Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Once Lebanon's most powerful political family, the Gemayel family finds itself on the sidelines of Lebanese politics. A bitterly fought by-election in the Christian heartland of Metn has ended in misery for former president and Phalange Party leader Amine Gemayel.
The seat was left vacant by Gemayel's son, Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated last November. The Phalange leader was counting on a sympathy vote from the Christian electorate to win on Sunday, but alas the locals had thought and voted otherwise.
The victor, Camille Khoury, of Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) officially won the contest by a narrow 418 votes. On election day, both camps had accused the other of fraud, which isn't quite uncommon in Lebanon. Whether the true result reflects how votes went on the day is another question, but we are certain that the Opposition has dealt a massive blow to the US-backed ruling coalition.
Gemayel, a key member of the ruling coalition, finds himself without a political voice. How the mighty have fallen. The repercussions will be felt throughout the country, as the chapter on one of Lebanon's infamous and powerful dynasties comes to an end. The Gemayel clan were there with the French from the get-go as the colonialists were carving out the new entity at the end of World War I. The French empowered the Gemayel family, bringing only a reign of war and destruction to the country.
Upon returning from a trip to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Pierre Gemayel (Amine's father - pictured left) was inspired by the discipline of the Nazis and formed his own fascist movement in Lebanon - the Phalange Party. Named after the Spanish dictator Franco's fascist party, the Phalangists - backed by the French and the US - remained Lebanon's most powerful political party until the onset of Lebanon's civil war in 1975.
Known as the "Kataeb" in Arabic, the party was the heavyweight in the country's influential Maronite Catholic community. Dominating Lebanon's Christian scene, the party entered the war on behalf of the Maronites. The movement began to fall apart after Pierre Gemayel's son, Bashir (pictured right), led the party to attack fellow Maronite clans in order to make the Gemayel house the undisputed leader in the Christian community. By this time, the Israelis had invaded in an alliance with Bashir Gemayel, a controversial relationship that has tainted the powerful family since. Bashir was assassinated as President-elect in 1982, and his younger brother, Amine, ascended to the helm in his stead.
Amine Gemayel appointed Michel Aoun as his prime minister during the latter stages of the 1980s. As the war came to a close, Amine Gemayel fled to France, and the Lebanese Government split. The former president was accused of robbing the treasury of its money before he departed, which consequently caused a massive devaluation in the Lebanese pound.
Michel Aoun joined Gemayel in France soon after, following his defeat to the Syrians in 1990. The relationship between the two remained strained during their 15 years of exile in France. Amine Gemayel's son, Pierre (named after his grandfather), carried on his father's politics in Lebanon during Syria's 15-year domination of Lebanese affairs. The civil war, however, severely weakened the Phalange Party and the Gemayel clan. Pierre Gemayel succeeded in becoming a parliamentarian in the 2005 elections following Syria's withdrawal. By then Amine had returned and resumed leadership of the Phalangists.
The Gemayel clan had opted to join the March 14 coalition in 2005 following the bitter estrangement between Michel Aoun's FPM and the pro-American grouping. In November of last year, Pierre Gemayel (pictured left) was assassinated.
The death of Amine's son had left a crucial seat vacant at a pivotal time. As the country is deadlocked between the Sunni-led government and the Shiite-led opposition, gaining Christian support was essential in order to tilt the balance. On the weekend, the former president and his prime minister found themselves on opposing sides. Gemayel, backed by the Americans, lost to Hizballah's ally in Aoun, and had lost the place of his family in the Christian community.
It signals an end of an era, and perhaps the beginning of a new chapter for Lebanon's Christians. After long domination by tribal-like clans, the Christians on Sunday loudly rejected the past and endorsed the future. When only 30 years ago the Gemayel clan was leading the Christians into ferocious battles with their Muslim compatriots, today the Christian community has embraced Michel Aoun's trust-building relationship with the Shi'ite Muslim community. The lessons of the war seem to have sunk in.
The age of mistrust, fear and sectarianism must come to an end for the country to prevail and stability to ensue. The Christians, based on the weekend's results, seem to agree. The Gemayel mafia-like rule of the Maronite community is over.
Gemayel racist tirade against Armenians unsurprising
Amine Gemayel's racist assault on Lebanon's large Armenian community shouldn't be a shock to anyone. After all, he is the leader of the almighty Maronite fascist movement, the Phalange Party.
The entire 71 year existence of this party has been based upon the hatred of others while basking in the delusion of "Maronite superiority". Despite the Armenians having been settled in Lebanon since the Ottoman genocide of the Armenian people in World War I, Gemayel still insisted on the weekend that these people were "intruders upon Lebanon's realities" and "ghetto dwellers".
Of course, racism and sectarianism is an offshoot of deep anger. Yes, on the weekend, Amine Gemayel was a very angry man as he confronted his imminent defeat. Lunacy tends to be a symptom of fascism, so when the former president launched his racist tirade, laughter was the only response.
Gemayel would have good reason to be upset with the Armenian community. The ethnic group is largely concentrated in the Metn region (scene of the by-election), and its leading party, the Tashnag, is a loyal ally of Michel Aoun's FPM and a participant in the Opposition led by Hizballah. The Armenians, as expected, voted en masse on Sunday for the FPM candidate Camille Khoury against our angry fascist, Amine Gemayel.
Whilst he reserved his greatest attack for the Armenians, Gemayel also swung a few punches at the Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities, attempting to highlight the inferiority of such Christians to the 'far superior' Maronite Catholics.
After 71 years of Gemayel dynastic fascism, the Lebanese have grown accustomed to the racism and sectarian remarks of the Phalangist leaders. Hopefully their monumental defeat on Sunday will bring a long-awaited soothing silence to our ears.
Posted by Antoun at 8:18 PM