PrintEmail This Page
Interview with As Sayad Magazine
02 Jun 2005

The answers of Former Deputy PM Issam M. Fares to the questions of
Dar As-Sayyad

1.The country is on the eve of the first phase of elections that you boycotted in protest against a law that you rejected, and was rejected, later on, by many leaders that described it in a very negative way. What are the reasons for you not running for parliament?

A. My decision not to run is based on two reasons:
First: the election law, that found much opposition among most of the political forces in the country because it is not a law that ensures real and proper representation or expresses the real will of the people – and this is something that does not need much explanation as it has already been discussed enough in the media.
From the first days after the 2000 elections I have been calling in my statements and speeches and at every occasion that we should focus on studying a new election law, so that time does not rush upon us, but in vain. Until we have reached today this situation where we are up against a fait accompli, and they said to us: this is the law, and there can be no other.

Second: and I say it plainly, is the ‘disgust’ from this situation in which we have returned to confessional politics and sharing of spoils and narrow interests and large election coalitions that sweep everything in their path and eliminate the role of the voter. I am a believer, but I am not confessional; since I began in public life I did that from a basis that I give to the nation not take from it. but I see that there is a rush for seats and a competition at any price – so I preferred to distance myself, without that meaning that I am distancing myself from serving my country or people in Lebanon through all the means at my disposal.

2. Do you think that you did this on principle, or to avoid results that might be negative in the upcoming elections?

A. Definitely out of conviction. If you follow the reactions to my decision not to run, this would have been clear to you. I didn’t have any problem in terms of winning a seat, and I have a seat if I want it; however, I cannot be in harmony with myself since I was against this election law in the year 2000 and they promised that this would be for one time only; I cannot accept that it be used for a second time.

3. The elections were the result of an international situation, that focused on the holding of the elections within their constitutional periods, and left the issue of the law to the Lebanese. Do you consider that the US, France and the UN were led astray, or did they just focus on international legality and principles, regardless of the outcomes?

A. if you review my speech where I announced my decision not to run, you will find that I said that, unfortunately, we have a group in Lebanon that are “professionals in importing foreign tutelage”; and unfortunately I think what happened was indeed the result of the international community being led astray, under the influence of these internal players.

4. Did the authorities, or the regime, commit political and legal mistakes, then succumbed to everything that was asked of it after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and Deputy Basil Fuleihan and their friends? And what should it have done, so that it would not find itself in the accusation box?

A. certainly, the authorities committed many mistakes, and the opposition as well; except that the biggest mistake was going back to the 2000 election law through the well-known and farcical happenings in Parliament.

5. After the Syrian withdrawal, it seems that Lebanon has changed from ‘brotherly’ tutelage, to international tutelage. Does internationalization bring to Lebanon the beginnings of political and economic rescue, or is Lebanon just succumbing to international will and is this all just an admission of American and French domination of the Lebanese decision?

A. What I want to say first is that we reject the replacement of one foreign tutelage with another, or one domination by another. If international tutelage is for helping Lebanon stand on its feet politically and economically, and regaining its health and role, this we can not refuse; but if it is simply domination, then we do not accept that.
In addition you know that the ability of Lebanon to enjoy independence of decision in light of regional and international developments is limited. Of course, we would have wished had our Arab brothers moved with more seriousness and effectiveness to support Lebanon, but their unity and solidarity is not today in the best of shape; also, we must not forget that the martyrdom of Prime Minister Hariri created a political and psychological situation in the country that changed a lot of factors and elements, and created a new situation that we must take into account.

6. The election law created much ill will in Bkirki and created an intifada of patriarch Sfeir and the Maronite bishops. Do you think that the adjustment of some of the candidate slates in Beirut and Mount Lebanon and the north, with the inclusion of some opposition figures, was to respond to the complaints of the Patriarch or is it related to international movements in order not to solidify the four-part alliance: Amal, Hizbullah, Hariri, and Walid Junblat; or is its objective to gain prior control of Parliament?

A. Indeed all these elements came together. They tried to compensate the election law issue by amending some of the candidate slates, and this is what happened in Beirut and Shouf, and might happen in other places. As for the domination of the future Parliament, alliances can shift later, especially in Lebanon.

7. Several things happened in succession: first, accepting the international investigation into Hariri’s assassination; second, firing of the heads of security agencies; third, forming a cabinet of non-candidates headed by Najib Mikati. Were these just developments that the authorities initially rejected, but were then forced to accept?

A. You know that the issue of the Syrian withdrawal started to be raised seriously more than two years ago after the US Congress passed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act, and after the issuance of UNSCR 1559 – then came the terrorist crime of the assassination of the martyred Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. These events moved quickly and they had to be dealt with at the level of their seriousness, especially that they related to great powers like the US, France, and the states in the Security Council. It is not easy for any government to agree immediately to such measures that compromise national sovereignty, except that the effects of the horrible crime necessitated their acceptance, and the authorities agreed to move ahead with all these actions, and I hope that the truth will come out in the shortest possible time.

8. Expectations are that the opposition will, after the elections, put pressure on the President to force him to resign. Do you feel that international pressure is supporting this, after the US and France accepted the extended term of the President, and after the distance created by Resolution 1559?

A. I would not be surprised if this issue is tabled seriously immediately after the new Parliament takes over, because it seems that a majority will come to Parliament with this orientation, knowing that the Lebanese constitution does not allow the impeachment of the President except if he violates the constitution or commits high treason; as for voluntary resignation, that is for the President to decide and I don’t know if that is what he wants to do at this point.

9. Is it true that the authorities have lost the support of Syria and its friends in Lebanon because they accepted the American and French demands, and that there has been a shake up in the authorities’ alliance with Hizbullah, because of the crisis that went along with the appointment of the new general director for the Surete General?

A. I think the regime lost a lot because of a lack of proper vision of the situation and the future; as for this government, it started off absent, and it is still absent.

10. Do you think that the Parliament’s rejection of the President’s letter, was a blow to the regime?

A. What concerns me in all this is that what happened expresses a lack of respect for the presidency as a constitutional office, because the Parliament should have responded to that letter and explained the reasons that it rejected its contents. The most that the President can do, after Taif, is direct a letter to Parliament, if he finds that necessary. Rejecting the letter, means canceling one of the most important prerogatives that the constitution gives to the President.

11. You said more than once, after you decided not to run for Parliament, that a big crisis is shaking the Lebanese system, because of rampant corruption, and politicians putting their narrow interests before the interests of the country and its people, and your rejection of confessionalism. Why didn’t you do something about these things, and you were in all the governments of this presidential term?

A. First, I was not in all the government of this term; I was not in the first government headed by Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss.
Second, if you review my speeches, communiqués, and interventions in the Council of Ministers, you will find that I did not hesitate at any time in warning and opposing and criticizing, but I was almost alone. There were no powers attached to my position as Deputy Prime Minister, nor did I have a parliamentary bloc or a party, so my ability to impose change was limited. “God asks not of a soul beyond its capacity”; and the real problem is that the executive branch can be abrogated and paralyzed through agreement or disagreement between the President and the Prime Minister, while the Speaker of Parliament dominates Parliament and can paralyze its ability to act if he wishes.

12. What in your view, has been implemented and what hasn’t, from the Taif Agreement?

A. Taif spoke of balanced development of the various regions, culturally, socially and economically;
it spoke of electing a parliament on a national non-confessional basis, and the creation of a Senate;
it spoke of assembling a national commission to study and propose a plan to eliminate political confessionalism and to present that plan to Parliament and the Council of Ministers and the supervision of a phased plan;
it spoke of eliminating the mention of confessionalism from the identity cards;
and of decentralization and redrawing the administrative map;
of a new election law;
of providing education for all and making it compulsory at the elementary level;
of electing some of the members of the Higher Judicial Council from among judges.

These are among some of the points that I remember, but what has been implemented of these by post-Taif governments?

13. What are the reforms that you think should be implemented?

A. I think that the experience of the post-Taif years has highlighted several reforms that should be added to the Taif Agreement, among which are, for example:
- conditions for dissolving Parliament, because the current conditions are almost impossible;
- the President has 15 days within which he has to sign Council of Ministers decrees, while the Prime Minister—and ministers in general--have no such conditions on them;
- the question of the Prime Minister refusing to sign a decree, even if two thirds of the Council of Ministers decides it, as mentioned in Taif, and as happened in the case of the civil marriage bill.
- the question of the powers of the Deputy Prime Minister.
- the question of amending some of the articles of the internal bylaws of Parliament, which has become clearly necessary, especially, in light of recent events.
Now is not the time for a constitutional and legal study; maybe there are other issues that need change as well, but these are some examples.

14. Do you think that the coming period requires a new political class?

A. Of course, there should be a new political class, because the current class is largely made up of traditional political families and financial or economic powers; and there are those that should be encouraged to enter national political life, and that is the young and those with ideas; these, so far, don’t have the role that they should have.

15. how will you be dealing with developments during the period when you are not in Parliament?

A. Parliament is the place where the voice of the citizen reaches those in power. Thank God, I have the means to get the voice of my people in Akkar heard, without being in parliament, as well as when I was in Parliament.

16. Lebanon faces the dangers of division and implantation? How does Lebanon avoid these dangers?

A. Lebanon avoids them through true national unity, and not just electoral unity. And I believe that no power, no matter how great, can impose on any people something it rejects unanimously. However, if we are living a double life, saying one thing and doing another, then the situation would be very worrisome.
The Lebanese constitution was clear: “no division, no segmentation, and no implantation”, as if to say: implantation will lead to division. We must all be very careful and alert about this issue. Both implantation and division are rejected.

17. If you were asked to be foreign minister in the first government after elections, would you accept this offer?

A. I don’t care for posts or offices; I believe that putting things right is the most important thing for any member of government, and this is what I tried to do throughout my participation in various governments. As for the future, it seems that those “friends” that are undertaking campaigns and that might form the new government don’t believe in the saying “Your friend is he who is truthful with you, not he who believes whatever you say”.

18. Do feel regret because you neglected your businesses for ten years, and you closed your business offices in Lebanon, in order to separate between private and public interests?

A. No I have no regrets; all sacrifices are minor when serving Lebanon.

19. Which election law is best and most appropriate for Lebanon, and it is said that this subject will be a top priority after the elections; and will this issue receive your attention, because not running for elections does not mean not serving your country and people.

A. I believe that the whole political system must change, because it is based on persons, families, and confessionalism; and change should be under three headings:
First, changing the political parties law so that no permission is granted to parties that do not have members from all religious communities.
Second, issuing a new election law based on political parties.
Third: separating between being a member of Parliament and being a member of the Council of Ministers, and this is what I focused on in my address to Parliament regarding the statement of the new Council of Ministers. Because being a deputy and a minister at the same time has many negative consequences, among them:
- it contradicts the principle of separation of powers, between the legislative and executive branch. If the cabinet includes thirty deputies, that is already a fourth of Parliament, so how can Parliament exercise its supervisory role over the executive branch.
- The deputy who has the ambition to become a minister loses his ability to hold the government accountable.
- The minister that aims to be a deputy loses his ability to stand up to interventions and pleas that push him to bend the rules and break the laws in order to get more votes.

20. A few days ago, you issued a statement in which you supported the establishment of an international investigatory commission to discover those responsible for corruption and waste of the state’s funds, and to take the necessary legal steps against them. Can you clarify this?

A. In truth, I was not the first one to support this commission, expect that I did support it immediately after several national and international media outlets mentioned it; and they indicated that there were contacts and efforts underway to set up such a commission to investigate the organized theft that happened over the past 15 years, although such an investigation should include all the expenses of the state that reach 90,000 billion Lebanese pounds (60 billion dollars) and not just the 40 billion dollars that represent the current public debt. This commission must have the authority also to investigate waste and those who put their hands on the state treasury and how these moneys were spent, and the costs of projects, and to investigate those who benefited from playing with the national exchange rate in the name of protecting the national currency, and to take all those that are found guilty before court in order to regain the state’s stolen moneys and to punish the guilty.
It must be made clear that we cannot build the Lebanon of the future expect by holding officials responsible for the past, including those that think that they enjoy international protection and internal immunity.

21. The last question, your Excellency: the first round of elections took place yesterday in Beirut: what is your comment on that?

A. First, and in a democratic spirit, I congratulate those who won in Beirut wishing for them to look to the future carrying with them the concerns of the people of Beirut and the hopes of the entire Lebanese people, for they are the deputies of the national capital, and this is despite my objection to many of the practices that took place in this electoral contest. Except that the horror of the crime of Hariri’s assassination opened the way for those who practice cheap advertising; I hope that this is not repeated in other regions, because this panders to emotions rather than speaks to the minds of voters with clear political programs.
I hope that the low voter turnout and the non-candidacy of young leaders and the apathy that we saw yesterday will be a clear warning with regard to the dangerousness of what is happening in these elections in terms of disillusionment in public opinion, which reinforces are principled position regarding the necessity of having a new election law that is fixed and that is not changed every four years to suit particular wishes and interests.