before his assassination in 2006 at the relatively young age of 34. Today, the political dynasty is represented in parliament by the two surviving grandsons: Sami Amin Gemayel and Nadim Bechir Gemayel, with the first assuming the party’s leadership too.
During Pierre the Grandson’s short period at the forefront of politics, his younger brother Sami was preoccupied in a youth organization with candid slogans and ideas that many Lebanese at the time thought controversial and marginal. In reality, those slogans and ideas were closer to being voices of protest than proper blueprint for a comprehensive political agenda that deserves to be taken seriously, in a divided multi-confession society that became even more divided, obsessed, extremist and exclusionist as a result of a 15 year civil-regional war.
Today, in spite of a bout of vigor which is a hallmark of youth, Sami enjoys a real presence that has benefited from his self-confidence, clear vision and candid honestyEyad Abu Shakra
Pierre “the Grandson” managed to “re-establish” and reorganize the ‘Phalanges’ during his father’s (ex-president Amin) exile in France, and succeeded – according to many party members and loyalists – to return it to its position as the biggest organized Christian political force in Lebanon. At this juncture it is important to mention that the party had been weakened by political internal dissent and the exit of several leading figures, while other figures became openly associated with the so-called “Syrio-Lebanese Security apparatus”.
The party had suffered too from the emergence of new organizations which were once part of or close to it, like “The Lebanese Forces”, and the extremist “Christian” outbidding of General Michel Aoun claiming to be more “Christian” than all, including the Maronite Patriarch himself, to the extent of refusing the Taif Accords accepted by the Patriarchate!
Thus, the assassination of Pierre Amin Gemayel during the wave of assassinations targeting the leaders of the Lebanese popular uprising against the hegemony of the Damascus – Tehran axis, was a very well-thought out and meticulously calculated crime. What the murderers intended was to undermine a young and highly promising Christian leadership that was also capable of crossing religious and sectarian barriers, more so, as it neither participated directly in the war like ‘The Lebanese Phalanges’, nor is an avowed enemy to other Lebanese sects like Michel Aoun.
For a while, the murderers appeared to have won. The ‘Phalanges’ were shaken and confused, partly because few expected the younger brother Sami to be a worthy successor. However, Sami Amin Gemayel was quick to surprise the sceptics and prove them wrong. He firmly took over the party leadership, and soon enough emerged a serious player on the national arena. Some might say it is the political instinct within Lebanon’s many traditional political dynasties that is instrumental in the rapid maturing process.
Today, in spite of a bout of vigor which is a hallmark of youth, Sami enjoys a real presence that has benefitted from his self-confidence, clear vision, candid honesty, as well as the disappointment of many who had expected more from Christian alternatives.
Sami who once, before 2006, shocked the Lebanese when he called for a ‘federal’ Lebanon when he was still on the fringes of the political arena, has not really changed his deeply-held convictions on that matter, although he is now more mature and diplomatic in arguing his views. Moreover, after the debacles of Iraq and Syria, the term ‘federalism’ does not sound like a “partitioning” nightmare nor an act of treason given Iran’s expansionist schemes and the threat of the dark-ages ISIS.
In addition, the Taif Accords specifically called for “Broad Administrative de-Centralization” as they noted the impossibility of continuing with a fully centralized system of government after a devastating civil war before re-assuring the fearful vanquished and containing the ambitions of the jubilant victors!
It is obvious today that the gamble of Dr Samir Geagea, the leader of “The Lebanese Forces”, of securing a political breakthrough through a “Christian reconciliation” with Aoun has lost its glitter, if not its credibility. This “Christian reconciliation” has provided Iran’s strategy of creating a political vacuum that facilitates its hegemony – through Hezbollah – an extended Christian cover, instead of convincing Aoun to stop using Hezbollah to gain personal ascendancy. Furthermore, instead of putting Iran and its henchmen in a fix, this “reconciliation” has strained the relations within the anti-Tehran March 14th Alliance and shaken trust among its members.
Thus, Sami Amin Gemayel has now emerged as the frankest and most realistic Christian voice; firstly, in diagnosing Lebanon’s problem as it approaches two years without an elected president; and secondly, in telling the truth about Hezbollah, its organization, role, philosophy and loyalty; and thirdly, in dealing with fears relating to the future of Lebanon as regional taboos are broken, identities redefined, borders re-drawn, demographic uprooting and change is in full swing.
Given all the regional developments and their repercussions on the Lebanese domestic scene, many Lebanese are now fully aware that Hezbollah’s arena is far larger than Lebanon; its political and security decisions are taken outside Lebanon, and its loyalties, commitments, connections and conception have nothing to do with Lebanon, its constitution and institutions, but they feel they do not need to spill the beans and speak frankly.
Only Sami Gemayel is making his position loud and clear, although he knows more than most the high cost of truth in a country that can no more tolerate a comedian’s joke here or a critical cartoon there. Only Sami Gemayel, it seems, is now aware of the absurdity of continuing with a “dialogue of the deaf”!
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Apr. 19, 2016.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949