Stop the pyromaniac!
In the past few years, there have been many incidents that could have sparked a broader conflict if the smallest slip up occured, including endless convoys of raucous bikers showing off and shooting their weapons in rival’s territories in Beirut and its suburbs. However, the latest incident is the first in Lebanese history that can be attributed directly or indirectly to one man, and one man only.
Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, unfortunately also happens to be Lebanon’s chief diplomat. But there is nothing diplomatic about him. He is an incendiary megalomaniac who violently attacks everyone around him, including his own allies. He is arrogant, aggressive and peddles unbearable nonsense. A fair part of his own community is outraged by him because he pretends to be an improved version of Bachir Gemayel, maybe even more charismatic and worthy of adulation. He upsets the Sunni community by challenging the powers of the prime minister. And he provokes Shiite supporters of Amal, and even Hezbollah at times, by insulting the speaker of the parliament and freely recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
Bassil’s sensational chatter and endless restlessness seems to be aimed at one thing, and one thing only: to permanently establish himself at the center of local news and discussion, without being concerned for profits and losses. What matters is that he is talked about, just like cheap pubs. Does he even realize the tone of how he is talked about?
Of all of Bassil’s achievements, his insolent inroad into the Chouf was definitely the most dangerous, as if on conquered territory, or one to conquer. Last Sunday’s thunderous convoy was not only a clear attempt to encircle Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (whose adversaries and community rivals helped orchestrate the event); not only did the bloody episode revive tensions in the Druze community fueled by Syria; but above all, the incident threatened to jeopardize the arduous process of reconciliation in the Mountain that has closed the wounds of the civil war.
How does one describe Bassil's persistence in unburying the skeletons of the past–and in reopening the wounds–by glorifying, as he did just recently, moments of a conflict that he himself has only experienced as a child? This man has become dangerous, and it has become crucial to contain him. But this is primarily, and maybe the exclusive, responsibility of the head of state. This public safety mission requires tying up this man if necessary; restraining him by force if needed. It is up to the President to put a stop to his behavior, not only because Bassil is his son-in-law and heir to the FPM’s leadership, not only because he is officially destroying a regime that celebrates him with pride, but also because it is in the highest interest of the country as a whole.
At a time when reforms are a priority, Lebanon is finally supposed to put its many inconceivable, destabilizing and disastrous setbacks behind it. It is imperative to remove the most turbulent and invasive of them all (no other words can be used).
(This editorial was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 3rd of July)