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Samir Frangieh: The Orthodox Law insults the dignity of Lebanese Citizens

BEIRUT | - February 03, 2013, 18h15
Samir Frangieh, a politician and Lebanese intellectual, is a member of 14 March. As a former deputy he became author of “The Journey To The Extreme of Violence” in 2011 which was translated into Arabic this year. The book explores the ravage outbreak and the end of the Lebanese civil war, which Frangieh situated in 14 March, 2005, without leaving it in 1990 like most of other authors before him. The 14th March is a breaking date because of the unusually strong popular demonstration organized against the Syrian presence in Lebanon which followed the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and brought the end of the Syrian occupation. Then the civic union overpassed the religious cleavages and became very symbolic for the new Lebanese concept of “living together” - a notion that Frangieh values the most, even though nowadays it is in a great danger due to one of the electoral law projects for the legislative elections 2013 called “the orthodox meeting” or Orthodox Law”. Today, at the beginning of 2013, Samir Frangieh takes a negative stance to this law. He has explained his views and defined the problematic of the upcoming elections in a global perspective. You are rejecting categorically the Orthodox Law. Why that negative position?

Samir Frangieh: This law brings “living together”, the real situation which was created thanks to the political, social and economic dialogue among the Lebanese, to an end. In 1943, when the issue of independence arose, our doubts were if we should stay together or not. In particular some Christians, those in favor of the mandate were refusing this “life together”. Some Muslims, especially the pro-Syrian union were refusing it as well. But in the end we went on all together. This is the substantial characteristic of this country. During the civil war we tried not to stay together, but it did not work! That is why with the Taef Agreement we decided to reunite again. And the Orthodox Law would just cut it. In case it is approved, I will call for boycott of the elections.

Two Christian political parties from 14 March, the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb, are in favor of the Orthodox Law. Why this division?

There are two aspects. On one side, there are some leaders who go for it, in my opinion, just because of their low political calculation valid just in short-term. More globally the law corresponds to the visions to divide the country which is shared by certain politicians. I think that this law could actually prepare the ground for the decomposition of Lebanon.
In any case, all leaders who have chosen to support it have committed an incredible mistake. The Law is questioning the foundations of 14 March. It is insulting my dignity and reducing me on a mere religious entity by confiscating my citizenship. It means that me as Maronite, in case I am convinced of the vision and projects of a Sunni deputy, would not be allowed to vote for him. What is more, the Law in its consequences implies that a Lebanese of different confession is “not like me”. This is very serious! It reduces me just on my membership within a communitarian group. It is even more retrograde and fits in the framework of the ultimate regional developments, the Arab revolutions, and the conquest of the individual autonomy.

Going back to you, will you run for the legislative elections?

No. Being a candidate or consequently a deputy would deprive me of my freedom of action, of speech and my free public positioning.

How would you define the duty of a deputy? What is his role?

Here in Lebanon, being deputy it goes hand in hand with clientelism which is based on two levels that make both part of a vicious circle: The deputies offer their services which stimulate the corruption and transform the administration in the tool which perpetuates the communitarianism.
In the “normal” countries, the duty of a deputy consists in representing the interests of real people, people from his region whose living conditions and daily problems he knows very well. What will happen under this law, if I, as Maronite, do not have a Maronite deputy in my district? And in case a Sunni voter does not have a Sunni deputy to vote for in his district? In the end we will be made to vote for a single confessional national list. But then, who will these elected people represent really?
With a similar law, the parliament does not get any closer to overcoming the communitarian constrains. In my opinion, this law demonstrates to which extent we have lost benchmarks on all levels, moral, political… etc.

The debate on this law has produced cleavages even divisions inside 14 March. If you could criticize 14 March, what would you say?

The 14 March was not able to show another face. On 14th March 2012, they introduced a program for the peace intifada. But to make this a reality, it is essential to create a multi-confessional civil society. And now, we see some of their members approving the Orthodox Law? It does not make any sense.
For me, on 14th March it was the moment when the war was over. On that day the Lebanese have received something on their own, for the first time. That moment escaped the attention of the political leaders. The mobilization was much stronger that they had expected. Everybody was surprised! Later on, we have returned to the climate of war again. We had the assassinations [between 2005 and 2008 which resulted in death of several VIP 14 March members], and also July 2006 [the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah], May 2008 [the violent clashes in Beirut between the militants of the Future Movement of Saad Hariri and the Hezbollah supporters that left more than hundred casualties]. We should not forget that this also creates the climate for the Orthodox Law.

Which electoral law project would be the most appropriate for Lebanon today?

It is the Boutros Law, because this project unites the local dimension and the option of modernity.

The civil society requires electoral reforms - to increase the women representation in the Parliament for example. What is your opinion in this matter?

The women parliamentary representation is crucial. And if the way to reach it goes through the quotas, then I am in favor of them. It is very important that the women do not participate just in the role of” someone’ s wife”, “widow” etc... I am convinced that the women can help us to remove the patriarchal system.

As far as the voting age of 18 is concerned, what is your stance in this issue?

Yes, I am for the lowering of the age from todays’ 21 years.

What about the voting right of the Lebanese expats?

In this matter, I do not know. In 2004, when the debate started, the participation was making sense. The Christians felt that enabling the voting to the Lebanese expats would establish a certain “demographic balance”. Besides, there was another issue in play, about the end of the Syrian occupation. But today, there is nothing like that. What can we propose then? The small internal disputes? On the other hand it is sufficient to have a look at the numbers of our citizens registered worldwide for the voting at their respective embassies. It is very low.
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