Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea stressed that he would not renounce his presidential ambitions, but added that he would not oppose parliamentary elections taking place before a new president is elected.
Lebanese lawmakers have been unable to choose a successor to former president Michel Suleiman whose term in office ended on May 25. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for November, with many in Lebanon worried about how the elections can take place before a vital parliamentary election law can be passed and signed into law.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Geagea, who is the March 14 Alliance candidate for president, discussed the tense situation raging across the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria where Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters continue to make advances. He also spoke about the plight of the region’s Christians and warned ISIS against seeking to infiltrate Lebanon.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Let us start by talking about the political situation in Lebanon. Will there be parliamentary elections?
Samir Geagea: I personally think there will be elections. But we need to know what the majority of parliamentary blocs want to do.
Q: The situation seems to be heading towards extending the current term of parliament. Do you agree?
Stances are not clear yet. We are against extending the term of parliament. We support holding elections despite the absence of the President. I do not deny this represents a major constitutional dilemma.
Q: Lebanon has been without a president for a hundred days now. How long will this remain the case?
Frankly I do not see a quick end to the presidential dilemma so long as Michel Aoun insists that either he or no one will be the president. On the other hand, Aoun’s stance suits Hezbollah very much . . . For Hezbollah it is better not to have a president at all, particularly after their recent experience with Michel Suleiman. Therefore, I am not optimistic about a quick solution to the presidential crisis.
Q: Will you maintain your presidential candidacy?
Yes, of course.
Q: Are you willing to compromise?
Certainly, I am largely willing to discuss any possible solution to get Lebanon out of the presidential elections crisis, but only on the basis of reaching a solution.
Q: Let us now turn to the general situation in the Middle East. As a prominent Middle Eastern Christian, do you fear for the future of Christians in the region, particularly given the advance by ISIS in Iraq and Syria?
What is happening to Christians in the Middle East is . . . painful and serious. But we have to put it into its right and natural context, particularly as some people are trying to trade on this issue. What is happening to the region’s Christians comes within the framework of a massive conflict raging in the Middle East that is affecting all segments of society, whether Islamic or otherwise. The conflict has affected all sects and religions, including Christians. This point is important so that no one portrays the situation [in the Middle East] as being a war on Christians in particular. It is part of the framework of the events in the Middle East.
The most important thing is that all Arab governments should consider themselves concerned . . . both morally and materially to support [Christians] and return them to their land.
The counterattack carried out by the Kurdish forces in coordination with Iraqi forces and US Air Force is good and important. We hope the crisis will end soon so that the people of Nineveh return home from Kurdistan.
Q: Christians are the weakest link in the conflict taking place in the region. Iraqi Christians for example have suffered twice, now and after the 2003 US invasion of Baghdad. Would you agree?
In fact, they have suffered three times. There is a stage no one has talked about. It was during the 1990s when the West imposed sanctions on Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In that period the number of Christians [in Iraq] dwindled from 1.5 million to 1 million. In response to the Western onslaught on Iraq Saddam modified the national flag by including the phrase “Allahu Akbar” and he somehow turned into an Islamist. For example, Saddam banned the sale of alcohol across Iraq. The majority of Christians were making a living from trading in alcohol at the time. On the other hand, Saddam took a clear decision not to give Christians the chance to occupy any influential positions in the government. In that period, 300,000 to 40,000 Iraqi Christians migrated due to the restrictions and the lack of employment options.
Q: How do you explain the fact that Christians are often dealt with as if they are alien to the region? They are also treated as scapegoats at times of crisis. What is the reason behind all this?
In fact, this is an inaccurate description. If you compare the numbers of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Yazidis killed in Iraq, for example, with that of Christians, you will find that the percentage of deaths among Christians is less. One cannot imagine that Christians will be isolated from major events. But some actors, such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its sister groups directly target [Christians]. But we cannot generalize this description to all the events taking place. The current events are affecting all people, including Christians.
Q: How long can the Christians of the Middle East hold out under the current circumstances?
They should remain steadfast because they are not strangers but rather part and parcel of the land, particularly the Christians of Nineveh. They were not imported nor came to the land yesterday. Therefore, they must unite and adhere to their land.
Q: What do you think of the “alliance of minorities” theory being promoted in the region? Some argue that the minorities of the region should unite in order to be able to defend themselves against the impending threat.
Frankly I do not support this theory. Who are the minorities? The Syrian regime is considered a minority, for example. How can any rational Christian who believes in the minimum values of the Bible side with this regime? On the other hand, we as Christians . . . must ally ourselves with those in harmony with our beliefs.
Q: Some blame you for underestimating the threat of ISIS and other similar groups. How much do you fear ISIS?
I never for a moment underestimated the brutality and criminality of ISIS. On the contrary, I always regarded them as a group of criminals and still consider them to be [ideological] deviants. I cannot imagine any human being, regardless of their religion, killing a prisoner in front of a camera and in cold blood.
Based on their actions and ideology, I do not believe they will be able to endure or come up with something new. They exist because of the chaos in Syria and Iraq. But once a minimum degree of organization is realized, they cannot survive.
Q: What is the best way to deal with them?
They must be confronted without any leniency. Groups such as ISIS cannot be dealt with in any way other than all-out confrontation.
Q: What if ISIS sought to come to Lebanon?
Even if ISIS is present in Iraq, who says they can come to Lebanon? Or that they are even capable of this. Even if they were able to do so, Lebanon would be their graveyard.
This is an abridged version of an interview originally published in Arabic.