Political survival drives Lebanese Maronites’ reconciliation
Weary of what they perceive as a threat to their political weight in Lebanon, the country’s Maronites are closing ranks. Many factors brought together politicians Samir Geagea and Suleiman Frangieh Jnr for a historic reconciliation at the see of the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate in Bkerke.
Decades of enmity existed between both men. Frangieh was a child when his father, Toni Frangieh, was killed in 1978 by the Lebanese Forces militias belonging to the Phalanges Party. The boy grew up determined to avenge his father’s death. Geagea was the head of the group that killed Frangieh, his wife, Vera, his 3-year-old daughter, Jihane, and about three dozen others.
It was politics that motivated the Frangieh family murders and it is politics that have brought the two men together 40 years later.
Four decades ago, the Lebanese Forces targeted the Frangieh family because Suleiman’s grandfather, President Suleiman Frangieh, had allied himself with Hafez Assad’s regime in Syria. This time, however, it was internal politics that brought Geagea and the Frangieh clan together, particularly the political interests of the Maronite community in light of Hezbollah’s increasing power with the help of the Maronite Free Patriotic Movement Party.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi likely sensed that Lebanon’s balance of power was in danger of shifting in favour of the Shia Islamic component. Frangieh must have felt that his inherited alliance with the Syrian regime should not prevent him from helping strengthen his sect’s position through unifying against the rise of the Shia component, which is supported by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He likely reasoned that it would be unproductive for the Lebanese Forces and the Marada Movement to maintain a grudge if it is the entire Maronite community that loses in the end.
In order to reconcile, Frangieh accepted a revised account of his father’s assassination. In it, Geagea is no longer implicated as his father’s killer, as he is said to have been wounded during the battle with the Marada militia before arriving at the scene of the family killings. Frangieh also had to take into account the fact that Geagea spent 11 years in prison during Syrian control of Lebanon after he was accused of blowing up Our Lady of Salvation Church in Keserwan and assassinating former Prime Minister Rashid Karami and Christian politician Dany Chamoun. He was released after the departure of the Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005.
Geagea left the Phalanges Party and used the Lebanese forces under his command to create his own party. Geagea comes from a Christian family that pushed religiosity to the extreme. He dropped his medical studies and his second studies at the University of Lebanon and chose the path of guerrilla warfare against all foreign presence in Lebanon. Because of his violent past, Geagea ended up in prison, where he took the time to read and meditate. In the end he concluded that fundamentalism was a path to political ruin.
As for Frangieh, he grew up seeking revenge and had hoped that his alliance with the Syrian regime would help him achieve it and thus regain his status. The nature of politics, however, and the changes in circumstances and attitudes do not help in this matter. Today, the Maronite patriarchate is fostering reconciliation between former rivals within the community who fought each other during a bloody past. Present circumstances, however, dictate that they turn this dark page and opt for unity in order to preserve the sect’s decisive role of previous times.
During the reconciliation meeting, Rahi said: “Today, with the two poles here present, we emphasise reconciliation so that we can continue on the path together and move forward. This is a great historic meeting.”
Over the past two decades, events have broken apart an already fragmented Lebanon, working in favour of the armed party linked to Iran.
Today, it seems the Maronite community has learnt various lessons. It has learnt that neither Israel nor the Syrian regime will help protect its role in Lebanon, that France does not guarantee the continuation of its role and that the British have nothing to offer the Druze as they did in the 19th century. Instead, the Maronites have learnt that their role and unified political choices can only come from inside their country.