Suleiman Franjieh, still addressed as "Monsieur le President" six years after he left Lebanon's highest office, now also is called the prophet in the limestone mountains of the Holy Valley of northern Lebanon.
Franjieh received his new nickname because he predicted on the day after Bashir Gemayel was elected as Lebanon's new president Aug. 23 that the 34-year-old warlord-politician would not live to take office.
Tuesday, nine days before he was to assume power, Gemayel was killed in an explosion in the East Beirut office of the right-wing Christian Phalangist Party, and Franjieh recalled saying, "God is great" upon learning the news.
Franjieh held Gemayel responsible for killing his eldest son Tony, Tony's wife Vera, and their 3-year-old daughter Jumana in a dawn attack in this village, which serves as summer residence for the citizens of Zghorta, another Christian Maronite village nearer the Mediterranean coast.
Although the 73-year-old former president said Gemayel's death had been "an agreeable surprise," Franjieh was not entirely happy -- for he had sworn to take vengeance on Gemayel and, "unhappily," he said, "I was not responsible for his death."
"We have tried since 1978," Franjieh said in a rare show of displeasure, "but we have had no luck."
And thus, Franjieh explained, he could not wear black or bury Tony and his family, who are still resting in coffins in a special chapel built to honor their memory just outside the family's summer residence here.
Franjieh recalled he had gone to bed after muttering "too bad" when Gemayel's own clandestine radio station announced in early evening that the president-elect had escaped with only minor injuries from the bombing in East Beirut.
"I was awakened by shooting in the street after midnight," Franjieh recalled, noting that it is a Lebanese custom to fire weapons in joy to mark great occasions. Then his daughter Lamia came into his room and planted a "big, fat, warm kiss on my face," Franjieh said, and he realized then that Gemayel was dead.
Jauntily smoking a cigarette held in a silver holder, wearing a white cardigan over his white shirt and blue tie, an obviously delighted Franjieh played with worry beads on a green baize tabletop as he explained the complicated notion of mountain vengeance among his fellow Maronite Christians.
Gemayel's death had not ended the vendetta. "You mean Bashir's death does not count for you?" he was asked.
"Absolutely not," Franjieh replied, explaining that vengeance must be wrought personally.
Thus, Franjieh said, he was still determined to wreak vengeance on the rest of the Gemayel family, Bashir's elder brother Amin, their father Pierre, who founded the Phalangist Party, and their descendants.
Moreover, Franjieh said he disapproved of the methods used to kill Gemayel -- an explosive charge that collapsed most of the building.
"I'm for face-to-face work," he said, "not this business of killing a man behind his back."
Franjieh first came to major public attention in 1957 when he and his followers shot and killed members of a rival family in a shoot-out inside the church in the northern village of Miziara during a requiem mass.
He was forced to flee to Syria until subsequently pardoned.
"Those are the traditions of my village I inherited from my father," he said.
For Franjieh's wife Iris, Bashir Gemayel's death had been the answer to her prayers.
Taking a sip from a glass of arak, the strong licorice-flavored drink that is a Lebanese specialty, she said, "The good Lord knew that a criminal who had sold out his country like Bashir could not succeed to the presidency."
By that she meant that Bashir Gemayel, who had been a close friend and ally of the Israelis, had to be punished, a favorite theme in the Franjieh household since her son's murder.
As has become his practice during the years, Franjieh reserved his nastiest barbs for the United States, which he has held responsible for Lebanon's agony since the stewardship of former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger.
"You are a criminal people," he said at the luncheon table to his American guests, charging American "connivance" with the Israeli Army's invasion of West Beirut in contradiction of what he insisted had been formal, written U.S. promises to keep the Israelis out of the predominantly Moslem sector once the Palestinian guerrillas had withdrawn.
"It reminds me of American government treaties with the American Indians," Franjieh snorted as he watched on television yet another old enemy, Foreign Minister Fuad Boutros, make similar, if more diplomatic, complaints about the United States' ineffectiveness in dealing with Israel. graphics /photo: Suleiman Franjieh ...rival's death is "agreeable surprise"