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Why Syria has Samir Geagea in its sights

Amid the ruckus over Walid Jumblatt’s comments last Sunday on his differences with the March 14 coalition, relatively little attention has been paid to another consequence of the broad realignment taking place in Lebanese politics today: the targeting of Samir Geagea.

The ambient momentum to define a new relationship with Syria is building. Saad Hariri, whether he likes it or not (and we can be sure he does not), will have little choice as prime minister but to ascend to Damascus for a photo-op with Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, whose involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri is little doubted by the Hariri faithful. Walid Jumblatt’s acrobatics lately have been in large part efforts to reposition himself advantageously with respect to Damascus. And even Amin Gemayel, whose son was very likely murdered by Syria or its local agents, recently opened a conduit to Damascus through the former minister Wiam Wahhab, even as he was reconciling, or reconciling again, with Sleiman Franjieh, another close Syrian ally.

But not Geagea. Last week, Franjieh indicated that the time for a rapprochement with the Lebanese Forces had not yet come – a sign that Syria disapproves of such an initiative. Officials in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party are saying that containing Geagea is their next priority. Jumblatt, a perennial bellwether, has focused his recent criticism on the Lebanese Forces leader, showing perhaps that his efforts to patch things up with Syria require that he join in a mood hostile to Geagea.

What’s the reason for this? After all, Geagea, while he is getting stronger politically, is still rejected by very many Christians. The Maronite leadership is divided, and though Geagea is the most disciplined of the lot, for now it seems unrealistic that he will become a truly national figure, someone who can unify the community around him.

Several things make Geagea threatening to Syria. First of all, he is a natural organizer, a former militiaman, someone who has to be taken seriously when it comes to mobilizing his followers. Armed with a past of rejecting Syrian hegemony, having spent 11 years in prison on the orders of Damascus, he could emerge as a solid Christian cornerstone of an effort to deny Syria the political restoration it seeks in Lebanon.

More importantly, such a role would be doubly reinforced by the second thing making Geagea threatening to Syria: his close ties to Saad Hariri, therefore to the Sunni community. In some regards the Lebanese Forces have taken on an interesting function in the past years, namely that of a militant vanguard in the partnership between those Sunnis and Christians most opposed to a Syrian comeback. Syria’s Lebanon policy has always been about containing both the Sunnis and its Maronite adversaries. So the Assad regime is keen to break the Geagea-Hariri connection, and particularly to suffocate the Lebanese Forces, the weaker link in that connection but also its more cohesive component.

It’s not clear how the Syrians and their local acolytes might do so. To turn the judicial system against Geagea, as they did in the 1990s, is almost impossible today. However, the Syrians can isolate him, whether by ordering their partisans to concentrate their attacks on the Lebanese Forces leader, or by using the desire of Lebanese politicians to deal with Damascus as leverage to push Geagea into the corner and turn him into a burden for Hariri. But that strategy, too, is fraught with risks. If everybody gangs up on Geagea, Christians could rally to his side.        

The Syrians might also conceivably try to dialogue with Geagea, so as to split him off from Hariri. But what would the Lebanese Forces leader gain by surrendering a valuable affiliation that bolsters him politically, in exchange for an invitation to Damascus that, in the end, would only disguise a yearning to make Lebanon subservient to Syria again?

We should watch what happens to Samir Geagea in the coming weeks and months. The Lebanese Forces, whatever they do, don’t quite fit into the prevailing mood emerging in Lebanon today – a mood of fake consensus amid deep disagreements and changes. Geagea and Saad Hariri will probably remain close, but going after the first is an indirect way of undermining the second. That is why Syria has Geagea in its sights. 

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut.

  • Cedars

    I repeat ...Sami, quit crying, march 8 (minority) lost BIG whether you admit or not. You even congratulated me on that (thx). Peace my friend, Jesus bless you and keep you to your syrian buddies....

    August 27, 2009

  • Sami

    AWOL is absent without leave,that is not treason and no one was ever accused of treason for being AWOL.Stop the misinformation.There may be simple minded readers here who may accept your comments.Stick to facts not fiction.

    August 24, 2009

  • Cedars

    Pierre excellent reply. Don't waste your time on losers...they are never going to admit that aoun and his march 8 terrorist allies lost and keeps losing and losing daily.

    August 23, 2009

  • Sami

    Pierre,The "losers"offered Hariri to form a cabinet alone,he refused.The president did not wine one MP seat yet he wants 5 ministers,Aoun won 27 seats and he is offered 5.The Shiaa are more than 40% of Lebanon and get 27 mp's but the Maroonis are less than 30% yet they get 34 MP's.The Druze are less than 5% of Lebanon yet they receive almost 10% of the MP's.Please.Pierre,talk logic not La La land Byzantine wishy washy....

    August 19, 2009

  • pierre

    Sami, Your attempt at debunking Greg's analogy was amusing. Let me take it one step further, do teams that lose a playoff series make it to the grand final? Should those losers insist that other losers get given a place in that final? If i have lost you, im referring to Aoun's demand that Bassil gets reposted as telecoms minister. This same person is also demanding a ministry from President Michel Suleiman's share (because his candidate lost). Hyprocritical much? Aoun also says that one of his goals is to strengthen the president. Way to go, take one of his ministries. He questioned last year what a Lebanese Army helicopter pilot was doing in the area that he was shot. He dares question the very institution that he used to command and what got him to the position he is currently at? When a member of a military outfit goes AWOL they are then tried for treason. When is it Aoun's turn? The influence that Aoun and his allies have over Lebanon is decreasing dramatically. Im from t

    August 19, 2009

  • Cedars

    Sami, quit crying, march 8 (minority) lost BIG whether you admit or not. You even congratulated me on that (thx). Peace my friend, Jesus bless you and keep you to your syrian buddies....

    August 18, 2009

  • Sami

    Greg,I love your analogy with a basketball game.Note this tho.1-At the end of the game players from both sides shake hands with a sportsmanship spirit and go home.2-A basketball game does not decide the fate of a nation.3-A basketball game does not include in it players based on their sect but solely on their qualifications. 4-The game does not carry in it a two third majority necessary to rule.5-This game or any other game does not have enemies in the spectators ranks waiting to assassinate the winners or losers.6-The game does not tolerate a fifth column among its players.7-This game that you propose is only valid in la la land not in the land of politics.I hope this is simple enough for you to understand.

    August 15, 2009

  • Sami

    If we do not add the Marada to M8th camp and Aoun then where do we add them to?Using your logic,then we should deduct Safadi,and Mikati and Al Murr etc. from M14 camp.Your thinking is fuzzy not my math.El 3adra te7meek.

    August 14, 2009

  • fadi c

    Re: Bobby Z, Joumblat is very smart! What a sad way of evaluating our politicians. No principles, no guiding light. Many people are smart, but that does not make them worthy of our respect. One can be very smart and very dangerous. Instead of defining his positions based on complicated international prevailing winds Joumblat would have earned more respect had he been more principled ... a bit more like Geagea. Trading your beliefs for ... even your life, could be acceptable for common people. But for leaders, it is tantamount to treason. And rationalizing this treason is a twisted mind game that may lead to the extinction of our dream of a free and sovereign Lebanon. That's why Syria has Geagea in its sight.

    August 14, 2009

  • Cedars / Arzeh

    Greg...good one...lol...lol...Sami’s fuzzy math needs help. thanks for clarifying the formula....

    August 14, 2009

  • aamer

    my friends, you are all giving weight to nothing, This means that Geaga is not that political figure that everyone wants to knock him. ..... The Christians are really aware about the international deal that is going on to settle the palestians and the acceptance of the 14 AZAR and all its followers. the christians were really upset from the way Samir Geagea turned 180" .... Thanks for all the realistic and natural readers... Chao

    August 14, 2009

  • Greg

    Maybe we have to put it in different terms so he gets it: Sami, say M14 and M8 are playing two basketball games. In the first game, the score was M14- 72 and M8- 56 In the second game, the score was M14- 71 and M8- 57. Although you can say that M8 did slightly better in the second game", M14 still won both games.

    August 13, 2009

  • Cedars / Arzeh

    Sámi, concerning your comment "M14 had 72 MP's now they have 71.M8 had 56 now they have 57 mp's. Aoun went from21 to 27" (that's your fuzy math). first off this is not true, well I'll agree with you for the sake of argument. But, keep in mind that March 14 could have 65 vs. 63 for March 8, we still the winners. Conc. aoun, adding the marada, shai's, Armenian, etc...To get him a 27 is not the right way, (I don't remember the marada for example saying that there is no more marada movement we want to join aoun's gang), otherwise we will have to add all our allies to LF, the LF will become 71....Jesus bless you

    August 13, 2009

  • Cedars

    Sami, when you say the whole world, do you mean the Hezbollah world? aoun is a ..., and your hizeb is using him. hassan admits to march 14 victory, and aoun still does not admit. By they way, I'm still waiting for a congratulations from you....come on be a sport.

    August 13, 2009

  • Mounria

    ....and christians are doing great in iran? LOL Actually if hezbollah had its way Lebanon's christians status would be reduced to that a copt in Egypt or maybe iraqi christian. Khomeini himself said he wanted the christians of lebanon to "embrace islam" infact many of millitas involved in the rapes,murders,lootings,kidnappings of christians beside al-qaedesque ones,are shi3a and receive support from hezbollah & backing from iran.

    August 13, 2009

  • Sami

    Ahmed,the whole world affirmed that Syria did not interfere in the elections,yet you insist that there are "Christian ... That were "forced" to vote for Aoun.I am amazed.The whole world testified that the elections were free and fair,yet you insist that LF won but Syria somehow gave votes to Aoun.We are proud of Aoun,he is the only hope left for the Christians of the Middle East.Learn from the Iraqi and Egyptian examples,the Christians are not doing well there in spite of both countries governments are USA friendly.

    August 13, 2009

  • Mounira

    Now Im not a christian so my interest in their politics is stemened on fascination and the fact my mother is a christian.between Geagea and Aoun I rather Geagea but Geagea is a weak leader with many flaws. However Aoun is purposely dividing the Christians for his own greed and for his DREAM of becoming president that he has backstabbed former supporters & matyrs by now becoming friend of Syrians and Iran.Aoun could unite the christians if he wanted too but he is choosing to keep them divided and weak because he is a power hungry & most his current followers are either loyal ...or ppl who hate geagea so much they see aoun the lesser .... This is choice however could lead to grave consquences for the christians of lebanon if they find a way to reconcile previous woes in their future. ++

    August 12, 2009

  • ahmed

    Sami (...) I live in NY so that is pretty hard to do) The LF won in Nisherie, Koura, Batroun from 95% Christian voters so I really do not know what you are talking about and they have about 8MPS, where your Orange Boys has 27 MPs because the Syrians puppets of the Christians where forced to join his party to make it seem big. The Orange only won in Keserwan with the Christian vote and they barley won. And regarding Saker, you should not speak w/o listening to him first. He never once said that he represents that She3a, in fact he said the total opposite. So please get your facts straight.

    August 11, 2009

  • Cedars

    Thanks Sami for being a sport...Next time I'm in Beirut, I'll look you up to get a cup of coffee together (on me). Aoun does not represent the Christian anymore, dropped for 70% to 42% is a big deal my friend...stay in touch. When it comes to Shiaas votes? I’m chocked that 400 votes got saker to win….something is wrong….it looks like not only shiaas wants him, maybe be from all different religion vs. his opponent JUST shiaas? I call this fairness.....

    August 11, 2009

  • hana

    i think the syrians and their allies in lebanon have already started their war on gaegae ...they created this interenet connection with israel...accusing the lebanese forces of betrayel to lebanon and alleagence to israel ....it is an old cenario that they are bringing back to the cerface...i can see it happening and i am worried about the hakim ...the last genuine lebanese

    August 11, 2009

  • Fadi Kassab

    Hey Sami ! Just for your unknown information, Georges Adwan won 52% of christians votes in Chouf, and if you don't trust me, i'm from Rmeyleh (CHouf) and go to Aaley, Fadi el-Habre won 46,9% and the FPM candidates won 46,4% and in Aaley the PSP had 2 christians candidates, and the Kataeb one for the orthodox seat... so please, go on www.albaladonline.com and don't forget to reply to me. In Baabda the FPM won by the shia votes in borj brajneh and the FPM won only in Wadi Chahrour and Hatath.. all the rest it's the march 14 candidats whos won in Furn Chebbak, Baabda, Ain remmaneh, Abbadieh, Tarchich, Bseba, Kfarchima, etc.. so don't be so happy. In all your 27s MP there are only 9 MP belonging to the FPM..all the rest they are independants in the parlementery bloc such as : Nehmtallah Abi Nasr, Walid Khoury, Gilberte Zouein, Mkheyber, Gharios, Hikmat Dib, Salim Salhab, Edgar Maalouf, etc.. so don't be so excited... The LF represents all South Mount-Lebanon including Chouf, Aaley and Ba

    August 10, 2009

  • CEDAR REVOLUTION / GEBRAN SONS

    Gebran Sons said prior to the elections that the quickest way to insure Cedar revolution II in 2013 is for M8 to win the 2009 elections. Maybe Saad should let Nassrallah-Aoun-Jumblat (trinity of megalomania, negativism, leader worship and destructive impulses) form the new government. With 50 billion debt, talks of war and armament spending, suppression of freedom and democracy, and criticism of the West, our economy will be destroyed in weeks not years... unless we get those lost truck load of this pure money (instead of poison gifts) promised by Ahmadinajad’s Hizbollah and company! How can anyone believe there is any honor and dignity left in the country with Syrian generals from Wahhab to Jumblat and Aoun flooding the airwaves? Any politician traveling to Syria before settling major issues is a disgrace to Lebanon and its martyrs. No ifs or buts! So far, we can be proud of the patriotic and courageous stand of Saad Harri and Samir Geagaa.

    August 10, 2009

  • Sami

    Cedars,congratulation man,your M14 had 72 MP's now they have 71.M8 had 56 now they have 57 mp's.aoun went from21 to 27.He alone has the Christian majority.The ONLY losers in this election were the Skaf bunch and we all know how they lost.Saker received 400 Shiaa votes while his Shiaa opponent received 10,000 and he claims that he represents the Shiaa in his district.What a joke.

    August 9, 2009

  • ro

    mr geagea and those who think like him are the only significant stubling block that might prevent syrian re colonization of our country and the mixed hizballa- syria -iran complete takeover. these are critical times for lebanon much more dangerous existentially than all the past wars lumped together. (...)the group headed by geagea refuses to give up on the lebanese dream of freedom and sovereignty. imagine a culturally decrepit country like syria or iran ror even saudi ruling lebanon. imagine people losing their normal western style freedoms or being labelled traitors for having western cultural aspiration and refusing leftist or islamist tyrranies that will certainly beset us if we allow this barbaric takeover to occur. thanks to people like geagea an others who remain loyal to the essential concept of a free and sovereign lebanon, we have up till now been able to live semi decently since 2005

    August 9, 2009

  • Ousama Fakih

    Sami (...) Aoun commands 27, but how many of those are due to the Shiite vote? Geagea never won a battle? Well what did Aoun win? Wait till 2013 and see how many MPs Geagea will have and how many Aoun will.

    August 9, 2009

  • Cedars

    Sami, what's people like YOU never admit that march 8 LOST BIG time. Aoun specifically said, he could care less about anyone on his list if they lost as long as aboujamra and bassil wins. Let me remind you ALL of his ministers lost, this is the biggest slap to aoun and his syrian lovers. March 14 won whether jumblat stays or goes. we are the winners and you are the losers....get over it and like I asked you in a previous message, you owe me a "congratulations" be a sport...come on...loll...lol...by they way, in case you forgot…tribunal is coming close & closer & closer…..

    August 9, 2009

  • Marco Antonio

    Yeah, infact we will follow Sami from now on, he is our leader...lol What a joke

    August 9, 2009

  • Sami

    Veebs,correct me again if I am wrong.Didnt Jumblat take an LF candidate on his list in Alieh?Didnt the Druze elect this candidate?The only two MP's that Jaeja has are from Bshirri district that were voted by pure Christian votes.2 MP's in a 128 MP's parliament is nothing to be proud of.How can you compare the LF to Aoun?

    August 9, 2009

  • Greg

    @steve, I am definetly taking this journalist seriously. So what if he is "impartial", I can't see how you avoid being such if you truly understand Lebanese politics. @veebs, I totally agree, the LF, whether you like them or not, have been the most consistent about their views. People, like Aoun and Jumblat, are so inconsistent, I just do not see how they can be taken seriously. It is so obvious why the keep switching positions and alliances: to gain more power.

    August 8, 2009

  • vreb

    True the FPM won more pariliamentary seats than the LF, but they did that with the votes of their alllies in all the regions they won. The LF however won their parliamentary seats depending on their voter alone. I am not a fan of the LF but the truth is they are disciplined and have always said what they believe in and haven't switched sides every few years. If Lebanon is to stay a confessional country then probably we need the LF.

    August 8, 2009

  • Sami

    Correct me if I am wrong.Jaejae commands 3 MP's but Aoun Commands 27.The Christian voters as well as the Sunnis gave Jaejae only 3 MP's in-spite of all the money and the immigrants votes.Aoun was fought by the rest of the "civilized" world yet he alone musters the majority of all Christians including a majority of the Marooni MP's.Syria and the rest of Lebanon should just ignore Jaejae and he will fade away as anyone who never won one battle be it military or political.He brought sadness,destruction alienation to his Christian followers ....I do not think they will follow him anywhere any longer.

    August 8, 2009

  • Bob Z

    Jumblat was very smart, he saw how the whole world is weak and saw how Obama and the other weaklings in france and England are running to appeaze Assad, so he switched, his and the survival of the druze is tantamount in his mind,. I just wished the christians leaders act that way. we have such a disfunctional community

    August 7, 2009

  • foreigner

    As an foreigner i strongly suggest to all Lebanese Christian to ruuuuuuuun from Lebanon if Geagea will be cornered or weakened.... And God help you !!!!!!!...

    August 7, 2009

  • FARES BABA

    Apparently Walid Joumblat has made the first move to Weaken Samir Geagea

    August 7, 2009

  • z

    Lebanese politics is truly disgusting. I feel sorry for the followers of the leaders who are oozing with hypocrisy. If hypocrisy were made of strawberries, we'd all be drinking smoothies right now.

    August 7, 2009

  • Joseph John Chidiac

    WHY SYRIA HAS SAMIR GEAGEA IN ITS SIGHTS? Thank you for the above article.Firstly allow me to add a few points if i may, why i think the Syrian regime should and would have the "DOC" in their sights. 1:Mr Geagea is and will always be the most disciplined politician in Lebanon .2:Mr Geagea is extremely loyal unlike the majority of the Lebanese politicians,just look at the political circus bestowed on us at at the present moment.3:Mr Geagea did not inherit his position from his famil heirloom ,unlike the majority of lebanese so called political leaders.4:He talks the talks and can walk the walk.5:During the civil war mr Geagea was the only leader to stand in the way of Syria complete control and dominance of Lebanon.6:Mr Geagea never abandoned his people unlike some christian leaders,he could look his supporters in the eyes that suffered in the hands of the Syrians regime and there loyal cronies and tell them i suffered just like you did and i never abandoned you and our just course

    August 7, 2009

  • Steve

    How you say things like "very likely murdered by"? Do you have proof no one else is aware of? This is slander and should not be coming from any journalist who wishes to be taken seriously, and more importantly, as an impartial writer. But then that's never been Young's forte, has it?

    August 7, 2009

  • ELie

    Why don't the Lebanese, from ALL walks of life, stop shouting at each other and start talking? Leadership is a type of magnetism that suppose to draw the people towards you! When the people are repelled, there should be a change of tone (or polarity) to go back to being civilized. WE Lebanese need to work with each other and not against each other!

    August 7, 2009

  • LEBINLON

    Michael you tease! the scenario you are depicting is probably EXACTLY what would the LF hope for and would definitly bolster the winning momentum Geagea is on. what winning momentum ? correct me if I am wrong but everywhere the LF went mano-a-mano with the Aounis in the last elections, they won. Batroun, Koura, Zahle, Ashrafieh. (3 MPs in Zahle are pro-LF and the LF were the biggest voters in Ash.). A syrian hate campaign would set most Christians againt them and their Christian cronies and give Geagea the invaluable gift of prime sovereignty-defender. You probably are right in your analysis though and the Syrians would just do such a blunder. Inchallah !!

    August 7, 2009