Editor’s note: Ahead of the 2014 presidential election, this is the eighth in a series of articles examining the circumstances and conditions that shaped the elections of Lebanon’s 12 presidents since 1943.
BEIRUT: Amine Gemayel was elected to the top Christian post on September 1982, days after the assassination of his brother, President-elect Bachir Gemayel.
Gemayel’s term witnessed the signing of a peace accord between Lebanon and Israel, whose troops occupied most of the country, including Beirut.
Earning a law degree from Universite St. Joseph, Gemayel won parliamentary by-elections in 1970, replacing his deceased uncle Maurice Gemayel. He was re-elected in 1972. He was looked at as a much more moderate figure than Bachir and won the votes of the Muslim MPs who had refused to support his brother.
In his book “Curse of a Nation,” former Kataeb Party leader Karim Pakradouni wrote that on Sept. 15, the party’s politburo decided unanimously to nominate Amine for presidency after Bachir died before being sworn in.
Pakradouni explained that the reason for this decision was the party’s interest in keeping the post of the president for the Kataeb and also to avoid a presidential vacuum, as the term of President Elias Sarkis was to expire within a week.
The only other candidate running for presidency was former President Camille Chamoun, then 82.
Pakradouni noted that on Sept. 16, Ariel Sharon, Israel’s then-defense minister, visited the Gemayels in Bikfaya to extend his condolences for Bachir’s assassination and to receive assurances that Amine would stick to his dead brother’s policies, should he be elected.
“Sharon held a closed-door meeting with [ Kataeb Party founder] Pierre [Gemayel] and Amine Gemayel who stressed to him that they read the minutes of the last meeting between him and Bachir and that they adhered to its content,” Pakradouni wrote. “These assurances led to a swift decision by the Israeli Cabinet to back Amine.”
But in an interview with Al-Jazeera in March 2004, Gemayel denied that he met Sharon on that occasion, adding that the Israeli did not even greet him when paying condolences to the family.
Gemayel said that while he was considering whether to run for the country’s top post on the proposal of some MPs, he received messages from Lebanese Muslim leaders including former prime ministers Saeb Salam and Rashid Karami along with MP Hussein Husseini, expressing their support for his candidacy.
“I was encouraged by this embracing,” Gemayel said in another interview with Al-Jazeera in Dec. 2009.
For its part, the U.S. preferred Gemayel to Chamoun.
“We intervened to make sure that Amine won, that’s one thing we really did,” said Maurice Draper, the assistant of Philip Habib, the U.S. envoy to Lebanon in the first half of the 1980s. “We thought Chamoun’s victory was risky,” he added in remarks in “The War of Lebanon,” a documentary produced by Al-Jazeera in 2001.
France supported the extension of Sarkis’ term for two years instead, and the formation of a national unity government. But Sarkis insisted on leaving his post once his term expired, wrote Pakradouni.
Syria opposed the candidacy of Chamoun and hinted that Amine was better than Bachir.
“By this way, Syria kept the doors open for cooperating with Amine Gemayel without bearing the repercussions of openly supporting him,” Pakradouni explained.
Gemayel said a Syrian envoy conveyed to him that President Hafez Assad did not oppose his election.
Besides Salam, Parliament Speaker Kamel Asaad also expressed his support for Amine.
“Muslims considered that electing Amine Gemayel for president as the lowest price to be paid to secure the withdrawal of Israeli troops from West Beirut,” Pakradouni said.
On Sept. 20, Chamoun announced his withdrawal from the presidential race, saying he made this decision because the new president would be forced to make a peace treaty with Israel, an act which would deprive Lebanon from all forms of cooperation with Arab League states and isolate it in the Arab Levant.
After garnering local, regional and international support, Gemayel was elected the following day in the Military Academy in Fayyadieh, east of Beirut, the same place were his deceased brother was elected.
Unlike the election of Bachir, achieving the quorum required to elect the new president was not a hard task and Amine won more votes than his brother, indicating that a wider segment of Lebanese groups supported him.
Gemayel, who won in the first round, received the votes of 77 MPs out of 80 present during the session. Three MPs had cast blank votes.
Gemayel’s term witnessed the signing of the first peace accord between Lebanon and Israel in May 17, 1983, known later as the May 17 Agreement. It was brokered by the U.S., which had its Marine units stationed in Beirut.
The accord stipulated the end of the state of war between Israel and Lebanon, confirmed Lebanese measures to preserve security on Israel’s northern borders, the integration of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army into the Lebanese Army along with restrictions on Lebanon’s foreign relations.
In return, Israel vowed to pull out its army from Lebanon pending the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.
Gemayel argued that the agreement was a security arrangement rather than a peace treaty. He maintained that it was the only possible way to secure Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon at the time.
“My only concern was to liberate Lebanon. My fiercest enemy at that time was Sharon. He stated clearly that he will not allow Amine Gemayel to rule outside Baabda Palace,” Gemayel said in an interview with Al-Jazeera in Feb. 2010.
“He wanted to undermine the presidency and the government in Lebanon for one reason, which is that I was the first person resisting Israel at that time,” Gemayel added.
The Civil War continued during Gemayel’s term, pitting the Syria-backed opposition which objected to the May 17 Agreement against the Lebanese Forces and the Lebanese Army that was under Gemayel’s control.
The U.S. Marines fought alongside the Lebanese Army.
The opposition argued that armed resistance against Israel, which already began at that time, was the only way to drive Israeli troops out of Lebanon.
But although Parliament passed the agreement, it was renounced by the government in March 1984 under mounting pressure from the opposition comprising Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, Amal chief Nabih Berri, former President Sleiman Frangieh, Karami and others.
On the economic level, Gemayel’s term witnessed a sharp devaluation of the Lebanese currency.
Currently the head of the Kataeb with a parliamentary bloc of five MPs, Gemayel is a possible presidential candidate.
President Michel Sleiman’s term expires next month.