Monday, June 15, 2015

Exclusive interview with leader of the “Lebanese Forces”, Samir Geagea: “we are the West’s bastion against ISIS”

The same mountains that hundreds of years ago protected Lebanon’s Christian Maronites, leading them to build the modern state of Lebanon, today protect one of the main leaders of the country’s Christian community, Dr. Samir Geagea, leader of the “Lebanese Forces” political party and candidate for President of the Republic. Our appointment with Dr. Geagea, nicknamed “Hakim” (“the Wiseman” or “the “Doctor”) because of his degree in medicine, is at 15:30 at his residence and the party headquarters in Maarab. “Hello, everything okay?” Bernard, a member of Hakim’s press office, asks us. “We are 45 minutes ahead of schedule, we wanted to wait so as not to disturb,” we tell him, but he insists: “You are welcome, sit, we’re ready for you,” says Bernard, not betraying the historic and renowned hospitality of the Lebanese.

Maarab is a town located in the heart of Mount Lebanon, overlooking the Bay of Jounieh, north of Beirut. Once in Maarab you do not have to ask for directions. Welcoming us there is a large picture portraying a smiling Hakim next to his wife, Hon. Setrida Geagea, a member of the Lebanese Parliament. It is the sign that we are indeed at the Lebanese Forces party headquarters. It is here that Dr. Geagea escaped an assassination attempt in 2012.

Welcoming us to his residence is not the somewhat distorted image of Dr. Geagea found on Wikipedia, but rather a proud, bright-eyed man, who in 1994 chose remaining in his country over exile, knowing that he would be arrested after the ad hoc sentence called for by the Syrian regime, which he opposed and continues to oppose. Hakim was imprisoned on April 21, 1994 and spent 4,114 days in a miniscule cell inside the Defense Ministry. As he himself recalls, those days strengthened him rather than bending him physically and psychologically, rendering him an icon of resistance, faith and freedom in the eyes of his supporters. Never to forget those days, Dr. Geagea had the same cell where he was held prisoner recreated in his current residence. Once released on July 26, 2005, Hakim spent three months abroad for medical treatment, and returned to the Country of Cedars on October 25, his birthday. Conscious of the fact that war is a tragedy in which great errors are committed, and unlike other figures from the Lebanese Civil War, Hakim said in September 2008, ‘I fully apologize for all the mistakes that we committed when we were carrying out our national duties during past Civil War years. I ask God to forgive and so I ask the people whom we hurt in the past’.

The day Dr. Geagea agreed to welcome us – June 2 – is a historic day for Lebanon. An hour after our meeting, Hakim was to visit the “General”, as he is known in Lebanon, or General Michel Aoun, leader of the “Free Patriotic Movement” party, Geagea’s historic antagonist, and the second candidate for the Presidency of the Republic, a role, according to the Lebanese “National Pact”, which is to be held by a Maronite Christian. It is a historic visit, 20 years in the making, which could give new impetus to the role of Lebanon’s Christian community.

Dr. Geagea’s exclusive interview comes at a particularly sensitive time, not only for Lebanon, but for the entire Middle East. The Country of Cedars has been without a President of the Republic since May 25, 2014, reflecting the rift within Lebanon’s Christian community between Geagea supporters on one hand, and those of Aoun on the other. This cumbersome power vacuum negatively affects not only the country’s institutional sphere, but also its socio-economic scenario. Moreover, the threat of ISIS looms over Lebanon, despite the diligent monitoring of borders by the Lebanese army and national security apparatus to prevent infiltration. “The West is afraid of ISIS, we in Lebanon tell the organization: tfaddalou (or, make yourself comfortable), we are expecting you,” said several Lebanese citizens (Christians) who took part in the 1975-1990 civil war. These are statements made by men who during the civil war found themselves fighting Palestinian guerrillas and Arab mercenaries, who were at times more ruthless than ISIS jihadists, to defend the Christian villages that otherwise would not exist today. ISIS is a threat that Lebanese institutions are not underestimating, as confirmed by Dr. Geagea, as he invited us to sit in his personal office.

How do you assess the absence of a President of the Republic, and what are the consequences of this absence?
“The absence of a President of the Republic creates a void not only regarding the presidency itself, but also in the political life of the country. All government activities are paralyzed by this, and this institutional paralysis has several repercussions, both on the general situation in the country, as well as in economic matters. In this sense, the presidential vacuum is very serious and damaging, and our goal is to fill it as soon as possible.”

In addition to yourself, who are the other candidates for the Presidency of the Republic, and what support do they enjoy?

“General Aoun, despite not having officially announced his candidacy, is among the leading contenders. There are also other names on the table, but they have not been made official yet. Regarding domestic support, General Aoun enjoys more or less broad support from the March 8 Coalition [led by Hezbollah, Ed.], and I am supported by the March 14 Coalition.”

Read more here.