Open discussion with Metn deputy Ibrahim Kanaan
Prestige issue 292, Oct-Nov. 2018
Interview by Sabine Farra de Cerda
Ibrahim Kanaan, elected Maronite deputy of Metn for the third time in a row, twice at the top of the list, is a politician apart in the turbulent landscape of Lebanese politics. This spirited fifty-year-old, lawyer and Aounist activist from the beginning, is the man of moderation, dialogue, and irrefutable principles. Discreet, modest and hard-working, Me Kanaan is above all an elected official in the service of his fellow citizens, who do not hesitate to visit him at home, to express their grievances and concerns. Yes, the old door-to-door policy is practiced by deputy Kanaan who is proud of doing so. This allows him to always have the clocks on time and to be updated in real time. A decency all to his advantage, and which allowed him to trace his path. Perhaps it is the years spent in the cold Albion, where he had to make a name for himself in the legal world with the force of his wrist, after October 13, 1990, returning from his honeymoon. A hard experience accomplished alongside his wife, Tania Saadé. That allowed him to climb the ladder gradually and penetrate the British political spheres and lobby for the General, then in exile. Me Kanaan is touched, the emotion comes out, while memories scroll. First reunion in Marseille in 1991. What a long way since. Almost a dream. Ibrahim Kanaan is also with minister Melhem Riachi, at the origin of this famous inter-Christian reconciliation well manhandled today even if he continues to defend it bitterly qualifying the process of irreversible. Unity is the strength, such is his leitmotif and the friendship and esteem he dedicates to his partner, are clear proof of it. The Metn deputy is also Mr. Clean, understand by that he is active, to reform the public accounts, to fight against corruption. We cannot ignore his role in the completion for the first time since 2005 of two budgets, that of 2017 and 2018 with structural amendments, thereby achieving a tour de force. Open discussion with a man who does not slip away from the truth.
«I carry a mission and a vision of reforms and change»
What would be your evaluation of the legislative elections? And what lessons should the CPL draw from these elections? The Free Patriotic Movement won two major bets on the occasion of these elections: Firstly the promulgation of a new electoral law based on the proportional system, 60 years after the old law, which allowed to reform the representation in the legislative and executive institutions, and correcting community representation that was unfavorable to Christians; and secondly the enlargement of its parliamentary bloc, which has become the largest covering all Lebanese territory.
The exercise of power is exhausting. Do you think this is the syndrome that your party is currently suffering from? Not yet, at least we do not feel it. Perhaps this is due to the arrival of General Michel Aoun to the presidency, something that until 2016 was an unrealistic dream and an achievement in itself. In the same way, the legislative elections, with 29 deputies for the CPL, prove this point of view.
Who really heads the CPL? Is there internal dissension as we hear? An internal regulation based on the presidential system has been adopted recently, it gives the president of the party decisive prerogatives. There is a political bureau chaired by the party chairman, who is in permanent consultation and who is an important vehicle at the executive level.
«Inter-Christian reconciliation is irreversible. We can not go back even if differences may arise»
An early activist, elected deputy of your region, you have not been so far minister. Will you be in the new government? I have always preferred the parliamentary function because I feel more free and privileged as elected and not appointed. But I must admit that General Aoun had proposed to me in 2011 to enter the government and while thanking him for his confidence, I had preferred to stay in parliament at the head of the Finance and Budget Committee, to complete reforms I had started. Today, with the vote of two budgets in 2017 and 2018 in concomitance with reforms, which have allowed the success of the international conference Cedar, with 17 billion dollars of subsidies and investments in Lebanon, I am ready for the governmental experience.
There were some very unpopular political decisions taken, such as the naturalization decree, etc. Do you think it would have been necessary to act otherwise? The prerogatives of the President of the Republic are clear on this subject. Nevertheless, the whole issue is now in the Council of State and it is a new positive note to the credit of the current presidential term. Remember that in the past, naturalization decrees have never been verified or questioned.
You are with Minister Melhem Riachi, one of the architects of the inter-Christian historical reconciliation that led to the presidential election. You have reiterated on several occasions that this reconciliation is irreversible. But this does not prevent differences from appearing and destabilizing the public opinion. Where are the current relationships with Dr. Geagea and the LF? I am very proud and grateful especially to President Aoun who entrusted me with this mission of inter-Christian sacred reconciliation and for many impossible. In fact, it is irreversible because what history tells is unchangeable. Differences of opinion exist and will always exist, something that was planned and noted in the agreement, but reconciliation is final.
What are your relations with Bkerke and the Maronite Patriarchate? Relations with Bkerke are based on mutual respect and ongoing consultation, especially with Patriarch Rahi.
How to manage Hezbollah? Our agreement with Hezbollah has contributed greatly to the stability of Lebanon.
Unemployment, economic crisis, the high cost of living, the situation of the country is serious. How to cope? What are the urgent measures to take? We must continue with the reforms that had begun at the level of the budgets, after 12 years of public spending without ceiling and control, in parallel with a macroeconomic vision based on the development of the productive sectors and on the partnership between the public and private sectors followed by firm control of the budget deficit.
What is your ambition and how do you plan for the future? As a Father, do you see the future of your children in Lebanon? I am committed and carry a vision and a mission of change and reform that I want to complete. I believe in this country and the future of my children in Lebanon.
Twenty-eight years after October 13, 1990, what would be the established fact? As an activist from the beginning, do you feel in tune with what has been accomplished and what is being done? Initially, a major national challenge was raised, and this challenge was the liberation of Lebanon, the return of political exiles, getting back our freedom, and this mission was accomplished on April 31, 2005, the date of the departure of Syrian troops from our country. The second challenge was to take back our political rights and our national honor and October 31, 2016, with the return of the exiled General to Baabda as president-elect of the Republic after being deposed by Syrian tanks. Our third challenge, that of reforming the political system, is underway, and it is our present task, and by far the most difficult one we have started with a new electoral law and two budgets. But I admit that there is still a lot to do. A new budget should be adopted, next week in principle. To come back to that time, it was a French naval officer, who accompanied the general in the zodiac he took from the Golden Beach to the French ship … He recounts, among other things, what the general told him, «I’ll come back».
Ibrahim Kanaan was born on November 11, 1962, into an old Maronite family that has been rooted in Lebanese soil for decades. He has three brothers and two sisters.
Pupil of the school of Champville and Mont-La Salle, he studied law at USJ.
Holds a Master’s degree in International Private Law from Paris 2 in 1987, as well as a Master’s degree in French Law. He has been a member of the Bar since 1989.
Married to Tania Saadé, he is the father of two daughters, Maria and Rita.
Ibrahim Kanaan started his career in London at Elliott and Company as a consultant for the Middle East, then he joined Kennedys Solicitors where he worked as a partner in charge of the international.
In 1992, he founded the law firm Kanaan Law Firm, based in Beirut, which deals mainly with commercial and corporate affairs as well as arbitrations.
In 2004, he participated in the establishment of the Kennedys and Co Office in Riyadh.
An activist of the first hour of General Michel Aoun, Ibrahim Kanaan during his British years did a lot of lobbying in English political circles, to defend the Lebanese misunderstood cause.
Elected for the third consecutive time in the Metn constituency, twice at the top of the list, he is currently chairman of the Finance and Budget Committee, having held many responsibilities in the different committees of the Hemicycle.