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Geagea to NOW Lebanon: I see a real danger that could take the country back to before 2005

Let’s start with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) and the issue of false witnesses. Why do you think Speaker Nabih Berri has brought up the issue of the false witnesses and threatened that his ministers will boycott voting [in the government] in case that issue was not discussed during the next cabinet session?

Samir Geagea: What is so odd is that some things are quite clear: the cabinet has already appointed Justice Minister [Ibrahim Najjar] a month and a half ago to prepare a study on what we should do in the so-called issue of “false witnesses.” The justice minister did the study, and it was submitted to President [Michel Sleiman] and Prime Minister [Saad Hariri] 15 days ago. They were going to address the issue before, but the situation was aggravated and they found it best to wait for things to cool down, because we cannot discuss the subject in a tense atmosphere.

Amid this tension – and funny as he is – Speaker Berri said we should address the issue of the false witnesses, “or else.” But the study has already been [concluded]! In any case, we do not mind giving Speaker Berri credit, because he knows that the study is ready and that the issue of the false witnesses will be addressed in a session any time now.

Does the fact that [Berri raised the issue] before [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon has any significance?

Geagea: I personally do not think so. And allow me to [represent] the so-called issue of “false witnesses” from this angle. It is used as an excuse to mix everything up and to destroy the STL. Nobody can talk about false witnesses as long as the indictment has not been issued, because no one can tell if [the false witnesses] exist or if their testimonies were true or false. What will happen if it turns out that the indictment did not take into consideration the testimony of those who are considered as false witnesses? Those people will be free of all the accusations and will have the right to sue those who accused them, because the real false witness is the one who misleads the STL’s investigation.

I am saying this to show that the issue is being handled in all of its facets, therefore, no one can accuse anybody of being a false witness before the indictment is issued and the investigation [results] are made public. I stress on this particular point because it is being blown out of proportion. If, for example, it turns out that the STL judges did not take into consideration any of the [testimonies] of Mohammad Zuhair Siddiq, Hussam Hussam, [Akran Shakib] Murad, or [Ibrahim Michel] Jarjoura, will we still be interested in them as false witnesses?

[Former General Security chief] Jamil as-Sayyed says that he was arrested based on the false witnesses’ testimonies. That is not true. How can he tell? We should inquire with the investigative magistrate about that, because he is the only one who has the answer. In [civilized] societies, serious issues like that of the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri demand serious investigations, where the investigative magistrates are the ones who decide if a person is a false witness or not, based on whether or not they did something to mislead the investigation. The investigative magistrates themselves are saying that there is nothing worth looking into, but Sayyed disagrees, as if he knew why he was arrested, and whether or not he is actually innocent.

The main problem is that there is a swarm of hornets attacking the STL from all sides, and the STL cannot say anything, thus, no serious, scientific, logical research can be made into this subject before the tribunal’s indictment is issued.

This being said, if we were to consider the Lebanese judicial system as having any authority, on what basis will the judiciary determine who are the false witnesses before the indictment is issued? All it can do is wait for the indictment. Unfortunately, we will have yet another “excuse” that we will call the “witnesses excuse.”

 How are you dealing with the Syrian arrest warrants?

Geagea: In the simplest judicial logic, no one can take action regarding the false witnesses before the STL’s indictment is issued, and the investigations are made public. As I have already said, Justice Minister [Najjar] was assigned [to deal with the matter] two months ago, and it was known that he will submit [his findings] to the cabinet on Monday. So the day before, [Syria] issued the arrest warrants, as if it was trying to bypass the process. The reason is because they do not care about the false witnesses issue; they want “the witnesses excuse.”

Legally speaking, these arrest warrants are extremely flawed. Even a 12th grader would not do this kind of mistake, be it with regard to the timing, the authority, the immunity or the people these warrants were addressed to, for a number of legal considerations that cannot be meddled with.

As for the political point of view, I picture President Sleiman and PM Hariri stretching their [arms] toward the Syrians, eyes closed, only to be surprised with a punch in the face.

So what are they concocting through it all?

Geagea: The theory of a state-to-state relationship turned out to be a figment of our imagination. This dream is still on its way to Damascus, where [the Syrian leadership] is acting in a completely different manner. It reminded me of the old times.

 Is it an announcement of the end of the agreement between Syria and Saudi Arabia, or is it “a small problem” like PM Hariri said? How do you explain it?

Geagea: In my opinion, this is now up to the Syrians, meaning, if the Syrians realize the gravity of the mistake they made and they decide to revoke the warrants—although they do not qualify as real warrants—then the Syrian-Saudi agreement has not ended. If [the Syrians] decided to go forward with the warrants, then I do not know if Saudi Arabia will be able to put up with this kind of behavior.

What do you think is most likely to happen?

Geagea: I think that the Syrians have made up their minds on the strategic level to go in the opposite direction.

 Based on [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad’s visit to Iran?

Geagea: Based on many things: [on the Syrians’] clear position toward the STL, and the fact that they unleashed their men in Lebanon against the government, and more specifically against Saad Hariri and the whole system. What more can you ask for? In my opinion, the Syrians have made their strategic choice.

How does this translate in the domestic Lebanese arena?

Geagea: The way I see it, it translates with Sayyed’s first press conference. You could disagree with Sayyed in politics, but you cannot deny the fact that he knows what is going on. Sayyed’s words reflect what he is experiencing in the closed rooms. This, unfortunately, confirmed the first impression I had of Sayyed’s allegations. It is a general atmosphere that he is basing his moves on.

What do you expect and how do you plan on coping with such an atmosphere?

Geagea: We intend to do so by sticking to our position, adhering to our convictions and never wavering from our reality. I sincerely tell you that during the past two weeks, some things happened that provoked us all, and made us work not 10, not 12 but 16 hours a day, because honestly, I see a real danger lurking that could take the country back to what it was before 2005. This is a step back for all of us as Lebanese. It is no longer a matter of politics, but that of sovereignty. Every Lebanese citizen has the choice: we either follow through with the journey we started in 2005, regardless of its flaws; or we go back to the position we were in before 2005.       
    
 What are the tools of resistance?

Geagea: Political tools par excellence as you can see.

So will you behave like General [Michel] Aoun asked you to?

Geagea: (Laughs) I have not been behaving since 2005, and I will never behave. The troublemaker is the one who has the arms, not the one who doesn’t. So General Aoun better tell that to himself and to his allies.

There is a government today, however minimal, that is in charge of the security of Lebanon and the Lebanese. I honestly tell you that we are not responsible of the internal security nor can we afford the repercussions of such a thing, and we are not willing to. Besides, it would be undermining our theory that we should all be in favor of the country and its institutions. Only then will we continue our political mission, gathering political tools in order to make some dream of ours come true, not more. What more can we ask for, in the presence a government, however minimal which still reassures us every day though [the presence] of the president, the army commander and the PM, that it is the one responsible of national peace?


In your opinion, is there a difference between what Hezbollah wants and what Syria wants, or is it all the same?

Geagea: No, it is all the same, because Syria is not asking Hezbollah for its fair share of influence in Lebanon. On the contrary to what some may think, they are both trying to take the influence we have so that they both become more powerful. This is what they are trying to do.

 Can they do that?

Geagea: No they can’t.

Why not?

Geagea: Because there is a reality that no one can change. In a metaphorical way, I would say that they can intimidate a lot of people, but they cannot intimidate them all the time.

But they did change the facts on the field after the 2008 May 7 events.

Geagea:
I disagree. There have been some tactical, political steps to overcome a given period, but that does not mean that they have changed the facts on the field, and the biggest proof is the results of the 2009 parliamentary elections.

They have changed exactly that: they were able to absorb the results of the political process.

Geagea: Through a political maneuver they have done with [Progressive Socialist Party leader MP] Walid Jumblatt, sure. We respond to this maneuver by doing another with another party. As long as the game is this way, it is excellent.

But the scary thing is that May 7 caused 100 causalities.

Geagea: Yes, unfortunately.

That means it was not a political game.

Geagea: Many scenarios are being prepared. What will we witness? On the short term, we will see some moves that are all on the political level. In my opinion, they will first try to get what they want by exerting pressure on the political level.

 You mean overthrowing the government?

Geagea: That’s one way of putting it, or changing the government through re-creating power. They work a little, we work a little.

 Are there guarantees that things will not be [settled on] the streets?

Geagea: Up until now, this seems to be the only constant side of the Syrian-Saudi agreement; there is no street violence. And think about it: according to their calculations, this time, stirring things up in the streets might not be possible; it might not be to their advantage, it might not give results or it may give counter results. They made all these calculations, and I still however think that the minimal government will not allow armed Lebanese to attack other Lebanese this time around.

Is there data other than the public statements issued by President Sleiman and Lebanese Army Commander [Jean Kahwaji]? What do you know about this through your deliberations?

Geagea: Yes of course, the president, the PM and the ministers have the intention of keeping things under control. They consider themselves highly responsible for the national peace, and they will take all necessary measures in order to keep any armed Lebanese from attacking other Lebanese. The statements express that, anyway.

Perhaps the statements are merely to provide reassurance, especially after September’s airport incident .

Geagea: What happened in the airport was not without a price. We addressed the cabinet with the subject, and it led to launching investigations into the matter. This is not Switzerland, but at least, there was an official political reaction as there should be, in a way that the other party started defending itself.

But they have admitted that they did that, they are proud of doing it, and they will do it again whenever they want.

Geagea: It is true that some said that once, but they never said it again. This is not an expression of a strategy or of a complete policy. This is an expression of a grouchy person that said it as a challenge. Otherwise, we would have heard it from other people the next day. A few days ago [Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General] Sheikh Naim Quassem said, “We will not let them drag us into strife”. (lLaughs) Were we dragging them into strife or were they the ones saying that we are heading toward it? This is a scale too. Didn’t you notice what the only joint statement that was published after the Assad-Ahmadinejad meeting in Tehran said? “We hold on to Lebanon’s stability”… There are some quite important indicators.

But Assad said later that the situation in Lebanon is not reassuring.

Geagea: Yes, but that doesn’t keep him from sending messages

You talk of political pressure and that it will suffice in the upcoming period, whether it fails or succeeds?

Geagea: I will simplify it for you, it will not succeed.

 And what will happen if it fails?

Geagea: I still do not have a clear picture regarding the matter for the simple reason that the other party has not chosen a clear direction yet. It is still looking into all options. But I think that in the light of the data given to the other party—especially the official, legal, political and popular data—I think that it is slowly [rejecting] the option of using violence domestically. At least, I hope it is.

 What if some political pressure, such as resignations, was to take place?

Geagea:
We will never go back to that.

MP Walid Jumblatt is saying that he will not resign, but he may be obliged to at some point. What do you think about that?

Geagea: In politics, everything can either come true or be suppressed. I do not know if Walid Jumblatt would go against Saad Hariri on such a personal level, as if nothing happened during these past years. I honestly doubt it.

 What is, in your opinion, the message behind Ahmadinejad’s visit and what are its consequences on the Lebanese?

Geagea:
First of all, I hope that it will be a serious international visit, a president visiting his counterpart, coming to see Lebanon as a country. If this is the case, then he is most welcome! But if it goes beyond that, I say that it’s a shame for President Ahmadinejad to pick Lebanon in order to send messages to the East and to the West. In that case, the visit will be going out of its formal context and out of international formalities. This is all I can say at this moment.

The agenda of his visit is still not final. It looks like it will be formal for a day and a half and informal for a day. I understand if he goes sightseeing, shopping or visiting some friends informally, but I do not understand when he undertakes political activity [then]… Things are still unclear, but I wish that President Ahmadinejad acts as the president of a country and that he takes into consideration Lebanon’s situation, its foreign policy, the different opinions in it and the diversity of the Lebanese people.

 Will the Lebanese Forces participate in the formal ceremony?

Geagea: We do not have any problem with the formal context—i.e. the cabinet, the parliament and the presidency. Everything outside this context is an issue, of course.

 There is a feeling that the Christian [public] is lost, especially young Christians who follow Aoun without approving his policy. What is your opinion on the matter, having invited this particular group for dialog?

Geagea: There are in fact some people who joined the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) based on personal convictions. I remember very well in the first years of my imprisonment, all the people arrested and brought to prison were in the Lebanese Forces (LF). After that period, they would alternate between LF and FPM partisans. So the people that were being thrown in prison were there because of certain convictions that were translated in the FPM’s orange book in 2005. I believe in these FPM partisans, for if those young men and young ladies were not defending a cause, they would not have suffered what they have suffered. And I will always have great faith in them.

However, I honestly have no hope whatsoever for the small group comprising of General Aoun and his small circle They have gone a different way and believe in completely different things. As for that first group of people, I have great expectations for them and that is why I called upon them. Let them read once more their book, and we will do the same.
 
As for the Christian [public] in general, I believe that there is no such thing anymore. The Christians have the principles of March 14 in their hearts. This was proven more than once by the continuous elections. The Christian street is mainly March 14.

Did you get any feedback regarding your invitation?

Geagea: Yes we did, from those who were originally a little distant. Some mysterious things are still happening with those who are still in the FPM, but there is a lot of give and take in the matter.

You forgot that at least from 2000 until 2005 we talked about it, solved our problems and agreed that it was water under the bridge. We fought side by side in universities, in the streets and in Qurnat Shehwan.

 Aoun said he visited you in prison? Is that correct?

Geagea: Yes, and I have previously talked about. It was personal. Now I can say that then, Aoun was giving himself the position of going into battle in the name of all the Christians. And, of course, he cannot do so without visiting Samir Geagea in prison. This means he took this step to say that beyond personal differences, he is still with Samir Geagea. The visit came in this context, and we did not discuss politics during the visit.

This is what General Aoun meant: if I liked his orange book so much and if believed in his principles, why didn’t I agree to ally myself with him? The reason is because his alliances in 2005 went against the orange book. They were all with Syria and Hezbollah. His excuse was the quadripartite alliance… Well, the quadripartite alliance was in one or two regions only, and it was only for the elections. Our great alliance was with March 14. He was against March 14. So from that moment on, we took opposing sides.

While I was still in prison, I was offered to be released before the elections—just like Aoun was brought in from France—on the condition of changing my alliances and not becoming an ally with Jumblatt and Hariri. [Aoun] is now reproaching me, because I didn’t do so. Wasn’t this against his convictions?

You received an offer?

Geagea:
Of course. They wanted me to form an alliance with Karami’s list in the North, and they would release me before the elections. But I had learned my lesson, and I said no.

 There are rumors about the LF being armed.

Geagea: They are not true. These rumors are being spread by the other team’s security apparels, everyday and in a premeditated fashion. None of it is true; otherwise, it would have been given as data to the security apparels.

Rumors also say that they gave maps to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) showing the LF’s armament.

Geagea: Where are they? Let them publish the maps. Do they want to accuse the LAF of collusion? Ten days ago, in the first cabinet meeting, the president said that he asked the security apparels about parties’ armament, but nobody had any information regarding the matter.

What is the goal spreading these rumors then?

Geagea: General Aoun, if you may, has been having the same dream for four or five months now. He dreams about trying to push Hezbollah to enter the Christian regions in order to strike the LF. Sort of like what happened to the Druze in 2008. Hezbollah entered the Druze regions, and Walid Jumblatt had to hurry over to Talal Erslan’s. General Aoun has been having this picture of Hezbollah storming in here, so I would have to seek shelter in him along with everybody, because he is Hezbollah’s ally. But of course, Hezbollah knows better than anyone else that the LF does not have arms. Of course, if the official security apparels had any information on the matter, they would have searched us. One single armed individual was caught in Oyoun Orghosh, and a whole legend was written about drill camps. Do you seriously think that the security apparels hold information and maps, and they are hiding them? Never.

Is March 14 still [significant]? What can it do to return to the streets and the people?

Geagea: If you want to see where March 14 is, just remember March 12 or 13, 2005. Nothing was visible. It is the largest movement in the history of Lebanon. It represents the silent majority next to the political parties that were in it. That is why I tell you that it is present. Some people are waiting for it, wishing for it to act, to do something. These people exist. On the political level, after Saad Hariri became prime minister, there was of course a certain limitation to March 14’s movement, but that does not mean it is [dead]. It all depends on the circumstances. As you saw in the past three weeks when things went in a certain direction and crossed a certain line, March 14 came back stronger than ever. I am very optimistic about March 14, regardless of the ongoing political situation.

 You once said, “The presidency is in danger because it is put in the way of a herd of elephants.” Where are we today?

Geagea:
We have been put in the elephants’ way to be crushed. But we have not been crushed yet. We have to help ourselves, so that God helps us too.

  • corentin

    "back to before 2005"? does he mean that right now we're "after 2005"?

    October 27, 2010

  • LebExile

    Tannourine, the problem isn't following Aoun and Franjieh, the problem is following leaders blindly. If Aoun and Franjieh are persuing policies that I believe are in my best interests, then, I will follow them. If, they do a 180 degree U-turn, then, I would no longer support them. I have been a supporter of different factions at different times, and I admit, I didn't follow politcs much during the war years, however, I've come to the conclusion that you really cant have democracy in the Middle East. People follow leaders like sheep, and whoever coined the term sheeple was spot on. Really, how do compete with "bel ro7, bel dum ..." Lebanese Christians are probably not as bad as the Sunni, Shia and Druze, but they're not that much better either. We recently had Nayla Tueini elected to parliament - her qualification - last name! Berri has been speaker of parliament for almost 20 years - surely there is someone better qualified and should have a crack at the job! Hariri Sr/Jr have h

    October 12, 2010

  • Tannourine

    it still amazes me that there are christians out there following the likes of Aoun and Frangieh... when will they ever wake up?

    October 11, 2010

  • cc

    Wow, finally a person i Lebanon who speak the language of logic. Amazing.

    October 10, 2010

  • rjh10452

    Dr Geagea, with all due respect maybe it is time for the LF to carry the rifle again to defend Lebanon.

    October 9, 2010

  • Hajjj

    Good job nowlebanon, nice interview!

    October 9, 2010

  • rewind

    Hezballastan = Fatehland reloaded.

    October 9, 2010

  • richardo

    WELL DON GEAGEA.

    October 9, 2010