Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gemayyel family squabbles. There is no question that the Gemayyel family has played a very important role in the contemporary history of Lebanon--a lousy role, but a role nevertheless. I even acknowledged yesterday that the family has made the greatest contribution to the formation of Lebanese fascist ideology and practice. The great grandfather, Amin Gemayyel (the grandfather of Amin Gemayyel, the former president) was a peaceful man though (although most people don't know who he is and he was not known and wrote Arabic well) who founded an early conservation club in Lebanon. And then...Pierre Gemayyel went to Berlin. This highly uneducated and ill-mannered man was inspired by his own account by the Nazi movement. He felt that Lebanon needed something similar. He returned to Lebanon and founded the Phalanges Party, as a sectarian Maronite party, with the motto "God, Homeland, and Family (the Gemayyel family?)". Pierre was a pharmacist who lacked language skills and spoke Arabic like a foreigner. He was always mocked for his use of Arabic although the Phalanges Party had commanding orators (Ilyas Rababi (the key contact person with Israel since at least the 1950s), Joseph Al-Hashim, Edumund Rizq, George Sa`adah, etc). Gemayyel strongly supported the French colonization of Lebanon, although he turned against the French in the last week of the Mandate in order to save a place for himself in the future "independent" Lebanon. I met Pierre Gemayyel at my father's office as a child and shook his hand--I was too young to know better. My father knew Pierre well, and became friends with Amin when my father met him in 1970 when Amin won a seat (in a by-election) that was vacated by the death of his uncle, Maurice Gemayyel. When the war broke out in 1975, Amin hand wrote three lessez-passez forms for me and my brothers to let us move freely in East Beirut, at a time when people were being killed on the basis of their identity cards--Phalanges militia men killed Muslims at random. I never used that permit as I did not visit East Beirut--except once under circumstances that I will not discuss here. And in 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon and after our neighborhood was bombed by indiscriminate Israeli bombing, Amin invited my father and the family to stay at the (luxurious) Bustan Hotel East of Beirut in areas under Phalanges and Israeli control. My sister and I declined, and we relocated to the village of Qulaylah south east of Tyre, while the rest of the family settled in Al-Bustan. My sister went once and visited the family in East Beirut. I could not get myself to step foot in those areas. And when I was writing my dissertation, and Amin was president, my father arranged for me to interview him for research purposes. My father insisted on coming along just in case I get out of hand, I felt. I still have a picture somewhere that the presidential photographer took with me, my father, and Amin--but I misplaced it. I remember that I had the look of somebody sitting in a dentist's chair. When I expressed my views about Gemayyel's administration, he was most restrained because the presence of my father made it into a "family" visit of sorts. That was not how I viewed it. At some point, my father would look at me with polite requests to "cool it." Gemayyel at one point said that I was "influenced by Western propaganda against his government." He specifically mentioned the US press knowing that I was studying in the US. I most remember how he spoke about Walid Jumblat during that meeting. He specifically told me that Walid Jumblat does "not amount to dust on my shoes." He used that expression which is familiar to those who speak Arabic. The relation between Amin and Bashir was most strained during the war years. There were tremendous competition and rivalry between the two. Read the account of the Phalanges killer, Joseph Sa`adah, to realize the extent to which the two brothers had rival camps. I remember that once my father called Pierre (the father of Amin and Bashir) to ask him for some thing from Bashir (Bashir's people had kidnapped some people from South Lebanon at the time, and their relatives asked my father for help) (my father later met Bashir when he became a candidate for the presidency). I remember Pierre told my father that "Bashir does not listen to me." Now the new generation of Gemayyels also face a new level of rivalries. Pierre has one surviving brother, Sami. Sami was not pleased with the prominence of Pierre, and he was clearly emulating the path of his uncle, Bashir. He played the out-of-control role. He wanted to sound as the militant and uncompromising one. In a recent account in a column by the well-informed Jan `Aziz in Al-Akhbar, Sami was seen slamming the door at his father's house, and storming out with his back pack. It was at the time when Sami resigned from the Phalanges party and started his own group, Our Lebanon (Lubnanuna). How comical it sounded. It was a reminder of the famous comment by Marx who was quoting Hegel about history repeating itself first as a tragedy and then as farce (Marx quotes Hegel (although nobody has ever been able to find the quotation in any of Hegel's writings--and I even looked one time and the closest you will find is this in his Philosophy of History: "A coup d'état is sanctioned as it were in the opinion of the people if it is repeated. Thus, Napoleon was defeated twice and twice the Bourbons were driven out. Through repetition, what at the beginning seemed to be merely accidental and possible, becomes real and established.") in his book the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon that "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."). Sami officially launched his Our Lebanon movement a few weeks ago, and declared himself independent of the March 14th Movement. He also made it clear that he (and all 30 of his followers) supports federalism for Lebanon. But the Sami and Pierre rivalry is not all among the new generation of Gemayyels. Solange Gemayyel (widow of Bashir) has not been happy watching Amin's sons totally marginalizing her own son, Nadim, who has not been able to chart a political space for himself. He has been taking some young people for training in the mountain, but has not been able to attract a following. He also does not handle the media well. Finally, some questions. The area where the assassination took place is very close to the Judaydah headquarters of the Phalanges Party where members have been receiving training every weekend for the last year. Also, why did Pierre keep an AK-47 and an M-16 in his trunk? Thirdly, Samir Ja`ja` spoke of assassinations last week. What was he referring to? Just asking. But the involvement of the Syrian regime can't be ruled out although I am busy finding "the truh" behind those who supported the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and those who covered up the massacre of Bayt Hanun.