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    Should We Worry about Sami Gemayel?

    It’s the kind of person that Amine Gemayel is that he had two sons, one who channeled his father, the other channeling his brother. In other words, one son, the regretted Pierre, sensitive to the rules of coexistence with Muslims, as was his namesake Pierre Gemayel; and the other son, Sami, who seems impatient with those rules, like his uncle Bashir, his priority above all being the Christians, their unity and power, who has allocated only an anteroom for Muslims in his impetuous reflections.

    Sami Gemayel often appears to prefer his Christian adversaries to his non-Christian allies. No sooner had he won a seat in the Metn, than he congratulated the Armenian supporters of the Tashnag Party for their exemplary unity – a unity all Christians would do well to learn from, he added. Last week, Gemayel drove north to meet with Sleiman Franjieh, the Marada leader, another step in bringing the Christians, and the Maronites in particular, closer together. All this, it seems, is a way of ensuring that “no one steps on the Christians anymore,” as Gemayel fervently declared in a hometown rally after his election victory.

    I admit to having voted for Gemayel, but without conviction, primarily to guarantee that Michel Aoun’s candidates would lose. However, the joke was on us. In essence Gemayel is little different than Aoun and his followers. All embody the return to a rural Maronite insularism very different than the composite ideology that made modern Lebanon – an ideology of the mountain and of the city, to paraphrase the late historian Albert Hourani. As Hourani explained, modern Lebanon is the fruit of tough, independent rural insularism, mainly associated with the mountain communities, softened by the openness of the urban communities. These characteristics have endured, so that even during the civil war this valuable amalgam was never really threatened.

    Much has changed. An alarming number of Maronites today appear to have lost any sense of the collective nature of the Lebanese state. The Aounists, Sami Gemayel, Nadim Gemayel, even Sleiman Franjieh, have shown an inability to come to grips with the sectarian contract of 1943, the National Pact, and its successor, the Taif Accord. Taif is the real culprit to them, documentary proof of Christian decline – a decline they have all received with bitterness, even if their responses have differed.

    For the Aounists, Taif handed Maronite power to the Sunnis, hence their effort to reverse this by allying themselves with another rural community, the Shiites, to regain what was lost. For people like Sami Gemayel, the solution lies in greater Christian unanimity against the outside, which when you peel away the layers is really just a strategy bound to enhance Christian isolation. For Franjieh and not a few Aounists, the way out is through an alliance of minorities, with the Alawites in Syria and the Shiites in Lebanon, against the Sunni majority in the Middle East. Each of these notions is foolish in itself, an avenue toward communal suicide, and all have one thing in common: antagonism toward the Sunni community.

    There is no small amount of historical irony, and hypocrisy, here. For decades the Maronites took pride in saying that they were the true defenders of “Lebanon first.” Now that the Sunnis have adopted the slogan as their own, too many Maronites have reacted as if this were a threat to the Lebanese entity because Sunnis are extensions of an Arab majority. Ultimately, the message this sends is that the Maronites only defended a “Lebanon first” option when the Lebanon in question was one they dominated. Now that the community feels it is losing ground, the preference is for Christians to envelope themselves in a tight defensive shell.

    When Sami Gemayel speaks about the Christians “being stepped upon,” what does he mean? This is the language of demagoguery, and in some respects of war. Who has stepped on the Christians? Judging by Gemayel’s actions and statements, the simple answer is “the Muslims” whoever that may be. Yet being stepped upon is a very different concept than accepting the reality of Christian numerical regression. It is very different than grasping that Taif, the hated Taif, hands Christians representation well beyond their real numbers. When one feels stepped upon, the world looks like the bottom of a shoe, and it becomes very difficult to follow a sensible path away from one’s resentments.

    Sami Gemayel may seem easy to dismiss, but one should be careful. He is a true believer and has adopted the mindset of Bashir Gemayel, which may bring on powerful approval if Christian frustrations rise further. There are differences: Bashir saw the finality of his actions in the context of the Lebanese state; Sami is alienated from the state. However, both see strength in unity, a concept that some of us regard with trepidation. Unity can be shorthand for imposed uniformity, and such an aspiration sidesteps that the wealth of the Christians lies in their pluralism. True believers are infused with hubris; they dislike variety, dissent, and feel they have a superior sense of what is best for their followers. They are also hardnosed about things, believing that their higher goals justify difficult compromises. That is why Sami Gemayel was able to meet with Sleiman Franjieh, the ally of his own brother’s assassins.

    Where are the Muslims in all this? The only antidote against Christian irrelevance is to develop a new relationship with Muslims, all Muslims, to define together a more consensual Lebanese polity. For that to happen, Christians must indeed unite around a common reading of their role in Lebanon, one that is positive, that advocates neither isolation nor perennial aversion toward their non-Christian partners. Such negative reflexes may seem to be a consequence of Christian reaffirmation; in fact, they only confirm Christian marginalization. Resentment, bitterness, isolation, hostility, communal self-absorption are qualities of a community mired in mediocrity, with no sense of the constructive long-term impact it might have on its environment.

    It would be unfair to blame all this on a young Sami Gemayel. But in many ways he seems far more credible an embodiment of the Christians’ future than the opportunistic politicians around Michel Aoun. He believes and the Christians want to believe, which is why we should watch him closely.

    Michael YOUNG
    The Daily Star
    09.07.2009

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