The final votes in the election of a new Lebanese president were still being tabulated today when the Voice of Lebanon, the radio of the Christian Phalangist Party, issued a most un-Lebanese bulletin.
Bashir Gemayel, the 34-year-old militia chieftain who was the only declared candidate in the presidential race, had requested that when he was officially proclaimed winner his supporters should "please refrain from firing your guns."
In a country where the per capita firepower is without doubt one of the highest in the world, as is each man's readiness to use it at the slightest excuse -- be it anger or celebration -- the radio station's request was highly unusual.
That it was made by Gemayel, whose meteoric political rise has been in direct proportion to his reputation for ruthlessness in his own use of the gun, it was nothing short of extraordinary.
The statement was a reflection of the new image of moderation and statesmanship that the tempestuous Gemayel -- often described as a Christian warlord -- has sought to cultivate since the Phalangist Party founded by his father Pierre Gemayel tapped him for the presidency last June 24.
It is an image that has convinced neither his zealous Christian supporters, who view him as a messiah who will save the divided republic, or his fearful Moslem and leftist detractors, who see him as the devil incarnate.
The street gunslingers who make up Gemayel's 20,000-man Lebanese Forces militia proved they were not swayed by his exalted position by ignoring his request this afternoon not to turn Christian East Beirut into a thunderous din of gunfire.
Although Gemayel, in his new guise as the aspiring successor of President Elias Sarkis, had toned down his anti-Moslem rhetoric and made conciliatory overtures to such key Moslem leaders as former prime minister Saeb Salam, he remains haunted by a violent and bloody past that many in Lebanon may never let him forget.
As the youngest of six children of Pierre Gemayel, one of the stern clan leaders of the Christian Maronite sect that by unwritten agreement provides all of Lebanon's presidents, Bashir Gemayel grew up in the womb of the Phalangist Party that his father founded originally as a youth organization in the 1930s after having been impressed with Nazi youth organizations on a visit to Germany.
In 1958, during the first Lebanese Christian-Moslem civil war, young Gemayel, at the age of 11, joined his father's party, which had already evolved into a rigid Christian nationalist political movement with its own private army, the Kataeb.
He began the formal military training in the militia, which was to become his fraternity and power base two years later. By age 22 he was in command of a unit of 100 men.
He studied law and political science at a local Jesuit college. In 1968, he began his political career by leading Phalangist students against a leftist-organized university strike in support of Palestinian nationalism.
His opposition to the Palestinians' bringing their affairs into Lebanese politics grew to outright hatred a few years later when a group of Palestinians kidnaped him and held him prisoner for eight hours in a refugee camp before his father could intercede with the Lebanese government authorities to free him.
His real political formation, however, came at the begining of the 1975-76 Lebanese civil war. Smelling the conflict, he closed down his law practice on West Beirut's Hamra Street in April 1975 and became a full-time militia commander.
When at the height of the Phalangists' long and violent siege of the Palestinian refugee camp of Tal Zaatar, the Phalangist militia commander in chief, William Hawi, was killed, Gemayel succeeded him. As the Kataeb's new military chief, Gemayel directed what many observers consider some of the war's most bloody and cruel battles, including the final massacre of Tal Zaatar's survivors.
The end of the civil war, which left Beirut divided by a ravaged no man's land that separated its two hostile armed camps, only briefly took Gemayel away from the violence that had become a part of his life.
Obsessed with the idea of imposing order and unity on a chaotic nation splintered into feudal clans and sectarian rivalries, Gemayel wasted little time in turning upon the Phalangists' Christian rivals. He saw them threatening his dream of "liberating" all of Lebanon from the Palestinians, who had taken control of much of southern Lebanon, and from the Syrian Army, which had occupied large parts of Lebanon as an Arab League peace-keeping force to end the civil war in 1976.
In 1978, after former Maronite president Suleiman Franjieh broke from the Christian alliance that had been set up during the civil war to coordinate the Christian militias, Gemayel's forces attacked Franjieh's son, and political heir, Tony. The raid on Tony Franjieh's home in the mountains of northeastern Lebanon left Tony dead as well as his wife, their daughter and 32 supporters who had tried to defend them.
Gemayel dismissed the massacre as "a social revolt against feudalism."
Two years later, Gemayel moved against the other Christian patriarch, former president Camille Chamoun, to crush his personal militia, led by his son Dany.
Bashir Gemayel's forces descended on Dany Chamoun's seaside fief early one summer morning. When the day was done about 300 persons, many of them women and children, were dead, some shot as they swam in the Safra Marine resort complex swimming pool. In one stroke Bashir wiped out Chamoun's militia, terrorized his party supporters, and became the supreme ruler of Christian Lebanon.
Gemayel set up his own police force in the Christian zone under his control, his own tax-collection system, social security organization, radio and television network. He imposed his own form of discipline and martial peace in East Beirut, making it a model of the sort of one-party rule he seems to advocate for the country as a whole.
The stocky, dark-haired militia chieftain has become a rallying point for a whole generation of Christians who grew up during the violent days of the civil war. His rhetoric, adoption of military uniforms, martial bands and even fascist salutes, have given him what many critics see as the image of a neofascist.
In his drive to counter his Moslem, Palestinian and Syrian opponents, he has forged an alliance with Israel that has made him even more of a political pariah to his opponents.
He has shrugged off those who have accused him of being in collusion with his Israeli allies, saying that "the Israelis are fighting for their own reasons, not my pretty blue eyes."
It is this connection with Israel, as well as his bloody reputation, that has made him anathema to Lebanon's Sunni and Shiite Moslem leadership. Moslem leaders predict that Gemayel's presidency will bring a revival of the never-resolved civil war.
Today, the Lebanese Druze sect chieftain and Socialist leader, Walid Jumblatt, denounced Gemayel as a "stooge" of the Israelis, installed by the intimidation of their tanks and arms. Jumblatt said the election was part of a U.S. and Israeli plot to install an anti-Moslem Christian dictatorship in Lebanon.