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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

July, 2005

 

Preparing The Field for Battle-Lebanon
By Karen Nakamura

Lebanon held a series of votes May 29, through June 19 to elect members of Parliament. Leading up to the first vote in May, the Bush administration and the media talked up opposition to Syria as though the majority of Lebanese were climbing on the right-wing/American bandwagon. Then, on June 5, the Shiite Hezbollah Party won its seats by a large margin. When everything was said and done, after one heck of a fun ride, something became very clear. Lebanon is perfectly capable of governing itself, has been doing it since the Lebanese/Palestinians were called Phoenicians and has no intention of becoming anybody's lackey again.
A month or two before the election, the US, UN and Europe forced Syria out after fifteen years of occupation. Syria was originally brought in by the Lebanese president to force a peace between the Christians Maronites and the Muslims Druze. While there was world pressure to leave there's been much more pressure elsewhere without such swift withdrawal. Something else happened. What?
Did bombings in the Christian sector have to do with competition between Christian factions rather than the Syrians? So Saad Hariri knows Vice President Dick Cheney from running his father's financial empire. Did the US/West have anything to do with Michel Auon's landslide victory among conservative Maronite Christians? In March 2003, Aoun urged the US to call for implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 520 calling for the end of Syrian occupation. One angle was American neo-cons might use Aoun's win to firm up conservative Christian supporters in its preparation to put the Middle East under American control. The problem with this reasoning was the Lebanese didn't feel the same way. Aoun's supporters only received 21 seats.
Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated ex-Prime Minister and a Sunni, was declared the overall winner with his Future Party's 72 seats, a clean sweep in a 128-seat parliament.
Barely reported was the large margin the Hezbollah Party won in the south and east. Considered by the Lebanese newspapers as one of the two big winners, the party and its allies increased their representation from 25 to 35 seats, a hefty block. This is especially important when considering the parliamentary split of 64 Christian and 64 Muslim seats. Hezbollah is going the way of all maturing revolutionary movements and winning seats in Congress.
Other players have been prominent for decades, even centuries. What's amazing is that none of them did all that well. The Syrians weren't the only losers. The Druze, with its own form of Islam, did poorly once Aoun blew in from the West and stole Druze/Progressive Socialist Party head Walid Jumblatt's thunder. While he won the allotted Druze seats, Jumblatt did little better.
Think 17th century and you have the Jumblatt family expanding power within the Druze clan. Walid Jumblatt is the current head. In 1842, the Ottomans divided Mount Lebanon into two administrative regions, one Druze one Maronite. Aoun is head of the Maronite Christians. The Ottomans, who practiced a 'divide and rule' policy, encouraged squabbling between the two groups. By 1845, there was open warfare between the factions that has continued intermittently since.
General Aoun who beat Jumblatt in combat during the 1984 civil war won big in the third vote June 12 but his 21 seats didn't a major bloc make. Neither does Jumblatt's take of 19. Walid Jumblatt's opposition of Damascus helped other Muslims come to join Christians in demanding the end to Syrian occupation but in the end it did him little good. That uniting vote went to Hariri.
Aoun returned from a 15-year exile in France only weeks before and led Maronite Christians to a huge victory while at the same time crushing local Maronite opposition. Out of an available 16 seats, Aoun supporters took 15. Other than that these two houses lost big.
The Lebanese did more than throw out the Syrians, they also threw out the old time warlords in favor of a Brand New World. The main reason for the civil wars of the 1980s was that power rested, and still does in some respect, with the right-wing Christian population. Christians get half of the seats and the main executive position. Muslims, who composed nearly half of the population, felt excluded from any real decision-making power. The resulting civil war started in 1975 between the Muslim leftists and Christian right-wing militias. Sensing a vacuum, the Israelis, Syrians, Europeans and Americans all stepped in.
Israel laid siege to Beirut in 1982 in an attempt to destroy the PLO and ended up destroying the city almost as an after thought. A Multinational Force (MNF) of US and Western European troops was deployed to protect Palestinian and Muslim civilians. When the Israelis withdrew, vicious fighting broke out between Druze Muslim militias (Walid Jumblatt) and Christian forces (Michel Aoun). The MNF suffered heavy casualties and withdrew in early 1984 and Syria was brought in to force a peace between the parties.
Jumblatt and Aoun, military adversaries during the fighting and political adversaries now will command much smaller legions as the new kids in town, the Future Party and Hezbollah take their place in history.

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