This is Lebanon! A nation with historical identity of cultural heritage, but a past filled with battles. A country well described by its sectarian diversity and at the same time stereotyped by its continuous sectarian battles.
History has a way of repeating itself in the country. The only major update is the unprecedented financial crisis that even during the civil war, Lebanon never witnessed. The current critical crisis is seen as on par with that of Chile, which took 16 years to recover from its collapse in 1926, and Spain during its civil war in the 1930s, which took 26 years to recover. Here, The World Bank estimates that Lebanon may take between 12 and 19 years to recover.
In a normal world, authorities and citizens unite together to overcome crisis, and get along to think of future strategies to make their Beirut rise again. Whereas in Lebanon, many still follow their “leaders’, who use them to impose power and authority all over the country.
Lebanese clashes aren’t new though. Before, it used to wear a sectarian uniform, whereas today, it is political in the name of sects.
The clash that happened on October 14th, between opposite armed parties transformed Beirut neighborhoods into a deadly war zone, raising fears and imprisoning kids in their schools. This triggered the fear of another civil war, though it lasted for some hours. Some hours which brought back years of bloodshed, destruction and violence. In the middle of secterian allies, there are some voices that call for change. One of the changes required is the independence of justice from other authorities. Those belong to the majority of independent Lebanese who support the lead investigator in the Beirut Explosion case, Judge Tarek Bitar, the only judge who challenged the authorities for the sake of justice.
Nevertheless, this was not suitable to two Shiite Muslim parties — Hezbollah, an Iran-backed party, and its ally, the Amal Movement, who had organized a protest calling for the removal of the judge. Here the clash happened, and six people were killed. The clash again took a sectarian dimension.
The scene on October 14th, brought back the pictures that are stuck in Lebanese memories about the civil war that lasted from 1975 till 1990, and killed 120,000 citizens. Will Lebanon witness another civil war? What about the predicted analysis of a change in Lebanese allies after the clash, based on sectarian bias? Will the clashes affect the alliance of Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement? This and more are the theme of this report.
Political reviews revealed that the recent bloodshed did unite the Ain el-Rammaneh Christian sect and different political parties (even those who support Michael Aoun, the Lebanese president, and Hezbollah ally). This raises a major question about the effectiveness of the Mar Michael Agreement signed by Hezbollah and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (under the leadership of Aoun).
In this context, and according to Reuters, a source familiar with Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement said: "We have Christians who reject these scenes that bring back memories of the civil war and at the same time are not pleased with the way the Shiites express their opposition to the issue of Judge Bitar”. Hence, will the Mar Michael Agreement be affected after the clash in Ain Tayouneh?
“Majalla” asked the editor-in-chief of the Lebanese newspaper, Aliwaa, Salah Salam, who considered that "…one of the outcomes of what happened is that the Christians are united in confronting any party that wants to penetrate their areas. He even clarified that some individuals of the Free Patriotic Movement (led by Aoun) were among the fighters in the clash against the Hezbollah and Amal movement that day.
Salam also revealed that "..the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah have reached a new crossroads. “There are many matters about which they have contradicting attitudes, punctuated by a split in strategic interests." He even described the Mar Michael agreement as "a paper without a pulse", that "the Aounist movement has become uncomfortable with the hegemony of Hezbollah over the state, or its presence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen”. He added that what matters to FPM is to take steps with the US administration to lift the sanctions on its president, Gebran Bassil, that may open the way for him to accept the presidency. Salam considered that what happened in the street on Thursday raises Hezbollah concerns in terms of losing its Christian ally that it needs, namely the Aounist movement. "As for Bassil, he considers that the way to Baabda Palace is through Washington and not through Hezbollah, as in the case of Aoun. This would destroy the Mar Michael agreement."
According to the editor-in-chief of Aliwaa newspaper, what happened in Tayouneh, separating between Chiyah (which includes Shiite citizens AND Ain el-Rammaneh (which includes Christian citizens), put Lebanon at a new crossroads: Either civil war or a return to constitutional institutions and setting things right. "I don't think any of the internal parties are ready for war”, he assured. “Excess power is not a measure of going to war or settling matters." He continued, that the last speech of the Secretary-General of Hezbollah was just “sabre-rattling”. Salam also considered that, "When Nasrallah spoke about the numbers of fighters he has, it was as if he was saying avoid war with us, but this does not mean that he did not threaten his opponent (the party of Lebanese forces lead by Samir Geagea that he accuses)."
Salam revealed that the attention is turning today towards Judge Bitar to investigate the Beirut explosion, and army intelligence to investigate what happened in the clash. "This would cool the atmosphere, proposing political solutions. If the political solution does not succeed, Lebanon may be facing a new turning point, the results of which cannot be predicted so far."
Regarding the obstacles done in the scope of investigating, Salam said that "the more the investigation approaches a point, Hezbollah will confront it, especially what is related to the presence of nitrates in the port, either to change the course of the investigation or to stop it."
He explained also that Hezbollah's focus on the forces and holding it responsible aims to remove a major opponent from its path, as "the forces are the only ones who still openly reject the party's weapons and the need to reach a defense policy to be carried out by the state, as well as holding early parliamentary elections to change the current authority, which enjoys the majority support. Hizballah."
He also believes that the Lebanese Forces Party has “reaped the fruits of what happened politically, and advanced over the rest of the Christian parties”, pointing out that the Christian base sympathized with what happened in the defense of Ain el-Rammaneh, regardless of political affiliations.
He added, "Despite Nasrallah's calm tone, the speech included a threat to the Lebanese Army, in an attempt to blame them for not taking security measures that day”. Salam considers this as an important point, being said that way for the first time by Nasrallah.
Historical Background of Lebanese Civil War
What is happening in Lebanon now is an outcome of previous incidents that are all related to political power starvation, and sectarian bias. This, combined with exterior support led to the current clashes. This what historians and analysists believe.
To delve into the history of the Lebanese civil war that has ignited since 1840, “Majalla” spoke to the expert in international and strategic relations, Dr. Walid Arbid, who gave us summaries of what sparked the past wars, most notably sectarian tendencies; “We started our dialogue from that date, when the battle took place between the Maronites and the Druze. In this regard, Arbid said:
"Lebanon has known several historical political crises in which weapons were used, including the crisis from 1840 to 1860. These wars indicate the geopolitical position of Lebanon, knowing that the war of 1860 between the Druze and the Maronites produced the positioning of the French forces, as the sects became sheltered in the major countries, where the Orthodox had Russia for them, and the Maronites had France, while for the Catholics there was Austria, which tried to protect the Christians, while the Druze had no connection with any of the major powers.”
Arbid believes that there was a conflict between the two regions of southern Mount Lebanon and northern Mount Lebanon back then. "Here we are not talking about the state, but about the entity, after the external forces came to Lebanon, and each of them gained influence."
Arbid continues, “After 1860 came the rule of the Mutasarrifiyya, which pressured the Ottoman Turks not to choose a Sunni official as a mutasarrif, so they brought in the Christians of the Balkans and handed over the administration of the affairs of Mount Lebanon, which meant the dissolution of the Lebanese back then. This was reinforced by Lebanon's geopolitical position. "When the French demanded the Lebanese form a Lebanese-French or French-Syrian alliance in order to build military bases, the British forces were on the lookout for some of the French and some powers, and this resulted in the Saxe-Picot agreement.
Our review of that war raises an important question: Is there a connection to what is happening today with the historical roots of the crises in Lebanon? Arbid believes that “it is true that the Druze won at that time, and it is true that the international powers intervened to stop the war between the Maronites and the Druze, but all because of the presence of the Saxe-Picot Agreement and the French mandate.” (Referring to external interference that is a sore point today as well.)
Political crises followed in 1952 and lasted till 1958, until the civil war that took place in 1975. For historians, Arbid says, all of this has a connection and historical roots. Will history repeat itself and Lebanon come under international trusteeship, as happened under the French mandate, he wonders.
In 1945, Lebanon got its independence from the French Mandate, when “the French gave signs that Lebanon could be an independent country, leaving Lebanon at that time under British pressure. Again, external interference in the picture.
Arbid believes that "independent" Lebanon brought Bishara al-Khoury to power with a Sunni-Maronite agreement, and he was chosen as President of the Republic; By the year 1947, he tried to renew himself, but the White Revolution, which was carried out by Kamal Jumblatt and some politicians, prevented that. Arbid continues, “Lebanon went through political crises until 1957.” He added, the outstanding crisis between the Lebanese back then was surrounded by three factors: internal, regional, and international."
The internal factor was the conflict between Muslims and Christians, and the regional conflict was Syria's intervention in the power, especially after the military coups that were taking place in Syria, which were reflected on Lebanon. As for the international factor, it was the Soviet-American conflict, which had a negative impact on the Middle East. This produced a military coup in Iraq, where the United States of America landed its army on the shores of Lebanon in 1957, and sent its soldiers from Britain to the military airports in Jordan. Arbid continues that after 1968 the Palestinians’ forces in the camps became stronger, and here “Israel intervened, as the Israeli security became linked to how to strike Palestinian security in the camps, and this led to the outbreak of the 1975 war, when the situation exploded as a result of economic, sectarian and social accumulations.”
Then came the “Taif Agreement in Saudi Arabia, which played a good role in putting an end to the political crisis in Lebanon.”
On the other hand, Arbid does not see any possibility of civil war but what happened lately is an outcome of political parties fights that is pure politics. “The current circumstances do not allow a new civil war, considering Lebanon's position in the struggle between the external forces, asking: Will Lebanon remain with its Western image or will it go East?
Independent Unsectarian Movements In the Middle of Sectarian war
On the other side of the country, independent movements raise voices for change, demanding a country that respects citizens’ rights that are reserved by the current authorities. “Majalla” held some interviews so as to know where these people stand in the middle of the chaos.
Some activists considered the latest scenario as a “play” that keeps running every now & then, where the ruling parties aim at provoking their people to gain stronger support, while preparing to the next elections. Others considered the latest fight as a dangerous warning for an expected war. Now, how will October revolutionists deal with such threatens of war? Below are some nominated answers for political activists:
Adham el Hassanieh, a political activist, and a member in “LiHaqqi”, stated to “Majalla” that the Lebanese society is not as sectarian as it is manifested in the latest clashes between political parties. Yes, he said, “the clashes are sectarian but they are mainly driven by political division in order to serve what these clashes aim at which is a wider sectarian support.”
He believes that the political parties might drive Lebanon to war if this will benefit their interests. “Today, Hezbollah is in power, and a leader in the political and social discourse, thus having the largest share of responsibility in how will the coming events escalate, yet the responsibility is still shared among the main six sectarian and feudal political parties.”
“LiHaqqi” is known “for its focus on grassroots organizing by geography and by sector, in keeping with its own decentralized and participatory structure. This party believes that the failure of the state is not just because of failed policies, rather because of structural failures, and the exclusion of people from the country’s real political scene.” Hassanieh says.
Although the Lebanese learned their lessons from the war, “but unfortunately a minority of armed and moneyed groups would easily start a war, and they can solely decide this.” He added, it is very important to always highlight that the real fight and division was between the ruling oligarchs among themselves, the real separation line lies between people from one side and the ruling oligarchs from the other.”
He added, what is required from the people is to stick to a rights-based approach away from identity and sectarian politics.
Majalla wanted to know where nonsectarian movements stand in the middle of this. Thus we referred to “Beirut Madinati” as a non-sectarian political movement that strives to advance people-centered politics at both the local and national level.
“Majalla” interviewed Tarek Ammar, a member of the political office in Beirut Madinati, who revealed that “In Lebanon, sectarian ideas are used for political purposes”. This is a common phrase that independent activists believe in, in the country. He stated to “Majalla” that the Lebanese are not divided because of religious beliefs, rather for political objectives. “Leaders have always used the diversity among Lebanese to create divisions, instead of enriching the diversity in the country.
Ammar blamed all sectarian parties and leaders for keeping Lebanon under the threat of a new civil war. “Lebanon has always witnessed violent conflicts since its independence”. He believes that the regime is collapsing, and each is trying to claim that they are under attack. He added, “This period of transition is witnessing further extremism by the regimes, using all that is in its hands, by being sectarian, authoritarian, and corrupting the country. Ammar said, “They fight among each other not for a cause, not for values, not for the country, but their fights are based on what they can grab as their share. The only losers in this battle are the Lebanese who believe in a civil state, where all are equal.”
He revealed that, “Today the fight is between those who want justice, who want the investigation in the port explosion to reach its end, and between those who call themselves, the connoisseur of how Lebanon can survive. We have always lived with violence, murders, assassinations, explosions, but we were never told what happened, never saw any accountability. Today and after the revolution of October, we will fight for accountability which was one of the main titles of the revolution, even before the port explosion.”
Ammar does not believe that a civil war will ever erupt, “..even though the regime can create small battles among themselves, to prevent us from having the country we deserve.”
The political activist insisted that “We will stay demonstrating in support of the independence of judiciary, where Lebanese people support Tarek Bitar, the judge leading investigations into last year’s explosion.”
Ammar also referred to the movements that Beirut Madinati is up to, through working with different regions in Lebanon, to discuss “our political plan and program, enrich it, and make it reflect what the average citizen wants, which will lead to political change in the parliamentary elections expected next March. Yes, all the Lebanese parties are armed, and yes, they will threaten the citizens of a sudden war, “if things don’t go their way.” This is how Lebanese live, some willingly, but there exist some voices that shout for a change, and call for citizens’ rights.
In the land of battles, the voice of change ought to be above all: Lebanon deserves better.