Amine Gemayel

President of Lebanon 1982-1988

A Guiding Charter for Arab Democracy


Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Lebanese American University Beirut


Lebanese American University
Beirut, November 12, 2002

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the audience,
Good Afternoon.

Thank you very much for inviting me to address your meeting, and I look forward to responding to your questions.
People and organizations concerned with the Environment have continually urged us to "Think Globally and Act Locally."
This motto, if applied to politics, is particularly applicable to us in Lebanon who are trying to cope with the effect of global issues on their local political environment.
The present cross-current of hostilities and rivalries into Lebanon, as well as the threats of war in the Middle East - can be mainly tied to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, against the wishes of the Palestinian people and the Arab World in General.
The influx of around two hundred thousand of Palestinian refugees into Lebanon, lately militarily trained, and equipped as a resistant guerilla group, proved to be a seriously destabilizing force. Their presence on Lebanese soil allowed other countries and interests to intervene on their behalf to infiltrate them, thus threatening our national independence and the security of the Lebanese citizens.
The Suez Crisis of 1956 and the ill-fated union of Egypt and Syria in 1958 further disrupted Lebanon’s stability and social fabric.
And it was the unresolved issue of frustrated Palestinian refugees, their radicalization and the Lebanese government’s inability to control them, - because of strong foreign pressure, - which finally resulted in the outbreak of hostilities between the heavily armed PLO and the Lebanese army in 1975.
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As long as the situation in the Middle East will remain the same, these same hostilities, rivalries and threats of war will continue to have direct and problematic consequences for this tiny country, living as it does in the eye of the international political hurricane that envelops our region. More recently, issues such as globalization, the failing world economy, the prospect of an American-led invasion of Iraq, the continuous effort of the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon to “solve” the Palestinian problem by relentless measures to “Judaize” Jerusalem and the West Bank, and many other problems - all of which have their roots outside of Lebanon, - have had a very strong and direct impact on us here.
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That Lebanon exists at all today is in many ways a kind of political miracle; but more than that, reflects the relentless struggle of the Lebanese people to keep their country together. My friend, Samuel Huntington, in his now famous study “The Clash of Civilizations” has observed that, (I quote): “People who share ethnicity and language, but differ in religions, may slaughter each other, either as happened in Lebanon, or in the former Yugoslavia and the sub-continent.”
Recent events in the world after September 11th, 2001, do seem to lend credibility to Dr. Huntington’s predictions; but with regard to Lebanon, we are still trying and succeeding to reconcile the two great religious traditions of Christianity and Islam which Dr. Huntington believes to be inevitably in conflict.

It is true that at several moments in our history, - largely because of the Palestinian issue, - various religious groups have turned on each other: though in every instance there were external forces, which encouraged and even directly provoked and aided this internecine warfare.
What is equally true, however, is that a far more constant trend in Lebanon in the 20th century has been that of consensus:
The first constitution of 1926 was based on consensus, freely arrived at, between the principal religious groups that make up this country, and the National Pact of 1943, al-mithaq al-watani, reflected the cooperation that existed between the two largest communities at that time. And finally, in 1989, the Taëf Accords, which grew out of negotiations - begun during my presidency, - reflected the continuing commitment of the Lebanese to this idea, - this necessity, - of consensus.
And while I do not entirely agree with all aspects of the final agreement, it does fall within the traditional principles of consensus that mark our history, and has provided a certain security for the past thirteen years, which has allowed us to re-build on the long-established basis of mutual cooperation between the various religious communities.
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If one idea emerged as the dominating force behind the continuous struggle of the past twenty-five years it was that Lebanon is not divisible. Dismemberment is impossible; it is simply not feasible given the way in which the communities are intermixed geographically, economically and socially. Therefore it is, - I think, - safe to say that the vast majority of the Lebanese have concluded that they must continue to live together, and to do this, continued consensus is essential. It is never easy, and many times it seems to involve what I like to call “reconciling the irreconcilable”, but it must be done, and done continuously in response to ever-changing events if we are to survive.
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Hand in hand - with the basic principle of consensus - is the necessity of the Lebanese to accommodate each other’s religious diversity.
In addition to the 1943 national Pact, an example of this accommodation is the Family Status Law of 1958, which guaranteed the rights of every community to administer matters of personal relationships according to its own rules and traditions; while at the same time subscribing to the same civil legal structure which applies to everyone at every other level, other than the family.
And until the time is right to secularize family law, which many Lebanese believe in the long run to be the best path to follow, the current formula has served to lessen sectarian tensions, and could even be used as a model for other societies, like Iraq, for instance, with its multi-communal mix of Sunni and Shi’a Arabs, Sunni Kurds, and a much smaller, but vital Christian population.
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The fighting which destroyed much of this country between 1975 and 1990, resulted in the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens, and the collapse of Lebanon’s currency and economy. Nevertheless the will to survive was sufficiently strong that we are today still well on the way to rebuilding our country on the firm foundation of a common Lebanese national consciousness and the strong desire to preserve the Lebanese “raison d’être”; so that we will never again be used by others to their own ends, and will never allow anyone to use our own internal disputes as a means of disrupting our society.

We in Lebanon, therefore, are doing our part by “Acting Locally” to achieve harmonious relationships between the different communities that make up our country. But it is up to the great powers to “Think Globally” before taking actions that make our local acting difficult, even impossible. Samuel Huntington has also said that: “Avoidance of global war of civilizations depends on global leaders committed to maintaining the multi-confessional character of global politics.” We need leaders from those major powers who champion freedom and democracy, like the United States and the countries of the European Community, to realize the impact of Israeli occupation and persecution of the Palestinian people has on the region as a whole, and to exert genuine pressure on Ariel Sharon to recognize the Palestinian right to a genuine state with real boundaries and real independence. We need them to impress upon the Israelis that Jerusalem is a city that belongs to Christians and Muslims just as much as it belongs to Jews. Sharon’s deliberate provocations designed to force a further exodus of Palestinians from Jerusalem and the West Bank are totally unacceptable to the Lebanese, and I hope, to all peoples of the civilized world.
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We need global leaders who will recognize the importance of dealing with the problem of Iraq, through the established international mechanisms of the United Nations and improve the diplomatic measures, recently convened, to insure Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions. We need leaders who recognize the problems that Lebanon has had to confront with respect to its neighbors, who want to limit our sovereignty and impose an external hegemony.
There remains the continued presence of 30,000 Syrian soldiers in our country long after any need for them has passed, and in direct contradiction to the provisions of the Taëf Accords which calls for their withdrawal. And Mr. Sharon has threatened us with military force if we dare to pump water from our own Wazzani River to supply drinking water to villages in the South.

Syria has no legal pretext for remaining in Lebanon in light of the provisions of the Taëf Accords, and in the face of Israel’s withdrawal of its forces from South Lebanon in response to U.N. Resolution 425 after two decades of stalling. There have been no extraordinary crises in Lebanon over the past thirteen years that would call for Syria to remain; on the contrary the situation in Lebanon today is far more secure than it was in 1989 when the Taëf agreement called on them to leave and the Lebanese army and the interior security forces strongly strengthens. We need support not only from global leaders but also from international organizations on human rights, particularly from the European Union, with which Lebanon has a special relationship, to end the external hegemony, which violates the rights and freedoms to which all E. U. countries subscribe.
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But as a tiny country with no military force to threaten anyone, we continue to be subjected to this hegemony. Outside forces continue to find it easy to “divide and rule” when it comes to internal Lebanese political organizations and governmental policies. The closure of MTV, the charade of elections in al-Matn, the arrest of innocent men like Dr. Toufic al-Hindi and the journalist Habib Younés and many others, simply for expressing opposition to the government, all these are small details, symptoms of the real problem of an externally-imposed hegemony which must be solved. The most recent chapter in the al-Matn election saga in which a candidate who gained only two-percent of the vote was declared the winner, reflects a dangerous trend towards dictatorial measures on the part of the government, and has drawn opposition from all sides of the political spectrum. Such actions reveal a government, which feels free to act on purely political considerations with little or no respect for the constitution, for the law and for the political traditions. We cannot accept such illegal behavior. This is not Munich, and this is not 1938. Appeasement must not be an option. This is where “Thinking Globally” on the part of the great global powers can help us to do our part of “Acting Locally” in the most effective manner.
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The Lebanese have proven their capability to cooperate with one another and strengthen their national institutions and national consciousness.
Despite internal differences and economic problems the country continues to move forward as a socially cohesive unity.
We want to prove that Lebanon is the flaw in Dr. Huntington’s logic, to contradict his conclusion that multi-religious societies cannot prosper. But we can’t, and shouldn’t have to wait until other people’s problems are solved before we are allowed to regain our right to national sovereignty.
We need the great democracies of the world to speak out against this continued violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty for over twenty-five years. It is a contradiction for President Jacques Chirac to say, as he did at the recent francophonie conference in Beirut, that Lebanon must wait for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before regaining its real independence, while at the same time calling for a full-implementation of the Taëf Accords which should bring an end to continued occupation.

Everyone in this room knows that the Israeli government and Ariel Sharon do not want peace with a Palestinian state; they want all of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem to be part of “Eretz Israel”, and they will continue to use tensions on the Lebanese border, - and the vague threat of Hizbu’llah, - as a means of keeping the situation dangerous and unresolved. Israel will continue to find excuses to prolong an atmosphere of hostility, - indefinitely, - in order to prevent any resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians; a situation that some Arab countries may privately see as being to their own advantage as well.
Only the global powers can force the warring parties once and for all to accept the necessity of peace.

Here again, we in Lebanon need global action in support of justice for Palestine, and justice for the Lebanese people to control their own lives and govern their own country without outside interference. I am convinced that with regard to Lebanon, Dr. Huntington is wrong! but without responsible action from the global powers, we will find it increasingly difficult to continue to contradict him.

Thank you