Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Analysing an assassination – the victim

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/11/2006

Who is the victim?
Pierre Gemayel was Minister of Industry in the present government. At age 34, he was the youngest member of the Council of Ministers in which he represented the Kataeb party. He was the eldest son of the former President of the Republic, Amine Gemayel, and grandson of the founder of the Kataeb Party.

What does he represent?
During the last parliamentary election, he ran in the Metn, a constituency that had been dominated politically by the Kataeb for decades. It is in this region that his family, the Gemayels, have their hometown (Bikfaya). They are considered to be one of its important political families alongside twenty or thirty others. The political ascension of the Gemayel family started in the 1930s with the foundation of the Kataeb party (also known as the Phalange party) and its gradual rise to power. From the late sixties until the mid eighties, this party was considered to be Lebanon’s largest in number of MPs, adherents, and socio-political weight (strength in the public administration, local councils, the syndicates and the media). Pierre Gemayel’s grandfather and namesake was one of the party’s founders and became its undisputed and unrivalled leader for over 40 years. He was very often minister and two of his sons, Bachir and Amine made it consecutively to the Presidency in 1982. But after the assassination of Bechir Gemayel, the unpopular presidency of Amine Gemayel, and the natural death of their father, the Gemayel family and the Kataeb party lost ground and started decomposing.

In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Kataeb was unable to get any of its candidates elected without the support of its allies or opponents. In Baabda-Aley, it owes its success to Muslim and Druze votes, gathering a little more than a third of the expressed Christian votes. In the Metn, which was considered the bastion of the Phalange and where the Gemayels portray themselves and behave as a prominent family of feudal rank, Pierre Gemayel was the only member of the former opposition slate to make it through, with approximately a third of the expressed votes and only because the rival and triumphant slate had left an empty seat for him or his ally, Nassib Lahoud (another member of a political family), to fill.

Withstanding his meagre political score, the “March 14th Alliance” (Hariri’s Future Movement, Joumblatt’s PSP and a cluster of local Christian politicians) chose him as one of the Maronite ministers in Siniora’s government. And since then, this alliance has tried to portray him as a Christian leader (alongside Nayla Moawad, Samir Frangieh, Amine Gemayel and Samir Geagea), with the support of most of the Media and prominent Maronite clerics, to give him the “Christian” credentials and legitimacy that he lacks. Thus, calling him a ‘key politician’, a ‘prominent leader’ or ‘Christian political leader’, as the press has been dubbing him since his death seems to be somewhat of an exageration.

Nevertheless, his name resonates in the Christian community and carries a very strong symbolic weight because of what his grandfather and uncle represented. They came to represent the symbols of Christian political and military power starting in the sixties and culminating during the civil war when they controlled the Christian ‘heartland’.

As a politician, Pierre Gemayel (the younger) was very vocal in his criticism of Syria and Iran, and those that he accused of being their allies: Amal, Hezbollah, the FPM (Free patriotic movement). His political foes called him Pipo-pebble (Pipo being a common pet name given to Pierre, and pebble is a reference to his grandfather who was called the ‘Rock’ a pun derived from the meaning of his Christian name, which signifies ‘stone’ in French). With the help of a very supportive media, the backing of the governing political class and due to his personal human qualities, he seems to have benefited lately from a growing support. Moreover, one can say that he was one of the many Christian politicians used by the governing majority to obtain a cross-communal legitimacy. His greatest strength lay in his name and party affiliation, and what they could echo within the Christian community (though it wasn’t enough to get him elected in a Christian constituency).

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