Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Vice President, National Alliance of Lebanese Americans
Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East
Committee on Foreign Affairs
House of Representatives (102 Congress)
Tuesday, April 09, 1991
(Following are excerpts from NALA's policy committee prepared testimony and question-answer exchange)
Mr. Hamilton: and the next witness is Walid Maalouf, president of the Washington Chapter of the National Alliance of Lebanese Americans. Mr. Maalouf.
Mr. Maalouf : Thank you. And I am also the national vise president liaison of NALA. NALA is a tax exempt charitable organization whose primary mission in the United States is to inform and educate our fellow citizens regarding issues of Lebanese American interest, and to bring a heightened sense of awareness to our fellow Lebanese Americans of Lebanon's rich cultural heritage.
I wish to thank the committee for honoring our request to appear and offer our testimony today.
Since the committee last considered foreign aid requests for Lebanon, the country has suffered a massive air and ground assault into its most densely populated area in the districts of Beirut, Metn and Baabda.
This military assault executed by the Syrian occupation army on October 13, 1990 which was preceded by a month long economic siege caused widespread destruction of private homes and businesses on a scale which is beyond the ability of the victims to repair by their own means. Reports that we have received from Lebanon as late as February 23, 1991 indicate that the Hrawi government has taken no substantive steps to alleviate this desperate need for basic housing. We even have reports of Lebanese civilians reduced to scavenging through garbage piles in search of food. Alarming numbers from the middle class work force are leaving Lebanon at a dangerous rate. We in NALA are directing as much of our resources as possible to these urgent needs of those Lebanese who are without means to obtain basic health and government services.
We recommend to the Congress that it address as its highest priority the appropriation of immediate relief funds that can and will effectively be delivered to those Lebanese who are most in need. We recommend that the emergency relief be channeled directly to the Lebanese people through private relief agencies. For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association operated through the offices of John Cardinal O'Connor of New York. This association, through the Pontifical Mission office in Lebanon is currently active in a major program to reconstruct family dwelling units by providing building materials directly to the affected homeowners. The project is currently in need of $5 million to meet the existing demand for its services. We specifically recommend to the committee that it not channel any foreign assistance to the Lebanese people through the agencies and bureaus of the Lebanese government as long as Lebanon remains under Syrian occupation.
Syria is on the State Department list of terrorist sponsoring states, and as such it is banned from receiving US foreign assistance. We are concerned that Mr. Hrawi's government in managing the disbursement of appropriated fund will be coerced into directing this aid to Damascus rather than to the intended Lebanese beneficiaries, thus circumventing the legislative ban and defeating the intent of Congress. The basis of our concern lies in first-hand reports that we have received from Lebanon that Mr. Harwi and his government cannot meet in Beirut without a military security or political representative of Hafez el Assad being present. It has also been confidentially reported to us by one who was present that Secretary of State Baker was informed by members of the Hrawi government during his March trip to Damascus of the overbearing oppressive presence of Syrian officials in the inner councils of the Hrawi government and of Syrian dictation of public policy to the Taif sanctioned government. Secretary Baker was also advised, we are told, that the greatest impediment to the implementation of the Taif Accords in Lebanon is the Syrian occupation, which is showing no signs of relief. From these reports clearly, the governing entity to which the US has accorded international recognition is a captive of the Syrian regime. It is required to serve Syrian interest in Lebanon while the needs and interests of the Lebanese people go unmet. Furthermore, the Hrawi government, while supposedly existing under a constitution that provides for a republican form of representative government, suffers from the fact that the Lebanese people through a process of free election have never legitimated it. When the Syrian grip on the nation has been lifted, when the military system which the Syrians have supported has been dismantled by the Lebanese Army, and when free elections can therefore become possible and are conducted, then we will have a restored central authority in Lebanon that has its footing firmly in the democratic process. This is the only means for a republican form of government to attain legitimacy. Such a government can clearly be entrusted to serve the people, as its power to govern will be derived solely from the people.
I wished to have given you more information about our position in the US policy towards Lebanon, but it is clearly stated in our handout. I see the red light, Mr. Chairman, and I do not want to take much time. But I wish to read the last paragraph to the committee.
As we pay homage to the courage of our returning American desert warriors, let us not forget and thereby desecrate the sacred memory of the honor and valor of the 241 US Marines who were killed at Beirut Airport on October 23, 1983 at the bidding of our friend, the killer, Hafez el Assad. It was by Assad's hand that the bomb and the logistical support was made available to the lone suicide driver who in that one instance took more American lives than were lost in all phases of Operation Desert Storm. Thank you.
Monsignor Stern: I support what Mr. Maalouf said about the inability of the Lebanese government to manage foreign aid. The Lebanese government, so-called, controls the greater Beirut metropolitan area under Syrian supervision. The rest of the country is under direct control of Syria, with the exception of a small area controlled by Israel and the PLO enclaves in the south. The government is weak and not well equipped for integral administration of foreign aid. However the NGO's have demonstrated competence to do so.
Mr. Hamilton: I just want to get in my mind clearly what each of you is recommending and what the differences are. Do you all think that that amount of money that is to be provided to Lebanon, should not go to the government, but should go to the nongovernmental organizations as you identified them, Monsignor, or to PVO's ? That is clearly your position, is it not, Mr. Maalouf?
Mr. Maalouf: Yes, as long as the present Lebanese government does not have the independence of running the country without Syrian hegemony, we would like to see this aid go through the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Mr. Hamilton: That is what is happening today. Is that not correct?
Mr. Maalouf: Yes. The most urgent thing for the people in Lebanon at this point of time is to be able to build what has been destroyed in their houses. Some people have one room destroyed. Some people have the whole house destroyed. And the Catholic Near East Welfare program is in place to directly help those people to build their homes and to be able to live in them.
Mr. Hamilton: Is this also your position, Ms. Rahall?
Ms. Tania Rahall: It is not quite that black and white. The ATFL would like to see support for the Lebanese government. We think that can be done through the Army. It is very important that the Lebanese government regain authority over the country so that they can deal with these external problems. For these reasons the IMET program is essential for Lebanon. Regarding direct aid or economic aid, we think that aid should be channeled through the PVOs until the government is strong enough to administer these aid projects.
Mr. Lantos: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to commend all witnesses. I would like to raise an issue concerning Syria. I would like to address myself to both Mr. Maalouf and Mr. Dine. Mr. Maalouf you made some very powerful statements with which I find myself in strong agreement. You have indicated that Hafez el Assad, the Syrian leader, was responsible for the bomb and logistical support that was made available to the lone suicide driver who took more American lives with one terrorist act than we lost during the entire war in the Persian Gulf. In your testimony, you underscored the fact that the Lebanese government is a puppet of Assad. In response to the Chairman, you say that the Lebanese Army is really directed by the Syrian Army. And you are making the point, which I think is a very valid point, that the coalition paid a very heavy price for the very minimal military involvement of Syria-it was more a token than a substantive involvement-by not only now providing Syria with $3.2 billion, which I understand Syria is basically spending on buying modern Soviet equipment and modernized Scuds from North Korea, but that Syria has now obtained, as it were, a chair at the table as a member of the good forces. You make the point that the Persian Gulf behind us the alliance between the United States and Syria ought to come to an end. Syria hated Saddam Hussein. Syria viewed Iraq as a major military threat. That is why Syria got in on the side of the allies, not for human rights reasons, not because they were concerned about the welfare of Kuwait. I am wondering if you and Mr. Dine could comment on how you see US foreign policy evolve towards Syria in the next few months, because there is a real danger that there will be an attempt to whitewash Asaad, whose human rights record is analogous to Saddam Hussein's human rights records, both against other people and his own people, and who brutally attacked the Lebanese during the time that the world's attention was focused on the Persian Gulf. I must admit that I have grave concern that while Saddam Hussein for the time being has been made somewhat impotent, at least as an international threat, he certainly is very capable of inflicting enormous damages on the Kurdish citizens of his country, as we see it 24 hours a day on our television sets. But that the same mindset which allowed Saddam Hussein to develop his enormous capability, to make threats against neighbors with impunity, may now be repeated vis-à-vis Assad unless we wake up to the realities who Assad is. Mr. Maalouf.
Mr. Maalouf: Thank you, Mr. Lantos, for these clarifications. This is very true, that Lebanon has been a democratic country for 47 years and for us to ignore Lebanon, as a parliamentary democratic country will not bring any peaceful solution to the whole region. I believe very strongly that the key to solving the Middle East issue should start from Lebanon. Lebanon could be restored as a free democratic country in which the people of Lebanon can elect their own representatives. Syria now has installed a government that is under its control. In 47 years of democratic rule the Lebanese always elected their representatives. Today, they are talking about appointing new deputies. How could a democratic government appoint deputies? Deputies should be elected. And today, as I said earlier, the Syrian Army directs the Lebanese Army. One important issue I would like to mention as well is that there are some good people in President Hawari's government that do not want the Syrian occupation, but they cannot speak up. Thank you.