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Lebanon's Samir Geagea: A Maverick

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Those who are familiar with the Middle East know that politics in the region are tantamount to mafia wars. Politicians pride themselves for being "realistic" as they frequently turncoat.

In Lebanon, political realism can rarely be differentiated from opportunism. Politicians flip-flop as they talk. Instead of calling out this kind of deception, journalists have become hired guns serving on payrolls. When Lebanese politicians change positions - often drastically - the media praises change deeming it "necessary for national interests."

As a result of the impunity of politicians and their conspiring media outlets, words and principles in Arab countries - especially Lebanon - account for little.

But one politician stands out for always sticking to his principles: Samir Geagea.

Coming from an economically underprivileged family, the exceptionally brilliant Samir Geagea won every available scholarship, and made his way to the medical school at the prestigious American University of Beirut.

In 1975, Lebanon was divided between Christians - who tied their existence to protecting an ailing Lebanese state that they dominated - and Muslims bent on replacing the Christians at the helm of state power. For their plan, Muslims borrowed the muscle of Lebanon-based Palestinian militias that were presumably fighting to liberate neighboring Palestine.

That was how Lebanon looked when Samir Geagea came of political, and for that matter paramilitary, age. Being a Christian, it was natural for Geagea to join the Lebanese Forces, an umbrella organization for Christian militias fighting for state sovereignty against armed Palestinian groups and their Lebanese allies.

Militias fought endlessly, and after Israel ejected the Palestinian leadership from Lebanon in 1982, fighting continued between Lebanese militias, some of which later imploded or split into warring factions.

A dedicated and talented Geagea ascended the ranks of the Lebanese Forces. By the mid 1980s, still 33, he became its undisputed leader. In addition to his paramilitary skills, Geagea displayed organizational abilities as his party launched a television program that still maintains the highest viewership in the region. The Lebanese Forces also created medical care and educational institutions.

Civil wars are never civil, and no matter his community services, Geagea remained a militiaman. In this capacity, he - like every other Lebanese politician - ordered battles and assassinations of rivals. Geagea's militia record tarnished his reputation.

In 1990, Lebanon became under Syrian control with American acquiescence. Damascus was finally allowed, not only to call the shots in Beirut, but also - as a victor - to write the history of the civil war.

Under the American-sponsored Syrian rule in Lebanon, which extended from 1990 to 2005, all militias - except for Hezbollah - were dissolved, as militia leaders repackaged themselves as politicians.

Except for Geagea who insisted on Syrian withdrawal and Lebanese sovereignty, all other Lebanese militia-leaders-turned-politicians were rewarded with senior state positions and lofty subsidies for their supporters.

Geagea never succumbed to Syrian rule and was punished. In 1994, a bombing charge was fabricated against him and he was sentenced to life in prison. The Lebanese Forces party, now a licensed political party, was banned by law. Meanwhile, Lebanese and Syrian media launched a campaign to vilify Geagea for the decade that followed.

A sudden turn of events in 2005 forced a Syrian withdrawal. Syria's former friends-turned-opponents then lobbied for Geagea's release.

Once out of jail, Geagea joined the anti-Syrian March 14 movement. While his allies had to publicly regret decades of behaving as Syria's puppets, at the expense of Lebanese sovereignty, Geagea stood tall. He had served 11 years in prison for refusing Syrian diktats, and in 2005, he resumed preaching his pro-sovereignty principles from the point where he had stopped.

A changing world leadership, however, later dropped the ball in Lebanon and completely halted support for democracy, especially after Barack Obama became president in 2008. As such, the mercurial Lebanese politicians jumped off the democracy and independence ship, which they deemed sinking, and humiliatingly begged Syria - now the focus of American and world attention - to take them back.

A maverick Geagea stayed on that ship. He became the last man standing in support of independence and state sovereignty, insisting that the Hezbollah militia disarm. With his militia history far behind most Lebanese, and with what had remained of it absolved by his decade in solitary confinement, Geagea started winning support from outside of the nation's Christian community, a rare phenomenon in Lebanon's fragmented population.

Samir Geagea today is betting against the political realities of Lebanon, the Middle East and the world. For doing so, he has earned the admiration of frustrated pro independence Lebanese - Christian, Muslim and Druze - and the ire of Syria and its Lebanese protégés.

Samir Geagea is proving to be the only man of principles in Lebanon. For that, he should be applauded as the last freedom fighter in the Middle East, at a time when the world is looking for dictators to entertain.