Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon’s minister of industry and a scion of one of the country’s most powerful Christian families, was shot dead in a Beirut suburb on Tuesday 22 November.
His assassination is now being used by right wing forces in Lebanon – and their backers abroad – to attack the anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East.
George Bush and Tony Blair wasted no time in condemning Gemayel’s killing and proclaiming their support for Lebanon’s prime minister Fouad Siniora and his increasingly unpopular right wing government.
In contrast, Bush and Blair were silent when over a thousand ordinary Lebanese were killed by Israel during its assault on the country this summer. Both have refused to condemn Israel’s recent massacre of 19 Palestinians at Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip.
Gemayel’s death comes at a time when Lebanon’s opposition movement, led by Hizbollah and the predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, was due to mobilise mass demonstrations against Siniora’s government.
Now these protests have been put on hold. The US has announced increased military aid for Siniora. The right wing March 14 parties have been granted a martyr and breathing space to gather their forces to shore up Lebanon’s rotten sectarian political system.
This system was drawn up in the 1930s by France, then Lebanon’s colonial master. It was designed to ensure the dominance of Lebanon’s Christian minority over the country’s other religious groups and to concentrate power in the hands of a few powerful clans.
This system was amended in the early 1990s, but its sectarian and oppressive character remained intact. Israel’s defeat this summer at the hands of the resistance opened up a space to finally tear it down through mass demonstrations.
Pierre Gemayel Jr was a leading figure in the Phalange party, which dominated Lebanon’s Christian right for decades – though its influence today has waned considerably.
The Gemayel clan are a powerful right wing family who have been at the centre of the most terrible atrocities in Lebanon over the last half century.
Gemayel’s grandfather, also named Pierre, drew inspiration from the Nazi party in 1930s Germany to found the Phalange. They conducted murderous campaigns against the left, the Palestinians, people from different religions and political rivals.
The elder Pierre declared on the eve of Lebanon’s 1975 civil war that he would rather see the country destroyed than changed. His wish came true when he and his supporters plunged the country into sectarian bloodbath to defeat the left and the secular nationalist movement.
The death of Pierre Jr is the fifth assassination in Lebanon since the convoy of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was blown to pieces in March 2005.
Other victims include a prominent journalist and a long time Communist leader. Their murders have not been solved, nor have their killers have explained the motives for their acts.
The main losers in this campaign of killing remain those at the bottom of Lebanese society – those who most wish to see real change in the country.
Gemayal’s death must not be used as an excuse to delay or derail Lebanon’s real democracy movement – a movement from below that rejects imperialism and looks to harness the power of ordinary Arab people across the Middle East.