Middle East


'We Must Be Vigilant': An Interview With Osama Saad

Osama Saad, Lebanese M.P. (Photo: Courtesy of Alasdair Soussi)

The air is thick with tension as I arrive to meet Osama Saad at his Sidon office. An outspoken member of the Lebanese Parliament, Saad is one of the main driving forces behind the campaign to unseat the government, and as I approach, I'm eyed suspiciously by a group of minders who stride toward me, immediately blocking my path. They ask who I am and what I want. I tell them my business, and after a few uncertain moments of hushed voices and nervous stares, I'm finally led toward a waiting room.

Over 30 minutes later, Saad appears. Slim and with a cheerful appearance, he looks nothing like his famous father, Maarouf Saad, the former leftist mayor of Sidon whose violent death helped spark the 1975-90 Lebanese Civil War.

Though he may not resemble his father in the physical sense, there is no denying that he is carrying on his father's strong political convictions, principles that made him a champion of the people. Indeed, a committed Socialist of the Nasserite persuasion, Saad is currently on a mission to bring about change in modern Lebanon, and has happily aligned himself with the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Saad talks to me about the current political standoff, his hopes for a better Lebanon, and the legacy of his father.

 Q: You are standing shoulder to shoulder with the opposition. Why?

I am quite open about my reasons for being in the opposition, because from the very beginning I did not give this government my backing or confidence when it was formed. To tell you the truth, over the last few months, this government has shown its true colors. It's pro-American and it's adopting American views, views which do not fit with the aspirations and the expectations of the Lebanese people. It's a dangerous policy, because, as far as we [the opposition] are concerned, America is only striving for one thing: to fragment the Middle East on ethnic grounds. This is a Zionist vision, working only for the interests of Israel. The United States has always worked for the interests of Israel, and, of course, it wants to see Israel as the biggest power in the Middle East.

One of the main disputes between the government and the opposition is centered around the United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. What are your concerns?

We all want the investigation, we all want to know who killed Hariri, but it's quite obvious that it's not only an investigation to find out who killed Hariri, but it's also a tool which the Americans want to use to humiliate Syria. The Americans want to bring different personalities from the Syrian regime and try them (judicially) in their own way in countries outside their territory. We are completely against that (kind of justice), and against the government's collusion in it.

Your father, Maarouf Saad, was a very popular figure in south Lebanon. How has his opinions and beliefs shaped your own views, especially in light of the current political situation?

My father campaigned from three perspectives: that of a fighter, a politician, and a social reformer. As a fighter, you can trace his early political activities back to 1936 in Palestine when he fought the British and the Zionists. Politically speaking, his struggle really began in 1958 when President Camille Chamoun wanted to take Lebanon into the Baghdad Pact (a British-backed treaty which attempted to include the Middle East in a worldwide chain of anti-Soviet alliances). He fought hard against that, believing that Lebanon was an Arab country in the heart of the Arab world. He was also of the view that Lebanon's problems stemmed directly from the sectarian nature of the country—he believed strongly that it should be free of religion. Only then, he believed, could it prosper. Lastly, it was through his Socialist principles that he came to support the rights of the working people. The best example of this was in 1975, when he was shot and killed leading a fisherman's demonstration in Sidon.

Today, I am just continuing his struggle. Lebanon is an Arab country and it will always be an Arab country—that is where its strength lies. It's part of the wider Arab world and it cannot detach itself from that because it would die and fall into civil war as it has done in the past. A relationship between Lebanon and the West exists, of course, because of the multicultural and multi-religious aspect of Lebanon, but that doesn't mean that it has to detach itself from the Arab world. I believe that it [the Arab world] should have one political cause and speak with one political voice.

So personally speaking, do you wholly agree with your father's beliefs about the sectarian nature of Lebanon—that it should be abolished, and that it's the main cause of Lebanon's ills?

Yes, completely. This sectarian system has weakened the country and has made it easier for foreign interference. Everybody should be able to be part of Lebanon irrespective of their religion. There are, however, people who want to keep this sectarian system because they are profiting from it, such as those warlords and landowners who have been created by the system and whose very existence relies on the present (sectarian) situation continuing as it is. A secular regime must be implemented in Lebanon, and I'm sure that, one day, we'll see that happening. Because in spite of what you see in Lebanon, there are intelligent people who see the disease of sectarianism and want to cut it out. So in today's Lebanon, what you see on the outside is democracy and freedom, but that's just window dressing. It's when you look inside (the Lebanese system) that you see what the country is really like: a land which is rotten and self-destructive. This must change.

Do you look at Lebanon's future, then, with optimism or pessimism?

I'm optimistic about Lebanon's future, but I am wary about America's plans in the Middle East, especially when it comes to Iran and Syria. We must be vigilant and must make sure that we're not used as a pawn in the middle of any (conflict) as we're a small country and very vulnerable.