Talking To: Samir Franjieh

Zgharta MP Samir Franjieh sat down with NOW Arabic’s Ghada Halawi to discuss the electoral law, the coherence of the March 14 forces, the recent slew of reconciliations in Lebanon, including between the Christians, and the value of an apology. He said, “Apologies do not come from the weak, but rather from the strong, for the weak remain entrapped in the logic of justification and accusations,” adding that “the March 14 spirit is to communicate with the other.”

NOW Lebanon: Do you think that the Qoreitem reconciliation on September 24 marks the beginning of a new era in the relationship between the Future Movement and Hezbollah?

Samir Franjieh: The word “reconciliation” may be a bit of an exaggeration because reconciliation is synonymous with conducting a review, admitting one’s mistakes and reaching a common denominator between the parties to the reconciliation. However, at the same time, what happened in Qoreitem is very important for reducing the tension, restoring communication and perhaps even paving the way for a reconstruction of relations on normal bases. This meeting has important repercussions on the security situation, and this sort of reconciliation is currently needed. Having recourse to weapons only begets ruin, and the reconciliations that took place in Qoreitem, the Mountain and the North have had a positive impact on people’s lives. Indeed, this is the first time we witness reconciliation between Sunnis and Alawis in Tripoli since the civil war, and this is very important. What happened in Qoreitem is not conclusive, but it can represent a gateway to restoring normal relations among the Lebanese.

NOW: How do these reconciliations affect the March 14 coalition?

Franjieh: During the latest meeting of the March 14 coalition members, an agreement was reached on the need for such reconciliations during the current period. Hence, they have no internal repercussions whatsoever on the balances [of power] among the March 14 members. The opposite may actually be true, since we notice that some within the March 8 coalition are adopting the rhetoric of war rather than one of reconciliations.

NOW: Who are these parties?

Franjieh: Take, for instance, General Aoun, who likened the March 14 party to women being beaten by their husbands. First, this is a bigoted comparison that does not befit him. Second, a man beating his wife is no “glorious deed,” and third, this is somewhat backward.

While it is true that this method has practical effects, it belongs to the pre-civilized ages. In this respect, we hope that Hezbollah generalizes the spirit of reconciliations and ends this sort of speech. Here is Dr. Samir Geagea, for example, who apologized to the Lebanese people in his own name and in that of the Lebanese Forces. This apology had a major impact because it represented a precedent in the Lebanese political sphere and because political logic in Lebanon is ruled by a clannish mentality, whereby the leader does not make mistakes, and if he does, he never apologizes. Geagea’s words reflected humility in admitting one’s wrongs and apologizing. If this pattern had been reproduced in the country, it would have helped mark the end of a bygone era and led us to reconciliation in the noble sense of the word. Yet the response that emanated from the Christian parties in the opposition was a silly one; it is as though the apology was made to them, rather than to the Lebanese people, for any crime that was committed was not from one party against another. For example, when West Beirut was bombed at the start of the Liberation War in 1989, was that not a crime against the people?

What is actually needed is not to apologize on behalf of the warlords, but rather for all warlords to apologize to the Lebanese people. This would increase their worth rather than undermine it.

NOW: Why did the apology come at this particular time, in light of rumors regarding the Lebanese Forces’ being in a delicate electoral position?

Franjieh: Apologies do not come from the weak, but rather from the strong, for the weak remain entrapped in the logic of justification and accusations. Furthermore, the March 14 spirit is to communicate with the other. March 14, 2005 was, originally, a moment of spontaneous, popular reconciliation around PM Rafik Hariri’s tomb. There was a totally unexpected, miraculous side to it; people flooded the streets and drove the Syrian army out of Lebanon, thus representing the actual gateway to reconciliation. When we disagree in politics, we do not need reconciliation, but rather communication.

NOW: Has the Maronite Patriarch undertaken an initiative to unify the Christians?

Franjieh: An initiative was launched, albeit unsuccessfully, approximately two years ago around the pact of honor. Nowadays, in order for the Patriarch to play a similar role, the parties have to rely on the Patriarchate. However, during the past week, we heard violent attacks targeting the Patriarch. Even in the Bsarma incident, former MP Sleiman Franjieh attacked the Patriarch for the umpteenth time while General Aoun rejected the idea of the Patriarch’s leading any initiative, claiming that this was the president’s prerogative. This is empty talk, because Michel Aoun is personally called upon to walk in Samir Geagea’s footsteps and tell the Lebanese where he was right, where he was wrong and apologize for his deeds. Even on the religious level, reconciliation and apologizing are at the heart of our religious principles rather than a sham.

I have expressed the hope for Hezbollah to spread the spirit of reconciliations among its allies. Will it thus call on its allies, and primarily on the Free Patriotic Movement, to appease [the tension] and head toward reconciliation?

The meeting that took place in Qoreitem is ruled by security considerations that do not apply to what we are telling General Aoun. Nevertheless, Hezbollah’s reconciliation rhetoric should upgrade the level of the rhetoric used within the March 8 coalition, as we hear one party having recourse to insults whereas the other heads toward reconciliation. I hereby have some brotherly advice for Hezbollah: Deal in your way with General Aoun, tell him what is going on and ask him to alleviate this tension, which brings losses rather than gains.

NOW: Do you think that Hezbollah is not keeping him informed of the developments?

Franjieh: Hezbollah may be doing so, but Aoun does not understand. I know nothing about the nature of the relation between them, but the rhetoric we have heard over the past couple of days is a war-oriented one. While it is true that the party using it does not have any weapons, it nonetheless represents a call for repeating the past disasters of the war.

NOW: Is the March 14 coalition still genuinely coherent?

Franjieh: While it is true that the March 14 coalition is diversified, and divergences have been recorded among its members from time to time, these are merely circumstantial differences, and they do not involve the [current] reconciliations. With regard to the elections, everyone has a legitimate right to file for candidacy. Even if it is still too early for this kind of talk, I assert that the March 14 coalition is about to submit unified electoral tickets in the forthcoming parliamentary elections from Naqoura to Nahr al-Kabir. There shall be no retail candidates.

NOW: Can you assert beyond the shadow of a doubt that the current reconciliations will not reflect on electoral alliances?

Franjieh: As far as these reconciliations go, I can assert that this is impossible. These reconciliations will certainly enable us to organize the elections in a calm mood, but I don’t know if they will subsequently lead to an in-depth review of political options. If this happens, we would have transcended all the crises of the past. Still, as the reconciliations are currently going, I don’t think they will lead to any modification in the alliances landscape, and we are not heading to a four-party or five-party alliance.

NOW: What do you think of the new electoral law?

Franjieh: The law we are discussing is undoubtedly more backward than the draft submitted by the Boutros Committee, whereas the March 8 coalition views it as an achievement.

NOW: Is it maybe because it is largely in favor of MP Michel Aoun?

Franjieh: General Aoun is not even capable of obtaining any share whatsoever, because the Michel Aoun phenomenon is over. In 2005, people voted for Michel Aoun because he was the actual March 14, and because they deemed that the others had betrayed the March 14 spirit and made the four-party alliance. Whoever voted for him at the time thought that he had voted for the candidate with the most radical and drastic options compared with the March 14 coalition. However, the found out with time that Aoun became a key pillar of the March 8 alliance and is trying today to compensate for his certain loss in Mount Lebanon  by winning over some regions in the South, Baalbek and Hermel. In this respect, the March 8 alliance has a problem, because it will lose the Mount Lebanon battle, and this may be driving it to strive for reconciliation. If not, a tough test awaits Hezbollah. Indeed, Aoun managed to win a major list in the previous elections, but no worldly power can grant him so much as a bloc in the 2009 elections. Let us not anticipate things from today; circumstances may change, and the elections will not have this sharp bipolar status.

NOW: Were you convinced of the reasons given to explain the Syrian military deployment along Lebanon’s northern border? Why did the North’s MPs feel compelled to give so many assurances that Syrian troops will not return to Lebanon?

Franjieh: The deployment scene raised the people’s concern, but I believe that under the current political circumstances, the return [of Syrian troops to Lebanon] is very difficult because Syria is now in the process of submitting its credentials to the West. Furthermore, the Syrian leadership has given its Lebanese counterpart an explanation, namely fighting smuggling operations, and this credo may be justified by internal reasons. In truth, rumor has it that this measure may be linked to domestic divergences in Syria, which have been dissociated from Lebanon.

  • Victor Haddad

    If there ever was a decent politician in Lebanon who apeaks with sincerity and impartiality, well it is Samir Hamid Frangieh. We ought to be grateful to him.

    October 20, 2008

  • le phenicien

    Mr Samir Frangieh will be the FIRST victim of the 1960 electoral law .. He will not run for elections in his town Zgharta again where he is actuallu the representative at the parliament , thanks to the 2000 law of Ghazi Kanaan and Hariri's votes from Tripoli .

    October 6, 2008