x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Following the cause of slain relatives

Candidates from prominent political families say they are not just standing out of respect for their dead relatives but to revitalise the country.

BEIRUT // "Young people have been left out of politics for many years because of the situation," said Sami Gemayel. "Today we really need a renewal that can be brought by the young people; new ideas, new manners and new ways to deal with politics."

Mr Gemayel, 29, is one of the three youngest candidates running in today's elections. All of them are running with the pro-government March 14 alliance and hoping to win the Christian votes. They say they hope their youthfulness will inject fresh life into a political system riddled with politicians way past their sell-by date. "The old generation is running the country with ego problems; heavy, big egos, and 50 to 70 per cent of the problems in this country and within the political parties are because of ego problems," Mr Gemayel said.

The other two candidates - Mr Gemayel's cousin, Nadim Gemayel, and Nayla Tueni - are 27 and 26, respectively. Apart from their young age, the three also share a common history: all originate from very prominent political families and all have had members of their families assassinated because of their politics. Nadim Gemayel's father was Bachir Gemayel, the president-elect in the early 1980s before he was assassinated. His uncle Amin Gemayel, who is Sami's father, was president in the late 1980s. Sami's elder brother, Pierre, was also a minister in the cabinet before he was assassinated in 2006.

Nayla Tueni's father, Gebran Tueni, was a member of parliament before he was assassinated in 2005. All were fierce opponents of Syria's involvement in Lebanese politics. And now the politics and policies of the children reflect their parents' legacies. Huge posters of the slain politicians hang side by side with those of their children. All over the Christian areas of Beirut and the Metn, photographs pay homage to one of the dead while the faces of their offspring are plastered on walls and lampposts five feet away.

"I consider I have an engagement towards the cause that was derived from my father and the other martyrs," Nadim Gemayel said. "I also consider my age to be an advantage in these times; fresh blood is always good for innovative ideas." In his mind, running for the elections is purely a public service commitment that started with his grandfather and then his father to achieve a "free Lebanon". "All the youth that are running in the elections; myself, Nayla, Sami, we are the ones, with the rest of the youth population, that created March 14, who freed Lebanon and forced Syria to withdraw," he said. The March 14 Movement came about in 2005 after the withdrawal of Syria and the creation of alliances between previously opposing political factions. They are running against March 8, the pro-Syrian movement, stating that a win by the opposition will lead to the demise of the country. "It is we who are seeking to build a country that we've dreamed to do for the past years," he said.

Ms Tueni was thrown into the deep end of politics at the tender age of 22, after her father's death, leaving her in charge of one of the country's biggest national newspapers, An Nahar, which her father had owned. Throughout her campaign, she has made it clear that she wants to avenge her father's death and continue along the path that he had started. She refers to him frequently in her speeches and interviews. Even in her manifesto, he is present, specifically based as it is on 48 of his articles.

"Forty-eight symbolises the 48 years lived by my father, Gebran, before the criminals put an end to his life," she said when she publicised her programme. Yet despite these family legacies, the candidates are certain that people will vote for them for the new ideas they represent, rather than who their fathers were. "I am now perceived as Sami, not the son of Amin Gemayel," Mr Gemayel said. "But rather someone with their own personality and perspectives."

Although predictions suggest the three do have the support of a number of first-time voters, older voters have admitted that they are voting for them because of the list they are running on rather than because they support them as individuals. One voter was quick to point out that these young candidates will have an army of experienced consultants aiding their decision-making. "I don't think their age has anything to do with it," said Maude Abdelnour, a resident of Achrafieh district of Beirut, who said she would be voting for the March 14 list. "They are young, but they will be surrounded by consultants who will be helping them all the time. They won't be ruling anything by themselves.

"At the end of the day, they represent what I want for Lebanon; I don't want to be in a country run by Hizbollah and Iran" - and neither do they, she added. Rita Semaan Astour, 40, also a Achrafieh resident, refused point blank to accept them as potential politicians, claiming that a country in such a precarious situation should not be led by those with such inadequate experience. "I don't think young people like these can manage a country going through such hard times. They are just kids. Lebanon needs real men and women with experience, and it is ridiculous that they are even considering running.

"We are tired of these political families; we stood by them for 30 years, and have got nothing." nsamaha@thenational.ae