Monday, March 19, 2007

Investigating Lebanon: The Ethnic Dilemma (Part I)


Ever since the civil war in Lebanon was over, some scholars dubbed Lebanon as an ethnic struggle. Philip Habib considered Lebanon as a whirlpool that sucked in all those powers against each other, while the main domestic actors are semi-feudal warlords protecting their own interests. The question is whether Lebanon is ethnic or not… the investigation begins. My argument is the sectarian system has been the primary cause rather ethnic belonging.

Lebanon 1975-1976

The first scenario to take into hand is the breakout of the war. Some naively dubbed the break-out of the civil war as a Palestinian – Lebanese war. This has failed to be proven as so. On the eve of the civil war in 1975, the ones who declared war were the Lebanese factions, with Palestinian support for one side, and indirect US-Syrian-Israeli support for another. Despite the war broke as Muslim versus Christian, that was not the case. The Shiite movement, known as AMAL, supported the “Muslim side”, and ended up supporting the Christian side. To be exact, the left-wing tried to win over the Shiites, but they preferred to side with the Lebanese Front to stop Israeli retaliation due to Palestinian operations. It has to be noted though, that most of the Shiite militants were either in Communist movements or of the SSNP.

Second, the combatants from the “West Side” were not purely Palestinian. On the contrary, four gigantic parties were present next to them, they were called the Lebanese National Movement. None of them were Sect based (unlike current days), rather they were left-wing in nature. The Kamal Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, Ra’ad’s Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Hawwi’s Lebanese Communist Party, and Ibrahim’s Order For Communist Work. Dr. Traboulsi dubbed Kamal Jumblatt’s campaign as “Reform By Arms”, which ended with the martyrdom of Kamal jumblatt at the hands of the Syrian Regime, and Maronite Blessing, which succeeded in isolating Kamal Jumblatt.

Third, the Sunni St. were not part of the confrontations. They used the Palestinian issue to advance minor demands of system reform in the name of “Arab Nationalism”. The primary figure of the “Muslim Side” was Kamal Jumblatt. If the PLO were combating the whole Lebanon, then it would have been probably considered as ethnic, whereby the PLO want to dominate Lebanon to launch their own operations, while the Lebanese were fighting for their existence. The glitch is, a huge military faction sided with the Lebanese National Movement in the face of the other.

Lebanon in 1980-1984

The hypothesis goes as Lebanese fighting Israelis, but that also does not stand. Bashir Gemayel and the newly carved Lebanese Forces coordinated the entrance of Israel to Lebanon. Sharon already visited East Beirut and Beit Merri (in 1981) and met with Pierre Gemayel, Camille Cham’oun, and Bashir Gemayel.

The other faction of the Lebanese was supporting the PLO. Over here, in Lebanon, there are written two historical paradigms of what happened: that of East Beirut, and that of West Beirut.

Probably the only ethnic dimension that can be considered over here is the Israelis combating the PLO, specially when the Siege of West Beirut began. Sharon wanted to get of the PLO once and for all. The Sabra-Chatila massacre was the biggest proof of how Sharon wanted to “get rid of the PLO”. This does not make the PLO innocent as a lot of West Beirut residents were fed up from their hegemony over the area. East Beirut were celebrating the Israeli victories.

When Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, the al-Jazeera documentary was correct to say: “Thousands mourned, while others celebrated.”

Lebanon 1984-1990

Well, after President Amin Gemayel’s 17th of May accord (peace with Israel) was shot down by Walid Junblatt’s PSP, the Resistance Front, AMAL movement, and the al-Assad, whatever official institutions of the government collapsed. Lebanon became cantons with each major party having a sea-shore outlet to do their own business trade with the outside world.

This era proves that Lebanon has not been a Palestinian-Lebanese issue, or a Lebanese Israeli issue, and of course a Lebanese-Syrian issue (despite the fact Syria played an indirect role to be discussed in a separate post). If the case that Lebanon began as a war between the Lebanese and Palestinians, then why the war continued from 1982 till 1990. In 1982, most of the Palestinian warriors got evacuated with US blessing into Tunisia, Syria, and Jordan. Some returned to Lebanon to protect their camps after the Sabra – Chatila massacres, and eventually clashed with AMAL movement. Parties of the same sects clashed to establish hegemony over newly acquired lands, which includes territorial gains and civilians being taxed “for their own welfare.”

Shiites slaughtered Shiites, AMAL and Hezbollah experienced the bloodiest warfare between each other. Christians slaughtered Christians, Bashir’s death created a void which pushed two warlords to collide against each other to control East Beirut (probably the only front Samir Jaajaa won militarily in his life, against Elie Hobeika). Shiites and the PSP, after becoming Durzi based, collided to establish hegemony over West Beirut which pushed the people of West Beirut to demand the return of the Syrian Army in 1987 to its area. Eventually General Aoun and Samir Jaajaa collided, and the Christian militias lost the Status Quo once and for all.

Lebanon and Ethnicity

I went through glimpses of the civil war, because I will need them as examples when the investigation really begins, and hopefully shed light on the current situation as well. I will borrow views from ME Brown’s article “The Causes of Internal Conflict- An Overview”, to understand Lebanon from an ethnic perspective. I do not consider Lebanon as ethnic oriented, but the Sectarian groups have some similar behavior to ethnic groups in action.

“Weak state structures are the starting point for many analysis of internal conflict. Some States are born weak. Many of the states that were carved out of colonial empires in Africa and Southeast Asia, for example, were artificial constructs. They lacked political legitimacy, political legitimacy, politically sensible borders, and political institutions capable of exercising meaningful control over the territory placed under their nominal supervision…. The vast majority of these new entities came into existence with only the most rudimentary political institutions in place.”

This is the case with Lebanon. Lebanon was carved out from an Ottoman Empire. It was existent as a tiny autonomous Mt. Lebanon to become the current Lebanon which according to some (has been and always remain to be). The carving of Lebanon didn’t receive legitimacy till the National Pact was agreed upon between all the leaders in Lebanon. Lebanon has a state has always been preached by the Maronites, their concept then was Lebanon is free and legitimate as long as they were in power. Lebanon was carved out by the French from Syria. Mt. Lebanon in the past did not even include Beirut. All documents at the American University of Beirut (prior to World War One) were signed as Syrian Protestant Collage (earlier name to AUB), Beirut – Syria. Till now, the governmental institutions can’t establish all Lebanese sovereignty where the opposition are majority in their region. Again, the government as a legitimate power is weak when all the Sect leaders are disregarding it.

“When states are weak, individual groups within these states feel compelled to provide for their own defense; they to worry whether other groups pose security threats… The problem is that, in taking steps to defend themselves, groups often threaten the security of others. This can lead neighboring groups to take steps that will diminish the security of the first group; this is the security dilemma.”

This appeared slightly in Lebanon, in the year 1958, but drastically in 1970. The center of Lebanon, ie the government, was oppressive in 1958 towards most of the non-Christian leaders who saw with Nasserism they can establish a balance of power. Worse, in 1970, with the increased clashes between the future parties of the Lebanese Front and the PLO, caused Sham’oun to announce his famous elite militia: The Tigers. The arms of the PLO, the aim of the left-wing to demolish the sectarian system through allying with the PLO, the stubbornness of the Christian Leaders to decline any of their better off political advantages, triggered the arming of militia groups which exploded in 1975. Currently, we got the same dilemma, the arms of Hezbollah showed a massive balance of power politically against the government. During the January encounters, all parties turned out to have arms, and the security dilemma continues.

“In some states with ethnic minorities, ethnic groups are intermingled; in others, minorities tend to live in separate provinces or regions of the country. Countries with highly intermingled populations are less likely to face secessionist demands because ethnic groups are not distributed in ways that lend themselves… Direct attacks on civilians, intense guerilla warfare, ethnic cleansing, and genocide may result.”

Lebanon has different sect communities that in a lot of occasions are divided. None are demanding separatist demands, except probably for the Lebanese Forces’ reviving a federation system to establish a Marounstan, but none currently has a separatist demand. Even the audience of Hezbollah does not wish to go to Syria because they know how oppressive the regime is over there. However, when clashes occurred in December and January, the civilians were hurt. Worse, towards the end of January, the PSP and AMAL established check-points asking people for identification cards or passports, those who were Sect enemies or belonged to an enemy region suffered sectarianism and racism.

Back in planning the establishment of Israel, the Zionists had a plan of encouraging Christians to endorse the Phoenician dogma, and push for Sect-redistribution, whereby the Phoenicians/Christians would be in South Lebanon as a buffer to Israel’s North. (Source: Amin Mustapha’s book: Resistance in Lebanon). In such a scenario, the Zionists would attempt to transform the Christians into a race, like they did with their own people by transforming Judaism into a race.

(The Above Quotes were taken from the Structural Section)

“Many argue that the prospects for conflict in a country depend to a significant degree on the type and fairness of its political system. Closed, authoritarian systems are likely to generate considerable resentment over time, especially if the interests of some ethnic groups are served while others are trampled. Even in more democratic settings, resentment can build if some groups are inadequately represented in government, the courts, the military, the police, political parties, and other state and political institutions. The legitimacy of the system as a whole can, over time, falls into question.”

Lebanon under the French mandate suited one minority, who were the Maronites, even a lot of Greek Orthodox sect opposed the separation of Lebanon from Syria. As mentioned earlier, till the national pact was agreed between the Sunnis and the Maronites, the French left, but the system still gave a supreme privilege to the Christian Sects. The President then had more power than the parliament combined, actually the system functioned that the elected President of the Nation was more powerful than his voters, who are the members of the Parliament. To add much damage, the system added a lot of injuries in the long run where by the Public Sector followed a biased logic of recruitment based on sect: For every 6 Christians recruited by the State, Five Muslims were recruited. After the war ended, the status quo in recruitment changed to 6:6. Three President system was created, and the power was divided between the President of the Republic (Maronite), the Prime Minister (Sunni), and Speaker of the Parliament (Shiite). Nevertheless the Sectarian system stands, and most of the clergy men almost caused chaos when Civil Marriage was proposed back in 1999.

During the Syrian Dictatorship mandate over Lebanon, the Syrians played on sectarianism to keep the Lebanese divided. Rather, they gave all warlords and businessmen tempting powers to preserve their presence. Again, the ones who opposed the government were factions of the left, and the Christian street, which was led by two rival warlords, General Aoun (who got exiled) and Jaajaa (who went to prison for not entering the game and aiming for presidency).

Currently, the Opposition naively are trying to impose they are oppressed and they are gambling on community logic to keep their masses mobilized. The government, which also serves the interests of certain sect leaders are also behaving the same way.

“…Therefore ethnic nationalism is the default option: it predominates when institutions collapse, when existing institutions are not fulfilling people’s basic needs, and when satisfactory alternative structures are not readily available.”

This appeared clear during the Civil War, each militia dominated militarily zones it invaded, and applied its miniature financing of political parties. The government was already viewed as biased to one side against the other. The basic needs were satisfied mostly except in the South and rural areas of the North. Over here, Hezbollah entered the scene, replacing AMAL movement’s influence on the grass root level through services and welfares where the government failed. The Christians in 1975 started arming themselves and attained weaponry via Israel (as well as suspected in some occasions Syria) while the Lebanese National Movement via the Soviet Union and PLO. The lack of a strong nation caused all factions to arm. Currently, the opposition are gambling to promote themselves as the starving ones (Hezbollah got the advantage on that side) but the government also has locations full of poor people. In certain areas in North Lebanon, there are a large number of Sunni rural areas who pledged allegiance to Harriri Jr. in return for welfare or believing of the survival of their community.

“Religious fundamentalists committed to establishing theocratic states divide societies into two groups: Those who subscribe to a theologically derived political, economic, and social order, and those who do not.”

The easiest model to define a theocratic state, that model would be called Iran, ie rule of the clergy. In Lebanon, religion was hijacked by politicians to mobilize their own masses, mainly the middle class and the lower classes within the sect. Each Sect-Defender blamed enemy sect leaders during the war, and still do till current day blame the other.

During the civil war, there have been two main groups who demanded a theocratic state, Yakan’s al-Tawhhid movement which declared Tripoli as an Islamic Princedom at the cost of civilians, the Communists, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and Hezbollah which has the Shora Council (similar to the concept of a Stalinist Central Committee but controlled by clergy men). Hezbollah aimed during the civil war to establish an Islamic State (specially under the bloody reign of Sheikh Tfayli). After 1993, Hezbollah gradually became a hybrid model of political party and a militant group. Currently, both are allied with each other, with Yakan (a Sunni) giving a Friday Prayer to the audience of Hezbollah against the government.

“The prospects for violence are great, it is said, if groups – whether they are based on political, ideological, religious, or ethnic affinities – have ambitious objectives, strong senses of identity, and confrontational strategies. Conflict is especially likely if objectives are incompatible, groups are strong and determined, action is feasible, success is possible, and if inter-group comparisons lead to competition, anxiety, and fears of being dominated. The emergence of new groups and changes in the inter-group balance of power can be particularly destabilizing.”

Currently objectives disagree. Different groups put down their own private interests, and marginalized their objectives for the short run. Hezbollah shook hands with their arch-enemy Christian based Free Patriotic Movement, while the Lebanese Forces shook hands with the Durzi based Progressive Socialist Party. Two coalitions, formed from contradictory groups, are doing a showdown. The problem, whenever a crisis takes place, everyone forgets their ideology, and become two massive movements against each other. The capture of arms of Hezbollah by the Lebanese Army triggered ex-Militias to arm, at least light-weaponry appeared by both parties other than Hezbollah supposed to have theirs. Worse, when Nasrallah announced that he has over 20,000 long distance missiles, the pro-government parties panicked also. The presence of arms is spreading through out Lebanon, but to be honest, attaining arms has always been easiest to attain if one is determined to buy second hand Ak-47 or M16.

The fear of being dominated triggered the civil war, and in January the same fear spread again between the sectarian communities. The masses of Harriri don’t want to be dominated by the Shiites, and vice versa. The Lebanese Forces still dream of federalism o preserve a miniature Marounstan, while both camps have two accusations against each other: the government do not want to be dominated by “Iran and Syria” and henceforth return the era of the Syrian Baathi boots present in Lebanon, while the opposition are preaching they do not want to be dominated by the United States, Israel, and to a certain extent Saudi Arabia.

As for new groups, I can’t believe of any group to change the balance of power except of Hezbollah. The civil war started on the Lebanese side with the Leftists against the Christian Right, but ended with cantons shooting at each other. Hezbollah emerged as the primary balancer of power in the current status quo. The second new group would be the Free Patriotic Movement, whereby they balanced against three traditional Christian Parties that were strong and influential on the Christian Street, the Liberals’ Party, The Phalange, and the Lebanese Forces.

“Ethnic bashing, and scapegoating are tools of the trade, and the mass media are employed partisan and propagandistic ways that further aggravate ire-ethnic tensions.”

In Lebanon, we have sect bashing, and as mentioned earlier, two major coalitions are scapegoating the other. Each leader bashes the leader of the other camp. Nasrallah blamed the government for performing poorly and went as far as accusing the Lebanese government of collaborating with the Israelis (well part of it) and traveled to the US and requested war. Junblatt attacks Nasrallah for launching a war under the banner “The Divine ‘If Only I Knew’ campaign and pushed the Israelis to butcher the Lebanese civilians.
The media is clear. Al-Manar TV (Hezbollah’s official TV channel) and Future TV (Harriri’s TV Channel) reflect different realities of a same event. For example when the shooting occurred in the Arab University, Future TV reported that militants of 8th of March shot first, while al-Manar said Future Militia came and shot on their students.

The media played a gigantic role in exploding the Civil War back in 1975, and currently plays a role to divide Lebanon according to Sects. For starters nobody listens to what the “other” is saying. Al-Manar and NBN (AMAL’s TV) report their own version of the Truth to the extent their followers didn’t care about a TINY detail that they gave Aoun a distorted picture. Future TV wages a war on Aoun, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. New TV claims to be neutral but ends up putting a lot of Weam Wahhab’s ugly face who does not qualify to be a labeled a politician. Lebanese Broad Casting TV (Pro-Lebanese Forces) also claim to be neutral but every single word that warlord “Doctor” Samir Jaajaa says.

(Quotes taken from the Political Section)

(Part I finishes)


voltaires_priest said...

Hello, Lebanese chap :)

Could you update your link to Shiraz Socialist, please? Our new address is

Thankyou! :)

MarxistFromLebanon said...

I was going to change it :D

Renegade Eye said...

I'm starting to believe essays as this post, should be saved for a book eventually.

The demonstration in Minneapolis against the war in Iraq, drew some 5,000 people. I saw the WIL people there.

Khawwta said...

you are invited to prove your theory here ;)

Bedouina said...

Okay you wrote:
“Ethnic bashing, and scapegoating are tools of the trade, and the mass media are employed partisan and propagandistic ways that further aggravate ire-ethnic tensions.”

Do you mean "the mass media employed partisan and propagandistic ways that further aggravate inter-ethnic tensions"

just a little editing to fix typos/syntax and make meaning clear.

Is this bold face comment a quote from somebody else, or is this your quote? And so do you support the thesis later by showing partisan and propagandistic "ways" to aggravate tensions?

Because I'm very interested in the topic. I'm writing a work of fiction set in a South Lebanese village that deals with ethnic tensions. The subject may be too much for me but I'm doing the best I can. I just really don't believe that one ethnic group is violent and kills, while other ethnic groups are innocent and merely defend. I am trying to explore this in a novel. Shit.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

Everything that is quoted, is from Brown, I placed the reference, and thanks for the editing :D...