Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea endorsed the candidacy of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun for the presidency of Lebanon. This move came as a surprise to most observers for two reasons:
- Samir Geagea was a candidate for the presidency himself
- Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun were on opposing sides during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990)
Geagea is the executive chairman of the Lebanese Forces, the second largest Christian political party in Lebanon, while Aoun is the founder of the Free Patriotic Movement, the country’s largest Christian political party.
News website Now Lebanon described the endorsement as a “political bombshell”, but not everyone was surprised by Geagea's decision. ‘Moulahazat’ blogger Ramez Dagher wrote a long post analyzing what he called ‘the Christian wedding’ from a strategic point of view.
In fact, Dagher wrote an article called “when warlords become presidential candidates” nearly two years ago saying that “the candidates [for the presidency] are of the civil war era, their programs are of the civil war era, the parties are of the civil war era, the lawmakers are of the civil war era, the absence of parliamentary elections is of the civil war era, and even our former overlord to the East is in a civil war.” In other words, for those of us who have grown cynical towards Lebanese politics, that one former warlord decided to endorse another former warlord didn't really come as a shock.
As for the reaction of the public, it's hard to say. Despite an anonymous minister claiming in an interview with Al Monitor that “more than 85% of the Christian public opinion is now with Michel Aoun”, the news of Geagea’s endorsement of Aoun proved to be controversial to say the least. With memes, tweets, songs and jokes, the Lebanese internet exploded with disbelief, outrage, or just plain old sarcasm.
The point of this post is to simply document memories. The Lebanese Civil War was a complex 15-year-long series of events and no one article can properly encompass its complexity. Since Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun are currently making the news in Lebanon, we have focused our efforts on the Lebanese who talked about these two men’s actions during the war. There will be other stories, stories of the disappeared and of current warlords-turned-politicians, of the fallen and the survivors.
Maya Mikdashi: We were just lucky!
The first story is by Jadaliyya co-editor Maya Mikdashi, who wrote in an article entitled “Let us now praise murderous men” about the trauma caused not only by Geagea and Aoun, but by other leading politicians currently in the Lebanese government.
Here’s an extract:
Reading and watching Geagea give press statements on his candidacy, I remember the space of terror he used to occupy for myself and my friends in Tariq al-Jadidah. I remember watching mortars explode from a window with a view of the northern coast with my grade school classmates during the Aoun-Geagea war. I remember a year spent in a mountainous Beirut suburb, away from school and from an apartment untenably close to “the Green Line.” Today, I try to imagine what a Palestinian in Lebanon thinks when she sees Geagea on TV confidently lay out why he should be president. Does her heartbreak as one by one, journalists fail to ask Geagea about his involvement in war time massacres? Has her heart been broken too many times in Lebanon, and does she simply change the channel? No one asks Geagea, or his rival Gemeyyel, about their wartime alliances with Israel, or their complicity in the siege of West Beirut, or their wars with rival Maronite leaders that left thousands dead and maimed.
I remember listening to the news with my family on the way to school the day that Gemeyyel left Beirut for Paris—It was a happy day. Years earlier, my five-year-old self had found an unexploded ordinance on our balcony in Tariq al-Jadidah. Amin Gemeyyel was President and he had ordered the army to shell the area. Many refused the order and deserted. I like to think that the unexploded ordinance on our balcony was the result of a soldier consciously removing explosive materials from mortal shells, knowing that his act would save the lives of residents. In reality, however, we have no idea why that shell did not explode. We were just lucky.
We were lucky again when the Lebanese army shelled our neighborhood during Aoun’s “War of Liberation” against the Syrian army, a war which apparently required the Lebanese army to shell heavily congested civilian areas in West Beirut. One particularly terrifying night, as my family was clustered in our foyer where we had been sleeping for days, my mother spread her arms across a wall and kissed it. This is the first memory I have of my parents as ordinary people; fragile, afraid, vulnerable. I have never been as profoundly shaken in my life as I was in that moment, watching my mother hug a concrete wall during a night of heavy shelling.
The legacies of Aoun, Geagea and Gemeyyel are the hundreds of thousands of killed and wounded during the Lebanese civil war. Their legacies are massacres and sieges and mortars and snipers and kidnapping and millions of dollars stolen and embezzled from citizens and the treasury. They are not alone with this legacy: leaders of rival political units and “different sides” should also be defined by their wartime crimes.
Wadad Halwani: They reconciled at our expense
The second story is by Wadad Halwani, whose husband, a member of the Communist Action Organization, was kidnapped in 1982. Halwani is now the chairperson of the “Families of the Disappeared and Abducted Committee”. In an interview with Lebanese Francophone newspaper L’Orient Le Jour, she explained why she keeps on fighting for the cause of the disappeared: “I have a new responsibility today, which is to look out for some 17,000 officially reported abducted persons,” adding that she will never give up until her mission is completed.
وقت تقاتلوا، تقاتلوا فينا وعا حسابنا . وقت تصالحوا ، تصالحوا وبيتصالحوا من دوننا وعا ضهرنا
هالقاعدة مُعتمدة مش من هلّق، بل من بداية الحرب في لبنان سنة 1975 وحتى نهايتا وبعدا سارية المفعول حتى اليوم.
هالقاعدة مش محصورة بين عون وجعجع ، بل بين جميع زعماء الميليشيات والأحزاب اللي تقاتلت وتسبّبت بوقوع عشرات الآلاف من القتلى والجرحى والمعوقين والمفقودين والمهجّرين… عدا عن حجم الدمار الذي أصاب لبنان على كافة المستويات.
نحنا، بقصد ناس هالبلد ما نزال نعاني من آثار تلك الحرب حتى اليوم وعلى كافة المستويات..
ما يزال هؤلاء (قادة الحرب) يعيشون ويتنقّلون بحرية بيننا ، ما زالوا يتحكّمون بمفاصل البلاد والعباد بمنطق شريعة الغاب، بمنطق زمن الحرب ذاته.. يعني بعدهم متل ما كانوا عم يمارسوا بالحرب.. يعني هتّي ما تغيّروا بالسلم..
غريب يكون لهلّق في حدا من ناس هالبلد بيصطفّ مع هذا المرشح أو ذاك، مع هذا الـ”زعيم” أو ذاك…!!!
Sorry يمكن عم هلوس
When they fought, they fought us and on our account. When they reconciled, they made up without us and at our expense. This is their way, not just now, but from the beginning of the civil war in Lebanon in 1975, until its end, and continues until today. This attitude is not confined to Aoun and Geagea but includes all the leaders of militias and parties which went to war which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries in addition to those who became disabled, disappeared and were forced to immigrate, in addition to the destruction that effected all aspects of life in Lebanon. And we, the people of this country, continue to suffer the effects of that war until today, across all levels. And those warlords continue to live and move freely among us. They are still in charge of all aspects of this country and over all the people with the jungle mentality they has during the war. They have not changed in times of peace. It is strange that people until now support this candidate or that! Sorry, I might be hallucinating.
Zeina Allouche: I didn't want to die naked
The third story is by Zeina Allouche, who recalls how she used to sleep in the bathtub fully clothed because she didn’t want her corpse to be seen naked, calling Aoun’s so-called ‘war of liberation’ a ‘war of elimination':
كنت انام في بانيو الحمام في الطابق 11 في الحمرا وانا مرتدية ملابسي لانني لم اكن اريد ان اراني أشلاء عارية على التلفزيون…مذكرات حرب الإلغاء
I used to sleep in the bathtub on the 11th floor in Hamra, wearing all my clothes, because I did not want to have my blown up body parts naked on television… from the memories of the War of Elimination
The fourth story is by Joelle Boutros, a researcher at the Legal Agenda and blogger at joojle31, who remembers the suffering caused by Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea and asks that they both set the ground for a ‘real reconciliation between the people, and not just a reconciliation between the leaders and sectarian officials to fulfill their political goals':
بتذكر كل صاروخ تفرجنا عليه انا وخيي عم يمرق فوق راسنا خلال حرب الالغاء. بتذكر صريخ بيي من الوجع وقت كسر اجرو وما قدرنا ناخدو عالمستشفى بسبب القذائف الدايرة. بتذكر خبار جارتنا عن التبهدل يلي كانت تتعرضلو كل ما بدها تمرق ع حاجز البربارة. بتذكر كيف كان بيي يمنعنا نقول انو بيحبّ عون قدام جارنا يلي بيحارب مع القوات خوفا علينا. بتذكر كمان ورقة ستي بالمطبخ “ممنوع التكلم في السياسة” لأن كانت عم تحاول توّقف الخناقات على الغدا كل احد (هيدي بعد ال ٢٠٠٥). بتذكر العالم يلي قوّصت وضربت بعضها بال ٢٠٠٧ وقت العونيين قرروا يسكروا الطرقات ويحرقوا دواليب. بتذكر حملات التحريض والتخوين والاهانات والمسبات يلي كانت تبّلش عالشاشات وتخلص بالصالونات. بتذكر الامل عند العالم من بعد زيارة عون لجعجع بالسجن والانتكاسة دغري بعدها. ترشيح جعجع لعون بيكون صادق وبداية صفحة جديدة وكل هالشعر بس يعتذروا عن حروبهم الهمجية. بس يعتذروا من كل عائلة خسرت حدا من افرادها بسبب قتالهم المستمر. بس يعتذروا من العائلات يلي بقيت مقسومة لليوم بسبب عداوتهم. يعتذروا ويأسسوا لمصالحة حقيقية بين القاعدة مش مصالحة مفصلة على قياس القيادات والمسؤولين الحزبيين ومصالحهم السياسية. يعتذروا على هال٣٠.سنة من حياتنا! يعتذروا!
I remember every rocket that flew above my brother's and my heads during the war of elimination. I remember my father's screams when he broke his leg and we couldn't take him to the hospital because of the falling mortar. I remember my neighbour's complaints about the humiliation she suffered every time she had to cross the Barbara checkpoint. I remember how my father forbade us to say that he loved Aoun in front of our neighbour who fought with the Lebanese Forces because of his fear on us. I also remember the note put up by my grandmother in the kitchen: “Discussing Politics is Forbidden” as she tried to put an end to the quarrels over Sunday lunch (this was after 2005). I remember the people who shot at and hit each other in 2007, when the Aoun's supporters decided to block the streets and burn tyres. I remember the incitement, insults and accusation campaigns that started on the television screen and ended up in the living room. I remember the hope among people after Aoun visited Geagea in prison and how everything turned south afterwards. Geagea's nomination of Aoun would only be genuine and a chance to turn a new page if only they would apologise for their barbarian wars. They will have to apologise to everyone who lost a family member because of their constant fighting. They should apologise to the families that have become divided because of their enmity to this day. They should apologise and set the ground for a real reconciliation between the people, and not just a reconciliation between the leaders and sectarian officials to fulfill their political goals. They should apologise for those 30 years of our lives! They should apologise.
Rouwa Saba: This big lie will not give me a happy childhood!
The fifth story is by Rouwa Saba, who writes of how her family was stuck between the forces of Michel Aoun and the forces of Samir Geagea, quite literally:
بوقتها… كنا عايشين بمنطقة إسمها “حبوب” بجبيل.
بوقتها… كنا مجبورين نقعد عَ العتمة كل الليل، حتى لو في كهربا. كانت الشمعة غالية. إذا ضوّيناها حتى نفتش على شي ناكلو، كانت تكلّفنا قذيفة أو قنبلة.
بوقتها… كانوا العونيي تحت شباكنا والقوات فوق، يعني فيكن تتخايلوا المعارك اللي كانت تدور بيناتُن ونحنا بالنص.
بوقتها… كان بابا يقعد عَ أرض المطبخ كل ليلة ويتكي راسو عَ البراد، قبل ما نركض صوبو ويغمرنا أنا وخيي كل واحد بإيد ونبقى هيك كل السهرة. وكان لحتى ينسّينا صوت القذايف والرصاص، يخترع قصص يخبّرنا ياها.
بوقتها… انقطعنا من الخبز (وبوقتها كنا ياما ننام نحنا وجوعانين) بس مش ممكن إنسى مشهد إمي طالعة عَ الدرج الخارجي رَكض. أكتر مرّة خفت بحياتي. كانت صيد سهل للطرفين. وبعدما ركضت وراها قال لحتى إحمي ضهرها (هيك بقوصوني أنا ومش هيي) ركض خيي وبيّي ورايي، وكان آخر يوم إلنا بالبيت. قصفوه. وطار الدرج. وطار الشباك اللي كان يخلّيهن يستكتروا علينا ضو الشمعة. بس زمطنا، هيك قالت إمي.
بوقتها… الزمطة من الموت كانت ترف.
بوقتها… ولكانوا أهلي دبّروا بيت تاني، خبّونا القوات بالدبابة تبعن أنا وخيي. مش لأنن هني مناح، بس كان عنا واسطة. خالي بالصدم. ما بنسى هالنهار. صوت اللاسلكي وكلمة عمليات وبعدها إحتدام المعارك والرصاص والقنابل والقذايف. كلها مشاهد مش ممكن إنسيها حتى لو اجتمع عون وجعجع مبارح!
حتى لو بوّسوا بعض مبارح…
حتى لو عملوا وثيقة تفاهم بين بعض مبارح…
حتى لو قالوا إنو تعلّموا من التاريخ لبناء المستقبل…
اللي بفكّر للحظة بالحرب، السلام ما بكون ولا مرّة من أولوياتو.
هيدي طفولة بشعة… بشعة بسبب عون وجعجع.
مستحيل كذبة كبيرة وتصرّف كيدي يرجعوا يعَيشوني طفولة حلوة ويمحوا أصوات الرصاص والقنابل والقذايف اللي ربيت عليها.
قبل ما تتفقوا… بدكُن ما تواخذوني يعني، بس مجبورين تعتذروا مني ومن كل عيلة شرّدتوها ودمّرتوا بيتها وقتّلتوا أحد أفرادها.
قبل ما تتبسّموا وتنكتوا مع بعض علينا… مجبورين تعتذروا لأنكن كنتوا سبب تدمير حياة بكاملها.
وآه مبروك الصلحة… لابقين لبعض.
هيك اتنين ما بيلبقوا… إلا لبعض!
مبروك عليكن جمهورية الزبالة والمجارير.
At the time, we used to live in a place called Haboub, in Jubeil. At the time, we were forced to stay in the dark every night, even if there was electricity. Candles were expensive. If we lighted one even to look for something, the price could have been a rocket or a bomb. At the time, Aoun supporters were under our windows, and the Forces were on the rooftops, so you could just imagine the fighting that took place between them, while we were stuck in the middle. At the time, my father used to sit on the kitchen floor, and resting his head on the fridge, before my brother and I would run to him and he would embrace us, and that is how we would spend the night. He would make up stories to keep us occupied from the sounds of mortars and bullets. At the time, we had no bread. We would go to sleep hungry. I can never forget when my mother came down the stairs. It was the most I have been afraid. She was an easy target for both sides. I ran behind her thinking if they snipe her, they would hit me and not her, and my brother ran behind me and my father behind him. It was our last day in the house. They blew it up. And the stairways disappeared. And the windows which prevented us from having candle light were gone too. But we survived. That's what my mother said. At the time, survival from death was a luxury. At the time, until my family was able to secure another house for us, the Forces hid my brother and I in a tank, not because they were good, but because we had contacts. My uncle was in the special unit of the Lebanese Forces. I will never forget that day. The sounds on the wireless, speaking about operations, and then the intensifying of the fighting, and the bullets, and bombs and mortar. These are all scene I will never forget even if Aoun and Geagea met yesterday! Even if they kissed each other yesterday! Even if they signed an agreement of understanding between each other yesterday and even if they said they have learned lessons from the past to enable them build the future. Those who think of war never put peace among their priorities. That was an ugly childhood, ugly because of Aoun and Geagea. A big lie will not give me a happy childhood and make me forget the sounds of bullets and bombs that I grew up hearing. Before you reach an agreement, you should apologise from me and from all the families that you have made flee, and destroyed their homes, and killed their members. Before you smile and joke with each other, you are forced to apologise because you were responsible for destroying entire lives. And congratulations on your reconciliation, you deserve each other. People like you two, only suit each other. Congratulations on the republic of garbage and sewerage. To hell with you and your republic!
Abir Ghattas: I demand better!
Finally, this last story is by Abir Ghattas, co-author of this article. Being too young at the time, she doesn’t recall the war itself but rather asks what is next for those of us who were born at the end or after the civil war.
A lot of people are sharing stories of the times Aoun and Geagea bombed their neighborhoods. I can't testify to that, as I was too young to remember and had the “luxury” to be born in a remote village in the north of Lebanon. I can't testify firsthand to the pain of the war, to the loss, to the fear, to the death surrounding you. But I can testify to the hatred i saw and see every day between people my age or younger, who also did not live the war. I am not dismissing their experiences or those shared by their loved ones, but they themselves did not live the war, yet they hate each other, they listen to songs and learn how to honk, put stickers on their cars, and wage their own war, with no bloodshed, but a cold war still… Where is the urge to question those they blindly follow, and ask why? What happened? Who won? How many people died? What happened to those kidnapped? How many women and girls were raped? How many corpses were tied and dragged by cars like war trophies? How many loaves of bread were stolen at checkpoints? Why? How?
Yesterday Aoun said, what happened, happened and we should put it behind us, and maybe remember it so that we don't repeat it, and Geagea was smiling besides him… Well, even though it is our fault, I don't want to stop believing that we deserve better.
This endorsement, this deal between two war criminals, is yet another nail in the coffin of our collective memory. We didn't live the war, and we are stripped from our ability to hold those responsible for the death of thousands accountable.
And now, we have to forget and move on, because it is convenient for them? Because in face of mutual elimination after years of wanting to eliminate each other, is the only way to survive? And we can’t demand justice? We can't question their past, and they want us to trust them with our future? No, we deserve better.
They say, this is peace making. How can peace exist without a proper context? How can peace exist without a reconciliation process? How can peace exist without healing from the past? How can peace exist and we are in a silent, brutal, cold, war everyday? Where is peace when all we see is corruption, unaccountability, nepotism, theft, and the dismissal of a whole people?
I demand better!