Pierre Gemayel, the 34-year old Minister of Industry, who was gunned down in broad daylight in Jedideh in East Beirut on November 21, was the fifth member of one of Lebanon’s most prominent Maronite dynasties to meet a violent, untimely death. Gemayel, who won a parliamentary seat in 2000 as a representative of the Phalange Party, the once dominant Christian faction established by his grandfather in the 1930s, became the youngest minister in the 2005 Siniora government. As the latest incident in a string of violent attacks targeting anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon over the past two years, the assassination will arguably have more influence on local politics than Gemayel had during his lifetime.
Nonetheless, during his short tenure as minister of industry in a country whose economy is driven by the service sector, he accomplished a great deal, and will be remembered equally for his commitment to the principles of sovereignty and freedom and Lebanon’s industrial development. In contrast to his predecessors, Gemayel believed that Lebanon could be industrially competitive at both the regional and global levels. At just 33-years old, he came to office with a clear-cut strategy to promote the local manufacturing sector. Before making any move in his new post, Gemayel drafted the “Industrial Outlook 2010 Strategy,” which included both a long-term and 100-day plan for the sector.
Strategy of increasing competitiveness
Along with an overview of the obstacles hindering Lebanon’s industrial growth and a vision for the sector in 2010, based on research and feasibility studies, the strategy focused on increasing the competitive advantage of local exports in the international market. The plan outlined a set of specific objectives involving the modernization of production techniques and the introduction of internationally recognized quality management standards, as well as the creation of strategic alliances with regional and European trading partners. Also, he included target dates for their completion.
Though the plan was endorsed by Fuad Siniora’s administration, Gemayel was not able to fully implement Industrial Outlook and its 100-day plan during his short lifetime. Under his leadership, the ministry did successfully lobby the government to introduce the first industrial safeguards since 2000, when the majority were abolished, to protect local tile manufacturers.
Gemayel was also instrumental to the growth of one of Lebanon’s most well-known exports, wine. He had signed a decree along with the Agricultural and Economy Ministers supporting the creation of a National Institute of Vines and Wines, a necessary prerequisite for six-year old legislation regulating wine production in Lebanon to be passed. The bill was finally going to be presented to cabinet ministers in November, but the resignation of the Shia ministers from Parliament and Gemayel’s subsequent assassination stalled the introduction of a modern wine law yet again.
Dogged champion of manufacturers
Though the July-August war and the ensuing political stalemate delayed many of Gemayel’s plans, he had been a dogged champion of manufacturers over the past three months. Immediately following the August 14, ceasefire, the ministry developed a three-point plan in to support the recovery of Lebanon’s industrial sector. The first step of the strategy, a comprehensive damage assessment, was completed in November, and the ministry had moved on to the second, interim solution phase, which sought to temporarily relocate production of destroyed factories to other facilities, and lobby the government to provide industrialists with tax relief.
Despite Gemayel’s assassination, the industrial sector will still push ahead with the third and potentially most controversial aspect of the strategy, loosening existing legislation governing industrial production to allow manufacturers more room to maneuver during the recovery process.
For Lebanese manufacturers, the late-minister’s most lasting legacy may be his Industrial Outlook 2010, which will hopefully outlast its author and serve as a model for the sector’s development.