Saturday, February 17, 2007

Lebanon and Democracy: Doomed to Repeat the Past

Overall Analysis

The current situation has always been present in the past. A lot of Lebanese back in the 1950s celebrated that Lebanon was in fact the only democratic nation, and indirectly it is currently. Democracy in Lebanon is present not because the Lebanese love democracy and equality, rather there have been no other solution to this “last minute patchwork nation” (Roy Boykin, Cursed is the Peace Maker).

(Pic to the Left: President Camille Sham'oun)

Theodor Hunf writes: “Admittedly, in a greater number of multi-communal states ‘law and order’ has been maintained through domination by one community, and by one minority in Lebanon’s Arab neighbors. Though, as Lehmbruch pointed out in 1967, there is no reason to believe that the political systems in these states are more efficient. The ascendancy of one community in Iraq, for instance, has not been able to prevent years of bloody civil war.”

He adds: “In Lebanon, in turn, years of war have proved that no single community could have ever dominated. The balance of power never did permit this, and, regarding only the domestic Lebanese balance of power, does not today either.

"Lebanese consociationalism had its achievements; the inequalities inherited from Ottoman rule were considerable reduced; pre-war standards of living were higher than in any neighbouring state; above all, there was in Lebanon a degree of individual and collective freedom that citizens of neighboring countries could only dream of. Freedom and democracy existed not in spite of, but because of, the country’s multi-communal society: its equilibrium rendered authoritarian solutions impossible. "

"Pre War Lebanon could have been soically andeconomically more equitable. The chance to experiment with a more democratic form of Chehabism was missed, for which both the old elite in their social blindness and the new in their radicalism and power-hunger must bear responsibility. These attitudes explain why Lebanese could start shooting at one another, but not why they actually did so.” (Theodore Hunf, Coexistance in Wartime Lebanon, A Revocable Covenant. P. 558)

“Lebanese are also to blame, Kamal Junblatt and his left-wing allies could hardly have seized power on their own, but saw a chance with Palestinian support. The Kata’ib (Phalange in Arabic) tried to provoke the Lebanese Army into moving against the Palestinians. The Muslim establishment hindered any army operations, preferring rather to take advantage of hostilities to effect limited changes in domestic distribution of power.”

“Notwithstanding the responsibility of various Lebanese groups, it is questionable whether Lebanon could have remained aloof from the Middle Eastern conflict. Jordan had no history of Christian – Muslim rivalries, a strong central authority, a functioning secret service and a homogeneous army, yet could not avoid a bloody war… if the Christians had not resisted the Palestinians, would the Shi’is- the community hardest hit by Palestinian activities- have done so later, as they have in recent years?” (Theodore Hunf, Coexistance in Wartime Lebanon, A Revocable Covenant, P. 559)

Moreover, all the syndromes of Lebanon’s history as always showed the presence of two camps amidst foreign interventions and meddling. Just for the fact the Lebanese Civil War started between two factions (with one in alliance with the PLO), but continued between the Lebanese themselves shows the problem of Lebanon and its duality.

Lebanon’s democracy as far as I agree with Theodore Hunf has been indeed shoved in as an alternative since no community can dominate the other. Democracy has been a relative word, always preached by the government and opposition. MP Hussein Hajj Hassan was wrong to assume that this is the last line-ups with one camp winning over the other. Lebanon has always been a singing duet when confrontations were about to take place (whether armed or non-armed). I tackled briefly the main pit-stops in Lebanon’s history to overview what is the logic of Lebanon’s sect leaders. Lebanon is always doomed to repeat its past.

As for the different pit-stops, and politicians, I will try to discuss them each separately and in details per post.

Lebanon 1840-1860

What we are witnessing today has been present through out Lebanon’s history. The bi-polarity of Lebanese politics and only the politicians with their “boys” to muscle has been a syndrome we experienced throughout our history, ever since the autonomous Mount Lebanon emerged in 1860 (متصرفية لبنان) under a governor with the Ottoman citizenship during the Ottoman Empire. Lebanon then had conflict of interests between two Sect leaders belonging to the Maronites and the Druze. Despite the fact those clashes emerged in 1840, just as these two sects attempted to dominate economically and politically the other, the real battle can be observed in 1860. Even though there were two communities, each had a rivalry taking on between the Sect Leaders. For example, there were two Bashirs competing for power: Prince Bashir Chehab in the face of another feudal lord Bashir Junblatt (Walid Junblatt’s ancestor). The clashes were huge, but eventually Bashir Chehab killed Bashir Junblatt (it is interesting to note that during the civil war when Walid Junblatt’s warriors took hold of the Deir Qamar region, which a century ago was the stronghold of the Chehabist clan, he publicly announced that his ancestor was avenged.)

As always, different European imperial nations meddled in Lebanon and adopted “minorities” to safeguard, for example: Tsarist Russia claimed they are protecting the Greek Orthodox, the French claimed they are protecting the Maronites, and the British argued they are protecting the Druze (till later be won by France), and others. The minorities in Lebanon were used as a gateway for the imperial forces to penetrate Lebanon and the Middle East, specially the Ottoman Empire appeared at its weakest in the 19th Century.

In 1860, Capitalism arrived to Mt. Lebanon through the silk factories. Urbanization occurred in the productive focal points in Lebanon, while rural village life was transformed to factories. The immigrants mostly were the Christians who traveled to the United States, Latin America, and elsewhere. The immigrants who will return would mostly become the new middle class of the newly born state Lebanon in 1920. The Christians as a political community emerged as a mobile sect while the Druze became a static sect without upgrading their political and economical organization. The Christians and the Sunnis entered to a clash for domination. The Sunnis felt that they were crushed by the Christians because the Maronites imposed Lebanon on them while they wanted to be part of/ return to Greater Syria.

1943 National Pact

The 1943 National Pact revealed an agreement between the Christians and the Sunnis in an attempt to get rid of the French Mandate. The Sunnis, fed up with the French, struck a deal with the Christians who feared that they will lose any political strength in Lebanon with the French’s withdrawal. The 1943 National Pact was a guarantee from the Sunnis that they will abandon their demands to return towards Syria in exchange the Maronite Leaders would kick out the French out and proclaim national independence. The Sunnis gave the Maronites a lot of privileges, such as a powerful constitutional president who can dissolve the parliament and cabinet at will as a guarantee of goodwill to attain independence from the French Mandate. Such privileges given to the Christian leaders would cause different balances between the Lebanese different communities to be reshuffled. It has to be noted that ever since Lebanon was carved out from Syria, the Maronite Sect started with an advantage over the rest of the Sects, whereby most of those political benefits would be eliminated by the end of the Civil War in 1990. These benefits would trigger two confrontations in the 1950s, and eventually would be one of the different primary causes for the Lebanese Civil War between the Leftists (under the leadership of Kamal Junblatt) in the face of the Christian leadership (spearheaded by Pierre Gemayel).

(Pic of President Bishara Khoury to the Right, Representing the Christian Sect)

The 1943 National Pact would trigger two Sects to react and shove their way to the scene. The first would be the revival of the Druze under the leadership of Kamal Junblatt, who integrated his community into a bigger community, under the banner of Socialism. The Socialist organization of Junblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party was too advanced for the traditional militias (which would be countered later by Pierre Gemayel’s Fascistic organization in the 1960s when the Phalange would represent the majority of the poorer Christians). Prince Irslan, represented the Druze in the National Pact, but Kamal Junblatt’s organization and logos took hold of the majority of the Druze.

(Pic to the Left: Prime Minister Riad el Solh, who represented the Sunni Sect in the National Pact)

The second Sect that was marginalized were the Shiites. As a result, the urban areas of Beirut, and Christian locations had all they needed of infrastructure, while the Shiites were organized in the peripheral in a clan-like manner. Auguston Norton displayed that in 1970 that only 0.7% of the total budget was dedicated to the South, while the South lacked several basic necessities, such as schools, hospitals, phones, and in a lot of areas, even roads. Moussa el-Sadre will blast his way as the representative of the Shiites, and will pave way for Hezbollah to rise in face of Nabih Berri.

The 1958 Clash

Again, Lebanon had its first serious clash after 18 years of independence. The independence was relative as the National Pact was losing its legitimacy among the key players. President Sham’oun’s era began with Lebanon becoming part of the Cold War, whereby the US – Soviets competed for clients. The United States gambled on the Christians, but kept its reservations of direct interventions due to its link with Israel.

Interventions appeared in Lebanon, while Sham’oun attempted to preserve the Christian dominion politically. He was the first Arab leader to adopt the Eisenhower doctrine, which states that the nations under the threat of Communism can demand help of the United States. Meanwhile, Sham’oun’s Ahhrar (Party of Liberation) also were arming themselves as a back-up plan (with light weaponry) in case the army fails to abide with its President’s decisions. The President was the direct Supreme Commander in Chief of the army.
From the Other side, Nasser’s meddling, under Soviet patronage, was mingling also with Lebanese affairs in order to establish the Super Arab Nation to face the Israelis and Western intervention. Actually, Nasser partially adopted (like later the Muslim Brotherhood would) the Palestinian issue to export his own version of “Arab Nationalism”, this of course would lead to a clash between the Saudis and Egyptians.

Nevertheless, two forms of a tiny Lebanon were present in the minds of the key actors. One, which is Sham’oun’s, dictated that Lebanon is for all its citizens as long as it abided by its Christian leaders’ interests and is considered sovereign when the Christians’ interests were not threatened. Shamoun’s line-up included the growing Phalange, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (since they also opposed Nasser’s interventions). Sham’oun got international support from the United States, and he even asked the UN to check if weaponry was being smuggled to Lebanon. Eventually, his warnings were taken seriously by the United States when the Iraqi revolution overthrew the Monarchs (who were in allegiance to the US’s foreign policy). Eventually, over 10,000 Marines entered Lebanon for a brief while, and withdrew. During the crisis, the Commander in Chief of the Army presented himself as a third way. Sham’oun’s attempt to renew his mandate failed, and his forgery of the Parliamentary elections ended his era with the Sunni leaders, the Salams, and Kamal Junblatt temporarily balancing power.


Lebanon’s civil war broke off in 1975. Unlike what Bashir Gemayel wrote in his Presidential Speech, Lebanon was par excellence a Civil War. The argument goes that the Palestinians broke and the Lebanese defended their rights. This is illogical because such an argument neglected the fact there was the gigantic Lebanese National Movement.

There were two armies in Lebanon, one is the Lebanese Army which was perceived biased to the Christian Militias, while the Palestinian Liberation Organization was the second. Kamal Junblatt perceived the war as “reform through arms”. Pierre Gemayel refuted at every occasion to step down in the face of the Lebanese National Movement, who are composed mainly of the left. Four major parties were present inside the Leftists, who were: Kamal Junblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), George Hawwi’s Lebanese Communist Party (LCP), Mohsen Ibrahim’s Order for Communist Work (OCW), and Ina’am Ra’ad’s Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP). I mentioned here the SSNP as part of the leftist coalition because Ra’ad attempted to reshuffle the party’s ideology and bring it closer to the Socialist/Marxist camp. They attained support from the Eastern European Socialist Camp via Kamal Junblatt, George Hawwi, and the PLO. Syria supported at first but then switched sides to the Christian Militias.

(Pic of the Left: Picture of Kamal Jumblatt, head of the Lebanese National Movement and the Progressive Socialis Party)

From the other side, the Lebanese Front had primarily also four major parties as well. They were also called the Right-Wing. They were composed of President Frangieh’s Marada, Pierre Gemayel’s The Phalange, Camille Sham’oun’s The Liberation Party (along with the famous Tigers elite soldiers), and George Adwan’s Al-Tanzeem (an off-shoot of the Lebanese Army). They had support from the Americans indirectly. The Lebanese Front would fit perfectly in Kissinger’s plan to contain the Palestinians’ activities on the border while the Christians thought it was wonderful in order to restore their sovereignty which was marginalized due to the Palestinian activities.

(Picture of the Right: Pierre Gemayel, Spearhead of the Lebanese Front and Leader of The Phalange)

The Americans were busy with establishing the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt, specially by 1974, Anwar Sadat announced clearly the Step-By-Step peace process. To Kissinger, he needed peace in Lebanon between both Lebanese Factions so that no regional war would break in case the Civil War occurred in Lebanon. To be exact, the fear factor was the war would break in Lebanon, the PLO would unleash their missile barrage on Northern Israel, Israel would invade, and Syria would enter into confrontation with Israel. The overall chain reaction would force the Egyptians to cancel the peace process. Kissinger worked extensively through his two top men (Brown and Murphy), and managed to agree with Israel to send captured Soviet weaponry to the Christian Parties via Cyprus to Jounieh. That way, in case any shipment got caught, the PLO would be blamed. The important hinder to the USA was as “the Secretary of State confessed frankly in 1976, that there was nothing the United States could do “physically” in Lebanon, implying that it would have to rely on moral suasion.” (Robert Stookey, The United States).

AMAL’s grassroots were still a minority compared to the rest of the Parties. The Left tried to win them over, but they sided with the Christians politically against the PLO operations on the borders. Even though they were part of the Lebanese National Movement, Imam Moussa el Sadre switched sides towards the Lebanese Front when the Syrians entered Lebanon to rescue the Christian Parties from extinction.
(Pic to the Right: Imam Moussa el Sadre, leader of AMAL Movement)

The Sunnis were practically non-existent between the two camp’s duality. They supported morally and politically the Palestinian Cause under the banner of Arab Nationalism, but they didn’t want to as Kamal Junblatt wanted, to demolish the confessional sectarian system, rather push some of their interests forward.

The National Pact by 1970 reflected that is no longer viable. It was already shaky by 1958, but it was no longer legitimate in the eyes of the Lebanese.

The 1975 war was a civil war par excellence. It was not just the PLO going head to head against the “True Lebanese” or “Isolationist Lebanese”. A huge faction of the Lebanese were going head to head against the Lebanese Front, actually even the Army crumbled down because it was perceived by different Lebanese as biased, specially a general (under the name of Ahhdab) did a coup which lasted a day and called on Frangieh’s resignation.

The duality would last till 1984, despite different actors fluctuated. In 1984, AMAL movement switched alliances again, and joined forces with the Lebanese National Movement in order to shoot down Amin Gemayel’s US sponsored 17th of May accord. Afterwards, the remainder of the government would crumble down, and Lebanon would become a canton system government by the different Lebanese Militias. Different militias from the same sects would compete against each other, or different sects competing to grab hold of a region economically. The leftists after 1984 would seize to be as leftists; rather Walid Junblatt would push the PSP as a Durzi Sect party.

In 1990

With the war over, the opposing Christian figures would be marginalized. The two main figures, anti-Syrian, would be either exiled (Michel Aoun), imprisoned (Samir Jaajaa), or remain in exile (Reymond Edde).

Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United States would strike an agreement with each other over Lebanon. Syria will rebuild Lebanon and block any civil war attempts, the United States will support Syria as long as their “men” make it to power, who are supported by Saudi Arabia directly Rafiq el Harriri.

Syria and the United States would reach serious disagreements later. A huge chunk of the left would oppose Syrian hegemony. The Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement would oppose Syria as well. The rest would fluctuate. The duality would be Pro-Syrian versus Anti-Syrian hegemony. For example, Harriri would ally with Syria’s allied parties, or vice versa. So would Walid Junblatt and others. I wrote several posts on the issue (I recommend Lebanon, Israel, and Class Struggle, Chapters 3-5).


Again a new duality would take place. Syria has been under pressure from the United States, and Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon became more strict politically because the United States destabilized the whole Middle East when Bush suddenly decided to invade Iraq “in quest to destroy weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States”.

Again, Chapter four and Five of Lebanon, Israel and Class Struggle reflect the details of the situation.

I would like to comment on Post July-War comment.

Lebanon is similar to 1958. Each faction got their patronage. Each divided against the other. I will not repeat what others wrote on the main points of disagreement (Hezbollah’s Arms, The International Tribunal, Syria-Iran Versus Saudi Arabia and United States, the Assassinations, and of course the Governmental 1/3 to veto governmental decisions).

Again, Lebanon, just like the past, it is divided again, like all other main historic pit-stops to two camps. Each faction got its own black history, and each camp is seeking its leader’s ability to maximize their own influence in a sectarian sense. Class difference, under Harriri’s Neo-Con policy increased; but again, just as in President Helou’s era, inequality increased, same occurred and the Sect leaders are able to mobilize their masses from Sectarian issues. It is amazing how each sect leader/defender in each camp has the capability to blame the other for the current status.

This leads again to the same question: Democracy is not favored in Lebanon, but it is the only method despite the fact that Democracy in Lebanon is sect-based.


cyberray said...

February 18, 2007, 6:54 PM (GMT+02:00)

Bashar Assad, on the second day of his talks in Tehran, was advised by Khamenei to support Nouri al-Maliki and the national aspirations of the Lebanese people. Before his arrival, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Lebanon and Iran were “limbs of the same body.”

Sophia said...


Good to read from you and thanks for this lenghty analysis. I would like to mention that not all democracies should be the same. India is a democracy and yet it is very different from US democracy or European democracies. I think it is in the interest of Lebanon and Lebanese to adopt a proportional and a consensual democracy.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

Problem Sophia that nothing works with sectarianism still live and kicking