Amine Gemayel

The WikiLebanon Files (Part III): Gemayel’s Comments On Sleiman (2009)

Gemayel and Sleiman

Gemayel and Sleiman

ANOTHER WIKILEAKS POST? AGAIN? (In case you missed it, I published around 40 WikiLeaks cables dating from the 70s and 80s in order to to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Lebanese Civil War.)

But hey, on the bright side, today’s cable is a short one, and I’m mainly publishing it because it mentions several negative comments that Gemayel said about Sleiman right after the parliamentary elections in 2009 (Look for the sentences in bold at the end).

The relevance of this cable right now comes from the fact that the two former presidents, Gemayel and Sleiman, have recently joined hands together and formed an alliance/rapprochement/agreement/gathering  (I have no idea what to call it) that apparently seeks to create a unified bloc for the small parties represented in the government (although deep down we all know that this rapprochement is in fact a reaction to the Aoun-Geagea dialogue and an epic-fail tentative of a “centrist presidential campaign”).

Hope you enjoy the cable.

LEBANON: GEMAYEL SAYS MARCH 14 MUST STAND FIRM AGAINST A BLOCKING THIRD
2009 June 11, 14:50 (Thursday)
09BEIRUT654_a
CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL
— Not Assigned —

(b) and (d).

SUMMARY

——-

1. (C) In a June 10 meeting with the Ambassador, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel stressed that March 14 must be strong in opposing a blocking third for the opposition in the new cabinet, even if government formation takes longer as a result. He worried that some of his March 14 allies would be more “docile” in their dialogue with Hizballah. Gemayel said he would seek clarification from Hizballah on where its allegiance lies, and what its definition of sovereignty is. He believed National Dialogue participants should be chosen based on the number of seats each bloc received in parliament, with special allowances for under-represented confessions. He predicted that Amal leader Nabih Berri would once again be Speaker of Parliament, but thought it would be good to circulate other names for the position, to put Berri on notice following his negative role in the previous parliament. He also expounded on how the election results heralded the return of the Kataeb Party to its historical place of importance. End summary.

NO BLOCKING THIRD; MUST BE CLEAR WITH HIZBALLAH

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2. (C) The Ambassador, accompanied by EconOff, called on Amine Gemayel at Kataeb Party headquarters in Beirut June 10. Losing Kataeb candidate (Keserwan) Sejean Qazzi and a Kataeb notetaker also attended the meeting. Gemayel expressed his pleasure that March 14 had won such a solid majority in the June 7 elections, but he emphasized that Hizballah was still present on the ground, with forces stronger than those of the Lebanese army. This situation would make government formation difficult and possibly long. Nonetheless, Gemayel believed it crucial that March 14 stand together against any opposition calls for a blocking third in the new cabinet. He pointed to the impasse that reigned in the previous cabinet, and said March 14 needed to create a government that can function effectively.

3. (C) Gemayel worried that some of his March 14 allies would tend toward being too “docile” in a dialogue with Hizballah, and he stressed it was important for March 14 not to compromise its principles. He felt March 14 decision-making would be more productive if it were run by a directorate of its party leaders, rather than through the intermediary of a March 14 secretariat. With the secretariat out of the way, said Gemayel, the leadership could determine a joint path to take in any dialogue with Hizballah. He was not certain March 14’s strong showing in the elections would tame March 14 Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s desire to engage more with Hizballah, but stressed that Kataeb would not compromise on the issue of the blocking third.

4, (C) Gemayel complained that in past discussions with Hizballah, March 14 leaders had danced around issues, using vague language that Hizballah could interpret in a variety of ways. It is imperative to be clear on what we stand for, he explained, and to ask for clarification from Hizballah on its definition of certain concepts, such as allegiance (“is Hizballah’s allegiance with Lebanon or with Iran?”) and sovereignty, ideas at the heart of national identity. Gemayel was emphatic that these issues should be ironed out before forming a government, even if the process takes longer. He suggested that if things dragged out longer than expected, perhaps the President could put in place an interim technocratic government, as Gemayel himself had done when he was president during the civil war.

NATIONAL DIALOGUE: WHO SHOULD PARTICIPATE?

BEIRUT 00000654 002 OF 002

———————–

5. (C) Gemayel believed participants in the National Dialogue following the elections should be chosen according to the criteria established by Speaker Nabih Berri in 2006. All blocs with four or more seats in parliament should send a representative, with the president appointing representatives of confessional groups not otherwise represented at the dialogue table. (Note: Gemayel participated in the current version of the dialogue with only two seats in parliament, because he is a former president. His suggestion that representatives should have at least 4 seats to participate would exclude opposition Christian Suleiman Frangieh, whose Marada party won 3 seats. End note.) He argued that March 14 Armenians, who won four seats in these elections, should send their own representative to the dialogue, replacing Tashnaq MP Hagop Pakradounian, whose party won only two seats. He believed Michel Pharaon, the re-elected Greek Catholic MP from Beirut I, should replace Elie Skaff, who lost his race in Zahle.

BERRI TO REMAIN

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6. (C) Gemayel said Berri enjoyed wide support for his candidacy to remain parliament speaker, and noted that both Hizballah and Jumblatt had expressed their intention to vote for him. He believed Saad Hariri would also have his bloc — the largest in parliament — vote for Berri. That said, Gemayel thought it a good idea to start floating names of other Shia as possible candidates, from March 14 Beirut III MP Ghazi Youssef or new Zahle MP Okab Sakr, to put Berri on notice that there were other options available. He assessed such as March 14 should call Berri to task for his behavior during the last parliament, when he shut down parliament operations for over a year, and set conditions for his re-election.

SLEIMAN STILL STRONG

——————–

7. (C) Gemayel disagreed with observers who believe former presidential advisor Nazem Khoury’s defeat in the parliamentary race in Jbeil weakened President Sleiman. He saw Khoury’s loss as a result of his lack of charisma, as well as his place “stuck between the two camps.” The President should not be blamed, believed Gemayel, because he remained neutral and did not intervene on Khoury’s behalf. (Comment: Some contacts have told us Sleiman made attempts to drum up for support for Khoury in the final days of campaigning through is army contacts in Jbeil, which may have backfired. Khoury’s victorious opponent from the opposition complained strongly to us about the President’s interference. End comment.) Gemayel added that Sleiman was never a true political figure in Jbeil, so the political loss should not hurt his stature. “He’s a military man, not a regional leader. He is just from there,” said Gemayel.

“KATAEB HAS TAKEN BACK ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE”

———————-

8. (C) Gemayel spoke at length on how his party’s winning five seats in the new parliament — after having two MPs in the previous parliament, both of whom were assassinated — placed Kataeb back at the center of Lebanese politics. He said his candidates had worked hard to win, and he believed that his young MPs (his son Sami Gemayel and his nephew Nadeem Gemayel) would bring youth to his party, which had a long history in Lebanese politics. “We have always been moderators in Lebanon, and protectors of Lebanese sovereignty,” he said.

SISON

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Ten Months Of Vacuum

Meet the members of The Consultative Gathering

Meet the members of The Consultative Gathering

Yeah. I know. Ten.

Before I begin, here’s a small recap of the ninth month of presidential vacancy: It started with Hezbollah launching an operation in the Shebaa farms. When Israel did not respond, Hezbollah was supposed to gain momentum on the Lebanese political scene. But Hariri launched an epic maneuver, and Hezbollah did not politically escalate. In the end, it was a tie.

The second half of February and March are more exciting. Way more exciting.

The Two Presidents’ Men

In the last half of February, PM Salam wanted to amend the cabinet’s voting mechanism after several cabinet members began exercising veto power, stalling several of the government’s projects. What happens next? 7 Lebanese ministers meet and decide to form a “consultative gathering”. The ministers are the ones who are loyal to Amine Gemayel and to Michel Sleiman. The rapprochement between the ministers was logical: They all either belong to one of the smallest Lebanese parties in parliament or represent a former president that no longer has any concrete power (not even one MP). The 7 MPs have two more things in common: In a time of presidential vacancy, (1) they all answer to two of the three former presidents that are still alive while (2) not belonging to any of the two main Christian Lebanese parties. Deep down, it’s not about the voting mechanism, as it is about two political groups marking their territory. The two presidents know that they have no power in parliament that would ensure their same important presence in the next Lebanese cabinet. And they also know that they have an enormous amount of prestige (as former presidents) and that the mainstream Muslim parties are annoyed by the LF, the FPM and the two parties’ rivalry preventing them from supporting Aoun, Geagea, or any other alternative than Aoun and Geagea. Again, this is not about the voting mechanism: This is an advertisement. They are showing the Muslim leadership that there is a possible alternative to the FPM/LF choice: A new “prestigious” presidential Christian alliance that is very weak on the ground (and thus that will not ask for too much power – even if it wanted to), and that could still be –  to some extent – representative of Lebanese Christians. The two presidents are asking for political relevance, and in exchange, they will be an asset to weaken the LF, the FPM, or a possible (yet highly unlikely) LF-FPM alliance. For example, if the FPM and the LF reject Kahwaji as consensual candidate, Hezbollah and the FM could count on this new gathering to support the presidential candidacy of Kahwaji. After all, who cares about the other politicians if the biggest party in parliament and the most armed one – along with two former presidents and the army – endorse you?

And the advertisement worked: One of the closest Christian ministers to the FM, Michel Pharaon (Boutros Harb is also a member), joined the new gathering led by Sleiman and Gemayel. Now of course, this rapprochement between the two presidents could eventually have no impact at all, but one should keep in mind right now that the mainstream Muslim parties would have more leverage with their Christian allies (the FPM and the LF).

Hariri also succeeded to undermine the power of PM Tammam Salam (hello there, rivalry) by indirectly encouraging discontent in the cabinet. It’s been a good month of the Future Movement, especially that a new March 14 “national council” likely to reinvigorate the Mustaqbal-led coalition has seen the light.

Approximately one year after the presidential race began, the Maronite Four might be welcoming a new member to their closed group, President Michel Sleiman. The Maronite Four could soon become the Maronite Five.

The Maronite Two

The Aounists and the Lebanese Forces are also about to reach an understanding. The process – whose unannounced intention was probably to slow down the Hezbollah-FM dialogue – has accelerated probably due to the Gemayel-Sleiman rapprochement. The progress in the LF-FPM dialogue could mean two things: (1) That the two main Christian parties are trying to keep the president’s seat to themselves. In other words, the document of understanding could say that only both politicians would be eligible to run for presidency and no one else. Proof? On the 15th of March, Michel Aoun told us once again that he would only agree to a strong president and not to a consensual accordWelcome back to 2014. But it could also mean that (2) no consensual candidate would become president unless the two Christian parties agree on him. This written paper, as useless as it might seem, should put an end to the Muslim parties’ maneuvering and make Aoun and Geagea panic less about the possibility that Hezbollah and Mustaqbal would go through with a consensual candidate of their own. But in the end we (and they) all know that at least one of the Christians leaders will eventually agree to his ally’s terms. But hey, as they say an Arabic, el mhemm el niyye. An FPM-LF document of understanding should hinder for some time any M8-M14 agreement on Kahwaji (or any other consensual candidate for that matter).

Meanwhile, Sleiman Frangieh, who is probably feeling abandoned by everyone (by “everyone” I mean the Gemayel- Sleiman and Aoun-Geagea talks), launched his own political maneuver and preemptively self-proclaimed himself March 8’s number-two presidential candidate after Aoun pulls out.

Quand le chat n’est pas là, les souris dansent

Right now everyone is acting as if there’s a president in office: Berri wants to call for a parliamentary session amid presidential vacuum (It’s arguably unconstitutional, but hey, who cares). Moreover, the Lebanese cabinet is acting as if it’s not a caretaker one anymore: It spent at least two weeks trying to figure out a decision-making mechanism while there’s no president in power, instead of actually pressuring the parliament to elect a president. Our minister of foreign affairs too forgot that he was a caretaker cabinet member, and decided – like Phileas Fogg – to embark on a journey around the world signing treaties in 10 Latin American countries. (Someone should tell him that signing historic treaties with Cuba is not a priority right now)

Because that’s what care-taking apparently means: Doing everything you can do before someone in charge (a president) comes and tells you that you can’t do it.

When Lebanese politicians suddenly become too greedy, it usually means two things: (1) The status quo is going to end really soon (notice the very high number of decrees that Lebanese cabinets pass in the weeks before leaving power), or (2) the status quo is going to stay for a lot of time, and everyone wants to make sure that their slice of the pizza is in the fridge ready to be eaten whenever they get hungry. Meanwhile, on the southern side of Mount Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt is trying to benefit as much as possible from the vacancy and finish his transition of power before a president who is likely to be from the Chouf tries to interfere from the Beiteddine palace.

But one thing is for sure. It’s no longer about a electing a consensual candidate now. It’s about who would look like the winner once the consensual candidate is chosen.

305 days since the 25th of May. 141 days since the 5th of November. 3 Million years till the next parliamentary elections. 

I don’t know if it matters anymore , but here’s the monthly reminder anyway: We still don’t have a president.

The Time For Moderation

1984...

1984…

For a country that took 11 months to get out of the deadlock, the events of the past few days are revealing. Sleiman Frangieh will not run for the presidential elections: It’s official. In his interview with Al-Mayadeen, the leader of the Marada party endorsed the candidacy of Michel Aoun. The FPM leader on the other hand was busy commending Saad Hariri’s speech “characterized with moderation“. On the other side of the political spectrum, Amine Gemayel was praising the Iranian policies in the regions, only days after Hariri promised the Patriarch that the presidential elections would be held on time.

M8 Unified

Although it might be hard to believe, Frangieh’s withdrawal makes sense. For M14, he is the most despised Christian leader out there. For Hezbollah and Amal, he is a minor Christian politician. For the FPM, he is a local ally that mustn’t get stronger under any circumstances, especially that he is more likely to answer to Damascus than to Rabieh in case something goes bad between the Syrian regime and its biggest Christian ally. Frangieh hence has no shot at all to become president in 2014: Even if he runs as the sole candidate backed by M8, his name can never become a consensual one, and M14 pressure on Jumblatt would eventually prevent the latter of voting for the Marada candidate. By running for office in 2014, Frangieh would have angered the FPM, lost the elections, and found himself isolated. Patience is a virtue. Out of the “Maronite four” (Gemayel, Geagea, Aoun and himself), Frangieh is by far the youngest, and the very fact that in 2020 Amine Gemayel would be 78, Michel Aoun 86 and Samir Geagea 67 makes him the perfect candidate for the elections. By then, he would have become M8’s number one, the Syrian crisis would have probably ended, and he’ll get to have  6 years to adapt to any new situation, make new alliances, or switch sides. In 2020, the odds can be in his favor. In 2014, they’re not.

Michel Aoun on the other hand understood the rules of the game (after years of experience). The president is practically always a consensual one, especially in times of crisis. Fouad Chehab was elected for refusing to engage the army in the conflict. Charles Helou was elected because he was one of Chehab’s closest men to the opposition. Sleiman Frangieh was elected for his pro-Nasserist history and his anti-Palestinian tendencies. Elias Sarkis was elected for staying neutral throughout the first year of the civil war. In Lebanese politics, if you don’t compromise, you lose it all: Raymond Edde stayed 50 years in the opposition and never made it to the presidential palace. And for the millionth time (see here, here, herehere and here), this is what Michel Aoun is trying to achieve. Even though he might never become a consensual candidate in the matter of a year’s effort, he can still become M8’s most moderate politician. And how do we know it works? Because his new moderate attitude made Frangieh withdraw for lack of support from M8 and M14, forced the different M8 factions to pamper him more (so he doesn’t defect) and eventually unified M8 behind him while turning him into a more acceptable candidate to M14. After spending most of 2012 and 2013 accusing Hariri of being an extremist politician supporting rogue Islamist militants, he describes Hariri in 2014 of being the voice of moderation. There is no such thing as a coincidence. Everyone hoping to succeed has to be a moderate ahead of the presidential elections. For Michel Aoun, being a moderate means that he’ll have to praise the Future Movement.

M14 Unified

When I say everyone, I include M14’s candidate. And while we’re at it, there will be one,  and only one candidate coming from the ranks of M14. Hariri reiterated in his meeting with the Patriarch on Friday that the March 14 coalition would field one presidential contender. Meanwhile in the Christian camp of M14, the Kataeb – now strong of their huge share in the cabinet – are preparing their comeback. Among the possible candidates for the presidency, there’s LF leader Samir Geagea (head of the biggest Christian M14 party) , popular independent MPs such as Boutros Hareb, and last but not least former president Amine Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb party.

M14 needs a candidate that is in full harmony with its policies while being at the same time acceptable by M8. Samir Geagea, while being the strongest Christian in M14, doesn’t fit the criteria. The majority of independent MPs , although enjoying some support and prestige from the parliament – Boutros Hareb has been in the parliament for the past 42 years – are also too violent for M8.

One has to see it from a very particular perspective. Aoun is popular, was a commander of the army and a former prime minister,  is seen as protector of Christian interests (due to his stances on the cabinet formation and the electoral law), has strong allies, is currently establishing ties with various parties – notably the Future Movement, and is fashioning himself as a moderate. If M14 wants a serious competitor, the first name coming to mind is Amine Gemayel. He leads Lebanon’s oldest and most prestigious Christian party, had the same stances regarding the electoral law and the cabinet, has good ties with most of the parties and is at the core of M14. Also who’s better to compete with Aoun than the president who appointed him as commander of the army and later prime minister?

The Kataeb are aware of their sudden power in the executive power and of the precious value of their leader: Amine Gemayel asked for the elections to be held on time, dismissed any other consensual candidate by requesting the parliament to elect a strong president (hinting at “the Maronite Four”), nominating himself to the presidency and finally starting to laud some of the M8 rivals, namely Iran. Like Michel Aoun, he is showing his moderate side. While rumors on the streets say that Hariri is likely going to endorse the leader of the Kataeb, Gemayel’s relation with Lebanon’s kingmaker Walid Jumblatt isn’t very good (due to civil war-related issues). Since Jumblatt isn’t a fan of Aoun either, we might probably see a third consensual name endorsed by the centrists. The press is circulating the names of Jean Obeid (who apparently also enjoys the support of Berri and Hariri) and the usual “two Maronites” : the commander of the army and the governor of the central bank.

2014 Is Not 2008 (Or Is It?)

Even if the elections are held on time, and even if the M8 and M14 alliances do not boycott the elections and everything goes according to the plan (no lack of quorum), there is still one problem: None of both alliances can secure 65 votes (absolute majority) to support its candidate. While it is more obvious by the day that M14 and M8 would be each supporting one candidate to the presidency, it remains unclear what side Walid Jumblatt and Mikati’s parliamentary blocs would back. If the Jumblatt-Mikati duo decides not to participate in the elections, neither M8 nor M14 will be able to secure the post for its candidate. Without Jumblatt and Mikati, M14 has around 58 MPs while M8 has a bit less than that (around 57).

The constitution stipulates that a 2/3 majority is necessary to elect a president in the first round, while an absolute majority would be needed for all the rounds after that. unlike 2007, when the presence of M8 and M14 in the parliament would have probably ended in an M14 candidate as a president (since they held the majority), the elections of 2014 are different. Even if everyone shows up, the elections would be like a play. The MPs will keep voting for the same candidates, and since no camp can secure 65 votes, the elections can go on forever. In other words, none of the two coalition will take it upon itself to boycott the parliamentary session and get treated with disregard from the public for “paralyzing the states’ institutions”. Because unlike 2008, there is no coalition holding the majority of votes in the parliament which means that the minority coalition doesn’t need to boycott and block quorum in order to prevent the majority of electing a president of its ranks.

While nothing is official or definite, we are approaching the elections with 2 candidates, Michel Aoun of M8 and Amine Gemayel of M14 that are – unlike 2007 – fighting to get the support of the rival camp by playing the moderate card, while the name of the third consensual candidate is soon to be determined.

Reminder: The government didn’t win the confidence vote yet.