Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Lebanon, the Ancestors and the Grandchildren 

The politician said: “I can feel the pain, so as not to call it humiliation. A country mired in poverty and anarchy, where emigration steals its best young men, is awaiting the return of Macron’s envoy in September in the hope that he will succeed in persuading the political forces to elect a president for this fragmented republic.”

“Unfortunately, we did not learn from the war and the river of blood that flowed for so long. We did not draw a lesson when poverty attacked us and hunger knocked on the doors. The Lebanese are behaving as if they hate each other and are worried over their color and their share of the debris.”

“What’s more painful is that the divide between the grandchildren far exceeds that which existed between the grandparents. There is no comprehensive national administration. Unfortunately, the Lebanese always need an outside mediator. They actually need a guardian or guide. They prefer to abide by foreign wills rather than reaching internal concessions. This fact makes every settlement more like a truce or a temporary non-aggression agreement that is not suitable for building a state, institutions, stability and prosperity,” he added.

The politician’s words reminded me of an old concern I had years ago. In late February 2005, Beirut was seething with anger over the assassination of Rafik Hariri, who was more than a prime minister. The city witnessed a roar accusing the Syrian forces of the crime and demanding their withdrawal from Lebanon. At the time, reports said Arab and international parties had advised Syria to pull out its troops from the country.

I was in Beirut and journalistic curiosity overwhelmed me. I wanted to know what President Bashar al-Assad thinks, and how he acts under the weight of a crisis of this magnitude. I asked for an appointment and received an approval for a visit the details of which were not to be published.

I asked the Syrian president many questions. He was remarkably firm in his answers, repeatedly stressing that the Syrian apparatus had nothing to do with the Hariri assassination. I also concluded that Syria would pull out its troops to the international border with Lebanon if pressure and advice continued to mount.

On my way back from Damascus to Beirut, I stopped in the town of Chtoura for a cup of coffee. The Lebanese scene was tense: Hariri in the grave. Emile Lahoud in the palace. Walid Jumblatt leading the ranks of those enraged by the assassination. Hassan Nasrallah not willing to accept any change in the internal balance of power or in Lebanon’s regional position. Michel Aoun was in exile and Samir Geagea in prison.

Thinking about the end of the Syrian era was not simple. Over the decades, presidents, ministers, deputies and leaders were born on the Beirut-Damascus road, and the Syrian presence was the backbone of political and daily life in Lebanon.

My acquaintance of the players of different affiliations led me to worry that the vacuum resulting from the Syrian withdrawal would pave the way for new divisions among the Lebanese, who had grown addicted to working under an external guardian or guide. Unfortunately, this is what happened. The Lebanese were divided with or without the tutelage.

The politician’s words about ancestors and grandchildren made me think about the deep gap between the Lebanese and the loud voices calling for organizing the failure of coexistence since divorce is not possible. In fact, the ancestors did not succeed in establishing institutions that accommodate, correct and regulate living under the constitution and the law.

Sometimes I watch clips of Lebanon’s parliament sessions, and I see a number of grandchildren filling the seats of their parents and grandparents, now, amid more difficult and more terrible circumstances. Taymour Jumblatt is now replacing his grandfather Kamal and his father Walid. Today, he is entrusted with a long legacy of leadership, marked with the wounds of his grandfather’s assassination. He is a young man who dreams of being able, through peaceful means, to help in building a state out of the extensive Lebanese rubble. But the conditions he is facing are more difficult than the ones faced by his grandfather and his sect’s power has been diminished.

Sami Gemayel sits in parliament, where his grandfather Pierre, his father Amin and his brother Pierre once sat. He inherited the leadership of the Kataeb Party and the legacy of a family that gave birth to two presidents and two martyrs. He is a young man who did not participate in the war and does not want to return to it. He raises the slogans of sovereignty, institutions and integrity. His task is more difficult than that of his grandfather and father, because the weight of his party and his sect has diminished. The same can be said about his cousin, MP Nadim Bashir Gemayel, who succeeded his mother, Solange, and grandfather, Pierre.

Faisal Karami sits in parliament. His grandfather Abdel-Hamid, his father Omar, and his slain uncle, Rashid preceded him. He took over the legacy of a family that gave birth to three prime ministers. It is clear that Faisal’s task is more complex than that of his ancestors, as the country is fragmented and the developments have affected the power of both the leadership and the sect.

In the same parliament, Tony Franjieh replaces his father, Suleiman - currently a presidential candidate – his slain grandfather, Tony, and his great-grandfather, President Suleiman Franjieh. He inherited the legacy of a family that gave birth to a president of the republic. He is a modern young man, who dreams of a state of institutions. His task is more challenging than that of his predecessors in the family.

There is no room here to delve into the change that occurred in the representation of families among Sunnis and Maronites, as well as the tremendous transformation witnessed by the Shiite community, as a result of the birth of Hezbollah and the party’s seizure of the leading role in the sect.

The talk of ancestors and grandchildren is not limited to politicians, but also includes citizens. Grandparents coexisted and clashed. They fought battles and concluded truces. However, during those days, the Lebanese did not lose hope that the wounds would be healed. The state did not decompose the way it is today... The citizens’ bank deposits were not looted... The pillars of the Lebanese house were not completely uprooted, and the port, the university, the hospital and the role and message of Lebanon were not assassinated...

What’s important is that the era of the grandchildren does lead to the end of Lebanon and the acknowledgment of the failure to build a state and a homeland, or even to develop a formula for coexistence with minimal damage. The Lebanese are divided under tutelage and further separated once it ends.