Middle East

Post-conflict Perspectives on Lebanon

Recently, Manuela Paraipan discussed the current situation in post-conflict Lebanon with four key figures: Samy Gemayel, Dr. Joseph Hitti, Pierre Maroun, and Anwar Wazen.

Samy Gemayel (Photo: Provided by Manuela Paraipan)

Samy Gemayel, member of the central group of loubnanouna movement.

MP: How would you describe the current situation of Lebanon? Who is to blame for not disarming Hezbollah?

Samy Gemayel: The situation here in Lebanon is really, really bad not only because of the material destruction and the loss of lives, but because of the moral state of mind of a majority of Lebanese who lost hope for their country and wish to leave Lebanon.

All of the political society is to blame for not disarming Hezbollah. This is the Lebanese hypocrisy that we were talking about in our last interview. If you remember, I told you that the Lebanese people and politicians should sit down and frankly discuss their problems and once they knew where the gaps were, they should accept their social reality, and find a new political system that fit this acknowledged social reality.
The government worked on compromises and is not able to disarm Hezbollah mainly because the Lebanese army is not solid enough to take such action knowing that 50 percent of the army soldiers are Shia'a.

I think that the international community is to blame because for 15 years a mandate was given to Syria over the occupation of Lebanon. Indirectly they gave the green light to Syria to prepare Hezbollah for this battle. Syria did so because she knew that one day or another she was going to leave Lebanon, so she armed and trained Hezbollah to have a 100 percent Lebanese paramilitary group to serve her interests.

Is Siniora's government up to the task of rebuilding Lebanon's South and most importantly of keeping Lebanon sovereign and independent as a state? I know Sheikh Nasrallah promised to give money to all the people who were left homeless in the last month, so he is once again doing what the state should be doing?

Hezbollah, since its birth in 1982, always wanted to implement an Islamic state in Lebanon. It is starting to do so by imposing its sovereignty on the war decision and on the right of reconstruction. Meanwhile, Hezbollah is functioning as a state: political power, economical power, social allegiance, military power, a region where it imposes its laws … all the attributes of a state.

Dr. Joseph Hitti (Photo: Provided by Manuela Paraipan)

Dr. Joseph Hitti is an expert on Lebanese politics and is President of The New England Americans for Lebanon (NEAL)

MP: Why couldn't the Siniora government enforce the resolutions (U.N. 1559, 1680, and 1701) it has at one time or another asked for and supported? Are the Shiia so strong, or it is the weakness (or rather fear) of the Christians, Sunnis, and Druze that is maintaining the status quo?

Dr. Joseph Hitti: The Siniora government — like all Sunni-led governments in the past — wants to have their cake and eat it too. Like Rafik Hariri who was assassinated by the Syrians, Lebanon's Sunni Prime Ministers — out of incompetence or deliberate action — they think they can lead a country under occupation, a country in violation of international law, a country that harbors paramilitary terrorist groups (Hezbollah since 1982, and the PLO from 1970 through 1982), and still have peace and prosperity. The dynamic of the feudal nepotistic style of Lebanese governance keeps bringing these inept leaders to power who think they can remain on the fence of vital national matters and still succeed.

Two examples illustrate this: Rafik Hariri was brought to power by the Taef Agreement. He tried to rebuild Lebanon under Syrian occupation, but failed in many respects. He did not realize he could not entice investors to put their money under the Syrian boots and rampant corruption. When he finally realized this (2004), some 15 years after he came to power, he tried a reversal and the Syrians killed him. Siniora is repeating the same mistake. On one hand, he endorses an international involvement to stabilize the country, establish the sovereignty of the state over the land and the decision-making (he supported U.N. Resolution 1559, etc.), but at the same time, his government gave carte blanche to Hezbollah to continue "resistance" in the south (see the text of the Siniora Government Ministerial Statement) and even included two Hezbollah ministers in his cabinet. On one hand he accuses Hezbollah of not sharing their decisions with the government, but Siniora always rejected sending the Lebanese army to the south, always rejected disarming Hezbollah, always called for resistance against occupation.

So in summary, the answer is in the combination of corruption, incompetence and trying to please everyone at all times. In the end, you pay the price. Like Hariri who paid the ultimate price, Siniora will pay some price: Either the international community will abandon him, or Lebanon, or he will have to stand up to Hezbollah.

How do you think Lebanon will look, in let's say five years with Hezbollah in parliament, government and their guerilla being part of the military? Is it likely to see a new political arrangement emerging between the various factions?

Not in five years. The sectarian political system is so entrenched and the Lebanese people, although educated and advanced by Middle Eastern standards, remain very tribal in their political allegiance. If Hezbollah is disarmed — and that is a big IF — it will become a powerful political party exclusively for the Shiite community. However, without its weapons, it will likely be challenged by other Shiite leaderships of the more traditional brand, and with time its power base will erode, especially when the money from Iran dries up.

Would Lebanon be better without the sectarian system? What is the alternative?

Lebanon would definitely be better off with a non-sectarian political system. But the forces at play in maintaining the present system are too powerful. Big families, the churches (Christian and Moslem alike) are still very powerful and will not relinquish power easily. A few years ago, a Lebanese president asked a rhetorical question about why the Lebanese cannot marry in a civil court in Lebanon, but the Lebanese courts will divorce a married couple who married abroad. The Christian and the Moslem clergy went up in arms about how this will lead to a decline in morality etc. … It is the opinion of this writer that the Lebanese system, as concocted in the late 1930s - early 1940s is a religious federation of 17 communities, should outgrow its present status. This federation is not reflected geographically as the communities overlap each other extensively on the ground, which prevents a partition or a cantonization of the country.

Right now, my relationship with my government is based on the government's recognizing my religious community before it recognizes me as an individual. My individual rights are subsumed under those of the church or the denomination under which I am born. Therefore, people generally revert to their religious community, rather than to their sense of citizenship or nationhood in times of danger and strife. The only way to break the grip of religion on political life is for the Lebanese government and constitution to be amended to reflect a direct relationship between the ruler and the governed, without the intercession of organized religious groups. This is not likely to happen any time soon, and such a change requires major social upheavals.

Pierre Maroun (Photo: Provided by Manuela Paraipan)

Pierre Maroun, Secretary General of the American Lebanese Coordination Council (ALCC)

"UNSCR 1701 is just another U.N. resolution that is not worth the paper on which it is written. France and other European countries pressured the U.S. for it and it turned out that Condoleeza Rice was right when she did not want a resolution or a ceasefire that did not present real solution to the crisis. U.N. 1701 is only a ceasefire with no real value to resolving the crisis. I believe that there will be another round of fighting that will be much more violent than the one that passed. …very sad!"

Anwar Wazen, Middle East Affairs Specialist

Anwar briefed Manuela Paraipan on the Shiia community's status in Lebanon.

The Shia community in Lebanon, after independence from the French mandate, considered themselves second-class citizens. They were represented in the Lebanese political system by two feudal families: The Assaad family in the south and the Hamade family in the Bekaa valley. When the speaker of the parliament Ahmad el Assaad was asked once why most Shia children were illiterate, his answer was that Kamel was going to school on their behalf — Kamel was his son. As a secular person I do not believe that political power sharing based on belonging to one religious sect or the other is a viable solution in building a state.

Anwar Wazen (Photo: Provided by Manuela Paraipan)

Do you think that the Christian villagers of Rmeish, Ain Ebel, Dibel , Marjeyoun, etc. were treated by the Lebanese government better than the Shias of other southern villages? Like the Shias, those Christian villages in the south had no public schools or public clinics or public transport or vital utilities (electricity, water, sewage etc.) The whole region was neglected by the central government.

Hezbollah's main aim when they were constituted was to extend the Iranian Islamic Republic not only to Lebanon but to the whole Arab world. As a matter of fact Israel helped them at one stage in acquiring arms when they fought the Amal militia.

The Israeli army withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 after negotiating a truce in Germany with Hezbollah representatives. Hezbollah was not organized for the sole purpose of getting Israel out. It was Ehud Barak, Israel's prime minister then, who decided in 2000 to withdraw unilaterally from Lebanon purely for electoral gains.

True, Hezbollah did a lot for the Shias in the South — the Dahyet, Baalbeck and the Bekaa valley. They built a State within a State for them and they are now committing the same mistake that the Christians committed during the civil war; they are organizing a canton which will implode most probably from within like the Christian canton did.

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