Tripoli, Asharq Al-Awsat- Lebanon’s Future movement deputy and MP Samir al-Jisr, speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat about the failed Salafi-Hezbollah Agreement, the circumstances that brought about the “document of understanding”.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Despite your denial, the Salafis who signed the “document of understanding” with Hezbollah still are stressing that they coordinated with you, and obtained the approval of the Future Trend. They present as evidence your statements to the media in which you said that you were not against accord. How do you explain this contradiction?
[Al-Jisr] No one objects to the contents of the documents, such as burying the sedition, or banning bloodshed. They came to visit me on the day before they signed the document, and told me that they fixed a date. I do not have any power over them, as I said in the statement I issued. I do not have the right to discuss their social or political movements. However, when I met them I warned them that this document might be exploited. I even asked them about the venue of signing. When they told me that it would be Al-Safir Hotel, I drew their attention to the symbolic nature of the place, and that such a step might split the ranks.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Salafis say that you were in agreement, but Deputy Ahmad Fatfat was the one who showed disapproval when they visited him, and that he protested because he was not consulted, and he knew about the issue of the document from the media. Consequently, there are inferences about the existence of wings and tendencies within the Future Trend?
[Al-Jisr] I have no information about their visit to Deputy Ahmad Fatfat; perhaps they did visit him. Perhaps Deputy Fatfat was more explicit than me, and his method of expression was stronger, and hence they thought that our stances were different. This might be what happened; however, there are no disagreements about the stances, and there are no divisions; we all in the Future Trend move in the same direction. Personally, even regarding the political stances, sometimes I have my own opinion, but ultimately I adhere to the decision of the bloc and the trend. One has either to adhere or to leave. With regard to the electoral law which was agreed in Doha, and which relies on the judicial divisions, I said that it would lead to tensions in the political address and it would consolidate sectarianism. This is what we see today; however, I adhere to the decision of my bloc.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon has said literally commenting on the “document of understanding:” “Any document of understanding among the Lebanese will lead to stability.” Does the Future Trend have any other viewpoint?
[Al-Jisr] The Saudi ambassador is a diplomat, he does not like to interfere in the Lebanese internal affairs, and Saudi Arabia always has pursued the stability of Lebanon, and the consolidation of reconciliation in it. In principle, we do not consider the document to be wrong if it is comprehensive; however, we have said that the bilateral agreements have had discouraging results and negative impact. Moreover, the Tripoli arena is pluralistic, and the attempt to break it into pieces and to deal with one part and not another is a method that provokes some people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the Future Trend waiting for in order to open a dialog with Hezbollah, especially as many of your allies do not deny the existence of dialog and open channels between them and Hezbollah?
[Al-Jisr] Sheikh Saad al-Hariri has said: My hand is extended to meet Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, but there are conditions and foundations for a dialog. Moreover, dialog cannot be established on the basis of being rejected by one side, and then separating some parts and taking them each on its own as if it is an attempt to fragment the other side, such as let us talk once with Deputy Ahmad Fatfat, and another time with Deputy Salim Diyab, and hence each case is taken separately and on its own.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Perhaps this has given the impression that you object to the dialog, while your allies are pursuing it alone?
[Al-Jisr] There are those who want to give such impression; they have an interest in this, and they are trying in various ways. They have their own methods in giving the impression that there is a political siege imposed by the Future Trend, or that the alliances between the Future Trend and the rest of the powers are being dismantled; however, I emphasize that our alliances are strong, are based on friendship and respect, and that neither we nor our allies have any interest in carrying our anything unilaterally. The recent experience has proved this. We have seen Sheikh Hassan al-Shahhal, after signing the document of understanding with Hezbollah, announcing its freezing; he said: If the Future Trend does not want it, we will freeze the understanding and we will not continue. This confirms that our relations with our allies are strong and close.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the Salafis who went to sign the agreement with Hezbollah perhaps have done so because of the fear of becoming scapegoats; they wanted to protect themselves?
[Al-Jisr] We do not accept that they would become a scapegoat, because they have not done anything to be punished for it. The ones who deserve to be blamed are those who portray the Salafi situation as an extremist case that pounces on the military situation in Tripoli. There is fear that there are people who are preparing for sedition so that Tripoli will be placed in confrontation with the state and the army on the pretext that the Salafis are controlling the city, despite the fact that the Salafis are against violence and against dissent from the state. However, there is a question: Those who have been portrayed in the media as extremists (Al-Jisr means by Hezbollah and some media organs) why did they applaud when the others signed with them? If the Salafis were extremists, why is all this applause? Anyway, it is a good step toward admitting that they are neither terrorists nor extremists.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are major apprehensions in Tripoli. There are those who talk about the city being infiltrated by international intelligence organizations, and there are others who talk about suicide-bombers arriving recently in Lebanon. What is your information about this issue?
[Al-Jisr] I warned against this situation three days ago at the Chamber of Deputies, and I said that sedition is being organized. However, now I am asking: Why Tripoli? The answer is that it has its weight in the electoral balance; Tripoli is the one that tipped the balance in establishing the majority. Today, there is fear that Tripoli’s weight again would tip the balance toward the majority, and that the minority would remain a minority. In order for this not to happen, there is a pursuit to create conflicts, and to incite people to lose faith in the policies and leaders. This is what is happening in Al-Tabbanah. The situation could be triggered to blow up here and there in order to portray Tripoli as Qandahar. This is in addition to a media campaign that portrays Tripoli as an open field for terrorism and extremism, which is wrong. You walk in the streets, all of us walk in the streets, but we do not see or feel that we are in Qandahar; the reality is the opposite of this. The Islamic societies are widespread across the entire Lebanese arena; why is the focus only on those in Tripoli? What we are witnessing is an introduction to pouncing on the city so that the majority would not remain a majority.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In a speech the day before yesterday you said that the other side spends “clean money” on militarized and non-militarized groups, but the other side is addressing the same accusation to you, and that the social aid you pay is used to buy weapons?
[Al-Jisr] On the contrary, the areas in which there are conflicts blame us, because the Future Trend abandoned the people and did not arm them. What we spend is aid given by Saad al-Hariri to help 750 families that have been displaced, and the Future Trend gives them complete social and health care. During all the painful events that stormed these regions, the wounded and the families have been compensated for their properties in all regions without discrimination or exceptions. There is nothing new in people blaming us; this goes back to more than a year when they felt that the sedition was imminent, and they said: Arm us so that we can defend ourselves; however, we said: There are two options, either the state or the militias, and we have chosen the state.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are complaints against the so-called Future Brigades [Tripoli Brigades]. What are these brigades? How have they been formed? What is their mission?
[Al-Jisr] We have not pursued the formation of the “Future Brigades.” These are supporters of the Future Trend who gathered during the siege of the Government Saray [Government residence in Beirut], and during the stage that witnessed severe political tension between the loyalists and the opposition. They do not necessarily belong to the Future Trend as much as they are supporters. Most of them are from popular areas, and they find it difficult to travel, but they found these gatherings and officers. Their image has been blown out of proportion. We do not give them weapons. They have helped the Future Trend in logistic operations during the organization of the demonstrations, and they supported the government stance during the siege of the Saray in Beirut.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are talking about attempts to exert pressure on the Future Trend, and even to put it under siege in order to weaken it before the elections. How are you going to confront these campaigns?
[Al-Jisr] Our plan is the state. No one will drag us into armed action. We are prepared to confront this through political action, and we also deal with the situation through politics.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you assess your relations with the Islamic tendencies, because you are classified as a secular tendency?
[Al-Jisr] We are neither a secular nor a religious tendency; we are a national tendency, and being national is big enough to encompass all. This does not contradict any religion. We are a religious collection that includes religious Muslims and religious Christians. Personally, I am religious, and I do not see any contradiction between my religious beliefs and national belonging.