Exiled Lebanese politician Etienne Sakr discusses the Lebanese civil war, the risk of regional war in the Middle East and the ongoing Lebanese presidential elections. Interview by Inass Al-Jawari
|Etienne Sakr was born in 1937 and is a Lebanese politician. He is the founder of the Guardians of the Cedars, a far right-wing ultranationalist militia group known in Arabic as Horras Al Arz, which participated in the Lebanese Civil War against Palestinians and Syrians in the seventies and eighties. He was expelled from Lebanon in May 2000 and has been sentenced to death on charges of collaborating with Israel, and remains in exile until today.
Note: The opinions expressed in this Interview are those of Etienne Sakr and do not reflect the view of Alsharq. Some additional remarks are given in order to improve the understanding and evaluation of the statements.
Alsharq: The ideology of your party, the Guardians of the Cedars, speaks of Lebanon as being Lebanese. Can you tell us the reasons behind the foundation of your party?
Etienne Sakr: In 1974 to 1975 it was obvious that the Palestinians were preparing a war against Lebanon in order to establish a Palestinian state in our land1. This plan was approved by the Americans and supported by all the Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia, plus the Soviet Union which had a defense treaty with Syria and a close relationship with the PLO of Yasser Arafat.
Facing this imminent danger, I decided to create a new political party with a military wing to join the other Christian parties and defend our home, families and homeland. The ideology of my party is different from the others: it is based on Lebanese nationalism, far from sectarianism which allowed me to recruit fighters from all Lebanese religions – Christians, Muslims (Shia and Sunnis), and Druze.2 The only country that accepted to help us in supplying weapons, ammunitions, and training was the state of Israel. Since that time I have built good relations with Israel3.
What happened after less than two years of fierce fighting between the Christian forces and the PLO was the opposite of what the Americans had predicted. The PLO was totally defeated and all the Christian areas were liberated from the PLO occupation and its allies.4
Why did you leave Lebanon and decide to live in exile?
At the end of January 1990, a war started inside the Christian area between the forces of Samir Geagea (the Lebanese Forces) and the Lebanese Army of General Michel Aoun5. Geagea sent his forces to occupy my house and my headquarters, and I was under house arrest for almost two months, because I was standing on Aoun´s side.
In April 1990, Geagea agreed to free me if I left Lebanon. After a few days I went to Cyprus by sea, and from there I went to Israel by plane and from Israel to the area of Jezzine in South Lebanon which was still under the control of the SLA (South Lebanese Army) and Israel. In Jezzine I established my new headquarters and I asked my fighters to join the SLA, and I restarted my political activities by supporting the SLA militarily and politically against Hezbollah which was backed by Syria, Iran and the Lebanese pro-Syrian governments of Elias al-Hrawi and then Emile Lahoud. They used the military court to fight me and accused me of collaboration with the enemy Israel. The charges included the possibility of death sentence. In May 2000, Israel decided to withdraw from the South and forced the SLA to withdraw as well according to a deal they made with Hezbollah through the German authorities.
I left for Tel Aviv and then to Cyprus, and I am still here waiting for any opportunity to go back home – noting that the biggest obstacle to my return is the domination of Hezbollah over Lebanon.
The whole Arab region is facing harsh times. How do you evaluate the Arab upheavels?
I still call it the Arab Spring regardless of the bloodshed in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Iraq. We should always support the struggle of oppressed people against dictators. All the popular revolutions in history passed by agonizing troubles and bloodsheds, for example the French and Russian revolutions. But in the end, the people always win and democracy always prevails.
The last president’s term expired in May. Who is your preferred candidate?
No one among the Maronite candidates whom I consider unreliable – especially the twins Geagea and Aoun who bear responsibility for destroying the Christian Resistance through the so-called war of elimination between the Lebanese Forces and the Lebanese Army which lead to the acceptance of the Taef agreement which in turn meant the end of Christian power in Lebanon and in the Middle East, because we always believed in the expression: “The strength of the Christians in the Middle East depends on the strength of the Christians in Lebanon.”
The other reason is that all the candidates are politicians, but what Lebanon needs now is a statesman who would be able to rescue the country from death. In my opinion, any new president can do nothing as long as Hezbollah is the dominant factor in Lebanon, an independent state inside the Lebanese state, and an army stronger than the Lebanese army.
Personally I prefer the vacuum in the presidency to a bad president, pending better circumstances to get a statesman instead of one from the current political gang.
And what’s your opinion on the current situation in Lebanon?
Lebanon is passing through a very bad and crucial situation for several reasons, but the main one is the very bad and corrupt political band, especially the Maronite leaders with their endless fight amongst themselves for power and money.
The first threat to Lebanon is Hezbollah’s involvement in the war in Syria. This involvement in Syria as a Shia group and their fight aside the Assad regime against the Syrian people (who are predominantly Sunni) led to the rise of the extremist Sunni organizations, like the Jihadist ISIS and many others under different names, who are fighting now in Iraq and Syria against the Shia of Iraq and the Alawites in Syria. The worst scenario in the coming future would be if this fierce war started in Lebanon between the aforementioned factions.
The vacancy in the presidency, the weakness of the government vis-à-vis Hezbollah and the Jihadist organizations, the corrupt administration, the very high number of Syrian refugees on our land – almost 1.5 million plus the half million Palestinians who live in their independent camps protected by their own military organizations: all these facts give a dark picture of the current and future situation of this poor country named Lebanon.
1 The permanent presence of Palestinians in Lebanon worried a substantial portion of the Lebanese population, especially Christians. See Bassam Khawaja: War and Memory: The Role of PalestinianRefugees in Lebanon, p. 18-19.
2 Many Lebanese Christians are known to be linked to the root of Lebanese Nationalism and opposition to Pan-Arabism in Lebanon.
3 Lebanon and Israel are officially in a state of war since 1948.
4 Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and launched military operations against the PLO. The initial official aim of the invasion was to destroy militant infrastructure on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
5 President Amin Gemayel appointed in 1988 General Michel Aoun as acting head of government. During the fighting, General Aoun declared the „war of liberation,“ announcing he would take all necessary steps to drive Syrian troops from Lebanese territory. In January 1990, General Aoun launched attacks against the Lebanese Forces which were and are led by Samir Geagea.