In September 1982, 11 months after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Lebanese President-elect Bachir Gemayel was assassinated in Beirut. Bachir was only 34 years old when he was murdered. He was an ambitious young man, and he was forthright in the face of vicious powers led by Syria, which had been occupying Lebanon for seven years at the time. The PLO shared with Syria the domination of Lebanon after it was banished from Jordan. Iran was in the process of building a foothold in Lebanon at the time, forming Hezbollah in that bloody year — a party that was to dominate the country and the neighboring areas later on.
The killers of President Sadat were members of the Armed Islamic Group, while the killer of President Gemayel was a Christian member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. The justifications for both crimes were the same — obstructing the peace process by the countries of the “Steadfastness and Confrontation Front,” which was formed to oppose Sadat’s declared intention to pursue peace. There was a competition for the leadership of the Front between Saddam’s Iraq, Assad’s Syria and Qaddafi’s Libya. The front also included Algeria, South Yemen and the PLO.
In that environment, the radical Arab states, which were using so-called liberal groups, played the role that the terrorist organizations are playing today. Gemayel’s killer, Habib Shartouni, was just a tool in the hands of the Syrian regime, which considered the election of Gemayel a direct challenge to its military and political presence in Lebanon. Shartouni was arrested after the crime and remained in prison for eight years, only to be released by Syria’s forces when it controlled almost the whole of Lebanon.
In Lebanon, many leaders, as well as thousands of innocent people, paid with their lives for that dirty regional game, which increased disintegration and chaos in the region. Moreover, the rights of the Palestinian people were lost due to the slogans and hyperbole of regimes that neither fought nor accepted peace, and refused to let Palestinians determine their own destiny.
The killer of Bachir Gemayel is living freely now, and all the Lebanese judiciary did this week was to sentence him to death in his absence. A sentence that was 35 years late, and maybe had it not been issued, that would have been better than passing a sentence that was not going to be honored. The killer appeared and scorned the state and its institutions in an interview — which was not his first!
The death sentence on the assassin who killed President-elect Bachir Gemayel is 35 years late, and so pointless that it might as well not have been passed.
However, Shartouni is not the only murderer on the loose. The killers of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, are also free and enjoying full protection, although the International Criminal Court declared their names and called for their arrest, together with the killers of other Lebanese leaders.
Justice in Lebanon is relative. Ahmed Al-Assir, yet another murderer, was arrested and quickly sentenced to death because he is an enemy of Hezbollah. Although Al-Assir may well deserve the punishment, the judiciary merely recorded a theoretical death sentence against Shartouni, who admitted killing the president and 20 other political figures, although no one has dared to implement justice.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @aalrashed