BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea slammed Saturday the behavior of his party's rivals in the Change and Reform bloc, saying that their policy is based on safeguarding Hezbollah’s arsenal, and dismissed fears that Christians in the Arab world would be marginalized as a result of the Arab Spring.
His remarks came during an event at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center in Downtown Beirut marking the 18th anniversary of the disbanding of the LF party as well as the series of revolts across the Arab world that have widely been termed the "Arab Spring."
In 1994, when Lebanon was under Syrian tutelage, the LF was banned, Geagea was imprisoned and the activities of the party's members were repressed. The party was revived as a political force after the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April 2005. The LF event Saturday took place under the slogan “The Spring of the People, the Autumn of Eras.”
Geagea also reassured his audience that the future existence of Christians in the Middle East was guaranteed given what he described as the presence of a moderate Muslim majority.
“Amid the struggle of people to emerge into a spring, the practices of the Change and Reform bloc in Lebanon have become a threat to the quality of political work, public affairs and the exercise of power,” he said.
He also said that the bloc, headed by MP Michel Aoun, has failed to regain the rights of Christians in Lebanon, particularly in state institutions.
“We have always heard them talking about regaining the rights of Christians in the state [apparatus]. Tell me, did this happen by attacking the presidents and via attempts to diminish his authority?” he asked.
His broadside against Aoun also included an attack on Hezbollah’s possession of arms and the alliance between the two.
"Change and Reform means first building a Lebanese state on the idea that Hezbollah remains armed and placing all strategic decisions in its hands and giving them rights of tutelage over this state,” he said.
“Secondly, it means keeping Palestinians in Lebanon -- inside and outside the camps, wherever they are -- armed or nationalizing them ... and thirdly, it means oppressing popular movements in Syria,” the LF leader added.
He addressed the youth of the Change and Reform bloc specifically, asking them to join hands with his party and revive the days when they both “struggled against tutelage” for the sake of a strong state.
During his speech, Geagea also heavily criticized the notion that the presence of Christians is threatened in the Middle East particularly in Syria where many believe that President Bashar Assad’s government protects minorities.
“If the phenomenon of the Takfiris is an undeniable fact to a limited extent, then the presence of a majority of moderate Muslims calling for freedom, democracy and true citizenship is a reality that we can't turn a blind eye to,” Geagea said.
Takfiris are Muslim extremists who arrogate to themselves the right to declare fellow Muslims apostates.
He highlighted statements by the Syrian National Council and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria that vowed to safeguard coexistence in the country.
"We cannot neglect all these facts, statements and intentions, we must consider them a good starting point and deal with them based on that principle," he added.
He also said that the duty of figures such as himself is to encourage moderation instead of inciting racism and extremism. Geagea has been a critic of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai who has repeatedly expressed fears for the Christians in Syria should Assad's government fall. Rai has said that violence and bloodshed were turning the “Arab Spring” into an Arab “winter,” threatening Christians and Muslims alike across the Middle East. Rai has also said that Christians feared the turmoil was helping extremist Muslim groups. In his speech, Geagea said the only solution to the the year-long violence in Syria was through a national referendum sponsored by the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council. The LF leader added that such a referendum would be based on people’s desire to keep the government intact or end Assad’s rule.
The LF, along with its allies in the March 14 coalition, have voiced support for what they describe as the “Syrian revolution” and called on Assad to step down. They have also criticized Syria’s allies in Lebanon including Aoun and Hezbollah for supporting the Syrian government.
At the start of the ceremony, several Arab activists who have struggled against what they described as oppressive regimes spoke separately, either in person or via video on a televised screen.
The Tunisian activist Abdel-Raouf Ayyadi praised Lebanon’s uprising in 2005, which was followed by an end to Syria’s tutelage over the country, and said that citizenship and freedom should be the main pillars of any state.
“Citizenship, rights and freedom constitute the principal barometer by which to measure the state,” Ayyadi said via a televised speech.
He added that the Tunisian revolution which began last year sparked the revolutions in other Arab countries.
The second speaker was Egyptian Member of Parliament Mohammed Bou Hamed who began by saluting Geagea, his struggle, the Lebanese Forces and Lebanon.
“Lebanon overcame the barrier of fear and the Arab Spring was launched ... on a day when everyone [else] cowered in fear,” Bou Hamed said, adding that both the Egyptian and Lebanese people revolted for similar reasons.
The reason for the Arab Spring, according to the Egyptian official, was a thirst for freedom, dignity, coexistence and the preservation of national identity.
He also saluted the March 14 martyrs especially former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as well as the Egyptians who died following the start of Egypt's revolution on Jan. 25, 2010.
“Samir Geagea is the Muslim-Christian man, the symbol of coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon,” he added. “Egypt is fine and will remain so,” Bou Hamed said, affirming coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.
“Christians in Egypt are fine and will remain so, God willing, and the blood of the Muslim martyrs will be a sacrifice for them,” he said. A member of the Syrian opposition, Hadil Kawki, spoke via video, slamming President Bashar Assad’s treatment of Christians and stressing that the Syrian government is not the protector of minorities.
She began her speech by talking about the time she was arrested prior to the uprising, which began in mid-March, and was allegedly tortured in prison.
“My friends and I were arrested for a long period of time and we were tortured in prison. We say people in Daraa and Homs are dying,” she said.
She also slammed Christians in Lebanon who support the government in Syria, saying that such Lebanese and Syrian Christian leaders neglected Christians’ suffering in Syria.
“Since the beginning of the revolution, the regime has been using Christians as a card before the West,” she said, adding that opposition members were against sectarianism, which only benefits the government.
Kawki thanked the Lebanese Forces and Geagea for giving activists such as herself the chance to speak about their experiences as Christians.
Kawki was followed by Libyan civil rights activist Fathiyya Hajjaji who saluted the Lebanese and the Syrians for their struggle against oppression.
“This Arab Spring is a phase to reformulate the political reality in the Arab world in which the president was the sole decision-maker ... but now the people are the decision-makers and the executers as well,” she said.
She added that Lebanon’s spring in 2005 was the seed which spread to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria.
Hajjaji detailed the decades of oppressive and bloody rule under late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
She also responded to what she described as pseudo-advocates of human rights who want to prosecute those who killed Gadhafi, saying: “The tyrant was killed in battle [because] he surprised the revolutionaries and pulled his gun at them; he was not killed according to a premeditated plan.”
Gadhafi was killed in October of 2010 by fighters in Sirte, his hometown. His bloodied body was stripped and displayed around the world by cell phone video.
Mona Ebeid, an Egyptian civil rights activist, also spoke at the ceremony, noting the role of the LF in defeating oppression and praising MP Strida Geagea’s efforts to amend laws that discriminate against women.
She also said that Egypt stands today at a crossroads and is passing through a “critical” phase.
“This is the most critical phase since the start of the revolution; [what is needed is] formulating a new Constitution to strengthen the idea of citizenship at the expense of religion and sectarianism by having laws, regulations and an independent judiciary,” she added.