Geagea: We Cannot Take Berri Anymore

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But it seems that you also abandoned the demand to bring it down. (Photo: Haytham el Moussawi)

By: Hiyam Kossayfi

Published Friday, October 19, 2012

Al-Akhbar’s Hiyam Kossayfi presses Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on the proposed electoral laws, which would basically decide the make-up of the next parliament before next summer’s elections.

Hiyam Kossayfi: Is the policy of insulating Lebanon from the tensions in the region one that the Saudis share?

Samir Geagea: One hundred percent, and particularly regarding the Syrian crisis. Saudi officials believe the Lebanese situation to be delicate and sensitive. They do not want the solution for an existing problem to create a new one. They are 100 percent behind Lebanon’s nonalignment.

In the last five years, I realized that Saudi and other officials are mindful of Lebanon’s need for special care and attention.

They support a stronger role for the state based on the 1990 Taif agreement – the dissolution of all militias, upholding state institutions, and the army as defender of Lebanon.

HK: Are you and the Saudis of the same opinion concerning Syria? And do you believe the situation there will be decided soon or will it be postponed until after the US presidential elections?

SG: In my analysis, one or more qualitative steps might take place immediately following the US elections. There will be total paralysis in the next two months.

But as soon as those elections are over, regardless of who wins, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, there will be deliberations about more serious and qualitative steps by Arab and US officials.

HK: Is Qatar’s openness towards the current Lebanese government part of a general Arab trend?

SG: Absolutely not. Each Arab country acts according to its own vision and particular interests. I did not feel this [openness] in Saudi Arabia. I believe that Qatar is influenced by the French view: as long as the government exists, they will deal with it.

HK: But it seems that you also abandoned the demand to bring it down.

SG: The situation is delicate and serious. It needs a lot of attention, patience, and care. I call for political pressure to topple the government, not more than that, because we are at a delicate stage. People with responsibility have to act responsibly, even if they were in the opposition.

HK: Your meeting with [head of Future Movement], Saad Hariri, came after his rejection of small electoral districts and the need to appease you and [Druze MP and Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader] Walid Jumblatt.

SG: Hariri did not object to small districts. His main problem was with the proportional representation system. He can do as he pleases in small districts, but will never allow proportionality.

My position was that we are not currently ready to go into the details of a proportional law. If the small districts are not approved, then we will see. This was one of the points of contention.

I will not hide the fact that we began our meetings with opposing viewpoints. But after two or three sessions, we agreed that the law with the small districts is fine. So we will see what we can do to get the others to agree on the proposal, because we cannot pass it without them.

We both thought it was a very good proposal. It was the one we presented with the Phalanges and the independent Christians of March 14.

That was the conclusion of our deliberations. We agreed that we should both approach the other political sides. My side [Lebanese Forces] will continue to work with the Christians and Hariri will handle Jumblatt.

The real discussion about the elections will be between Hariri and Jumblatt. [The Lebanese Forces] will also communicate with Jumblatt to loosen some of the knots in the way.

HK: Are you proposing amendments to the 50 districts?

SG: No. But I told him that our original proposal had 61 districts. Following negotiations with [Hariri’s] Future Movement, the Phalanges, and Jumblatt, we agreed on the 50 districts. But we are not willing to debate again lowering them to 40 and then to 30...

HK: Did you agree to reopen the discussion on proportionality if the small districts bill is not passed, or does [Hariri] reject it completely?

SG: Hariri categorically rejects the discussion of proportionality.

HK: Does he have an alternative to the small districts?

SG: He said “we will see.” Following the position of [the Maronite Patriarch in] Bkerke and all other Christian sides who reject the [electoral] Law of 1960, it is clear to him that there is no going back to that law.

He sees that there is nothing wrong with the 50-district law. It is fine and not bad, so let us work to approve it. This is what we agreed upon.

If the small districts law is not passed, we have our ideas and Hariri has his own. Right now we are pragmatic. The main thing is to reach a new elections law.

HK: Until now, the Future Movement has not announced which proposal they support. So they agreed on the 50-district proposal?

SG: Of course. If we propose the 50-district law, they will vote for it. Today, they see that we should rally the votes to do so.

HK: Some say that Speaker Nabih Berri does not support proportional representation. His interests might coincide with those of Hariri and Jumblatt to go back to the 1960 law.

SG: I do not agree. Berri is open to all possibilities, but sets his eyes on only one outcome. Let us not forget that he is linked to particular alliances. In the cabinet, [his ministers] voted for proportionality.

HK: To what extent might the Muslim parties, including Hariri and Jumblatt, agree on the 1960 law?

SG: It is improbable. We should not forget that the Christians are united against it. Unless my friend, [head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)] Michel Aoun, changed his mind.

[Aoun] mentioned something that I did not understand to the effect that if there was no other option, then why not [go with the small district law]. But we are getting used to him changing sides all the time.

HK: You met with [Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)] minister Wael Abu-Faour recently. Did you detect a willingness by Jumblatt to back down on the 1960 law?

SG: Jumblatt proposed the 1960 law to start the bidding. He is too smart not to know there is no going back to it. He just needs a starting point to negotiate. In my opinion, he knows the 1960 law is not possible. He chose the furthest point, so he could be at ease in the negotiations.

HK: Was it to negotiate with you or with his partners in the government who support proportional representation or with Hezbollah?

SG: Proportionality in any form will not suit Jumblatt. I reckon that Jumblatt is ready to support anything but a proportional law. He is ready to discuss all other options.

HK: It was rumored that you discussed a post-elections roadmap with Abu-Faour, in case of a victory, including the position of Parliamentary Speaker and your candidacy for President of the Republic.

SG: This is not true. We talked about how, after the elections, it is not allowed to do what we did in 2009 [the national unity government]. Or else, why would we be running for elections?

We discussed the position of the speaker and Berri’s current political position. With all due respect, we will not bear him as parliamentary speaker.

We need to form a coherent government. The other side took the first step and formed their own coherent government.

But the issue of the presidency of the republic was never mentioned in any way.

HK: It was said that you are suggested for the presidency, Hariri for prime minister, and former MP Mohammed Abdul-Hamid Baydoun for parliamentary speaker.

SG: Absolutely not. This is untrue. The name for speaker was never mentioned. We said we wanted a speaker who is consistent with the new majority and a coherent government. We did not mention names nor the presidency of the republic.

HK: But wasn’t this discussed with Hariri?

SG: Up to the point of the government and speaker, not the president.

HK: Does Hariri agree on changing the speaker?

SG: You should ask him that question. But I believe he declared one year ago that he would not vote for Berri as speaker.

HK: Does Hariri still hold that position, considering the Shia-Sunni conflict?

SG: I cannot speak about his positions. That was my opinion and I suggested it to Hariri. All I can say is that he is not far from this viewpoint.

HK: So you did not discuss the presidency of the republic?

SG: No. Anyway, his position on the issue is known.

HK: We know his position. But are you a candidate for president?

SG: It is too early to speak about the presidency.

HK: You speak about a coherent government following the upcoming parliamentary elections. Will it be allowed to pass a law that would lead to your victory and your own government?

SG: What are they going to do? Kill us? I ask them, what will they do politically if we convince Aoun to agree on the small districts?


Security Plan and Roumieh Prison

Geagea said he prefers to wait before commenting on the security plan being implemented in the Bekaa Valley, Dahiyeh and the north.

Although he said he will wait “until I see results on the ground,” Geagea added that the plan is “a good step.”

“I am sad it did not come as a result of a serious decision coming directly from the state,” he continued. “It came after Hezbollah and the Amal Movement became weary with the situation on the ground. It is a positive step. But it should not be dropped at the first difficulty.”

He described the events in Roumieh prison, previously reported by Al Akhbar, as “absolutely unacceptable.”

“There can be no leniency,” he said.

“I assumed that the interior ministry was taking precautions, but for the warden to be a former convict is blatant negligence. Is Roumieh prison the Nevada desert, where it is difficult to take precautions?” he added.

“On the other hand,” he said, “from a judicial point of view, suspects cannot remain inside without trial for years on end. I do not think the issue had any political dimensions.”

But if Michel Samaha, who is accused of plotting terrorist attacks in Lebanon on behalf of the Syrian regime, broke out of prison, wouldn’t Geagea raise hell against the army? The Fatah al-Islam commanders escaped as if nothing happened. Not one official or minister resigned.

“If we raise the issue to the degree of calling for resignations, then I will support it,” he responded. “But it should happen on all levels without exception. All files should be dealt with this way.”

Geagea was asked about the Syrian refugees, whose numbers are thought to reach 200,000.

“The government handles the issue as if it’s all in God’s hands. Refugees arrive and nobody knows how many they are or where they stay. Regular people take care of them. The government also takes care of them, but I am not sure how much control it has of the situation,” he said.

“The government cannot put its head in the sand. It should address the issue with all seriousness and transparency. [The government] needs to take care of this and of the image of Lebanon, including all the humanitarian sides of the issue, regardless of [the refugees’] allegiances,” he added. “If assisting them is beyond Lebanon’s capacity, we need to head to the Arab League and the United Nations [and ask them] to provide the necessary resources. I believe we should deal with the refugee issue boldly, transparently, with reserve, and in full humanitarian spirit.”

There are fugitive fighters and conscripts among the refugees, and the government is discussing the increase in the rate of crime perpetrated by some refugees. Will Geagea raise his objections against the government if it acts against them?

“Never. In Jordan, they closed the [Syrian] refugee camps several times due to illegal activities. They once arrested 40 refugees,” Geagea said. “The government will be able to keep the peace as long as it takes care of the refugee issue as it should. This means it should monitor the security forces, since some of them still answer to the Syrian regime.”


Berri Replies to Geagea

Geagea’s comments to Al-Akhbar saying that he will not tolerate Berri as parliamentary speaker after the 2013 parliamentary elections stirred up a storm among Nabih Berri’s Liberation and Development parliamentary bloc.

Berri confined his response to a short quip, saying “[Geagea] is right, he cannot tolerate me, for I am the one who has to put up with him.”

Berri supporter MP Ali Khreis said: “It appears as though Geagea favors extremism over moderation in this country. It also appears that he is not concerned about the national interest but his own self-interest,” adding that, “Geagea is not worried about 2013, but 2014, i.e. the presidential elections.”

Liberation and Development MP Ghazi Zaiter responded by asking: “In what context do we put Geagea’s comments? Is it another one of his predictions, which are alway off the mark – except when it comes to assassinations.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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