Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 3   No. 6 Table of Contents
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June 2001 

dossier Interview: Nadim Lteif
National Coordinator of the Free National Current (FNC)

Nadim Lteif
Nadim Lteif was born in 1937 in the village of Baadaran in the mountainous Shouf region of central Lebanon. He graduated from the Lebanese Military Academy in 1959, obtained a degree in Law from St. Joseph University in Beirut in 1965, and later attended special training courses in law enforcement in France and the United States.

In 1983, Lteif was appointed Inspector-General of the General Security Directorate (GSD) by then-President Amine Gemayel. In 1988, he was promoted to Director-General of the GSD by Interim Prime Minister Michel Aoun.

Since the Syrian takeover of Beirut in October 1990, Lteif has been a major figure in the Lebanese nationalist movement. He is the national coordinator of the Free National Current (FNC), a nonsectarian organization headed by Aoun that promotes peaceful resistance to the Syrian occupation.

The head of MEIB's editorial board, Daniel Nassif, interviewed Mr. Lteif earlier this month. The following transcript was translated from Arabic to English by Marina Chamma.

What is your assessment of the 1989 Taif Accord and the Second Lebanese Republic that arose as a result of it. Do you foresee any salvation in the Taif process?

The main reason why we opposed the Taif Accord in 1989 was that we were absolutely certain that it would lead, sooner or later, to the loss of Lebanese sovereignty and independence. We weren't reading tea leaves - our assessment was based upon a clear and realistic reading of Syria's historical ambitions toward Lebanon, at least since the establishment of Greater Lebanon in 1920, as well as an objective reading of the accord itself.

It didn't take decades, or even years, for most people with a firm understanding of the situation to realize that the accord was a bill of sale - an instrument that granted control of Lebanon to Syria. Since the implementation of this accord, Lebanon has become a Syrian province. Consequently, Syria has appointed Lebanese presidents, prime ministers, as well as most members of parliament, all of whom behave according to the will of their masters in Damascus, because they are subordinate to Syria and not elected by the people. Lebanon totally disappeared from the regional and international political scene, as Syria became its only spokesman. This is evident in the stale language used by Syria's agents in Lebanon, expressions such as the "unity of tracks" and the "shared destiny" of both countries.

Since the Taif Accord, Lebanon and Syria have signed several additional accords which consolidate Lebanon's submission to Syria, accords between two countries where one party lacks any alternative but to surrender to the will of the oppressor. The President, being a creation of the Syrians par excellance, cannot even transfer an average employee from one position to another without the green light of a Syrian intelligence officer. The degree of deterioration of Lebanese sovereignty and independence is evident when you enter the office of one of the most important heads of the security apparatus - whose authority extends throughout Lebanon - and see the picture of the head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, on the wall, side by side with that of the Lebanese President.

In the final analysis, the Taif Accord will lead to Lebanon's continued demise if things continue the way they are.

Representatives of the Free National Current (FNC) attended but did not sign the Qornet Shahwan and Democratic Forum manifestos. Why was this so?

The FNC participated in the Qornet Shahwan gathering for two reasons. First, we were invited to participate. Second, we were told that the main issue to be debated would be Lebanese-Syrian relations and ways to restore independence and sovereignty, which constitute the essence of FNC activities above all else.

We objected to the Qornet Shahwan working paper mainly for two reasons. First, it was addressed to President Emile Lahoud. This was not appropriate, since Lahoud has said that calling for the Syrian military to withdraw is taboo. However, even if he had a change of heart and was willing to participate in a dialogue, he would be unable to do so because he was brought to office by the same foreign power we complain about.

Second, with the exception of the National Bloc, all of the other participants insisted that all dialogue take place within the framework of the Taif Accord. The FNC, of course, rejects the Taif Accord and therefore refused to sign the final paper.

Our participation in the meetings was still beneficial, however. One of the first points included in the working paper was the redeployment of the Syrian army to the Beqaa without any schedule for its final withdrawal. The FNC insisted upon this last point and succeeded in including it in the final paper.

What is the position of the FNC regarding the Lebanese claim to the Shebaa Farms and the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the south Lebanon border area?

The position of the FNC with regard to the Shebaa Farms is that they are Lebanese. However, Syria controlled the Farms prior to 1967, so the dispute therefore pertains to UN Security Council Resolution 242. Negotiations must take place between Syria and Lebanon in order to define precisely the ownership of these territories and the relevant documentation should be submitted to the United Nations, which on this basis, will determine whether the territory falls under the terms of Resolution 425.

Who is to blame for the rise of sectarian divisions in the country and why?

Sectarian fanaticism isn't rooted in the essence of the Lebanese people, who were able to live in harmony throughout the centuries. The disputes and wars that arose between Christians and Muslims at different stages of history, as in 1841 and 1860, were caused by the interference of foreign states in Lebanese domestic affairs. This caused simple domestic disputes to escalate into sectarian conflict.

Today, amid the rise of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the world and especially in Lebanon, it is Syria that benefits the most from religious extremism. It uses it to extort the United States and Europe with regard to the resistance and also to extort the Christians of Lebanon by telling them that the Muslims will kill them as soon as the Syrian army retreats to its barracks in Syria.

The regime is claiming that its proposal to unify the various branches of the Lebanese University in East and West Beirut will lessen sectarianism. What is the real motivation behind this initiative?

The government's desire to unify the Lebanese University is driven by a purely political motive - to silence any calls for the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty and independence. This was stated clearly by the Minister of Culture and Minister of Higher Education Abdel-Rahim Mrad. It is useful to point out that, throughout the past decade, the Lebanese University's second branch has constituted the only forum that courageously brought up, in the face of government repression, issues relating to ending the occupation and achieving a better Lebanese-Syrian relationship.

How do you assess human rights conditions in Lebanon? Are they deteriorating?

With regard to the suppression of public freedoms, it is possible to write a series of books on the subject. I would like to point out that over 20 students members of the FNC have been recently arrested because they were distributing leaflets calling for a sit-in next to the Parliament protesting the decision to unify the Lebanese University. Another example I can give you is when supporters of the FNC organized a dinner party, about a year ago, of a non-political nature. The intelligence services intervened and forced the owner of the restaurant to close the premises just before the dinner.

The security services are eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of the president, prime minister and the speaker, while Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has stated that he is incapable of putting an end to this. People in Lebanon are beginning to wonder: If things remain as they are and if these incidents continue unabated, will we one day be envious of life in North Korea?

How wide is the circle of opposition to the Syrian occupation?

I can strongly assure you that more than 95% of Lebanese - both Muslims and Christians - would wish for the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon today. The exceptions consist of those few who are indebted to the Syrian occupier for the positions they hold.

In a televised interview with Gen. Michel Aoun some months ago, an on-air poll revealed that 96% of those surveyed said that they supported the General's return to Lebanon because the current circumstances would improve with his return.

I was out of Lebanon when the interview took place. When I came back, I asked several former high-ranking officials, all of them Muslims and with whom I shared the experience of working in the public sphere, about the matter. I asked them about the percentage of Muslims among the 96% that voted for the General's return. They all answered that Muslims constituted "more than half of the respondents." They justified this by saying that Muslims are being repressed to a greater extent than Christians are because Syria's influence on them is stronger and more oppressive.

In recent days, Syrian forces are reported to have withdrawn from Beirut. Is this politically significant?

It is entirely theatrical. There is still a Syrian military presence in the capital and in the Metn region, especially around Syrian intelligence posts, which will continue to prop up the Lebanese regime that was imposed on us by Syria. The measures taken by President Bashar Assad were designed to polish his image in the wake of his upcoming visit to French President Jacques Chirac, as well as to avoid being put in a highly embarrassing situation during the Francophone Summit that will take place this October in Beirut.

Can Lebanon extricate itself from its current economic crisis without a complete Syrian withdrawal? Is Syria an obstacle to economic development and prosperity?

It is a well-known fact that Lebanon's economy is in a state of near collapse. The factors accounting for this state of affairs are diverse, but the Syrian occupation is at the top of the list. It prevents us from receiving any foreign financial assistance, due to Syria's conflict with Israel and the prohibition on dispatching the army to the South, which remains an area prone to ignite the whole region at any moment.

Not to mention the terrifying exodus of young Lebanese from the country, being replaced by more than one million illegal Syrian workers that send billions of dollars to Syria annually. Meanwhile, Lebanon doesn't tax any of this money or charge them for work permits.

What do you propose as a solution to the current political and economic impasse?

In order to step out of the current impasse it is necessary to form a genuine government of national unity. This government's primary tasks will be the drafting of a fair electoral law, enabling the representation of all factions of Lebanese society; starting negotiations with Syria so that it withdraws its army from Lebanon and reformulating a brotherly and balanced relationship between the two countries; and actively engaging in the peace process, rather than relying on intermediaries.

Related Articles

Interview: Selim Ramlawi, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, July 2000.
Interview: Issam Abou Jamra, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, April 2000.

2001 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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