Sei sulla pagina 1di 3

Lebanon in Advance of Elections INSS Insight No.

104, May 6, 2009

Kulick, Amir

From its inception, Lebanon has been a mosaic of diverse communities: Sunnis, Shiites,
Christians (with all their sects), Druze, and Alawites. The ability of these groups to exist
as a state in the area between Jebel Amal in the south and Tripoli in the north is based
on an accepted division of power in the political system according to community. The
president is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of
the parliament a Shiite Muslim. A set division also exists in the parliament, in which a
fixed number of representatives is allocated to each ethnic group. The parliament has 64
Christian representatives (34 Maronites, 14 Greek Orthodox, 8 Greek Catholics, 5
Armenian Orthodox, 1 Armenian Catholic, 1 Anglican, and 1 Protestant) and 64
Muslim representatives (27 Sunnis, 27 Shiites, 8 Druze, and 2 Alawites). The elections
are by district, with a fixed number of representatives allocated to each community in
each district. The representatives are chosen by all the voters in the election district. The
forthcoming elections are the fifth since the Lebanese civil war ended in 1989.
Two main factions are running in the elections scheduled for June 7. Sa’ad al-
Din al-Hariri, son of late Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who was murdered in
2004, heads the first faction – the "March 14 camp." This group is a political alliance
between Sunnis led by Hariri (the al-Mustaqbal faction), Druze led by Walid Jumblatt
(the Socialist Progressive Party), and various Christian factions (such as the Lebanese
Forces, led by Samir Geagea). This alliance was formed in recent years to counter the
rising power of the Shiites, and to a large degree also to counter the Syrian presence in
the country. The "March 14 camp" reached its peak in 2005, when it won a landslide in
the elections held in the aftermath of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri and the mass
demonstrations that led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon (the Cedar
Revolution). The US and France strongly backed this coalition, which following its
victory formed a government headed by Fouad Siniora, a close associate of the late
Opposing the "March 14 camp" is the opposition, known as the "March 8 camp."
This group is based on a political alliance between the Shiites (Hizbollah and Amal) and
the Maronite Christian party, the Free Patriot Movement, headed by former Lebanese
military commander Michel Aoun, once a prominent opponent of Syria. Aoun returned
to Lebanon in April 2005, following a long exile in Paris. Despite his anti-Syrian
record, Aoun was in no rush to join Sa’ad al-Din al-Hariri’s faction. In the elections
held that year, he won a decisive majority in the main Maronite districts on Mt.
Lebanon. Nevertheless, negotiations for his entry into the Siniora government failed.
Furthermore, Hariri’s alliance (the Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition) refused to support
his candidacy for the presidency. Frustrated at developments, Aoun allied himself with
Hizbollah in early 2006, a move that has benefited both parties. Aoun gains a politican
partner of rising weight in the Lebanese political system, whose support will be
essential if and when he runs for the presidency. For its part, Hizbollah can use its
alliance with Aoun to blur its image as a sectoral party and make inroads among non-
Shiites. Sleiman Franjieh, a Maronite Christian and close associate of the Syrians in
northern Lebanon, also joined this alliance, as did elements of the Druze Arslan family.
Although a few weeks remain before the elections, it appears that neither
alliance will reach the height of its power and sport internal unity. Various tensions
appeared in the March 14 coalition with the drafting of the candidate lists for the
various districts. In a few cases, the disagreements developed into violent protests. An
even more alarming development for this camp is the recent rapproachment between
Druze leader Jumblatt, one of the coalition’s main pillars, and Hizbollah. Jumblatt, an
astute politician, may sense an upset in the making and wants to hedge his bets.
Furthermore, the new American policy in favor of dialogue with Syria and Iran is
sparking doubts in Lebanon concerning American determination to support the March
14 camp, which is also liable to undermine the alliance’s unity.
At the same time, the March 8 camp, the Shiite-Christian opposition, also suffers
from discord, likewise due to differences of opinion regarding the particular
candidacies. For example, tension has been high in recent weeks between Aoun and
Amal leader Nabih Berri over the choice of the alliance’s candidates in Baabda and the
Jezzine district. Senior Hizbollah sources were even called upon to mediate between the
two leaders. In other places, the choice of a particular candidate exacerbated old
rivalries between local families, such as the feud between the Shiite al-Musawi and al-
Husseini families in southern Lebanon. Furthermore, Hizbollah is going to the elections
with a questionable image, following the public accusations exchanged with Egypt after
the exposure of a Hizbollah terrorist cell in Sinai. This affair aggravated the damage to
Hizbollah’s image in Lebanese popular opinion caused by the Second Lebanon war and
the organization's violent takeover of neighborhoods in West Beirut in May 2008. In
contrast to the national image that Hizbollah has attempted to generate, some of the
Lebanese public again regards the organization as a sectoral faction that does the
bidding of outside parties, principally Iran.
Beyond the political alliances and local conflicts over lists of candidates, the
current elections should be considered more broadly as part of the historic conflict on
two key intertwined levels. The first level concerns the distribution of power between
the various communities in Lebanon. In the Ta'if Agreement that ended the civil war, a
new and more equal distribution of political power between the Maronites and Sunnis
was established. At the same time, the agreement ignored the fact that natural
population growth has made the Shiite community the largest in the country. This
community now constitutes 40 percent of the Lebanese population, if not more. Despite
its relative size, the Shiites have remained underrepresented with respect to access to
power and influence. This problem is further aggravated by the fact that its demographic
advantage is accompanied by significant military power, through Hizbollah and its
strong external patrons, Iran and Syria. Over the years, the Lebanese political system
has been able to find compromise formulas for distributing power. When it failed to do
so in the mid-1970s, the country underwent a bloody civil war. From this perspective,
the coming elections are likely to constitute a crossroads whereby the various parties
will have to decide whether Lebanon will embark on the road to compromise and a
redistribution of power in the coming years, or choose a road that leads the various
communities to a military confrontation.
The second level is the historic struggle over Lebanon’s political orientation,
and in a wider context, its social and cultural identity. Lebanon arose in the 1920s with a
deep affinity to France and the West. Over the years, the Lebanese political system has
operated in the shadow of the tension between the pro-Western orientation advocated by
the Christians and the pro-nationalist, and at certain points Nasserist, orientation favored
by the Muslims. The formula established to bridge this gap holds that Lebanon is an
Arab country with an affinity to the West. Since the 1980s, and even more in recent
years, this formula has been undermined. The establishment of Hizbollah and its
assumption of a dominant role in Lebanon have led to the presentation of a counter
vision for Lebanon – that of a Shiite-dominated country under Islamic law. Together
with the destruction of Israel, this vision is one of Hizbollah’s two main goals. At the
same time, it appears that for the moment, Hizbollah and its supporters are in no rush to
use force to change Lebanon’s character. The demographic trends are in their favor, and
as long as their military power is maintained, the trends are auspicious. The vigorous
calls by Hizbollah spokesmen to cancel the current distribution in Lebanese politics
should be understood from this perspective. Thus if Hizbollah and its supporters win a
significant majority, the current elections are likely to constitute another milestone in
the realization of Hizbollah’s vision.