Patronage, the operative word
With a sophisticated demeanour, probably gleaned from its French connections and a feudal approach to politics, Lebanon is an enigma. Its feudal undercurrents surpass even those of Britain despite our monarchy and land owning elite. In my book, Britain now takes second prize for its dynastic composition, as its elite is a tad laid back in relation to who it patronises. In Lebanon, life is overtly feudal and patronage is the operative word.
One of the most interesting conversations I had, was with a man, who succinctly described the Lebanese ruling class. He said (not a quote) Those families have been here for centuries, they took us into the civil war, they took us through the civil war, they took us out of the civil war and they are still here now. So you might ask, what was the civil war about and you’d be correct to wonder.
There’s loads of information out there but in a nutshell, I believe it was a struggle for a united Greater Syria versus a return to the once golden era, that exists in Lebanon’s imagination. I am convinced, that it was not a war between Christians and Muslims, alas not that simple being Lebanon, though the Maronites and Druzes have a colourful and violent histories: see www.asham.wordpress.com.
Oh my ”F” ing god, the Christian religion is complicated.
The Christian denominations in Lebanon have various affiliations but it is documented how the Phalange, a mainly Maronite faction and political party, committed violent acts against other Christian groups in Lebanon, during the civil war: see www.ashsham.com. The Syrians accused the Phalange of supporting the Israelis and even of leading them into Syria itself. Not all Maronites support the Phalange party though. The Maronites are Catholic and it is wise to remember, the divisions between Catholic and Protestant (non-Catholic) are pronounced all over the world.
Divisions also exist in the Catholic church, The Maronites are a derivative of the French Jesuits but some Catholics continue to affiliate to Rome. There is a Latin church in Sur, South Lebanon, for instance. This explains, in part, why middle eastern Christians cannot be considered a homogenous group, despite the presence, now, of the Christian Gathering, seemingly an amalgam of Christian sects, consisting mainly of dignitaries.
The Lebanese civil war in brief, one view
During the civil war, Syria invaded from the east and the Israelis from the south-west, or Palestine. It is safe to say Syria did not consider themselves an invader and its doubtful the Zionists did either. Thanks to historical factors, both had territories to protect or regain.
What about the west?, even though Palestine was colonised by the Zionists, almost a century before, the Israeli ”state” was founded to protect western interests in the region. By the 1970s the last thing Britain and its cohorts wanted was a strong Arabic bloc emerging, particularly one based on socialist principles. In addition, Lebanon is not only strategically important for the west but was once a tax haven.
Its more than a family affair
One Wikipedia site, published in 2010, describes, how the ”political situation” in Lebanon became ”very polarised” after the assassination of Rafiq (Arabic for comrade) Hariri, in 2005. At a guess, I doubt if there was ever real political cohesion in the country, despite its golden era, which began after independence in 1946.
True, the assassination of Hariri had far-reaching consequences as Syria was accused of the killing and were forced, by the UN, to withdraw their troops. Their withdrawal unleashed many existing sectarian divisions and not only in Lebanon. In 2005, Egypt withdrew from the Gaza strip, leaving Hamas isolated from the Egyptian Brothers and Palestinian inhabitants imprisoned: see www.wordpress.com.
The inquiry into former president Hariri’s death rolls on, not surprising considering Lebanon has failed to elect a president in years and neglected to hold elections this year instead deciding to extend the current parliament until 2017. There are many theories as to who were responsible for the killing, including MI5, Mossad and Hizb’allah. All that said the Hariri dynasty is intact and the former president and philanthropist’s legacy is everywhere; it includes the Solidere company, whose building work is a feature of central Beirut. The Beirut ”souks” put most western shopping complexes to shame.
Ironically I just looked up the Hariri family to confirm they are a Sunni Muslim and came across an article in the Lebanese ‘Daily Star’, dated July 22nd 2014, describing a fracas in between Saad Hariri, son of Rafiq and former prime minister and the Christian Gathering. The fracas concerned Hariri’s plans to change the constitution to enable the appointment of a new president.
The story is a prime example of the Lebanese parliamentary process and relates to the fact, that by tacit agreement, since 1946, the Lebanese president is always Maronite and the prime minister always a Sunni Muslim. In recent times, due to many factors, this has ceased to be the case. More about the Lebanese constitution later for now we’ll focus on the families, who have shaped it.
Dynasties, revolutionaries and other politicos, oh what a tangled web
I was looking at the composition of the Lebanese parliament in wikipedia and discovered the second largest Maronite party is the ‘Marada Movement’, led by Suleiman Tony Frangieh, a friend of Syrian President, Bashar al Assad and supporter of his regime. He was taken to Syria by his grandfather in 1978, after his father was murdered by Phalange supporters, in Ehden, North Lebanon.
The Maronite population of Syria mainly consist of people, from the Lebanese mountain range who fled the Druzes, in the 1900s; more about that in the link above. There are many accounts of the killing of Frangieh senior, tales of family feuds and political disagreements, as the Phalange were said to support the Israelis. The only certainty is, the Frangieh family are still a dominant force in Lebanese politics.
Affiliations with Syria permeate all the main religious denominations as the ‘Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party’ incorporates politicians from all of them, including Greek Orthodox and the Druzes. It was supported by the Lebanese Communist Party, during the civil war, in which it played an active part. In 2008, fourteen supporters were murdered by Sunni, ‘Future Party’ members and possible the Druzes’ ‘Progressive Socialist Party’, you will remember the former is the movement led by the Hariri family.
The incident took place in Halba, north Lebanon, after Syrian troops were withdrawn. It is no surprise then, that fighting continues in the North to this day. Tripoli, for instance has seen nightly gun fights since 2006 and the violence is attributed to conflict between pro and anti Syrian factions. These events barely get a mention in the western media as they are obviously internal, the most part do not involve Syrians, mercenaries or ‘Hizb’allah’. The ‘Socialist Nationalist Party’, currently holds two seats in parliament.
Another interesting party, with two seats is the Lebanese ‘Ba’ath Party’, that is affiliated to that of President Assad.
Now is a good time to consider the March 14th Alliance, which occurred in 2005, when Syria was accused of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. Like the ‘Syrian Socialist Party’, the alliance includes parties, which represent most of the different faiths. It was initiated to limit Syria’s influence in Lebanon but the notable members are the ‘Phalange’, currently with five parliamentary seats, Hariri’s ‘Futures Party’, which has 35 seats, the Maronite, ‘Free Patriotic Party’, which has twenty seats and the Druzes ‘Progressive Socialist Party’, which has 7 seats. It seems, that those, with most money wield most power, though the size of their constituencies and the cultural groups they represent are obvious factors.
Didn’t realise how involved the above section would prove to be so will continue the discussion about the politicos next time, including, that of the Druzes, Jumblatt family and Nabih Berri, a lawyer and the leader of the Shia, ‘Amal Party’. It’ll also look at Lebanon’s imagined golden era, which began after independence, from France, in 1946 and at another powerful leader, Charles Helou, who has no successors but certainly left his legacy.