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Samy Gemayel Third Generation to Head Lebanon’s Phalange Party

Lebanon- Sami Gemayel
Lebanese Maronite Christian MP Samy Gemayel waves to the crowd as his father, former president Amine Gemayel, stands behind him during celebrations by supporters of his Phalangist party in the mountain resort of Bikfaya on June 8, 2009. Photo AFP

Born in 1980, Samy Gemayel is the son of former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel and the grandson of Pierre Gemayel, founder of the Phalange (Kataeb) party in 1936. Following in his relatives’ footsteps, Samy Gemayel embraced a political career as well.

He comes from a prominent Christian Maronite family originally from the Mount Lebanon region. His ancestors settled in the town of Bikfaya, 25 kilometres northeast of the capital Beirut, during the 16th century. His older brother Pierre Amine Gemayel was a member of parliament and minister of industry until his assassination in 2006. His uncle  Bachir Gemayel was assassinated in 1982, soon after being elected president.

The young Gemayel gained a master’s degree in public law in 2005 from the Catholic Saint Joseph University in Beirut. He initially led the Phalange student movement but left in 2006 to establish Loubnanouna (‘Our Lebanon’), a more nationalistic movement separate from the Phalange party that advocated the unity of all Lebanese Christians. After the 2006 war with Israel, Gemayel criticized the political party and militant group Hezbollah for what he saw as moving the country towards an Islamic state. He was also opposed to the current President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, the main pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian Christian party.

He rejoined Phalange after his brother’s assassination, leading the Youth and Student Council and later coordinating the Central Committee. By then, the party had joined the March 14 Alliance, an anti-Syrian coalition of political parties and independents.

He first ran for a seat in parliament in 2009. He officially announced his candidacy in April of that year, stating again that “Christian unity is the only solution” to Lebanon’s problems. Although he won the seat, his outspoken opinions have made him a controversial figure, including with his own party members.

During his campaign, he said on al-Arabiya TV, “Let’s try to remember when things began to change, when our lives changed. It changed when the front in South Lebanon was opened. It changed in 1969, when some people decided to turn Lebanon into a rocket launching pad against Israel. This is when our catastrophes began. This is exactly when our catastrophes began.”

He also called for peace, saying Lebanon should not be the only country facing Israel, asking for a more lasting agreement on its southern border. “In my opinion, Lebanon deserves to live in peace for a while. We have adopted the option of neutrality. Some people say: ‘Whoever wants to live in a neutral country should go live on some island.’ We say: ‘Whoever wants to wage war should go wage it on some island.’”

Regarding Syria, he has mostly talked about the Lebanese detainees held there since the end of the Lebanese civil war, saying: “The 622 names who are in Syria are not – in any way whatsoever – missing persons but rather detainees, such as our comrade Boutros Khawand, who was kidnapped from outside his home and was spotted in Syrian jails.” He added, “We totally know where they are and the names include those of army troops and Lebanese citizens who were confronting Syria on 13 October 1990.”

In April 2018, Gemayel said he was against a budget clause he claimed would benefit Syrian refugees looking to settle in Lebanon. Article 50 of the 2018 state budget grants residency to foreign nationals who buy an apartment of at least $500,000 in Beirut and $330,000 elsewhere. Gemayel has taken a similar stance on Palestinian refugees, opposing a proposal that would allow them to work and own property, saying it would be the first step to naturalizing them and therefore unconstitutional.

As a Christian, he has in the past expressed concern about the growing Sunni population in Lebanon; most Syrian and Palestinian refugees are Sunnis. However, his marriage to Carine Tadmouri, a Sunni dentist, in October 2016 has seen him relax his and his party’s stance on the Muslim community.

Gemayel became the head of Phalange in 2015, after his father stepped down. Asked to comment on those who criticized the passing of the party’s leadership from father to son, he said: “The critics do not belong to [Phalange], and they do not express the will of [Phalange]. They are renegades and the remnants of the Syrian era, when the party was under [Syrian] tutelage.”

Gemayel has repeatedly stated his desire to fight corruption in the government, warned about bankruptcy and the need for solid financial reform. As a candidate in the 6 May 2018 parliamentary elections, he called on voters to make the “right choice”. In a campaign speech a month before the elections, he said: “On May 6, there is no one who is stronger than you and no one will be standing with you inside the voting booth. Just remember who defended the country and who advocated the people’s rights; remember who has been honourable and who has done his job correctly.”

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