LEBANON: A “MUTUAL COEXISTENCE” TO A POLITICAL SOLUTION AVOIDING INTERFERENCE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES

The role of political parties and the leadership of family political dynasties under a selective democracy

By Glauco D’Agostino

Last November 12th attack in the Beirut Shiite Burj el-Barajneh neighbourhood, which resulted in 44 deaths and more than 239 injuries in the Ḥizb Allāh stronghold, was preceded by an important political act towards a break of the paralysis jamming the country: for the first time since May 2014, the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies had gathered to approve more than 40 draft laws to be ratified, including the ones about the end of banking secrecy, the naturalization of foreigners by Lebanese origin, and the improvement of military infrastructure. On the other hand, the electoral law and presidential institution reforms had not been discussed, and the President of Lebanon election had been postponed for the 31st time, due to lack of Assembly quorum.

After the Christian parties threats of taking to the streets when, pending legislative elections for six years, a reform of electoral law was not included in the political agenda, who had welcomed the invitation had finally been Ḥizb Allāh Secretary General Ḥasan Naṣrallāh (on the poster exhibited by a Shiite woman in the above photo), by wishing an overall political agreement between the March 8th and March 14th movements, as the two major opposed political alignments are referred to. The striking fact is that both movements, however contrasting each other, since February 2014 have been representing the backbone of the national unity government of 70-years-old Tammām Ṣāʾib Salām, belonging to a powerful family of landowners and elected to the Chamber of Deputies as an independent in the lists of Tayyār al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement) of former Sunni Prime Minister Saʿd ad-Dīn al-Ḥarīrī: indeed, 8 ministerial posts (2 of which to Ḥizb Allāh members) have been attributed to the Taḥāluf 8 Adhār (March 8th Alliance), 8 (including the Interior and Justice ones) to the Ḥarīrī’s anti-Syrian coalition Taḥāluf 14 Adhār  (March 14th Alliance), and 8 ministers close to Mīshāl Sulaymān, the Maronite Christian President in office at the time of the government establishment and therefore regarded as neutral, and to the Druze leader Walīd Jumblatt, regarded as a “centrist”.

The National Pact and the Ṭāʾif Agreement

Since President Sulaymān’s end of the mandate on May 25th, 2014, Presidency has been vacant and governed by Prime Minister Salām. The difficulty of reaching a shared an election lies in the confessionalism specified by the unwritten National Pact dating back to 1943 (the same year of recognition of Lebanon independence from France), which provided for the allocation of offices according to the following still operating scheme:

  • The President of Lebanon and the Chief of the General Staff are up to the Maronite Christians;
  • The premiership to the Sunni Muslims;
  • The Parliament Speaker to the Shiite Muslims;
  • The Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and the Deputy Prime Minister to the Greek Orthodox;
  • The Chief of Army Staff to the Druze.

Furthermore, under the National Pact, the parliamentary seats were allocated in a ratio of 6 : 5 in favour of the Christians to Muslims, according to the 1932 territorial census and municipal boundaries, when most population was Christian.

Nowadays, Muslims are more than half of the population (shared equally between Shiites and Sunnis), and, following decades of calling for a system revision according to an allocation of representation taking into account their greater demographic weight in the society, they have seen rewarded their efforts by the 1989 Ṭāʾif Agreement, which acknowledged a parity in the Christians / Muslims ratio for the assignment of the 128 parliamentary seats and in the government composition, all based on a “mutual coexistence” principle. Moreover, each sub-group adhering to a confessional community has a fixed number of representatives in the Chamber of Deputies, so that the electoral contest among candidates in an individual constituency is also focused on winning the votes of a differing religious community. The most represented Christians are the Maronites, the Eastern Orthodox, the Melkite Catholics, and the Apostolic Armenians; the ones among Muslims, are the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Druze, of course.

Nevertheless, political conflicts currently in place in Lebanon are not between Muslims and Christians, but between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims, with various Christian groups joining in turn either of the two Muslim struggling factions, as testified by the alliance at-Tayyār al-Waṭanī al-Horr (Free Patriotic Movement) of the Maronite Christian Michel Naim Aoun, its founder, and Gebran Gerge Bassil (right in the photo below), its leader and current Foreign Minister of Salām’s Government, made with the Ḥizb Allāh Shiites within March 8th Alliance. On the ground, the existing lines of separation between Sunnis and Shiites are essentially those that separated Christians and Muslims during the 1975-90 civil war.

Calls for unity

In this tense situation, we must also observe the sense of balance the leaderships of all struggling Lebanese factions prove, when they show an intention not to exacerbate conflict so far as to falling back in the civil war dark years. Rather, the danger for the State equilibrium comes from outside groups and from continuous foreign meddling on domestic politics. Hence, the Naṣrallāh’s appeal in favour of an internal political arrangement which may prevent interference from other countries. And hence, the Ḥizb Allāh will not to take up the deadly provocations imposed on its members by a few Sunni jihādist groups, while avoiding retaliations, revenge and escalation threatening the country internal stability. All this, despite indoor and outdoor opponents hindering a Party of God involvement with institutional processes continue to mire it with allegations of extremism, or even terrorism, or continue accusing it of pursuing a constitutional powers draining with a Tehrān accordance, yet. Meanwhile, that one suffering terrorist assaults is Ḥizb Allāh itself, and we cannot forget that many of its leaders were victims of targeted attacks. We can mention a few of them:

  • the March 8th, 1985 attack in Beirut to a car of Grand Ayatollah Muḥammad Ḥusain Faḍl Allāh, who was unaffected, but with the killing of 80 people;
  • the Shaykh ‘Abd al-Karīm Obeid’s abduction by Israeli commandos on July 28th, 1989;
  • the February 16th, 1992 elimination of the founder ‘Abbās al-Musawi, along with his wife and son and four more people, by the Israelis in southern Lebanon;
  • the February 12th, 2008 ʿImād Fāyiz Muġniyya’s murder, by a car bombing in Damascus, and the one of his son Jihād, along with 5 of Ḥizb Allāh fighters and an Iranian general, by an Israeli helicopter on January 18th, 2015, in Qunaiṭra, in the area of Syrian Golan occupied by Israel;
  • the military commander Ḥasan al-Laqqis’ assassination, in front of his Beirut home on December 3rd, 2013;
  • the Druze Samir al-Quntar’s murder, last December 19th in Damascus Jaramānā  suburb, by four long-range missiles, launched by Israeli warplanes from the Syrian airspace.

The Druze community, too, is doing its best to avoid tensions with Sunnis, and Walīd Jumblatt, one of its most representative leaders, is committed to prevent clashes with Jabhat an-Nuṣra along the Syrian border areas, primarily out of concern that his co-religionists in the as-Suwaydāʾ Syrian province may suffer retaliation from the pro-Qāedist forces installed in Qunaiṭra. That is why Jumblatt’s soft attitude has emphasized the need for unity of Lebanese factions, in the face of external provocations, and caution in the attitude to be adopted towards the Sunni community of refugees who fled to Lebanon from Syria.

Politics lay-out

So far, we have talked about relationships between faiths, because the constitutional system puts an emphasis on them. Conversely, the parties structure in Lebanon is different from that found in the so-called Western democracies, since their content is not an ideological one, rather representing real popular demands or apparent electoral function, often, as seen, diluted within broader interfaith aggregations. This implies on the one hand an emphasis on a personality within a particular constituency, but, on the other, a fragmentation of party power, as the poor consistency of parliamentary groups and their large number highlight. Far more important is the function of leadership by family political dynasties, holding power within arrays emerging out of them: for instance, the Ḥarīrīs in the Sunni community, the Jumblatts and Arslans in the Druze community, the Gemayels in the Maronite Christian community, the Ṣadrs in the Shiite community. Of course, also a confessional appeal has its own significant role, as domestic issues concerning religion or foreign affairs related to international partnerships (with effects on internal balance) are at stake.

Bearing in mind the above considerations, and given an extreme volatility of party affiliation by individual MPs, the current Chamber of Deputies composition (one of its session in the photo below) should probably reflect the following situation:

  • March 8th Alliance has 60 seats, most of which assigned to the aforementioned Free Patriotic Movement of the Maronite Christian Gebran Bassil, the two Shiite parties Ḥarakat ʾAmal (Hope Movement) and Ḥizb Allāh (via its political wing Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc), and its Druze allies of Ḥizb ad-Dīmuqrāṭī al-Lubnāni (Lebanese Democratic Party), founded and chaired by Emir Ṭalāl Arslan;
  • March 14th Alliance holds 45 seats, most of which assigned to the aforementioned Ḥarīrī’s Sunni Future Movement and its Maronite Christian allies of al-Quwwāt al-Lubnāniyya (Lebanese Forces) and Ḥizb al-Katā’ib al-Lubnānīya (Lebanese Phalanges Party), the prior headed by Samīr Farid Jaʿjaʿ and the latest by Samy Gemayel;
  • Social Democrats of Walīd Jumblatt’s Ḥizb at-Taqaddumī al-Ištirākī (Progressive Socialist Party), formally secular but mainly backed by Druze, keep 7 seats;
  • The remaining 16 seats are filled by independent deputies or a few minor parties not aggregated to previous groups.

Note how none of the aggregations reaches an absolute majority, resulting in a unity government, the one currently in office.

In this context, the strongest party with a Muslim electoral base is the liberal-nationalist Future Movement, followed by the two Shiite parties ʾAmal and Ḥizb Allāh and the Druze Progressive Socialist Party. The prior reflects the political heritage of pro-Saudi Rafīq al-Ḥarīrī, the two-time prime minister killed in 2005, and it took the form of a party under the guidance of his son Saʿd ad-Dīn in 2007, before turning in the nationwide most rated party in the 2009 most recent election.

The conservative ʾAmal (acronym for Afwāj al-Muqāwama al-Lubnāniyya, the Lebanese Resistance Detachments), established in 1974 by the religious leader Mūsá aṣ-Ṣadr and by Ḥusayn al-Ḥusaynī (one of the architects of Ṭāʾif Agreement), is deemed as linked less closely to Iran than some other Shiite movements, and as more tied to Syria, whose it approved the 1976 military action to Lebanon and its subsequent military presence up to 2005. Since 1980, the movement leadership has been firmly in the hands of Nabīh Barrī, Chamber of Deputies Speaker since 1992.

Unlike ʾAmal, Ḥizb Allāh, the movement inspired by Faḍl Allāh and established in 1982 in the Lebanese Beqāʿ  Valley by ‘Abbās al-Musawi with a social program countering neo-liberalism and with the aim of assisting war-affected populations, is in favour of an Islamic rule by peaceful means, and has always had a good relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Since 1992, its political wing has taken part in the general elections. Since 2006, a Memorandum of Understanding between Naṣrallāh and the Maronite Christian leader Aoun binds the two movements in the pro-Syrian March 8th Alliance, after the Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement in 1989 had started a war against the Syrian presence in Lebanon, and in 2005 it had taken part in the so-called Cedar Revolution and in the anti-Syrian March 14th Alliance.

An Aoun-like story has involved Walīd Jumblatt and his Progressive Socialist Party, as in 2011, after visiting Damascus, he gave up his anti-Syrian stances and the March 14th Alliance, enabling the government of Najīb Mīqātī, the forerunner of Salām’s unity government. Founded in 1949 by Kamāl Jumblatt, Walīd’s father and the party leader up to his killing in 1977, PSP is pursuing a program aimed to secularism, Arabism and an ending of the confessional system.

From a quantitative democracy to a selective and confessional democracy

Just about the confessional system, this topic involves the Lebanon very nature of existence, as derived from the 1920 Arab Kingdom of Syria to protect the Maronite Christian minority, who, without the prior Ottoman Empire guarantees based on a XVI-century agreement, was looking for a protection. However, the question of governing relationships among individuals of different ethnicities and religions, within a democratic and pluralist frame, was standing. The first 1926 Lebanese Constitution, approved in the year it became a republic, had already stated the election of MPs by religious separations, a conception later exasperated in the National Pact, as we discussed. But the question also relates to nature and content of democracy, as the Lebanese system is characterized by the power granted to religious communities of applying their own Personal Status, under the principle the law to be applied in legal disputes should not be determined by territory, but on the basis of the community one belongs to.

This system relativises the State power to take action over citizens freedom, so imposing its organising authority indiscriminately, but, conversely, it enhances the quality and specificity of social groupings which citizens naturally identify with, through an autonomous jurisdiction in civil matters: from a quantitative democracy to a selective and confessional democracy!

Sure, this system is far from perfect, as shown by above events and the troubled sequence of internal ancient and recent strife of its history. But here it comes to the particular pluralistic conception of a State delegating part of its powers, in order to approach diversified customs of its citizens, and that gives up overriding them according to a supposed uniformity of values and behaviours of society.

After all, a religious identification, coexistence and a regulation of relationships among communities existed in the common awareness of Lebanese well before the first Constitution was adopted, as they were formed under the application of the Ottoman millet system for different groups of non-Muslim communities!

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