In Al-Bayada, one of the villages of Al-Matn in Mount Lebanon, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gibran Bassil, and his team work inside his house, making a daily inventory of accounts in preparation for the parliamentary elections.
Concern appears on his face, and this is not surprising, because the upcoming parliamentary elections are very important to him, and much of his political future in the coming years depends on their results.
The leader of the largest Christian bloc in Lebanon considers the electoral battle to be confined to his sect, describing it as a resistance to the war of abolition that the Lebanese Forces Party is waging against him.
No matter how Bassil toured, "Forces" banners invade the outskirts of Lebanon's roads, engraved with slogans of hostility against him and his strongest ally, Hezbollah.
Since 2015, Basil held the title of leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, with the support of his father-in-law, President Michel Aoun, who returned to Lebanon in 2005 after the Syrian withdrawal. The irony is that today, after marathon political years, Basil finds himself closer to Syria than ever before.
In Haditha, Basil's obsessions about the political situation he embodies, whose echoes reached all the capitals concerned with the Lebanese file, were punished by the United States and boycotted by Gulf states.
On the other hand, his opponents accuse him of opening battles on every front he sees as a way to reach the presidency, while he does not hesitate to attack a political system he accuses of corruption, even though his current has been part of its legislative and executive authority since 2005, but Bassil seeks to refute many of the accusations and negative attitudes. It is due to an alliance with Hezbollah 16 years after the signing of the memorandum of understanding between President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera Net, Basil touches on the files he occupies before and after the elections, with allies and opponents, talks about his battle tools in the Christian street, answers problematic questions about his relationship with Hezbollah and his presidential ambitions, and his last meeting with his rival for the next presidential seat, and presents his approach to the files The regional link with Lebanon, and reveals a close visit to Damascus.
Banners of the Lebanese Forces party spread everywhere due to the strong funding of its electoral campaign (Al-Jazeera)
How does the Free Patriotic Movement fight the 2022 parliamentary elections?
How does his approach differ from the 2018 elections?
Formalistically, there is no difference in our political approach to the 2022 elections from the 2018 elections, because our approach and program did not change, but the major transformations that occurred in Lebanon made the election conditions exceptional for us, and the most important paradox of our current is that it came at the beginning of the era of President Michel Aoun in 2018, while The 2022 elections are the last year of his reign, and those elections were fought out of our reform program and the hope of achieving it. As for these elections, we are fighting a battle to defend our existence.
Do you mean that your existence is threatened?
We as a political team, including what we represent nationally and as Christians, are subjected to a fierce abolition war internally and internationally and by regional powers that stand against our policy - at the forefront of which is America - with everyone who contributed to launching Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006, and everyone who pressures us to accept Lebanon’s settlement of Palestinians and displaced Syrians and accept the terms of peace With Israel despite its occupation of parts of our land and the looting of our wealth.
What we describe as our war of cancellation reached its climax on October 17, 2019, which imposed an international financial and economic blockade on us until we accept the terms of the grand settlement required from Lebanon.
How do you question the credibility of an uprising in which thousands of Lebanese participated and describe it as targeting your presence?
We distinguish between a false revolution and a true one, and the overwhelming majority of Lebanese have a desire for change, but they withdrew in succession from the street until the revolution dissipated and a large part of it turned into a battle of attack on President Aoun's era and insults against our movement.
The evidence is that what was called a revolution did not produce anything positive for Lebanon, and then the identity of those who climbed on it was revealed from traditional political forces, at the forefront of which is the Lebanese Forces Party.
However, there is a general atmosphere that suggests that the popularity of the Lebanese Forces has exceeded your popularity on the Christian street. How do you deal with these estimates?
What are your expectations for the forces in the elections?
If the forces were to abide by the law - and they are always outside it - they would have adhered to the ceiling of electoral spending, and the banners sweeping Lebanon in their favor is one of the manifestations of the enormous waste of their money, whether those they accumulated in the war or those coming from regional parties that finance them with millions of dollars according to our data, to exploit the needs of the Lebanese By its battle against us by buying votes and slander, and this is what we warn the Lebanese about.
All our polls confirm that we are still the strongest in the Christian street, but we are concerned about the remaining weeks before the elections as a result of the documented data we have gathered about huge additional electoral funds that the forces are seeking to pump into the street, to reduce our parliamentary bloc at any cost.
And the size of our bloc in the next parliament is linked to two factors: the voice of the people who have not yet expressed their opinion in our constituencies, and the electoral money that we do not have, and therefore we do not use it to address people, which is confirmed by our modest electoral and media campaign.
Where lies the actual battle for the elections from your point of view?
The real battle is exclusively in the Christian street in the 2022 elections. That is why we call it the battle of defending existence because it targets us, and it will determine whether the attack against us will bear fruit in terms of reducing the number of seats in our bloc in Parliament without, of course, being able to topple us or cancel us.
We monitored the resignations of leaders and personalities from your current, does this reflect an internal rejection of your approach to the elections and a state of restlessness?
The word resignations is inaccurate, and the number is very limited. In any case, whoever took a negative position is due to one thing: he did not obtain the support of the two currents in our internal polls, so he blames the leadership, while we adopt a democratic mechanism, and some partisans do not accept the result, and this is not the first time. This does not affect the course of our elections, because what our current is witnessing is a normal issue within the parties.
In 2018, you fought the electoral battle as allies with the Future Movement in a number of constituencies. How do you approach the future’s withdrawal from the 2022 elections after the fierce rivalry between you?
Despite our deep disagreement with them, Prime Minister Hariri's withdrawal is a great loss for Lebanon, and this is the result of the wrong policy he has pursued.
We acknowledge the existence and existence of our opponents, and we do not accept the marginalization and frustration of the Sunni sect, and the popular base of the Sunnis will decide their fate in the elections, whether they boycotted or participated in the polls, and we submit to their choice, and we will cooperate with them regardless of the identity of the representatives they chose.
Bassil believes that his alliance with Hezbollah needs to be developed, but he sticks to it (Reuters)
The current and Hezbollah
You say that your alliance with Hezbollah after 16 years needs to be developed, what exactly?
And where did you fail with the Mar Mikhael agreement?
There is no doubt that our alliance with Hezbollah failed to build the state, so it needs to develop in the state building clause, which Hezbollah did not translate as we want, in addition to reconsidering the defense strategy for Lebanon and turning it into a project and not keeping it as an idea.
We also need with Hezbollah to approach an issue that does not concern us, but rather worries a large segment of the Lebanese, which is the control of the cultural and social character of the party over Lebanese society.
We see that the actual role of the resistance is to protect the state, regardless of the political farms and the pillars of the corrupt system
However, do you not find that Hezbollah succeeded in clearing up the differences between its allies, specifically between you and the Amal Movement and the Marada Movement?
No, if he had succeeded in full, our alliances and regulations would have been otherwise, and we are not satisfied with a large part of our regulations.
Your recent meeting with the head of the Marada movement, Suleiman Franjieh, at the Iftar banquet for Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, caused confusion in Lebanon. What happened in it?
This meeting is a translation of my openness to Franjieh, who I have never directed any offense to, and came after a political estrangement with him, and its actual translation is as follows: a normal political reconnection between us without expanding discussion of specific issues or consensus around them, and each of us - patriotic and Christian - has his own policy, project and different currents We may meet on some points, and the meeting achieved its goal in terms of overcoming the useless estrangement between us.
Does this mean that Nasrallah constitutes a guarantee between his two allies as Christian leaders?
No, because the meeting did not produce an agreement on anything in order to translate any kind of guarantee, and if we had received an invitation from a party other than Mr. Nasrallah, we would have met as well.
Are you with your ally Hezbollah's regional options, or with the Maronite Patriarch's call for Lebanon's neutrality?
I have previously said that I am with the term "Neutralizing Lebanon", and I presented this in my meeting with the Patriarch, and I spoke with him about 3 conditions that must be provided to neutralize Lebanon and he agreed with me on them: First: internal consensus on the issue, Second: Acceptance of the countries bordering us with our neutrality, otherwise it is meaningless if Israel is Third: international recognition of this issue.
These conditions, if available, lead us to neutrality, but they are not currently available.
Bassil denies being responsible for the failure or failure of President Aoun's era (Reuters)
After the elections and the presidential battle
Many blame you for the failure of President Aoun's era, as others describe you as the shadow president of the republic. Why do you think?
These false accusations are part of the battle to abolish us, especially since the failure of President Aoun’s era automatically affects the situation of our movement and multiplies its challenges. If President Aoun’s era did not succeed enough, it is for internal and external reasons.
First: At the local level, an internal alliance was formed that included all the opposites affected by the presence of a strong president like President Aoun, who has a representative status on the Christian street, and it requires that all the Christian component of its various sects be represented equally and fairly in any government, and implements an election law that improves the validity of representation, seriously confronts corruption and pays Corruption files to the judiciary.
And those who sought to thwart his reign are also the partners of the Governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh, and those who protect him, and it is sufficient for President Aoun to witness the largest prosecution of Salameh internally and externally, and here is his brother, Raja Salameh, a prisoner behind bars.
Second: The lack of success of President Aoun’s era has an external aspect, especially since the era of former US President Donald Trump devoted a policy rejecting the stability of Lebanon in light of the presence and influence of Hezbollah.
So, how does Gibran Bassil approach the battle for the presidency with the talk that the parliamentary elections constitute a preparation for it?
Parliamentary elections are not an actual preparation for the presidential elections, but their temporal context suggested that, however, they will have a great impact on them, because I am those who say that the first criterion for choosing the President of the Republic is his popular representation coupled with a number of other specifications, the most prominent of which is that he be patriotic and uncorrupt and his history is not stained With crime and blood.
Some say that Hezbollah's presidential candidate is Suleiman Franjieh, and that the party may not repeat the experience of President Michel Aoun's era by supporting your candidacy for the presidency. How accurate is that?
Can your bloc give its vote to elect a Franjieh?
I am not a candidate for the presidency as long as I have not personally announced this until now, and after the elections for every incident in this regard, and if Hezbollah supports Franjieh’s candidacy for the presidency, this is a matter that concerns it and we have never discussed it, and it does not affect our basic criteria for determining the identity of the President of the Republic whom we seek to reach.
As for the outside, it should not have a role in choosing the president, and what is required is that the next president be able to weave his relations with the outside and a wide dynamism in his movement, and these are his tools and not the conditions for his arrival because Lebanon is the one who should choose its president, not the regional powers.
How do you evaluate the experience of Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the government?
Is it possible to be your candidate for prime minister after the elections?
Our bloc did not vote for him when he was assigned to head the government, but he created a kind of positive cooperation with the President of the Republic. In the next stage, we have to choose the prime minister according to how he deals with his constitutional partner first.
The current and the challenges of the region
How do you see the return of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to Lebanon?
We welcome this return and find it positive, and we basically did not find a reason for the withdrawal of the ambassadors of Gulf countries from Lebanon, and any internal communication movement we encourage, but any biased movement that involves interference in the internal and electoral affairs, we will be among those who reject it, and the initial scene of this return speaks for itself.
How will you approach regional files after the elections?
And what are your priorities?
Lebanon needs to have a good relationship with everyone, because it is in a bankruptcy situation, and it must have the capacity for reforms so that the international community can stand by it without imposing harsh conditions on it, and as long as the discussion is technical and related to the economy, it is a positive factor to pressure Lebanon to implement reforms.
But if it later takes on any political character, such as linking any economic aid to political conditions, we will announce our rejection, and so far this has not appeared, because the amount of money promised to Lebanon, for example, from the International Monetary Fund - a few billion dollars - does not amount to being coupled with political conditions.
It is said that your alliance with Hezbollah was the price of your isolation and the US sanctions imposed on you as part of its results. Do you seem more comfortable with the presence of the Joe Biden administration and expect the US sanctions to be lifted from you?
It must be clarified that imposing US sanctions is easier than lifting them, but if lifting them requires political concessions, I will certainly not make them, and if I wanted to, I would have submitted them previously and avoided the sanctions.
The reason for the sanctions is clear, and it is my relationship with Hezbollah, and I will not sever my relationship with the party until I see that the interest of the movement and Lebanon requires it, not because a strong external party wanted to force me to do this.
You have previously expressed your intention to visit Damascus and you did not do so. When will you visit it?
The project of my visit to Damascus is underway and is just around the corner, and it could happen before or after the elections, and it only requires certain political preparations.
As for the agenda that I will carry for Syria, it is of a popular, political, official, economic and eastern character.
What I am interested in discussing in Syria is the eastern position, that is, our role as Lebanese, Arab and Christian, and bypassing Lebanon into Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine and into a deeper partnership with the Gulf, Egypt, Turkey and Iran.
Bassil announces his upcoming visit to Damascus, perhaps before or after the elections (Reuters)
How do you evaluate Lebanon's relationship with the Syrian regime in the past years?
Some Lebanese parties contributed to the conspiracy against Syria, while Lebanon was supposed to be a support for Syria, not a thorn in its side, and there are many who conspired against it from Lebanon, with weapons, money or sending fighters. By God, we have proven that we do not allow Syria to be attacked from Lebanon.
As for Hezbollah, it intervened in Syria after a period of time from the start of the war and after everyone intervened. Nevertheless, I understand the defense of Lebanon’s borders if there is a danger that came from Syria, but I do not understand that we go further, even though Hezbollah’s intervention protected Lebanon and Syria together.
Will the Syrian regime interfere in the elections and seek a share of parliament?
Absolutely, no. An example of this is that we were told that there are personalities chosen by President Bashar al-Assad, and I sought clarification on this matter directly from the Syrian leadership, and it turned out that the matter is not true, and Syria does not interfere in the elections, and the proof is that we, in the national movement, chose our Alawite candidate in Akkar, far from any orientation Syrian.
Why don't you take a frank and public position on the file demarcation of the border with Israel?
Our position is clear, and it is Lebanon's official position, which we all shared in governments and parliaments, in which we approved Decree No. 6433, which preserves Lebanon's rights in the exclusive economic zone, which is at the 23rd line, which includes the disputed area of 860 square kilometers.
As for Line 29, it was proposed later, and Lebanon called it a negotiating line, and it is a good question to collect what was possible for Lebanon.
Therefore, our position is first with obtaining the officially recognized rights, that is, the 23rd line is the basis, and what can be achieved after it is a matter of negotiation, whether the line or oil and gas.
As for those who deprive Lebanon of these rights, Israel and all those who support it, as well as the internal mishandling of the file, and Lebanon could have obtained better than that, not only with the 23rd line, but also with the borders with Syria and Cyprus, had it been achieved in a different and more practical way.
Those who bear the responsibility for this failure are those who previously dealt with the file, and here we are talking about technical bodies present in the Ministry of Works and the army, and political parties present at the head of the government and the Ministry of Works.
Although the indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel have stalled several times through the American mediator, we are still optimistic about the chance of the border demarcation file succeeding, and official Lebanon has the responsibility to benefit from the payment made. The United States is interested and has an interest, as well as Israel has an interest. Its new government and its ability to achieve such an agreement. It is also time for Lebanon to benefit from its wealth in light of the slowdown in implementing oil and gas extraction contracts. As for Hezbollah, it is inevitably behind Lebanon's official position.Keywords: