This is a post that I wanted to do last week, when Bashir's Election as President of Lebanon's memorial was then.
If there was a figure in the history of Modern Lebanon to be classified as a controversial figure, that figure would definitely be Bashir Gemayel. Ever since I was a child I was surrounded by people talking for years and years on Bashir Gemayel. In my area a lot hated him, and few secretly supported him, and in another area vice versa. I was always fascinated by how such young person became and remained the core controversy within Lebanon’s history, and I always wondered about him. Practically, my primary investigations regarding the Civil War has rotated mainly on Bashir Gemayel in the attempt to unlock all that we don’t know, and reconstruct what happened behind the scenes. I want to make it clear, I am not a Bashir Gemayel fan, not at all, but such a figure, whose past always haunts us in the present and day-to-day talk still, deserves the attention. The issue is approaching the whole issue of Bashir Gemayel (and the Civil War as a matter of fact) in pure objectivity in the search of digging out what happened, despite our political affiliations. Now, this post is not about the overall history of Bashir Gemayel, rather simply his election and it will be useful to pin-point briefly the events of 1982:
1) The PLO were a political dominant faction with economic roots embodied within Lebanon, mainly in West Beirut, they already were beaten by the Syrians but remained a powerful force.
2) Ariel Sharon became the Minister of Defense, and with that, he had a two-fold plan: Eradicate the PLO – Install an Israeli government satellite system in Lebanon which would become the 2nd Arab Country to sign peace with Israel.
3) Bashir Gemayel already emerged from the Zahli conflicts in 1981 as the primary candidate for the US to become President after a long path of bloodbath and after establishing complete domination over what became known as “Marounstan”.
4) December 5 1981: Ariel Sharon shows a sketch plan to Philip Habib on invading Lebanon up to Beirut. Philip Habib suspects a link-up between the Phalange Militia and the Israeli Army.
5) Late Jan. 1982: “Sharon scouts out Beirut, coordinates invation plans with his Lebanese ally Bashir Gemayel: Israeli Army (IDF) will trap PLO in West Beirut; Bashir’s milita, the Phalange, will go house to house killing trapped PLO fighters”
6) Syrian Army gets crushed and loses its hegemony over Lebanon, the Lebanese Forces and the Israeli Army link up in East Beirut, and Bashir Gemayel refutes to enter West Beirut, due to US pressure plus the fact the PLO are much stronger militarily. After almost total annihilation of West Beirut by the order of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli artillery stops, Philip Habib for different reasons succeeds in brokering a deal to evacuate peacefully the PLO, and towards the end, Bashir Gemayel is elected, in a most controversial matter, as President of Lebanon. Sharon welcomed the deal because the Israelis wanted Bashir Gemayel as the President of Lebanon.
The investigation will rotate on how legitimate is Bashir’s Gemayel elections as a President. We already know that once a Parliament votes, there is no turning back, as we have seen with the Parliament. My role is to display the other side of the story, in the quest of investigating such a heavy sensitive topic, and I will base my references on notes from the US diplomats, mainly Philip Habib & Morris Draper (Reagan’s elite Presidential Convoy), among other sources. My argument will be definitely towards against the legitimacy of electing Bashir Gemayel as President of Lebanon, and I will draw a parallel comparison to the current Emil Lahoud, despite the fact that the latter lacks any ambition, unlike the former. I shall delete any form of non-constructive or racist comments on the issue because I want to advocate a constructive debate in the most civilized manner. This shall be applied to potential participants from all political trends, the role is to reconstruct history in a most objective matter.
And here I shall quote from the book Cursed is the Peacemaker the following mentioned from the US perspective. In a summary, the Israelis were mostly all over Lebanon except West Beirut (then), and the Israelis surrendered the Port to Bashir Gemayel instead as agreed to the Multi-National Forces, led by the US Marines and supported by the French and the Italians in order to have a final chance on Arafat, and enforce again Bashir as President:
One of Several Incidents:
“And something promptly did. This problem came from out of nowhere. The Lebanese Parliament was scheduled to elect a new president on August 23, four days hence. Maronite Christian militia leader Bashir Gemayel was the only candidate. But the Muslims rejected him because he was Israel’s ally and stood to be Israel’s puppet. The only way the Muslims could deny him the presidency was by boycotting the election in parliament and thus preventing a quorum.”
So Bashir played some clever hardball: He used the evacuation as blackmail. Habib’s plan called for the Israelis to turn their positions at the port to the Lebanese army Friday night, August 20. The French would then move into the port Saturday morning so that the PLO could move out from the port Saturday afternoon. But now, on Thursday, Bashir had made a deal with the Israelis to turn over their positions at the port to his militia. Unless the Muslims allowed a quorum for the election, Bashir’s militia would not allow the French to land at the port. No quorum, no MNF (Multi-National Forces). No MNF, no evacuation. No Evacuation, no end to the [Israeli] siege.
After Philip exploded at President Sarkis, he had it with Bashir, but his plans also included Bashir Gemayel as a president and hence:
“He then had it out with Bashir. Habib’s position was simple: While he did support Bashir’s election, this thing was a lot bigger than that. It was not acceptable, Habib told him, to foul up the whole show by preventing the MNF’s arrival. If he did that, he would at one fell swoop destroy his Israeli support, American support, and what LITTLE Lebanese support he had outside of his own faction. If the evacuation fell through, the siege could well re-ignite – leaving Bashir to preside over a smoking wasteland of a capital with no friends inside or out. Was that the kind of presidency he wanted?”
“Bashir couldn’t back down without some way of saving face. “So Phil and Bashir dreamed up a nice little two-act play,” says Draper. The next morning Draper got representatives of France and the LAF (Lebanese Army) and “a whole lot of press together. On Phil’s behalf I marched down to the headquarters of Bashir’s outfit in the harbor and ostentatiously had a meeting with him ad his lieutenants to talk about what was going to happen in the evacuation.” Bashir’s men being suitable impressed with this public American show of their leader’s importance, he withdrew his threat.”
Now the purpose of citing this interesting incident, of many many interesting incidents is to show how closely the Israelis and the US collaborated, but how Bashir played on two ropes: one rope had Phil Habib written on it, and the other’s name is Ariel Sharon.
Now of course, the Israelis ever arriving to Lebanon, they never played by the book, and always hindered Phil Habib’s efforts to reach a constructive deal to get the PLO out of Beirut. Arafat finally accepted the plan after Sharon hindered it more than a dozen times by blasting West Beirut and blocking all communication lines (not to forget the excessive bloodbath Sharon shed on the streets), and got the Israeli assurances to the final draft, it was now Bashir’s turn:
“Habib got a reiteration of the Israeli assurances, then he and Dillon (US Ambassador to Lebanon) met with Bashir in the library of Dillon’s home at Yarze. The Boyish thirty-four-year-old Bashir, who had never really taken this odd little man named Arafat seriously, made several jokes, each quickly followed by “Ok, I know this is serious.” Diplomats cannot choose their counterparts, but must work with the ones there are. Habib bore in to impress upon Bashir the gravity of the situation. Both expected that Bashir was within days being elected president. However much he might despise the Palestinians and however much dried blood was on his hands, Lebanon’s next President could ill afford fresh blood on his hands. Bashir wore a wry smile that Dillion interpreted to mean “I guess I’ve got no choice but to cooperate, huh?” He again gave Habib his personal guarantee that the Phalange would not any action against the Palestinians remaining.”
The US and Bashir Gemayel During his Presidential Campaign
As the evacuation of the PLO began:
“The Third day of the evacuation coincided with the date appointed for the Lebanese parliament to elect a new president. Habib had an extraordinary role for a foreigner in the election. As Druze leader Walid Jumblatt reportedly told him, “You have become part of the system.” Habib had directed much of his energy over the summer toward preparing the Lebanese government to start reasserting its sovereignty, and he viewed the evacuation and election as the twin opening bells of that new era.”
“Habib and Dillon believed that, if anyone stood any chance of uniting Lebanon now, it was Bashir Gemayel. They both felt that, despite his bloody track record, he was the best hope Lebanon had. They felt he had matured greatly in he past year and had genuinely taken to heart their advice that he had to distance himself from the Israelis and to work with (not against) the Muslims so he could be president of all Lebanon”
Now here I would disagree as we have seen earlier on how Bashir Gemayel behaved in official meetings, and as well due to the [at least] Port incident. I, of course got a lot more examples, but I will prefer to leave them aside.
“The Muslims and Druze, however, believed that, if anyone could worse Lebanon’s divisions, it was Bashir. As one Lebanese official put it, “Bashir was anathema to all the Muslims and to all the Arabs. He was Israel’s puppet.” When Muslim children behaved, their mothers would sometimes tell them, “Don’t do that. Bashir will come and get you.” Walid [Jumblatt] tried to persuade Habib that the election of Bashir would be the ruin of the country and asked Habib to use influence to see to it that the next president WOULD BE ANYONE BUT BASHIR. Habib made an effort to seem impartial, replying that he was not in the business of electing Lebanese presidents, BUT that Bashir was clearly going to win.”
“That was a safe prediction. A Lebanese election bears little resemblance to the Western democratic ideal. Regardless of what anyone thought of Bashir, there was literally no other candidate. By the unique Lebanese formula of government, the president must be a Maronite, and NO OTHER MARONITE WAS SUICIDAL ENOUGH TO CHALLENGE BASHIR. And if he were not elected, at least one anti-Bashir Lebanese official believed, he would have taken power by force and maybe caused partition of the country.”
“Lebanese elections were notable also for foreign involvement, threats, violence, and suitcases of money. ON JULY 27 THERE HAD BEEN A DISCUSSION WITHIN THE STATE DEPARTMENT’s NEAR EASTERN AFFAIRS BUREAU OF DRAWING ON A CONTINGENCY FUND TO GIVE MONEY TO BASHIR “ in case he needs it to buy votes.” One official involved noted that “if he becomes president, we will be a valued adviser. Habib has influence.” But the CIA opposed “paying off Bashir,” and Habib recommended WAITING. As it turned out, Bashir neither needed nor got American money to bribe deputies he had plenty of his own.”
“WHILE BASHIR and his PHALANGE militia were BRIBING AND TERRORIZING parliamentary deputies to come vote for him, the Syrians were threatening deputies to stay home and thus prevent a quorum. The election had already been postponed for four days, and there was serious doubt whether it would be held at all. In the end, says Draper, Bashir was elected “ONLY BECAUSE BOB DILLON SWUNG a couple of Lebanese INTO BASHIR’s camp at the last minute and we told everybody we knew that the United States was supporting him. Even then it took hige bribes [by Bashir] to get across the last few votes. But Bashir didn’t get the money from the United States/” Habib told Washington that Bashir “HAS GOT MOST OF THE SHI”A PAID OFF. HE GOT SOME SUNNI. This is not Cook County, though: This is the Hatfields versus the McCoys with automatic weapons.” Indeed, the day before the election, one deputy was shot in the back and another kidnapped. On election morning, August 23, Bashir’s Phalange THUGS ESCORTED DEPUTIES TO THE ELECTION IN AN ARMY BARRACKS SURROUNDED BY PHALANGE GUNMEN WITH ISRAELI SOLDIERS IN THE BACKGROUND. Some deputies brought their own armed bodyguards, and at least one asked his Phalange escort to hold a gun to his back s others would think he was being brought there by force. Seventeen homes or offices of deputies who participated in the election were blown up.
“Bashir of course won, and Habib was delighted. In Christian East Beirut, Bashr’s stronghold, celebrations swirled all afternoon and all night with the standard Lebanese celebration of shooting in the air. Two of Habib’s Marine Liaisons were sitting in a villain Baabda that night, when the room suddenly filled with bullets whistling and flying everywhere. One Marine looked over the edge of the balcony and saw “this little girl about nine years old standing there holding a 9mm pistol just wanging away!”
Analysis of Bashir’s Election and Present Day Crisis
As far as we know, all presidents elected during the Civil War are to be approached with caution. There was no one Lebanon, and there have been several foreign factors intervening within Lebanon. President Sarkis for example was an agreement between the US and Syria, as well as several local actors who wanted to get rid of President Sulieman Franjieh (who became president as reaction of all local actors getting rid of the Shehabist regime). Eventually, a President in a civil war in itself will always represent a faction over the others, specially when we have different foreign actors on the military and political level. This can extend also to the Syrian Mandate as well, was Lahoud a democratic elected president, or a Syrian-shoved president? Camille Shamoun in the past tried to by-pass the major non-allied actors (mainly Kamal Jumblatt and Sa’eb Salam) to renew his presidency term, but we had a very tiny civil war.
So what about the most controversial figure in Lebanon’s history? Bashir Gemayel? In a nutshell, Lebanon couldn’t have been more divided than that era. Just for the fact Beirut was divided into a West and East Beirut, with two parallel central banks (one for East Beirut & one for West Beirut as President Sarkis did in alliance with Bashir Gemayel), everything was divided. Moreover, Bashir Gemayel was elected President on grounds were Israeli soldiers were present and accompanying the deputies to vote for him. We must not forget also that the equation 6:5 remained standing, so the Parliament (whoever was alive then) didn’t represent effectively all the actors on the ground.
This reminds us of Emil Lahoud and his renewal of his mandate, specially when a lot of candidates nominated themselves, while Lebanon was split by half whether to renew or oppose him, and in the end, had no choice but to renew. Syria wanted Emil Lahoud as a President, just as Begin/Sharon wanted Bashir as a president, and not to forget the conflicting interests of the Israelis with the US foreign policy. Bashir Gemayel also had the US diplomats swinging deputies in the last moment for the sake of electing Bashir Gemayel, and moreover, no one was suicidal to run as a candidate in face of him from the Maronite section (unlike President Sarkis versus Reymond Edde who suffered from couple of assassination attempts). With Israeli tanks, and West Beirut just a week and a half earlier was suffering from massive Israeli butchery from East Beirut, I really doubt young Bashir would have represented the whole. Even Philip Habib kept the US administration on standby to prepare cash transfers to Bashir Gemayel in case Bashir’s extortion/terrorist/bribery tactics failed. Actually, worse, the deputies had two way sufferings as well, either Bashir’s fists/Israeli brutality or Syrian threats from one side. Those deputies who yielded probably assumed that the Israelis were staying forever, specially Syria’s forces were narrowed down to a regiment trapped in West Beirut, and were gradually getting evacuated. The US muscled in powerfully for the mere fact that they told all deputies indirectly they are supporting Bashir Gemayel as the President of Lebanon. Sharon, who had the upper hand in almost all the issues, already invaded Lebanon, and having failed to permanently to annihilate the PLO, Bashir Gemayel was on his agenda regarding phase two. The mere fact East Beirut celebrated while West Beirut mourned the election of Bashir Gemayel showed a lot on the controversies of Bashir’s elections, and how legitimate he would have been.
Emil Lahoud fitted perfectly with the Syrian logic of imposing him as President, and renewing his mandate. He disregarded half of Lebanon (at least) in opposing his elections, and he was elected amidst foreign influences rather domestic agreement. The Parliament may have been surrounded by Lebanese Army troops, but also had Syrian 2nd Bureau checking on the on-going elections of Emil Lahoud. Just like Bashir Gemayel’s case, several MPs out of the blues changed their mind in the last second and decided to do a quorum to renew his mandate. Syria, like Israel from 1982 – 1984, also wanted a satellite government of their own inside Beirut. But unlike Israel, they had the US blessings to do so in 1990, and entered on a latter stage with massive contradictions with the US. The bi-polar situation of Lebanon in current days reminds us of the bi-polar state of opposing / supporting Bashir Gemayel. Technically, 14th of March should make it clear whenever reviving Lebanese Forces glory to mention Bashir Gemayel was elected in a building whereby the Parliament was surrounded by Israeli soldiers. To despise the Baathi is one thing, to disorient history as it happened is another. Probably one difference is that the whole primary actors of 1982 had automatics at their disposals.
Finally, how do we regard the elected presidents of the civil war? We had President Sarkis, Bashir Gemayel who didn’t make it to his inauguration, President Amin Gemayel, and later, Aoun self-proclaimed himself as a President, Rene Mou’awad who also died too early, and President Elias Hrawi towards the very end. Each had a circumstance, and each had different contradicting issues. Even currently as we approach the new Presidential elections, we still have heavy interferences, just like Saudi Arabia is doing its influences, they did it as support to Philip Habib back in 1982. So as far as we are concerned, most of the Presidents had foreign interferences. Whether the Presidents of the French Mandate, the Independence President/Cabinet (British vs. French), or on a latter stage, the rest… all had one way or another different levels of foreign interferences, and shoving one president in the face of the others. And if all are controversial, what about the president who linked his militia to the Israelis at East Beirut to become almost a single coherent unit while Israeli artillery and smart bombs headed from East to West Beirut.
Last but not least, I would like to thank a friend of mine who is also a Lebanese Forces and knows who I am (for the past year). To say the truth, that LF supporter fully supported me to write these series for the sake of gathering information and reconstruct history, and that LFer never exposed my identity, rather supported me to write and more write about anything I can think of. Me and the LFer probably disagree 180% on everything, but at least we agree on digging out history, and respect the freedom to write freely.
Roy Boykin, Cursed is the Peacemaker, Applegate Press (2002), P. XXI
Ibid, P. 236
Ibid, P. 237
Ibid, P. 237
Ibid, P. 237
Ibid ,P. 249
Ibid, P. 249
Ibid, P. 249
Ibid, P. 249
Ibid, P. 250