Munir Barakat: Stories from Lebanon’s Communist Divide

The rebel “with nine lives,” a former member of the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP), survived seven assassination attempts. (Photo: Bilal Jawich)

By: Afif Diab

Published Friday, November 30, 2012

Is there a plot to divide Lebanon’s communists along sectarian lines? Munir Barakat, a top figure in the Lebanese left, ponders this and explains how he’s not a pawn of Walid Jumblatt.

The leader of the Lebanese Leftist Movement (LLM) Munir Barakat, nicknamed the Father of the Rebels, overcame an illness that almost killed him few years ago.

It was not his first brush with death.

The rebel “with nine lives,” a former member of the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP), survived seven assassination attempts. He fired the first bullets of the resistance front in Mount Lebanon in 1982 against the Israeli occupier under the command of then-secretary general of the LCP, George Hawi.

Barakat was expelled from the LCP in 2005 after being accused by Lebanese communists of being a pawn of MP Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader and head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), who allegedly used him to create turmoil and division inside the party.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the weakening of the communist party, many former leftists shifted alliances and the communist party’s political power was divided up among the other groups, many of them sectarian in nature.

Munir Barakat’s group went to Jumblatt, while the Democratic Left Movement (DLM) joined the Future Movement (FM). Other groups left the LCP and went to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hezbollah. Even Syria got its share of the party.

This led some of the Communist Party’s leadership to accuse Barakat and others of conspiring to divide up the party.

This plot to divide the LCP along sectarian lines is absolutely rejected by Barakat, who has accused some leaders in the party of inventing this idea themselves and spreading it in order to slander his movement and others who left the LCP to establish new leftist movements.

These splits happened “because of the failure to engage in democratic development inside the party and the domination of the party by hardliners who associated the LCP with political positions and sectarian alliances that do not reflect the real position of Lebanese communists, such as its current alliance with Hezbollah and the Syrian regime,” says Barakat.

“The struggle of the LCP, its resistance against the Israeli occupation, and the fight against the sectarian system in Lebanon are not the possession of today’s party leaders,” he adds. “They cannot therefore pawn these achievements for the benefit of this sectarian party or that corrupt regime.”

Barakat lives in the city of Aley in Mount Lebanon where he uses his house as LLM headquarters. “I sell the lands that I inherited from my parents to live,” he says, rejecting the charge that he is Jumblatt’s pawn. “I am not Munir Barakat Jumblatt as comrade Ziad Rahbani said on the radio station Sawt al-Shaab.”

“We split from the LCP for organizational, intellectual, and political reasons,” he explains. “Our oppositional movement inside the party predates 2005.”

He goes on to say that his differences with the party, which he joined as a young man fighting in South Lebanon in 1969, stem from his belief that “change from inside the party became impossible.”

He strongly denies that his rebellion was supported and instigated by Jumblatt to settle a score with the LCP, saying his relationship with the Druze leader goes back to their childhood days in Mukhtara.

Barakat insists that Jumblatt cares more than he does about the LCP.

“He instructed the comrades in the PSP not to support me and refused to have any contacts with me when we joined the Martyrs’ Square protest on 14 March 2005,” he says. “He also refused to give me an appointment so no one would say that he is instigating me.”

“The internal problems of the LCP are primarily the responsibility of the party itself – they are not Jumblatt’s responsibility,” Barakat continues.

He explains that in the 2005 parliamentary elections when Jumblatt found out that the LCP would support the FPM in Aley and Chouf, Barakat had dinner with Jumblatt and other PSP leaders in Aley.

“This was considered by the LCP a message from Jumblatt and coincided with our launching of the LLM,” Barakat says.

But Barakat insists that the LLM is not a Jumblatt faction.

“There are many issues that we agree on with comrade Walid and I privilege our agreements over our disagreements which led some to accuse us of working for him,” he says.

Barakat believes that Jumblatt’s reaction to the assassination of Lebanese intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan “was more reasonable than that of the FM and other March 14 forces.”

Barakat points out that “the March 14 forces mismanaged their battle. Only Jumblatt managed it well, aiming politically at the party accused of standing behind the assassination [the Syrian regime] while appeasing the internal party [Hezbollah] and managing his differences with them.”

He notes that the March 14 forces “want to fight on all fronts, which threatens civil peace in the country, whereas comrade Walid wants to protect the country and refuses to engage in futile internal wars.”

Barakat went on to criticize what he sees as the March 14 forces’ political short-sightedness, especially their “betrayal” of “the principles of the Cedar Revolution” which caused them to “miss many opportunities.”

“We refused from the beginning to be in the March 14 general secretariat,” Barakat explains. “They think that comrade Elias Atallah represents the left and do not want to recognize anyone else.”

According to Barakat, these forces “tamed” themselves to fit into the general secretariat. which “failed to live up to the promise of the March 14 revolution.”

He notes that there are “many differences” between the LLM and the March 14 forces “who backed away from the project of building the Lebanese state.”

“The only way March 14 forces can experience a comeback today is if they return to the project of building the state,” he adds.

Barakat denies that his critique is related to the fact that the LLM did not receive financial support from the FM, insisting that “we are under a financial siege.”

“We work within our means, rely on members’ fees, and do not need financial support from anyone,” he insists.

He also denies receiving money from Jumblatt “who supported me only in the elections of the Druze Spiritual Council in Chouf.”

“[Our movement] is stronger than what people think and has hundreds of members all over Lebanon from all religions and sects,” he says. “It is here to stay, it contributes to democratic change in Lebanon, fighting sectarianism and building a modern state.”

While he admits LLM’s base support is strongest in south Mount Lebanon, Barakat says: “We are a group of elites with mass appeal and we do not have card parties.”

He also rejects comparisons between the LLM and other, similar movements.

“We are more prominent. Any ceremony we hold is attended by thousands,” he emphasizes.

Barakat insists that his “is not a Druze movement.” The political environment in which the LLM exists “is characterized by a diverse political and sectarian spectrum,” but “because we are in south Mount Lebanon, our members are more likely to be from the Druze, Sunni, and Christian communities.”

Barakat admits that some of his comrades split from his movement and joined the FM or withdrew from political life altogether. Nevertheless, he concludes: “Our situation is good and our numbers are increasing.”

He added, however, that he will not run in the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2013 “unless I am part of a list supported by Jumblatt.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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