Former Lebanon President Plans for Peace

David E. Stein

Former Lebanese President AMINE GEMAYEL discusses the importance of Middle Eastern partnerships. See story, page 8.

Former President of Lebanon Amine Gemayel emphasized the need for establishing partnerships in the Middle East at a Monday luncheon of nearly a hundred at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG).

The speech, which was followed by a brief question-and-answer period, proposed a new model for partnerships in the Middle East in the aftermath of the war in Iraq—one that “incorporates conflict resolution, dialogue and eventually reconciliation.”

Gemayel was introduced by KSG Dean Joseph S. Nye, who welcomed the former Harvard affiliate back to Cambridge for the event, sponsored by KSG’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

According to Gemayel, the U.S. faces great responsibilities and challenges with the fall of Baghdad, as it becomes “more than a superpower.”

“In effect, the U.S. is now itself a Middle Eastern power,” he said.

Gemayel did not directly comment on America’s legitimacy in entering the war, but focused instead on its present responsibilities resulting from the intervention and use of preemptive military tactics—and how best to proceed to avoid further violence.

“Preemption has been elevated to the level of official doctrine by the world’s only superpower,” he said.

The question people in the Middle East are asking regarding the nature and purpose of the U.S. intervention, Gemayel said, is, “Where will this dominance lead?”

Gemayel served as president of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988, six tumultuous years of political uncertainty which saw the seizure of West Beirut by Israeli forces and increasingly precarious national autonomy.

After his presidency, Gemayel joined Harvard’s Center for International Affairs for a year, serving as a fellow and lecturer.

Two of Gemayel’s most prominent objectives as president—reestablishing Lebanese national autonomy and unifying its diverse communities—were themes in the afternoon’s speech and remain important in his current political activity.

Gemayel stressed the need for including Arabs in the process of rebuilding Iraq, deploying a contingent of Arab peace keepers in the area and establishing a republican council to speak for the people before official elections.

Despite America’s political preeminence, he said, “the Arabs alone will decide whether the U.S. is successful.” He warned that pursuing an occupation in lieu of a partnership, as post-World War history has shown, would lead to violent resistance spurred by nationalism and religious fundamentalism.

But Gemayel remained optimistic of a positive American influence in the region, as “the U.S. enjoys a real opportunity to spur a new Middle East.”

Gemayel also stressed the utmost importance of addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in restoring stability in the region. In turning the focus of the speech to his native Lebanon, he called his country “the crossword of the Middle East,” and a potential bridge between troubled Middle Eastern countries. Its diverse, internal communities, he said, made it a positive example for establishing “harmony amidst diversity”

In order for Lebanon to create such a bridge, its sovereignty must be restored, as well as its territorial integrity and unique domestic system, he said.

In response to the question of whether democracies can flourish in an Islamic context, Gemayel said: “The answer is an emphatic ‘Yes.’”

He cited as proof against such skepticism the separation of mosque and state in Turkey, and trends towards democracy in Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco and especially Iran, where democratic reforms and a new generation of citizens reevaluating the role of religion in their lives are taking root.

In his concluding remarks, Gemayel reiterated the significance of the U.S influence in the region.

“The destiny of the U.S. and the destiny of the Middle East are inextricably linked,” he said.

During the question-and-answer session following the speech, Gemayel was asked what he believed to be America’s role in Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, in response to which he pointed to “a new trend toward democracy” in his country, and a new momentum based on free market principles.

Gemayel was also asked whether his speech was one he would feel comfortable delivering to an Arab audience. He said he stood firmly by all the points delineated in his speech, and intended to publish it in the Arab press the following day.

Members of the audience, in which the Lebanese community was well represented, said they were impressed with Gemayel and his speech, though they acknowledged the limitations imposed on the former president, by the venue and Gemayel’s high profile in Middle Eastern politics.

Salim Majhoulf, a student at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs who asked Gemayel about his stance towards Hezbollah, said he received an understandably “political response” that eschewed direct labeling of the group as a terrorist organization.

Majhoulf said he still found Gemayel’s staunch stance towards Syria more provocative than he expected.

Elias Sayegh, a student of law and political science, however, said the speech was “less provocative than [he] expected, probably because of the audience and the venue.”

“Everybody knows we need to build partnerships,” he said. “The question is how.”

—Staff writer Michelle Chun can be reached at chun2@fas.harvard.edu.