Interview: Suleiman Frangieh on Lebanese Elections and the Syrian Split

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We believe in content more than form, but some do not agree. (Photo: Haytham Al-Moussawi)

Published Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lebanese MP and Marada Movement head Suleiman Frangieh tells Al-Akhbar his thoughts on the country’s upcoming elections, the most dangerous kind of weapon in Syria, and Salafi Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir’s recent ski trip.

From the beginning, the Marada Movement and its leader Suleiman Frangieh seemed distant from the controversy over the election law. Frangieh attended the meetings held in Bkirki, Lebanon and followed the consensus process, but avoided becoming embroiled in the arguments.

He knows he has been more forgiving of his allies than needed, reflecting: “We believe in content more than form, but some do not agree. They prefer form over content and want to monopolize roles. Sometimes, we have to point and insist in order to steer in the right direction. I think some of our allies should know we exist.”

While committing to the Orthodox Gathering Law, he does not deny it was “a trap” set for the March 8 Christians. Of the first Bkirki meeting in 2011, he says: “When the Orthodox Gathering made their proposal, they had legitimate demands, since the Orthodox sect is at a disadvantage with its representatives.”

“Orthodox public opinion voted for March 8 [during the last elections],” he adds. “But those who represent the confession are from March 14. They won with non-Orthodox votes from the Sunni voters in Beirut, Koura, Western Bekaa, Akkar, Tripoli, and other areas.”

“The Orthodox Gathering law wanted to let Orthodox voters choose their MPs themselves. Some of the Maronites at the Bkirki meeting picked up the proposal and threw it in front of us, like a banana skin.

“In the first meeting, I said it was a trap and that we should not see it as a proposal in itself or a serious project. This is what they wanted. So I proposed to go along as a first option, on the condition that there will be another option if it fails.

“[Lebanese Forces leader] Samir Geagea responded by asking to keep it as the only option, because the presence of a second option would mean that we will not support the first, but this is not true. The Patriarch supported the idea of two choices too. And that was that.

“There were other meetings. The other side – the Lebanese Forces and the Phalanges – were betting that our Shia allies will reject the proposal. We convinced them, so they went along, and the magic turned against the magician.

“The Orthodox Gathering proposal became the only option, so they were confused. They looked at it as a trap and we saw it as the wish to have 64 Christian MPs with Christian votes.

“Geagea did not come to the last meeting held in Bkirki, while [Phalanges Supreme Leader and former Lebanese president] Amin Gemayel spoke for the Sunnis. But I think he spoke to the Future Movement’s fears and they don’t represent all of the Sunnis. He said they were afraid and disadvantaged [by the law]. I don’t know why, since the Sunnis will choose Sunnis and the Christians will choose Christians.

“The source of the disadvantage felt by the Future Movement and some of their Christian supporters, is that it will not allow them to choose the Christians, not because its sect is disadvantaged. The Future Movement wants all the Sunni seats and to appoint some of the Christian MPs. They do not want diversity. The Future Movement claims that the Shia of March 8 took all the Shia seats, but they forget that it is two parties. They are now in agreement. Before 2005 and for decades, they did not agree even once and fought each other. Today, they have the same strategic line.”

Frangieh supports the Orthodox Gathering, believing that proportional representation is best for all sides. “Let’s try it,” he says. “Maybe we find it has flaws like we found in the 1960 law.”

“Today [the 1960 law] is claimed by many fathers. I still see it as a good law that allows all sects to be represented effectively in parliament, but its deficiency is money. True, Christians were elected by non-Christian votes, but it is not the fault of the law but the divisions between them. United, the 1960 law would allow them to select 60 Christian MPs with Christian votes, out of 64. If they are divided, they will never reach this number. I believe the Orthodox Gathering proposal will compensate for the divisions.

“March 14 now say that the 1960 law is bad, so the only solution became the Orthodox Law and proportionality. In the last Bkirki meeting, the Maronite Patriarch told us he was with any law that would provide us with this natural and constitutional right.”

So how will he go to the 2013 elections?

“Let’s see if we actually get there. What is clear and unequivocal is that the elections will not be based on the 1960 law. If this happened, we will go back to the quagmire of the 1992 elections, when the requirement was for a law that would not be considered harmful by the Sunnis.

“We cannot hold elections based on a law that another sect sees as hurtful. The only hope we have is not to have elections that would be a nuisance to any side. There is a consensus on this equation. There are those who propose a law that is half majoritarian and half proportional, thinking there will be a consensus. But I don’t think so. I am not inclined to appease anyone through a mixed system that will promote moderation. I am against the legitimization of moderation and the political center, because they do not exist in Lebanon.”

When told that his grandfather and former Lebanese president Suleiman Frangieh was a centrist, along with speaker Kamel al-Asaad and prime minister Saeb Salam, Frangieh the grandson says: “The center was real. He was really in the center. He was solid in his positions. He was a centrist and did not waver. There is a big difference between centrism and wavering. The centrist in the one who stands in the middle, not someone who is one day black and another white. Lebanon cannot be ruled by someone sitting in the middle without a project. This is not normal.”

About chances for postponing the elections, Frangieh says that “postponement is possible depending on the situation we will be in: elections or what? If elections happen, what will be the outcome? Only then can we compare between postponement and elections, not now. I cannot accept it when someone says that elections will happen even during war. This is worse.”

“I did not hear anyone threatening to postpone the elections, but sometimes I hear voices saying that the other side thinks that those elections will fix Lebanon’s identity, for the first time in history, whether March 14 or 8 wins.

“They say it is the most dangerous elections in the history of Lebanon since 1970 and that Hezbollah will prevent it from happening. This not true. The conflict is regional: Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Elections will not be allowed in Lebanon if they do not like the results. They say it is Syria and Iran. It is part of the regional struggle.

“There is another side they do not want to see, which is Saudi and Qatar. They speak about weapons, but they do not mention the money which is more dangerous than weapons. The war waged by al-Qaeda and the outside against Syria is through money and not weapons. It is the main component in the war against Syria. All the escalation and tensions are due to money, and not the weapons, which are not used inside. Resistance weapons are under control but the weapons bought with money are the ones that cannot be controlled.”

Is he watching Syria, like March 14 before the elections?

“Everyone here is betting on what will happen in Syria. Our adversaries are betting that the regime will fall and we are betting that it will remain. The difference will be that Syria will remain secular in our case, but their bet is based on two cards: the West and sectarianism. They bet on the fall of Syria to get rid of that sect and rule Syria through another sect that can expand their influence in the region.

“When [Salafi leader] Ahmad al-Assir appeared, everyone disowned him. Yesterday, they raced to his support. Two years ago, they said that Syria was behind him. But when he went to Faraya [ski resort], they scrambled to defend him. His trip to Faraya was an intimidation. He announced it days earlier to induce a reaction and intimidate a Lebanese side. His visit was no longer spontaneous and normal and it took political dimensions, which he fabricated due to a political issue.

“Those who defended the right of Assir to go to Faraya, like the Lebanese Forces – while we believe it is his right – should not forget that they spent more than ten years warning of the chador and how it will change the image of Lebanon and the fate of its Christians. Today, the LF is telling the Christians that Assir is alright, warning instead of the Shia.”

Frangieh cannot find a justification for President Michel Suleiman’s rejection of the Orthodox proposal, but “France and Qatar rejected it, so he was against it,” he says. “The issue is simple. There is a regional war between two projects. If Syria wins, the Resistance will win in Lebanon and so will our project. If it loses, we lose and the Future Movement and others will win.”

“The president is a March 14 Trojan horse. This is now clear. The president was appointed with French, Qatari, and Syrian support. When Syria became weak, he revealed another side. He will not allow our side to win the elections. When a president wants to avoid his duties, he says he is the president of all of Lebanon, not just the council of ministers, the government, or the republic.

“Technically, all of them are the president of Lebanon, but they are actually and politically the leaders of their sect. The President cannot be outside or against Christian consensus. If he was not Maronite or if a Maronite consensus was not reached, he would not have been elected. If 51 percent of the Sunnis were against the proposal, would he have supported the other 49 percent? Same goes for the Shia.

“The President supports the other political project, not just another electoral law. That was before his trip to Russia. Let’s see what happens there. Maybe they will tell him that Assad will remain and he will change his mind like he did before.”


On the Situation in Syria

“Syria is getting more comfortable every day and will be at the heart of the deal. The question is in what condition Syria will be in after the crisis. This is related to the position of the Assad regime.

“I do not know what the deal will be, but it will be on Syria’s image. The current international balance is in the regime’s favor, not its enemies. The regime is strong. The army is strong and unified. All attempts to make it collapse and split have failed for the past three years. Time is on the regime’s side.

“Of course, this will have repercussions of the whole region. If Syria is cleaned, then it means some lose and some cannot return. The available data on Syrian refugees and fugitives in our territories is not reassuring. What if they do not return to Syria? Who are those who will remain? How many of them can we handle? We could not handle the Shaker al-Absi group [Fatah al-Islam] and they destroyed the country. What about these people? Syria is now a playground for extremists from around the world who claim they are jihadists. One day, they might be in Lebanon.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

“Syria is getting more comfortable every day and will be at the heart of the deal. The question is in what condition Syria will be in after the crisis. This is related to the position of the Assad regime."

Yeah, like five-star, "Generaaal" Michel Aoun, repeatedly said "khilsit"(it's over)! Strange, these mumana'sist preach pacifism for one side in the Syrian conflict.

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