Politics & Policy

The Assassination of Pierre Gemayel

Democracy suffers another blow in Lebanon -- and its democrats are partly to blame.

After his son was shot pointblank Tuesday in Beirut, former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel called on his countrymen “to contemplate the meaning of this martyrdom and how to protect this country.” But it is precisely the “meaning” of this tragedy — the fifth major political assassination there in less than two years — which will continue to elude the people of Lebanon, most crucially the very people fighting for democracy.

#ad#Lebanon’s democrats have many enemies. The most immediate is Hezbollah, which emerged from its apparent victory against Israel to demand expanded powers in the government. On November 11, the six Hezbollah cabinet ministers walked out, and Hezbollah is now threatening street demonstrations to bring the government down entirely. Pro-Syrian president Lahoud — a sworn enemy of Gemayel — declared the government of Prime Minister Siniora illegitimate without the Hezbollah ministers. That constitutional claim has been rejected by Prime Minister Siniora, but the larger point is that no government could be legitimate with Hezbollah in it. Elections cannot lend legitimacy to a party that claims the right to place its own law above the law of the land — much less to a party willing to destroy the country in the furtherance of its goals.

Attention will no doubt focus on Syria, which many hold responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and which has been linked to every major assassination since then. The late Hariri’s son Saad, now majority leader in the Lebanese parliament, immediately blamed Syria for the murder of Gemayel. And indeed, like the others, this assassination bears the hallmarks of a sophisticated intelligence-service operation.

But the eminence grise of Lebanon’s enemies is Iran, whose own intelligence services are so enmeshed with Hezbollah that many suspect Iran of controlling Hezbollah like a private proxy army. The Syrian-Iranian project to make Hezbollah (and themselves) masters of Lebanon is a key step in Iran’s grand strategy of regional hegemony — and global jihad. The next Mideast war will be of Iranian design: Having extended its patronage to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Iran is flooding Lebanon and the Palestinian territories with missiles, and will soon be able to unfurl an umbrella of missile terror that could send Israel’s entire population into bomb shelters — or exodus. Israel may have no choice then but to respond with devastating force just to remain a viable state, and that will dramatically widen the conflict.

So who is responsible for the death of Pierre Gemayal? In Lebanon, the enemies of democracy operate in combination, in a loose network that includes Hezbollah and elements of the intelligence services of Syria, Iran, and Lebanon itself. Whether Hezbollah is directly responsible or not, the killing certainly furthers its goals. As Minister of Industry, Gemayal was widely seen as the youngest and toughest of Lebanon’s democrats — a rising star of the anti-Islamist forces. Eliminating him is a warning to all who would resist Hezbollah’s power grab.

In this sense, the Gemayal assassination is one of the opening shots in Hezbollah’s showdown with supporters of the Cedar Revolution. But there is a deeper lesson. The ideological struggle is not only one of democrats against Islamists, but more crucially one of democrats against themselves.

As elsewhere in the Islamic world, the extremists’ grievances are their trump card. The cause of justice — and in particular of resistance to occupation — is the real constitutional norm of the Arab world. Even the region’s moderates — those who fight for political and press freedoms — fail to understand that the rule of law must be paramount over all other norms in order for a democracy to function. They still think that compromise with people who respect nothing above their own interpretation of the Koran is possible. But it isn’t.

Including Hezbollah ministers in the Lebanese government without Hezbollah’s first disarming was an act of political suicide — indeed, constitutional suicide. What logic is there in sharing power under a democratic constitution with a group of people who openly refuse even to respect the state’s monopoly of force? In legitimizing Hezbollah, Lebanon’s democrats legitimized the Islamist challenge to democratic government.

Hezbollah may be about to win power in Lebanon. But in the political dialogue of Lebanon — and the Arab world — Hezbollah has already won the argument. The murderous law of Hezbollah’s many grievances is now the real constitution of that country. That is the meaning of the martyrdom of Pierre Gemayal, and it is a tragedy for all of us.

— Mario Loyola is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Mario Loyola — Mr. Loyola is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the president of Loyola Strategies Research and Consulting. From 2017 to 2019, he was the associate director for regulatory reform at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

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