The rise and fall of Michel Samaha
Story for Al Arabiya English
Beirut: The footage is grainy and distorted but the figure that leans into the frame is unmistakable. The audio, too, is clear as the man describes the plan to place explosives to kill leading Lebanese Christian figures, bomb iftar meals and start a sectarian conflict. He’s easily recognizable, not an unknown militant or hardline revolutionary. The man is Michel Samaha, a former minister in a number of Lebanese cabinets and a prominent politician.
The man shooting the footage is an undercover security agent for the Lebanese state prosecutor. The evidence he collected in 2012 would, after many twists and turns that cut to the heart of Lebanese politics, see Samaha sentenced Friday to over a decade in prison. However, the question remains: how did a leading politician who twice served as Information Minister and again as Tourism Minister lead a plot to destabilize his own country?
Samaha rose through the Christian political scene in Lebanon at the height of the civil war. Through his connections in the Kataeb political party, he’s reported to have cultivated a position as an intelligence asset for both the French and Syrian governments, but also had close ties to the United States and Canada.
During the 1990s, his close links with the Syrian regime – who from 1990 to 2005 occupied Lebanon and controlled every level of political life – began to pay off in government positions. Under his close friend President Elias Hrawi, Samaha served as information minister and then, for a six-month stint, tourism minister. He served again in the cabinet under elder statesman Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The fifteen-year Syrian tutelage of Lebanon was the golden age of Samah’s political career. His ties to Damascus allowed him significant influence, but also led him to clash badly with the winds of change in Lebanon. In the build up to Hariri’s assassination and the subsequent Cedar Revolution, which saw Syria expelled from Lebanon in 2005, Hariri and Samaha are reported to have quarreled over the former’s strong western ties and his opposition to Syrian rule…[Continue reading at Al Arabiya English]