But the outspoken 27-year-old never envisioned running for parliament, especially not as one of the youngest candidates.
His plans changed Nov. 22, 2006, the day his older brother, Pierre, then a government minister and lawmaker, was assassinated. His is a story told often in Lebanese politics, with its tendency to settle political scores through violence, thrusting sometimes unlikely personalities into the spotlight, as they seize the legacy of their slain forebears.
"Most likely, I wouldn't have been running for elections if Pierre was still alive," said Gemayel, one of the election's most assertive candidates.
On Sunday, Lebanese go to the polls in one of the most decisive elections in the troubled country's history, with a potpourri of new faces still playing by the old rules of a sectarian system that had dominated the country in war and peace.
Voters will choose a 128-member parliament that will probably again enshrine the division of politics into two seemingly irreconcilable camps that have vied for control of the country since 2004. That contest has revolved around politics -- Lebanon's posture toward the West, Israel, Syria and Iran. But no less important, it has drawn on the delicate balance of a country with 18 religious sects, whose identity and sense of vulnerability still color so much of Lebanese life.
Gemayel has a good chance of making his way into parliament as a candidate for what is known as the March 14 coalition, drawing its name from the date of a sprawling protest against Syria's longtime presence in Lebanon in 2005 and backed by the United States and France. The alliance, which won a majority of seats in the 2005 elections, is competing against candidates supported by a coalition known as March 8, the date of a counterprotest that was almost as large. It is led by the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah but counts as supporters the followers of a powerful retired Christian general, Michel Aoun.
To many, the vote appears too close to call, with each side expressing confidence that its victory will serve as a decisive break with the past deadlock. "There are those who tell the Lebanese there is going to be a crisis of governing, but we see an end to the crisis," Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah lawmaker, said at a rally Friday.
The conflict between the two camps has crippled state institutions, effectively shut down parliament and left the president's office vacant for six months. It reached a climax in 2008, when Hezbollah took over parts of Sunni Muslim Beirut after what it viewed as a provocation by its opponents. An agreement reached in May 2008 in Doha, Qatar, brought the groups back from the precipice and offered a formula to organize Sunday's election, though it left unresolved the root causes of the tension.
Under that formula, demographics make the outcome of races in 17 of the 26 electoral districts predictable. Each will go to a candidate backed by either Hezbollah or the March 14 coalition's Sunni leadership. But it is the result of the vote in Christian-dominated districts like Gemayel's that will determine which camp wins a majority in the next parliament, with the power to choose the prime minister.
Moving between the rooms of the office of the Phalangist Party, Sami Gemayel looked confident as he passed posters of his brother; his father, former president Amin Gemayel; and his grandfather Pierre, the party's founder. He greeted comrades -- most of them older than he.
"The more happy and proud I feel of him," Sami's father, Amin, said, after a long sigh, "the more scared I get. This is how Pierre got killed."
The young Gemayel's family story is not all that unusual in this election. His cousin Nadim, 27, is running for a seat in the district of Ashrafieh. He, too, is the son of a former president, Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated in 1982 during Lebanon's civil war. Nadim's mother, Solange, is a member of parliament.
Running in the same district is Nayla Tueni, 28, one of only 13 female candidates. She is the daughter of Gebran Tueni, another lawmaker and publisher of a leading newspaper, An-Nahar, who was assassinated in December 2005. Like Pierre Gemayel, he was a fierce opponent of Syria's presence in Lebanon and a prominent player in the anti-Syrian protests that followed the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005.
In Sassine Square in Ashrafieh, the stronghold of Beirut's Christians, new, colorful posters overlook older monuments and slogans. A giant poster shows a baby-faced Tueni, under her father's words, "In the Defense of the Great Lebanon." Across the street, a large poster of Nadim Gemayel bears a striking resemblance to his father. "Unchanged, Today and Always," it reads. Like Sami Gemayel, both Tueni and Nadim Gemayel are running on the March 14 lists, along with Michel Moawad, the son of another president, René Moawad, assassinated in 1989.
Competing against Moawad for one of three seats in the district of Zgharta in northern Lebanon is Suleiman Frangieh, grandson and namesake of the late president and son of Tony Frangieh, a politician assassinated with his wife and baby daughter in 1978. Frangieh was appointed minister at age 25 in 1990.
The list goes on and on.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has survived the test of years, both in war and peace, as an uncontested zaim, or leader of his confession. The title itself suggests feudal powers. He was 28 when his father, Kamal, the founder of the Progressive Socialist Party, was assassinated in 1977 after the civil war began.
The sectarian formula has dominated Lebanon since its founding, as have echoes of a feudal order. But for the past 20 years, in part a legacy of the civil war, new leaders, particularly among Sunnis and Shiites, have begun to challenge the old order, if not its rules.
Among Shiites, once lorded over by powerful families, a coalition between Hezbollah and Amal, another Shiite group, has controlled the seats in parliament that are allotted to Shiites under the sectarian formula since the end of the civil war.
Ahmad al-Assad, the son of Kamel al-Assad, speaker of parliament for four terms between 1964 and 1984 and an emblem of the old order, is running for a seat. But he has almost no chance of winning.
"I am not running only against the Hezbollah-Amal alliance, but also against the fear of voting against them," said the U.S.-educated Assad.
For Sunnis, the resonance of Hariri's assassination, along with the vast fortune of his heirs, has made a comeback difficult for any of the more traditional Sunni leaders.
His son, Saad, heads the largest bloc in parliament and, like Jumblatt, is for now viewed as an unchallenged leader of his sect, even though his father, prime minister five times and a self-made billionaire, came from humble origins.
Another major player coming from modest roots is Aoun, the former general who founded the Free Patriotic Movement and now stands as Hezbollah's main Christian ally. Along with him, both his son-in-law, Telecommunications Minister Gebran Bassil, and his nephew, Alain Aoun, are running for seats.
"I was born the nephew of the general, but this kinship is not the reason why I am a candidate. I am one of 60 other candidates, and we all had to meet specific criteria," said Alain Aoun, a longtime activist in his uncle's party.
The Washington Post
Photo: MP candidate Sami Gemayel in front of a poster of his grandfather Pierre Gemayel the founder of the Phalange party . His uncle Bashir and his father Amine were presidents. His brother Pierre , former minister of industry was assassinated in 2006 and his uncle Bashir was assassinated in 1982.
Tags: Hezbollah, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria