Interview:Albert Moukheiber Lebanese Member of Parliament
Dr. Albert Moukheiber , a physician trained in Switzerland, was elected as a member of parliament representing the Metn District in 1952, serving through 1968 and again from 1972 to 1992, when he boycotted the Syrian-orchestrated elections. Last year he was elected again for a four year term. He is the founder and leader of the Lebanese Rally for the Republic, a democratic opposition party founded in 1969.
During his political career, Dr. Moukheiber took part in several cabinets, serving as deputy prime minister, minister of health, minister of education, minister of housing, acting minister of defense and acting minister of foreign affairs. He also served as the deputy speaker of parliament from 1990 to 1992.
This interview was conducted by MEIB editorial board member Daniel Nassif on August 1, with a brief follow-up after the Lebanese government's August 7 crackdown.
How much credence do you give to the reported recent Syrian redeployment out of Beirut?
The so called redeployment was a mere political gimmick designed to alleviate some of the mounting internal pressure in Lebanon, from all communities, calling for a withdrawal of the Syrian army. It was also intended to preempt the criticism which President Bashar Assad was expecting during his first trip to Paris.
I have been relentlessly and publicly calling for a full withdrawal of the Syrian army from all of Lebanon. There is no acceptable argument, whether legal, political or military, to keep one single soldier in Lebanon. What remains of our yearning for full sovereignty? What is the Lebanese army for? Why are we spending so much money to keep it and strengthen it? There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the Lebanese army alone can and should assure Lebanon's security and stability.
We must keep on pressuring Syria to fully withdraw not only its military forces, but also its non-uniformed intelligence agents, from Lebanon, cease its unacceptable interference in Lebanese internal affairs, and abolish the countless unfair and unequal treaties and agreements that were signed between Syria and Lebanon.
How much is the Lebanese government in control of its own decisions?
In the first session of Parliament, I openly declared in my speech that I would deny the government my vote of confidence because it is in control of nothing since the real power is in Damascus.
How much support do you think exists among Lebanese for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon?
The support is overwhelming within all religious communities and it is becoming more open and vocal. Only a small number of politicians who benefit from the Syrian presence and influence in Lebanon are still speaking against that majority.
Is there a direct correlation between Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and a marked improvement in the country's economy? Is the Syrian presence offsetting economic growth and development?
The Syrian presence brought the Lebanese economy to unprecedented levels of bankruptcy. There is a direct correlation between Lebanon's ability to attract investments and international confidence in the Lebanese political system and in the state of democracy and freedoms. Syrian control over Lebanon constitutes one major hindrance towards such confidence and therefore hinders economic growth.
Can one say that the overall state of freedoms in Lebanon has improved since the accession of Bashar Assad to power?
No, it is still the same, because the Syrian old guard is still very powerful. I hope President Assad can change the long-established policies of Syria in controlling Lebanon. We Lebanese should keep up a relentless effort to make sure that we do not lose our sovereignty and work at improving our freedoms.
What is your position regarding the Lebanese government claim to the Shebaa Farms?
The Shebaa Farms are definitely Lebanese. They were first seized de facto by the Syrians in the 1960's and then occupied by the Israeli army. The Lebanese government is therefore right to claim ownership of the Shebaa Farms. However, I disagree with the way it has advanced this claim because it is not in the best interest of Lebanon.
First of all, it should secure a written agreement with the Syrian Government and file this document as a treaty with the UN.
Second, it should regain its sovereignty from Hezbollah with regard to decisions in the South: the Lebanese government alone should set the policies leading to the return of the Shebaa Farms; the clear preference should be to do so through serious and concerted diplomatic action in coordination with the United Nations, not through military action.
It seems clear to me that the Shebaa Farms issue is used by the Syrians to bring about and maintain a war situation in south Lebanon and to use the Lebanese people and their territory as bargaining chips in the Syrian-Israeli negotiations. This is totally unacceptable.
What is your position regarding the question of sending the Lebanese army to the South?
There is no question in my mind, and I have declared this several times, that the Lebanese army should be sent to the South and take control over the area from Hezbollah, defend our internationally recognized borders and reassure the local population that it is secure within an independent and sovereign state. All arguments to the contrary presented by the government and many of its surrogate politicians are unacceptable and jeopardize the integrity of Lebanon and its sovereignty.
[August 26 follow-up]
What is your view regarding the latest waves of arrests and the beating of protesters in front of the Justice Palace?
I very strongly condemn these arrests, which are in
blatant violation of our constitution, human rights and our existing laws. Calls for freedom and
sovereignty cannot and should never become grounds
for prosecution. These violations can only be curbed
if we step up our call for the withdrawal of all
Syrian troops from Lebanon and for an end to their meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs.