ZOUK MOSBEH, Lebanon: An agreement similar to the Taif Accord should be the basis of the solution to the Syrian crisis, Batroun MP Antoine Zahra said Friday.
Addressing the concerns of different communities in Syria could be achieved through a political system that resembles the one adopted in Lebanon after the Taif Accord of 1989, Zahra told The Daily Star in an interview at his residence in the Kesrouan town of Zouk Mosbeh.
“A solution to the Syrian crisis should be based on an agreement similar to Taif to give assurance to Syria’s Kurds, Christians and Alawites,” Zahra said.
The agreement reached in Taif, Saudi Arabia, ended Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War and restructured the country’s National Pact, redistributing seats in Parliament and the government to ensure proper representation among the country’s sects.
“In the end,” Zahra said, “a consensus will be needed to end the Syrian crisis. A solution isn’t possible without a compromise that gives all communities their rights.”
Ending a lack of parity that privileged Christian MPs over their Muslim counterparts, the Taif Accord amended Lebanon’s Constitution and split Parliament equally between Muslims and Christians. Zahra said that a similar agreement “could ensure Syria’s stability and unity, since the Syrian revolution started with the aim of achieving democracy and unity, and not division.”
The Batroun lawmaker also said stability and peace in Syria would greatly weaken the influence of any emerging takfiri and extremist groups in the country.
“Extremist groups, although marginal in the Syrian opposition, will dissolve quickly if the unrest ends in Syria,” he said.
The Lebanese Forces MP advised the international community to redouble its efforts to reach a solution to the Syrian unrest if it wants to weaken the influence of such groups.
“Violence makes the land fertile for extremists ... Stability is the grave of extremists,” he said.
“If the international community doesn’t want to give extremists the chance to become powerful like they did in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, then they should work on ending the crisis,” he said.
The unrest has forced more than 170,000 people to abandon their homes and flee to Lebanon over the past 22 months, with the refugee surge becoming a subject of dispute among government officials.
Zahra criticized Energy Minister Gebran Bassil’s calls to close the country’s border to refugees in order to stop extremist groups from infiltrating the country.
According to Zahra, Syrian refugees are only in Lebanon temporary, unlike the Palestinians who were forced out of their country as a result of the Israeli occupation.
“Syrians fleeing to Lebanon are fleeing violence temporarily. They are our neighbors and we should welcome them in Lebanon just as they welcomed us during the years of war in Lebanon.”
“It’s unfortunate that those who didn’t have the chance to defend Lebanon when it was in danger are trying to create imaginary battles to provoke Christians and tell them that Syrian refugees are a threat,” he said in reference to Bassil.
The Batroun MP was also critical of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s recent comments on Lebanon’s role vis-à-vis the crisis next door, calling it “vague.”
“He says we can’t close the borders in the face of Syrians but he also says that Lebanese should pressure the Syrian opposition to hold dialogue with the regime to end the Syrian unrest, meaning that he is placing conditions on [allowing] refugees [enter Lebanon].”
Zahra said Hezbollah doesn’t want to forsake the Syrian regime, but doesn’t want to drag Lebanon into the conflict.
“Even Russia and China are now convinced that any political solution in Syria shouldn’t include any members of the current regime, but Nasrallah insists that the Assad regime stay.”
On the domestic front, the 56-year-old said that he and Batroun’s other lawmaker will run for re-election in parliamentary polls scheduled to take place in June.
“Of course I will run ... I will be running with MP Butros Harb in the elections, and our official electoral campaign will start in two weeks.”
Zahra said the security threats that had limited the movement of many March 14 MPs won’t stop them from campaigning. “The battle in Batroun is a political one. The people of Batroun are committed to the political principles we are working for and they understand the risks we face as MPs,” he said.
“It’s true that we are unable to move around because of security threats, but Batroun’s voters are politically well-informed of the challenges facing the country,” he added.
Zahra accused his political rivals in the Free Patriotic Movement of using government posts for electoral gain, and predicted that the tactic would not produce results on election day.
Zahra dismissed the possibility of the opposition and the government reaching an agreement on a new electoral law, describing next week’s meeting of Parliament’s electoral law subcommittee as “symbolic.”
“How can the Free Patriotic Movement call for a new electoral law when they present two proposals to Parliament? One presented through the government based on proportional representation and another based on the Orthodox Gathering?” he said.
After the government referred the Interior Ministry’s draft electoral law based on proportional representation with 13-medium-sized districts last year, lawmakers from the FPM proposed a draft in which every sect would elect its own MPs.
Zahra said the March 8 coalition’s overriding goal in its maneuvering over drafting a new law was to do away with the parliamentary blocs of Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Future Movement.