Amin Gemayel (born 1942) was a Lebanese nationalist and Christian political leader who became president of the Republic of Lebanon in September 1982.
Born in Bikfayya, Lebanon, in 1942, Amin Gemayel was the eldest of Pierre and Genevieve Gemayel's five children. Amin grew up in the Christian right-wing nationalist Lebanese Union Party (known as the Phalangists) founded by his father in 1936. A lawyer by profession, Gemayel had a long political experience as a partisan starting in his youth and as a member of parliament for 12 years before he was elected president in September 1982. His diligence and managerial talent accounted for his success in the realm of business, mass communication, and civic activities. He ran a successful law firm, established the House of the Future (a center for documentation and research), and published the French-language newspaper Le Reveil and a trilingual quarterly (Panorama de L'Actuelite) during the 1970s. His main function as a member of the Political Bureau of the Phalangists was to oversee the party's civic activities and network of business holdings.
Amin commanded a private police unit during the Lebanese war (1975-1982), but his major involvement in the conflict was political and relatively conciliatory. Hence, he maintained contact with Muslim and Palestinian leaders throughout the war and nurtured a moderate disposition, knowing that in a democratic pluralistic society national leadership presupposes mutual responsiveness. Therefore, he was his party's logical nominee for the presidency after his strong and charismatic brother, President-elect Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated on September 14, 1982. Having kept a distance from Israeli temptations, especially after Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982, Amin emerged as a "consensus candidate," almost unanimously supported internally and received with partially guarded but explicit Arab support.
Gemayel labeled his charge as president the "vast adventure," setting his goals as: "the withdrawal of the Israeli (and all non-Lebanese) forces, reconstruction of the Lebanese army, political reconciliation and reform, and socioeconomic reconstruction and development." To avail this task, he had the backing of impressive supporters, including most major Arab states, the United States of America, Western Europe, and the goodwill of the United Nations. Internally, he was supported by a consensus among leaders and factions, excluding leftist associations and extreme radicals across the political spectrum.
But there were political problems. Amin's election was met with a cool reception by Israel, Syria, Iran, Libya, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), each of whom had found and exploited partners in Lebanon itself ready to thwart the regime's declared objectives. All five actors pursued goals that were better served by holding a "Lebanese card" in the Middle East conflict. In addition, Gemayel himself made moves that were misconceived. He made numerous unprecedented partisan appointments to high-ranking civil service and quasi-political posts, thus inviting accusations of hegemony; allowed the recently reconstructed army to be used in security operations, involving anti-Phalangists in the civil strife, without ensuring external cooperation, particularly from Syria and Israel; totally relied on the "American option" before ascertaining American willingness and ability to support his "adventure;" and negotiated an abortive withdrawal agreement with Israel, the implementation of which involved Israeli conditions not acceptable even to Gemayel himself.
As a result, none of the goals he set for his government were satisfactorily attained: staggered Israeli withdrawal was more disruptive than occupation itself and was never completed. Syrian influence in Lebanon became stronger than ever, especially after Gemayel declined ratification of the May 1983 agreement with Israel. The Lebanese Army stood badly divided. After two abortive National Reconciliation Conferences in Geneva (1983) and Lucerne (1984), and the formation of a National Unity Cabinet, political reconciliation and reform were as elusive as ever. Socioeconomic problems were more acute than they had ever been during the ten years of war in Lebanon.
Gemayel was a "progressive rightist." He viewed Lebanon's distinctiveness in its way of life, which values human rights, entrepreneurship, moderation, "revulsion with totalitarianism," and a yearning for unity in diversity. Gemayel believed that Lebanon was an Arab state with values and a distinct identity of its own. It lived in, and depended on, the Arab world for its prosperity. Therefore, while it should never deviate from its independence and conciliatory role among the Arab states and between them and the Western world, Lebanon ought to share in the peaceful pursuit of Arab causes and serve as a "roadblock" between Israel and Syria. Gemayel believed that Lebanon should maintain a "special" relationship of "cooperation and coordination" with Syria despite the discrepancy "in their social, economic and political systems," because they share "a long historical experience and wide-ranging interests."
Gemayel disavowed the 1983 constitutional system because it "concealed double-dealing and created a marginal state void of any nationalistic sentiment." In its place, he proposed a politically centralized system based on "regional units" with broad administrative autonomy. This system would be managed by all religious communities "through their sharing in the highest posts of government." Gemayel rejected classical numerical democracy in favor of "compound democracy," where decisions are made by concurrent majority reflecting society's pluralism.
Unfortunately, the constant state of turmoil in Lebanon left Gemayel virtually powerless to accomplish anything. As the Chamber of Deputies were unable to elect a new president when his term was up, before leaving office and ultimately the country, Gemayel appointed the commander of the Lebanese army Major General Michel Aoun as his successor.
Gemayel attended French-oriented schools throughout his educational career. From Jesuit primary and secondary schools, he went to the Universite Saint Joseph in Beirut where he earned an LL.B. in 1966. He was fluent in French and Arabic and, to a lesser extent, mastered the English language. He was an avid tennis player, reader of history, and good listener to classical music. He was married to the former Joyce Tayyan late in 1967. They had three children, two boys and a girl, named Pierre, Sami, and Nicole. After his term in office, Amin Gemayel went into exile in Paris, France.
Further Reading on Amin Gemayel
Little has been written on Amin Gemayel beyond news literature, including The New York Times, Newsweek, TIME magazines (August-September 1982), and Reuters (May 21, 1996; Aug. 12, 1996). He is listed in the International Who's Who 1983-1984 and in Who's Who in Lebanon, 1983. His article "The Price and the Promise" in Foreign Affairs (Spring 1985) is a valuable source on his thinking. Equally valuable are three documents authored by him (two in Arabic) about his vision of future Lebanon published in Umara al-Tawaef (Princes of the Sects) in 1984, and finally, Rebuilding Lebanon New York: University Press of America (1992).