BEIRUT: A long-simmering dispute between the Kataeb Party and March 14 general-secretariat boiled over this week after Metn MP Sami Gemayel and general-secretariat head Fares Soueid traded barbs over the future of the alliance and its vision for the country.
Soueid, a former MP from Jbeil and a close ally of the Kataeb Party, slammed Gemayel for calling for greater political decentralization in order to better address concerns of the country’s sects.
In a prerecorded interview aired last week by LBCI’s political talk show “Kalam Ennas,” Soueid accused Gemayel of making proposals that contradict the message of Pope Benedict XVI, who paid a historic visit to Lebanon last month.
“Pope Benedict XVI did not call for a federalism of sects in Lebanon; he called for coexistence of Christians and Muslims,” Soueid said.
Since 2009, Kataeb has not participated in the meetings of March 14’s general-secretariat, which is led by Soueid. Party officials say that distance is due to the general-secretariat’s attitudes and its organizational structure.
“Fares Soueid and Sami’s late brother Pierre Gemayel were a strong front in the March 14 coalition and they coordinated on almost everything,” an official with knowledge of the history of relations between the Kataeb Party and the March 14 general-secretariat told The Daily Star.
“Sami is not Pierre and since Pierre’s death, Soueid has faced difficulty in agreeing with Sami’s ideas,” the official said, describing the dispute between Sami Gemayel and Soueid as personal rather than political.
Pierre Gemayel, a former MP and Industry Minister, was assassinated in November 2006.
Soueid’s criticism of Gemayel drew condemnations from Kataeb Party officials who described his remarks as “unacceptable and disappointing.”
Deputy-head of the party Sejaan Azzi called for taking “tangible measures” against Soueid, but did not elaborate further.
“If they [general-secretariat] are not ready to accept our opinion, that’s very disappointing. How can Soueid champion democratic values when he cannot tolerate others’ opinions?” a source close to Gemayel asked Monday.
“Soueid’s sudden attack on Gemayel looks coordinated and he launched his attack after getting the green light from some people,” he added.
But the source said Kataeb leaders have agreed to cool their rhetoric and ignore Soueid’s statements for now.
In the interview, Soueid also said that Gemayel’s proposals contradict the values of March 14.
“We built coexistence through the March 14 movement. If Sami and others like him in the coalition won’t defend these values, then why March 14?” Soueid asked.
Responding to a question posed by LBCI on whether the Kataeb Party will distance itself from the coalition in the months to come, Soueid said that the March 14 constituency is necessary for any political party in the coalition to win parliamentary elections.
“March 14 has a strong voting force, the Kataeb Party knows that. Without March 14, it won’t take seats in Zahle and Ashrafieh and other key regions,” he said.
Gemayel, who was a guest on “Kalam Ennas,” accused Soueid of turning the general-secretariat into a “Soueid club” and of failing to fulfill his role as coordinator.
“We had some war in 1958, we had a war in 1975, and then in 2008 we had another war: This is enough evidence that the concept of coexistence as mentioned in the constitution has failed ... But through recognizing everyone’s concerns and specificity, we can build real partnerships in Lebanon,” Gemayel said. “The way Soueid is speaking is not the right way of coordinating the work between March 14 supporters.”
According to Gemayel, the general-secretariat needs to be restructured to meet the demands of its supporters. “Reorganization of March 14 is necessary to give voice to everyone in the coalition instead of keeping it to three or four people,” he said.
Meanwhile Elias Atallah, a former MP and a member of the coalition, called on March 14 to stay unified.
“At a time when there is an armed political party in control of the Lebanon and helping the Assad regime to kill the Syrian people, it is unacceptable to talk about such disputes in the coalition,” Atallah said.
“Why this panic? Why these reactions? What’s wrong with Soueid criticizing Gemayel? We all need self-criticism to unify this coalition.”