Interview of Rami Shamma with "El-Sharg" Iranian Newspaper
الثلاثاء 5 نيسان 2016
Lebanese political development in recent weeks have been a little strange. As you know, Samir Geagea supported the candidacy of Michel Aoun fo presidency. On the other side, Saad Hariri supported the candidacy of Suleiman Frangieh. What do you think the reason for the reasons for the decisions?
Let me start by saying that there is a deadlock in the presidential elections. Hizbullah is the entity responsible for this, where they and their allies are not securing the needed quorumin the Parliament to elect a president. Saad Hariri and Samir Geagea did these steps to try and break this deadlock, by giving their adversaries what one may call “an offer they cannot refuse”. The move from Hariri didn’t get the endorsement of Geagea and thus the nomination from Geagea to Aoun. At the same time, it is a different way of putting the ball in the court of Hizbullah and giving them both choices from March 8th coalition.
Recently, “National” Emirates newspaper claime that we should perceived March 14 coalition is a group just in a name. Don’t you think that March 14 coalition is in a weakness position, Now?
On the strategic level within March 14, they have made a waiver since they have limited the candidacy to two candidates from the 8th of March coalition. Tactically speaking, this put Hizbullah in a position where they need to choose from one of his allies. This move doesn’t rule out the main principles of March 14 and thus the objective need for this coalition to exist.
Tajaddod emphasized that continued political deadlockin Lebanon is good news for Hizbullah. Why do you think Hizbullah don’t like the end of crisis in the country? What is the interest of the group in crisis in your opinion?
The main priority for Hizbullah is the Syrian war and its deep involvement there. If a new president is elected and life is back to the public institutions, the situation will be similar to the mandate of the previous pesident, Michel Sleiman, where the new president might hold Hizbullah accountable for the involvement in the Syrian war. Hizbullah prefers to control the country and not directly govern it.
Do you think Hizbullah ready for cooperation with Geagea for Aoun Presidency? What do you think about Mr. Aoun opinion about the idea?
It cannot be ruled out absolutely that Hizbullah might agree with Geagea on this step. They might agree on it from a technical perspective, but Geagea has many differences with Hizbullah especially regarding the role of Hizbullah on a regional level and the possession of weapons.
Is Hariri able to coexist with a strong Christian president (Aoun) who now has the backing of his strongest Christian ally (Geagea)?)?
The objection of Hariri regarding the nomination of Aoun is because he thinks that Aoun is unpredictable. Aoun also won’t stop supporting the choices of Hizbullah thus he doesn’t resemble a mid-point between them. If we look at the whole picture, Franjieh looks perhaps more predictable and more transparent than Aoun but in depth he definitely has more commitment to the choices of Hizbullah.
What is Tajaddod approach between Geagea and Hariri conflict? Who is your favorite candidate for presidency?
We don’t think that any of the current two candidates are convenient options for the country, because they are both tied to Hizbullah and its agenda in Lebanon. They don’t have any platform/program that is considered reformist and credible. In our opinion, the ideal president should be close to the profile of founder of Tajaddod, late Nassib Lahoud, who ran for presidency in 2007. Realistically speaking, the current balance of power in the country doesn’t allow such an option. Thus in current circumstances, we support a neutral candidate who will have the approval of the two coalitions. It would be definitely a plus if he has a reformist platform. This is our vision in getting out of this deadlock.
In 2009, Walid Jumblatt showed more autonomy from march 14 bloc. He predicted that Mr. Hariri will be compromise with Assad because of Saudi Arabia pressure. Don’t you think today Hariri and Almustaqbal forced to compromise with Assad and his support Frangieh is a symbol of the compromise? Don’t you tthink Hariri concluded that the overthrow of Assad is unlikely?
The Syria we have known has changed forever. Assad will not be able to rule it as he used to in the past. If there will be any compromise, then it will be between Future Movement and allies with Hizbullah, not with Assad.
Some analyst said that recent presidency crisis showed the weakness of Christians in political arena of Lebanon. Evidences showed that political arena of Lebanon is a ground of shiitee led by Nasrullah and sunni led by Hariri conflict and competition. Where is Lebanon’s Christians in politics today? Can we say today political arena of Lebanon is in a polarized situation between shiites and sunnis?
It is true that there is a growing Sunni-Shiite polarization in the region and Lebanon is affected for sure, but this doesn’t mean that all Sunnis and all Shiites agree to this polarization, or even the Christians. For instance, there are three main currents within the Christian communities: one with Hizbullah, one with March 14 coalition, and there is a large group that is outside this polarization. The new agreement between Geagea and Aoun wasn’t only on the presidency, but there was a historical reconciliation between the two blocks, which by default takes them far from this acute Sunni-Shia polarization. This should be preserved since it brought positive impact on the country in general and the Christians in particular.
From Tajaddod perspective, what is the main problems of today’s Lebanon? Do you think the recent presidency crisis is only because of region powers involvement in internal issues of Lebanon or another factors are effective ? what are other effective factors?
The vacuum in the presidency is mainly because of the Iranian interference through Hizbullah in the Lebanese politics, and their decision in the time being is not to have any president. But this is not the only weakness of Lebanon. Other foreign countries have interests here, but currently they don’t interfere in the same blunt way Iran does. At internal level, the major flaw in the political system is confessionalism or sectarian politics. These intertwined factors are the major obstacle before modernity and socio-economic reforms in the country..
Don’t you think reform or change Lebanon constitution is a necessary issue? Don’t you think current distribution of power sharing between different sects should be revised or need to be change?
The Lebanese constitution goes back to 1926, which is the oldest in the region. It does allow for good governance and democracy, even though it allows the power sharing between the sects. However, it states that this is temporary and presents a mechanism to get out of this power sharing based on sectarianism. This consists of instituting a bicameral legislature: a council of representatives, which is elected democratically regardless of the sect or religion, and an upper chamber (senate) that represents all of Lebanon’s 18 sects where it is divided 50/50 between Muslims and Christian. This would ensure equal rights between citizens on one hand, and give enough guarantees for confessions and sects in the other. As a secular political party, we see that this is the only way out for Lebanon to become a stable democracy.
Tajaddod support modernity and secularism. However, we see more growth salafist groups in Lebanon. Hizbullah Shiite group has a religious identity and is popular among his supporters. Don’t you think modernity in Lebanon is weakening and don’t you think we have been see eroding secularism in Lebanon with rise of religious ideological groups? What is the main reason of the issue?
The growth of extremism is before the Sunni Shiite polarization and is present in all sects, even within Christians. We believe that the majority of the Lebanese deep inside are modern and even secular, and they want to live a country as citizens. Unfortunately, the voice of the extremist groups is much higher in the region. Where there will be a chance, moderates will voice its concern, like what happened in the civil movement last summer. It wasn’t actually only because of the waste crisis, but the tens of thousands of people who came together, wanted accountability, and a state for the citizens and not for the sects, extremist groups, or a civil war.
Last year, Walid Jumblatt said that the era of French colonialism in the middle east was better than today because the region did not experience fundamentalism. What is your opinion about the idea? What are the positive and negative aspects of French colonialism in Tajaddod opinion?
The French mandate is history. Now this is not the solution for the current situation nor it will be for the future. I think that Walid Jumblatt expressed this to show that the current politicians in the Middle East can be worse that the colonial powers. We have lots of examples on this: Bachar Al Assad in Syria, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Mouammar Al Qaddafi in Libya.
Do you think ISIS is a serious threat for Lebanon? Tajaddod is a political party against Hizbullah. However, Hizbullah are fighting in Syria against isis. Don’t you think the activities is good for national interest of Lebanon?
Tajaddod is not against Hizbullah all the way. We have some serious remarks regarding Hizbullah, and they can be summarized in four main ideas: possession of weapons outside the state institutions, having organic relations with a foreign power (Iran), involvement of Hizbullah in wars outside Lebanon, and its sectarian ideology. If Hizbullah takes out the first three, we don’t have a problem in having dialogue and discussions or even a democratic competition with this party. Nevertheless, as Tajaddod, we have constant contact with Hizbullah, especially with his representatives in the government and the parliament. As for ISIS, we consider that they are a pure terrorist group that that should be fought by all possible means.
What is Tajaddod opinion about Israel and Israeli – Palestinian conflicts? Don’t you think Israel is a enemy of Lebanon? Due to the weak lebanese army, Hizbullah is perceived as a force against Israel. Why do you crtics his role of resistance?
Tajaddod fully supports the cause and rights of the Palestinian people and considers that Israel is an aggressive entity not only against the Palestinian people but also against the Arab states. Lebanon has suffered from Israel a lot and the Lebanese people resisted Israel starting 1982 and kicked it out of Lebanon and liberated the land. This was not only made by Hizbullah, but by the Lebanese resistance, and the last one to contribute to it was Hizbullah. In 2000, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon, except a tiny strip disputed between Lebanon and Syria called the Shebaa Farms. From that time, Hizbullah should have integrated its military powers within the Lebanese army. In any case now, Hizbullah is not fighting Israel anymore, they are putting all their powers to support the dictatorial Syrian regime killing and fighting its own people. This is where we diverge with Hizbullah and not about how we perceive Israel.
Recently, some romurs published that Hassan Nasrullah travel to Iran for cancer treatment. Moreover, we see growth news about increasing casuality rates of Hizbullah forces in Syria. What do you think about the future of Hizbullah leadership situation? what will be effect of Syria crisis on the group in your opinion? After the Munich agreement we saw an increase success of Hizbollah in Syria (particularly in allepo). Don’t you think Hizbullah is in a better situation in Syria conflict, now?
I prefer not to comment on the first part of the question since I don’t have information about this. On the second part, we consider that Hizbullah is in a better position in Syria lately because of the Russian interference and that this interference has changed the elements of the Syrian war. We still believe that Hizbullah should withdraw from Syria and let the people in Syria decide about their future. We don’t want any Lebanese to go and fight in Syria or anywhere else.
Some people say the main reason of Hizbullah populatity among supporters is the social welfare and material helps of the groups for example build hospitals and schools. The people believed that march 14 and the members groups and parties are representatives of feudals and capitalists and they don’t attention to poors and low income. What do you think about the opinion?
This is partly true since it was done mainly by foreign money, provided by Iran. In the last years, Hizbullah has also benefited lately from the resources of the Lebanese governments, ministries and municipalities. This is not a sustainable model and these services ought to be provided by the state not by a political party, neither Hizbullah nor 14th of March or from any foreign entity or state like Iran. This is a right for the citizens of Iran, and the Iranian people should be the ones to benefit from the money that Iran spends.
What is your opinion about terrorists groups such as isis and Al-Nusrah groups? Don’t you think after Assad fall the groups can rise to power because of weakness and disagreements among opposition group (particularly between kurds and arabs parties). Don’t you think Assad fall would be a bad news for Lebanon in the condition? Don’t you think assad as a secular person is better for Christians and other minority groups in Syria than isalamists?
Assad and ISIS are two sides of the same coin. They nurture each other’s growth. Reports from the field have also stated that they coordinate and they cooperate. I need to stress on the idea that the Syrian people deserve a better alternative governing their country.
Tajaddod constantly say Hizbullah is a “Iranian agent”. What is your opinion if critics say that Tajaddod, Almustaqbal and othere groups of the coalition are American and Saudi Arabia agents? Don’t you think all of political groups in Lebanon have close relations with foreign powers and any Lebanese party can not claim independency?
Tajaddod never qualified Hizbullah as an “Iranian Agent”, though we firmly believe that there are strong organic ties between them. Hizbullah’s leadership admits officially that they are “soldiers of Vilayat Faqih”. Hizbullah’s public is part of the Lebanese people and their allegiance should not be split between Lebanon or any foreign country. In other words, do you think it is normal that part of Iran or an Iranian party declares that it is part of a foreign organization or state?
Is it likely that march 14 coalition falls in future? Do you think the coalition has any winning card for victory in political conflicts?
Tajaddod was among the very founders of the March 14 coalition in 2005. Officially we have left this coalition in 2009 because we have serious remarks on its performance. We don’t have any political or institutional tie with March 14 coalition though we still share many of the values and principles.
What do you think about probable Tehran – Riyadh improved relations on Lebanon political perspective ?do you have any hope to the issue?
To be realistic, it has to start with a change in Tehran foreign policy regarding the Arab countries. Tehran should get rid of the theory of exportation of the revolution which is against international law or good neighboring.
What do you think about democracy in Lebanon. Most of Lebanese politicians are old men. Don’t you think oligarchy of olds politicians and youths marginalized is a problem for Lebanon?
Yes it is. The Lebanese system is in deadlock as mentioned before. Once true democracy and free elections are applied the start should be in elections through a new law, with no interference from outside and having equal opportunities for everyone.
The recent riot on garbage crisis in Beirut was a evidence of government inefficiency. Why do you think protest? Do you the reason was weakness of civil society organizations or anther reason was effective?
The waste crisis since July 2015 has proven the inefficiency of the political class ruling the country. It is a dangerous indicator that there is no solution until now that is being adopted by the government. The main reason is the confessional system and the first step is to elect a new president and have the public institutions get back their efficiency in time.
About the new developments of the Saudi Arabia support: Tajaddod has recently posted its position regarding this issue on its website. More on this and other issues can be found on our website: www.tajaddod.org
* Rami Shamma served in the year 2010 as the Youth Minister for Education and Higher Education in the Youth Shadow Government. Rami is a member in the Democratic Renewal Movement (DRM – www.tajaddod.org) Executive Committee and he is the Youth Coordinator in Tajaddod Youth (www.tajaddod-youth.com). He holds a Masters Degree (MSc) in Computer and Communication Engineering.
** The original Persian text of the interview: http://www.sharghdaily.ir/Default.aspx?NPN_Id=977&pageno=9