Slain Lebanese minister was rising star of political dynasty

Pierre Gemayel, who was gunned down in Beirut Tuesday, was the fifth member of his family to die violently.

pierre gemayel 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
pierre gemayel 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Pierre Gemayel, a rising star in one of Lebanon's most prominent Christian political families and widely expected to carry its mantle into the next generation, was the fifth member of his family to die violently after he was assassinated Tuesday in Beirut. With his boyish looks and often blunt comments, the 34-year-old industry minister was not always taken seriously by Lebanese politicians, some of whom considered him the spoiled son of an influential dynasty. But Gemayel gained a more solid following during six years in parliament. He played a prominent role in rallying Lebanon's youth during the so-called "independence uprising" - a wave of massive anti-Syrian protests that followed the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He became a vocal critic of Syria and its top allies in Lebanon, including President Emile Lahoud and the Shi'ite Muslim guerrilla group, Hizbullah. Born on Sept. 23, 1972, Gemayel was the eldest son of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, who served as president between 1982 and 1988. His grandfather, the late Pierre Gemayel, after whom he was named, founded the right-wing Phalange party, which brought Lebanon's Maronite Christian community to political prominence in Lebanon. The Phalangists fielded the largest Christian militia during the 1975-90 civil war between Christians and Muslims, allying themselves first with Syria, then with Israel during its invasion of Lebanon during the civil war. The Gemayel family has been deeply enmired in the past three decades of bloodshed between Lebanon's deeply divided communities. A 1975 assassination attempt against the grandfather prompted Phalangists to attack a busload of Palestinian refugees in what sparked a 15-year sectarian civil war. In 1982, Amin Gemayel's brother, Bashir, was elected president, but days before he was to be sworn in, he was killed in a bomb blast. In response, his militiamen stormed Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians in one of the worst atrocities of the Lebanon conflict. Several years earlier, an 18-month-old daughter of Bashir was killed in an attack targeting him. Two nephews of Bashir and Amin were also killed during fighting in the 1980s. The younger Pierre Gemayel was first elected to parliament in 2000, and then again in the 2005 parliamentary elections that brought an anti-Syrian majority to the legislature. He became a prominent figure in Lebanon's anti-Syrian bloc, which dominates Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's Cabinet and the parliament. Last year, he brought the wrath of critics - particularly Shi'ite Muslims - when he said Shiites in Lebanon "may be the quantity, but we are the quality." Gemayel, often seen wearing sharp suits or stylish checkered shirts, had lately been traveling without a convoy, using ordinary cars as a decoy. He was assassinated by a gunman Tuesday who sprayed his unarmored car with bullets. Gemayel will be buried Thursday at St. George's Church in downtown Beirut. He is survived by his wife, Patricia Al-Da'if, and two sons.