His Excellency Amine Gemayel, President of Lebanon (1982-1988)

Lebanon has always been a cultural and economic bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Due to its strategic geographic location, Lebanon has also been an intellectual center for socio-political ideas that have influenced the Middle East, through literature, education, and emigration. It is economically important to the region because it has served as a financial and trading center, while also providing an open and outward looking economic model. Unfortunately, in the power politics of the region, powerful neighbors have assigned Lebanon one of two roles, either a buffer state or a proxy. Gemayel suggested that Lebanon's "status as a buffer or proxy, can be transformed into an opportunity, namely as a threshold for regional stability." He explained that if Lebanon's political crisis could be resolved through diplomacy and negotiations, the successful outcome could serve as an example for conflict resolution in the wider Middle East.

The course to follow in order to achieve peace and stability in Lebanon would require internal dialogue among differing Lebanese factions and external diplomacy. Lebanon is a country of great religious and cultural diversity, where different groups have cooperated and coexisted for many years. Therefore, dialogue and understanding will be key, if Lebanon's diverse communities are to begin the path towards stabilization and reconciliation. He suggested that Lebanon is on the brink of political chaos, and foresees two different scenarios. The first, Lebanon will find peace and reconciliation through national dialogue. The second scenario would be characterized by instability and violence brought about by the forced resignation of the current democratically elected government.

He warned that the current political violence is an attempt by a minority to destabilize the country and "subvert the constitutional and legal reforms of Lebanon." He also suggested that the opposition forces enjoy political freedom bestowed by the democratic system. Instead of working to promote change using democratic mechanisms, they seek to cause instability through violence and disturbances. They are using the "weapon of political assassination... against members and supporters of the government." He concluded that their ultimate goal was to "block the establishment of a U.N. tribunal to investigate the assassinations of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and my son Pierre, and others."

The current situation, he noted, is being exacerbated by Hizbullah and its foreign supporters, including Syria and Iran. He pointed out that the Lebanese government is a representative and democratically elected body, and dissolution of the current government will only exacerbate the political situation. Gemayel suggested the first step to stabilizing the situation is for the parliament to elect a new president. The second step, would involve all Lebanese parties to come together to form a new government.

In the short run, according to Gemayel, the UN tribunal and investigations into the string of political assassinations must continue, and is essential to maintain Lebanon's internal and external security. "Without national security there is no sovereign state, and without physical security there is no democratic system." While in the long term, regional diplomacy is important in order to continue to work towards Arab-Israeli peace.

He concluded by reiterating that Lebanon had the potential to be the threshold for regional stability. "It is as a democracy – an Arab democracy – that Lebanon will make its greatest contribution."

During the Q & A session Gemayel discussed the importance of the UN tribunal and its impact on Lebanon. "The tribunal is the major tool to end the cycle of political assassination, which has had a great impact on the Lebanese democratic system," he said. He added that the establishment of a tribunal has the support of the majority in parliament and the Lebanese people; unfortunately the President of the Republic has succeeded in blocking this measure. For this reason, he noted that he had met with the American administration in order to discuss how to bypass the obstruction of the constitutional process necessary to establish the tribunal.

Regarding making Iran a legitimate major player in Lebanon, he said he had not heard of any initiative to increase Iranian involvement. He noted that the Lebanese goal was to restore Lebanese democracy, protect its sovereignty, and stop any kind of influence or infiltration.

Practical options for dealing with Hizbullah's integration into the Lebanese political system include diplomatic initiatives by the European Union which has close relationships with both Iran and Syria. However, the best options for integration are through the U.N. Security Council, which has played a leading role in Lebanon.

The constitutional extension to President Emile Lahoud presidential term has done irreparable damage to the institution of the president. He noted, that he was the last real president of Lebanon, because after 1982 the Lebanese political institutions were under Syrian control. "The Lebanese democracy has been on hold; currently we are trying to restore these institutions."

The final question was focused on the balance of power in the Middle East. Gemayel explained "we can't focus on the balance in its rigid meaning," it is very difficult to assess a balance of power in such a volatile region. He opined that what is necessary in the region is to find a solution for reconciliation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Drafted by Azucena Rodriguez,
Middle East Program