Back to the Ersal Mayor,
The Border is Mine
Hujeiri was born in Ersal, learned farming by instinct, had his primary education at the convent school in al-Qaa village, and completed his intermediate school stage in Ersal. But then “I rebelled against my father and school and joined the Communist Action Organization. I fought on the Mount Lebanon and Souk al-Gharb fronts between 1984 and 1985.”
But problems arose with the smuggling business, prompting Hujeiri to abandon it and devote himself to farming: “I left smuggling because of security harassment, and because I couldn’t pay the money to the Syrian officers any longer. So I switched to farming in Jourd Ersal and Masharih al-Qaa. But I kept in limited contact with the Syrians. Then I opened a stone quarry, which my sons work in today.”
“We didn’t understand the Syrians, and they never understood us,” he now says. “An official from the Baath Party came and held a meeting in the village. He asked us to do this and that, and told us Ersal’s interests lie here and not there. I objected to what he was saying and said: go and teach the people of your own village. I walked out of the meeting, and everyone there from Ersal followed me,” he recalls. “That gave Syrian intelligence a grudge against me, so I was expelled from the Baath party because I was against Syria and Assad.”
That incident did not prevent him from repairing his relations with Syrian intelligence, who asked him to run in the 2004 municipal elections. But he refused, opting instead to back one of his relatives as mayor and take on the Baath, which did not score a single municipal council member. “I told them: I will beat you in Ersal, and that is exactly what happened.”
Since becoming mayor of Ersal for a second time in 2010, Hujeiri has had a fair amount of contact with Hezbollah, but “the party only wants to deal with us for sectarian reasons,”he complains.
“Sayyed Nasrallah was victorious against Israel in 2006, but I don’t know why he slid into narrow alleyways [of internal Lebanese politics] and wasted this great victory. I, for example, used to be against [prime minister] Fouad Siniora, but I became with him, like all the people of Ersal,” he says. “Ersal today is with the Syrian revolution against Bashar al-Assad,” the mayor reiterates. “I don’t hide the fact that we support the revolution here, but I challenge anyone to prove that there is al-Qaeda in Ersal” – adding, with a laugh, “three quarters of Ersal do not know how to perform ablutions, and don’t trust bearded people.” In any case, “we faced a lot of insults from the Baath here and in Syria, so don’t blame us, boys.”
Ersal’s strongman is emphatic: “If the entire world supports Bashar, and his people and Ersal are against him, he will not stay in power.” He adds that “the Syrians destroyed a house of mine in Jourd Ersal, and another in Masharih al-Qaa, and also some of my water wells, but I will not back down from my support for the revolution.”
The mayor declines to elaborate on the subject of weapons smuggling via Ersal into Syria, remarking “you should ask the Syrian intelligence and leaders of the Baath in Lebanon — they know best who does the smuggling and who deals with them here and in Syria.” He points out, however, that “we now control the border all the way from al-Qaa to Ersal, up to the Zabadani countryside. More than 100 kilometers of the border with Syria are under our control.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.