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Interview with al-Hawadeth magazine
13 May 2005
Former Deputy Prime Minister, MP Issam Fares’ interview
with “Al-Hawadeth” magazine

Asked to assess the local situation as the general elections approach, Fares replied, “Confessionalism has returned in force, as has clientelism, extremism and the system of sharing spoils. Fifteen years after the Taef Agreement, we’re back at square one and you might think the Lebanese had learned nothing from the war. They still put personal interests over those of the nation. Our relations and discussions are characterized by tensions and we manage public business like a plantation.

“Was it for this that hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Beirut on March 14? And is this the way we deal with vital matters in which the future of the nation is involved? Are we going to continue the habit of improvisation and of not preparing a prosperous future for our children in order to eliminate all fear for the future?

“How can we expect to settle problems as important as unemployment, living standards, the brain drain, the public debt with this kind of casual, offhand way?
“I speak frankly: I hold the confessional and family system as being principally responsible [for the situation]; then, there is a category of politicians who are concerned solely to further their own interests. I understand that people have ambitions; this is natural and legitimate. What is not to be tolerated is seeking to satisfy these ambitions at the expense of morality and values. That’s why most of the solutions sought for our problems are temporary ones and will not give the results intended.
“Is it reasonable, for example, that less than a month from the beginning of the general elections, there is still no agreement on the way the voting will be held? I have for the last four years never ceased to call for an election law that ensures a better expression of the popular will.
“The present situation gives me no satisfaction; I’m in favor of another that separates religion from politics. I’m in favor of a secular state and of an election law based on political parties”.
What kind of election procedure do you favor?

If we’re committed to the Taef Agreement, which calls for adoption of the province [mohafaza] as the basis for electoral constituencies, preceded by the drawing of new administrative boundaries, how did it happen that the law of 2000 was supported so fiercely by certain parliamentary blocs?
Do you yourself feel targeted in your constituency? And who has an interest in removing you from the political scene?
I don’t think I’m targeted personally. The people of Akkar have clearly declared their fidelity and loyalty, and this is shown by their continued support.
Will you be a candidate in the general elections?

I have no objection to any form of election law, but the matter is one that goes beyond me personally and takes in all political forces. The election law should satisfy and reassure all sides. Unfortunately, deep differences prevent achievement of any consensus on the election law.
Are you satisfied with the way the new cabinet is managing public business?

I welcome the fact that no member of the cabinet is a candidate in the elections, my confidence in the Mikati cabinet depends on the election law it eventually enacts. I continue to stress that if the law of 2000 is retained, the changes the citizens so greatly desire will remain limited.

Will there be a situation of “victor and vanquished”? Will a policy of marginalization be once again the fate of the Christians?

I certainly hope not, because Lebanon without an effective and positive Christian presence has no value. It’s in the interest of the Muslims even more than in that of the Christians in order to show the world the example this small country gives of cultures and civilizations living together. It’s an example to be emulated. After all, how can dialogue among civilizations succeed on a planetary level if it were to fail on the scale of 10,000 square kilometers?
How far has the Lebanese situation been internationalized? Will a new form of tutelage be imposed on us?

We can’t refuse international assistance given so that our country can pick itself up and resume its role on the local and international level. But we cannot accept exchanging one form of tutelage for another. It’s time Lebanon decided its own destiny without external interference.
You were the first one to say that the Syrian pullout would be complete and comprehensive. On the basis of your wide knowledge, can you predict whether Hezballah and the Palestinian camps will be disarmed by military force, or whether it will be as the result of a negotiated agreement?
It will happen by means of negotiations, in accordance with data on the ground. Concerning the Palestinian problem, we welcome the proposal by [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas, who stated that Palestinian weapons were at the disposal of the Lebanese state, even if other statements differed from his. As for Hezballah, if its weapons were confined to the Shebaa Farms, the solution would be easier. But it would be less easy if the maintenance of arms were linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
To what extent can material and economic aid to Lebanon help it to pick itself up economically and financially?

We need to help ourselves even before waiting for external help, by holding “Beirut I” [conference of foreign donors] before “Paris III” and in creating an atmosphere likely to encourage external aid and investment. Confidence is very important.
What have we achieved from the promises made “Paris II”? We’re committed to increasing state revenues, reducing expenditures, stopping wastage of funds, achieving administrative reform and privatizing certain sectors. Unfortunately, we haven’t respected our commitments.