Lebanese political scene may be characterised as restless from the very beginning for many reasons. First of all it is the fact that it’s an ethnically and religiously divided country. The Christians amount approximately to 36 per cent of population, Sunni and Shia population account both for 29 per cent and the Druze 7 per cent out of overall Lebanese population. Compared with the situation in 1947 when the independent Lebanon originated, on the one hand there have been significant demographic changes favourable for the Shiites, but on the other hand Christian community has been enfeebled. Therefore Shia opposition headed by the movement Hezbollah demands a new division of state power which would correspond to the current demographic condition. This is opposed predominantly by the Maronite Christians. Apart from internal tensions, however, the situation in Lebanon is significantly affected also by regional and world powers. In their pursuit of retaining or gaining the strongest position individual Lebanese communities started to ask foreign allies for help.
In terms of its policy the ruling coalition composed primarily of the Sunnis and Christians aims particularly at the cooperation with the West, which provides the coalition with pivotal political, financial and military support. France is the most important western ally of the coalition. The territory of contemporary Lebanon used to be under its colonial administration. Paris still considers Lebanon its sphere of interest and perceives itself the patron of Lebanese Maronite Christians. Besides France the coalition is upheld also by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Their main interest is to prevent the strengthening of Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon as well as its abuse for a proxy war on Israel. This mixture of conflicting interests makes Lebanon an explosive area which is in the grip of civil and cross-border wars, political crises and sectarian violence.
However, two events from May 2008 evoked optimism that the country weathered a long-lasting crisis which nearly resulted in another civil war. It seemed that after the period of sectarian acts of violence, Lebanon was entering a period of stability building and the choice of further political orientation. The first of these events was an agreement signed in Qatari Doha which enemy Lebanese political fractions attained on 21st May after five days of negotiations. Delegates of the ruling coalition backed by the West and opposition leaders led by the radical movement Hezbollah in Qatar endorsed the amendment to an elections act and the division of ministerial seats in the future government of national unity. By signing the agreement the opposition has gained veto right within the new government. Lebanese territory was divided into smaller districts, which was advantageous for smaller parties that had had no chance to claw up their way to the parliament. According to the agreement Hezbollah should have eleven ministers in the new government, pro-western politicians sixteen ones and other three ministers were supposed to be chosen by the new president. Furthermore, the agreement opened the door to the election of a new president as this post had been empty since last year’s November although Michel Suleiman, the former chief of staff, had already been a candidate acceptable for both sides ever since. After nineteen failed attempts, his election was interpreted as a first step towards the termination of more than a half year long period of political crisis and disputes between the government and Hezbollah which turned into civil unrests and claimed more than eighty victims. (1)
In May, Hezbollah stepped up the pressure on the government by means of a military campaign in reprisal for the persecution of its members. The strike of unionists for the support of pay rise developed into protests against the government’s policy on Hezbollah and skirmishes between the adherents of the government and the opposition. The opposition threatened the government to unleash a public disobedience campaign after this had taken measures against a private telecommunication network built by the movement throughout the country (2) and after it had dismissed the Security Service Chief at the international airport Wafik Shucair, who had allegedly allowed Hezbollah to install spy cameras inside the airport. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of declaring an open war. (3) The 7th May Movement adherents barricaded several streets in western Beirut as well as access roads to the airport in southern Beirut stopping thus its operation. Simultaneously, insurgents forced the private pro-governmental television Future News owned by Saad Hariri to interrupt the broadcast and set fire to the headquarters of several newspapers owned by Hariri too. (4) The PM Siniora accused the movement of the contrivance of a “military coup” against Lebanese democracy and appealed concurrently to the army to restore law and order and to chase insurgents out of the streets. Following the clashes in Beirut and Tripolis, adherents retreated to mountains where the fights continued for another week. (5)
More than eighty people died and two hundred were injured in the aftermath of violence. (6) It has been the worst conflict in Lebanon since the end of the 1975 – 1990 civil war which increased the tension between the Shia loyal to Hezbollah and Sunni and Druze government supporters. Anti-Syrian ruling coalition refused to meet the opposition’s demand for cabinet’s veto right claiming that the opposition tried to restore Syrian control over Lebanon. Hezbollah’s military campaign from May, however, forced the PM Fouad Siniora’s Government to abolish two restrictive measures aimed against the movement. (7) Nevertheless, the events of May gave a trump card to Hezbollah’s opponents – this was the first time that the militias of the movement, which derives its legitimacy from the necessity of resistance to Israeli aggression, used their weapons against the Lebanese.
Party of God
Hezbollah (Party of God/Allah) was founded in Lebanon at the beginning of the 1980’s by the then Iranian Ambassador to Syria and future Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashami. Iran founded Hezbollah with the aim of exporting to Lebanon, Syria and Palestine the ideas of Islamic Revolution and fighting against Israel. Apart from Lebanon Hezbollah exists under various names and with smaller membership also in monarchies in Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Notwithstanding certain dependence and perpetual Syrian and Iranian influence, Hezbollah cannot be labelled a dependent tool of Iranian and Damask policy nowadays. In the recent years, Hezbollah has acquired via the activities of charities great support of the poorest Lebanese, not only of Shia denomination, thanks to which it has become a relatively self-sufficient player independent of its sermoniser. Recently, the organisation has been markedly “Lebanesed”. It has given up its original aim of creating an Islamic Republic in the manner of Iran in Lebanon. After the liberation of southern Lebanon, it has been attempting to increase its influence within domestic policy. Recent events have suggested that it is successful.
A concise characteristic of political system
Other Lebanese political parties save for some exceptions haven’t got firm ideology or program. In most of cases they emerge from denominational basis and cooperate with each other in terms of certain blocs. Contemporary Lebanese political scene is composed of two main blocs: the bloc of pro-western ruling coalition called “March 14 Alliance” and the bloc of pro-Syrian opposition, the so-called “March 8 Alliance”. Pro-Syrian opposition is formed by two main Shia parties Amal and Hezbollah along with personalities from other parties and movements. Among these are primarily some Christian parties headed by General Michal Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. The leader of “March 14 Alliance” is the Sunni party Future (Al-Mustaqbal) headed by Saad Hariri, the son of the murdered PM Rafik Hariri, and current PM Fouad Siniora. Besides Sunni and Christian parties, another important member of ruling coalition is also Progressive Socialist Party led by Druze Walid Djumblatt. This means than even the ruling bloc isn’t denominationally united.
The entire Lebanese political system is fully dependent on denominational principle. According to the so-called National Pact concluded by the top representatives of individual Lebanese denominational communities in 1943 the office of the president falls to the Christian Maronites, the post of the Speaker of Parliament to the Shia Muslims, the post of the Prime Minister to the Sunni Muslims and the function of chief of staff to the Druze. As regards the division of executive and legislative functions National Pact set the ratio of the Christians to the Muslims at 6:5. Thus since the 1940’s, the country has been in the grip of perpetual tension because rich Christian elite has hampered the conduction of fundamental social reforms demanded by poor Muslim population which has gradually become a majority group of Lebanese population and calls for the reform of election system in their own favour.
Last municipal government elections were held in May 2004. Five main administrative regions in the country were divided into 899 districts. Anyway, the elections were marked by an unbalanced participation of voters: whereas 70 per cent of population voted in Shia regions of Lebanon, only 23 per cent took part in Beirut. That’s why municipal elections were won by the so-called Syrian “loyalists”, i.e. the bloc of former President Émile Lahoud, and the movement Hezbollah the candidates of which won clearly in southern suburbs of Beirut, in the Bekaa valley and in the south of the country.
The reinforcement of Hezbollah’s position caused that the protests of Sunni and Christian community against the almost thirty year long presence of Syrian troops in the country grew stronger in 2004. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1559 which appealed to all alien armies to withdraw their troops from Lebanon up till parliamentary elections which were supposed to be held in May 2005. The resolution was a clear hint at Syrian troops the number of which exceeded 14,000 soldiers that time. On the basis of this resolution, top Lebanese politicians, the leader of Lebanese Druze Walid Djumblatt and Sunnites Rafik Hariri, requested the departure of Syrian armed forces. Syria began with the withdrawal of its troops, however, the favoured former PM Hariri was assassinated in February 2005 yet prior to the parliamentary elections. According to Detlev Mehlis’ UN international independent investigation commission, high-ranking Syrian officials along with secret service were involved in the murder. Syria rejected the accusations via Syrian minister Buthaina Shaban saying “to point the finger at Syria in connection with an act of terrorism the aim of which was the destabilisation of Syria and Lebanon is like accusing the US of September 11th attacks.” (8) On 8th March, 2005, Hezbollah and Amal organised a march of 400,000 people in support of Syria. On 14th March, however, more than million Lebanese citizens attended anti-Syrian protests. In the end, Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon under the pressure of the international community, Lebanese opposition and mass Lebanese demonstrations on 26th April, 2005.
The winner of the last 128 member parliament elections, which was held at the end of April and at the beginning of May 2005, was Saad Hariri’s bloc gaining 72 seats in the parliament. 35 seats obtained the Shia movements Amal and Hezbollah and 21 seats took pro-Syrian movements headed by General Auno. (9) The government which emerged from these elections had 24 members. Following autumn 2006, however, seven ministerial seats were empty. Six ministers from pro-Syrian camp handed in their resignations owing to “political discords” and the Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel was murdered. Politically motivated violence has claimed many victims from among politicians, journalists, soldiers and policemen since 2005.
Although the PM didn’t accept the resignation of first six ministers, they rejected to take part in cabinet sessions and boycotted thus cabinet’s decision. Their resignation was preceded by the endorsement of UN Security Council plan to establish a mixed Lebanese-international tribunal dealing with the investigation of assassinations and the judging of culprits. However, functional Lebanese government was a precondition for its establishment. It seems that this wasn’t accepted by Syria. After the resignation of six ministers, pro-Syrian President Émile Lahoud questioned the government’s legitimacy and its decisions including the one concerning the establishment of tribunal.
Following the Israeli war on Hezbollah lasting from 12th July to 14th August 2006, which was unleashed by the detention of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and which was de facto won by Hezbollah, the opposition began to demand the resignation of Fouad Siniora’s Government, which refused to grant the veto right to the opposition for their decisions, and the calling of early elections.
Lebanon got into a stalemate in November 2007 when President Lahoud’s mandate expired definitely. The Lebanese President is elected for a six year term of office. Lahoud’s mandate was supposed to expire in autumn 2004 according to the constitution. In August 2004, however, the parliament prolonged his term by three years till November 2007 in conflict with the constitution. On 24th November, his mandate expired definitely. Nevertheless, the election of new Lebanese head of the state was delayed by half a year due to political dissension between the opposition and the coalition. One of the main reasons of failure to find a generally acknowledged candidate was an internal dissension in the Maronite Christian community and its split into two rival blocs: ruling Lebanese Forces in coalition with Sunni party Future and oppositional Free Patriotic Movement, an ally of Hezbollah. Another fundamental issue was and still is the perpetual effort of the Shia community to reinforce its positions of authority in the government as well as in the parliament so that these correspond to current demographical situation in Lebanon.
Although both camps agreed officially on General Michel Suleiman at the end of November 2007, the opposition boycotted its election for nineteen times. It refused to amend the constitution which permits high military officials to take the office of the President earlier than two years after leaving army. Yet half a year later, this stalemate was broken by the Doha Agreement initiated by the League of Arab States.
Finally, Michel Suleiman was elected new President of the Lebanese Republic with 118 votes out of 127 on 25th May.
The new President’s profile (10, 11)
Michel Suleiman is like all previous Lebanese presidents a Maronite Christian. After finishing his studies of political science and administration at Lebanese University he enlisted in the army where he went quickly through several commander posts. In 1998, he was designated as Chief of Staff by courtesy of Syria. During that period, he established good links with Syria and Hezbollah. Anyway, he’s been reproached for this by many people. During ten years of his office he refrained from any intervention in political and confessional fights. According to him politics shouldn’t be mixed with religion. (12) He won the favour of the people as well as the West declining to interfere in mass anti-Syrian demonstrations, which had broken out in Beirut after the assassination of Rafik Hariri in February 2005, and after the extraordinarily hard oppression of Islamic uprising in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bárid in Summer 2007. In the course of last armed clashes between the adherents of the government and the opposition at the beginning of May he managed not to involve the army. At first, he was criticised for this, however, in the end he earned the respect of all main political forces in the country.
Nonetheless, the new President, whose election was welcomed by the West as well as Syria and Iran (13) and who wants to forge good neighbourly, or rather, friendly links with both camps (14), has to face many challenges in the upcoming months. The most crucial one will be to get the coalition and opposition to collaborate in the new government and parliament. An article of the Doha Agreement stands for another challenge. According to this article Suleiman is to hold negotiations about the disarmament of Hezbollah (15) and, last but not least, to initiate political, economic and social reforms.
Doha Agreement and the constitution of a new government
Following the election of the twelfth Lebanese President, Fouad Siniora’s Government handed in its resignation automatically in accordance with the constitution. However, Suleiman charged the new old Prime Minister Siniora with cabinet constitution, namely the new Government of National Unity the composition of which should be known for the foreseeable future. (16) According to the Doha Agreement, which is interpreted as the victory of Hezbollah despite the statements of diplomats about suitability for all involved, Hezbollah should gain eleven ministerial seats in the new government compared with the sixteen ministerial posts of current anti-Syrian coalition. (Hezbollah was de facto granted the veto right as regards the cabinet’s decisions by means of violence.) (17) Siniora’s Government made concessions to Hezbollah also in connection with further priority demand, namely the preservation of the movement’s armed militia. (18) Thus the movement pushed through its demands and legitimised its activities by entering new coalition.
Pro-governmental parties wanted to make the disarmament of Hezbollah a condition for the agreement, but they failed. Only a tiny Doha achievement of the government was the pushing through of a declaration (with a clear allusion to Hezbollah) in which both sides committed themselves not to use weapons and violence for achieving political goals and which underscored the state’s authority in terms of safeguarding security, right and order.
Apart from this, the agreement obliges all sides to temper the rhetoric in connection with political and religious questions and to refrain from mutual accusations of betrayal. Simultaneously, all sides committed themselves that none of its members would arbitrarily send in resignation or obstruct its activities after constituting the new government. (19)
Dispute settlement among Lebanese fractions is presupposed by the revision of election act as well. On 22nd May, 2008, French agency AFP wrote that Lebanon should return to the 1960 election act which comprised smaller election districts. In the case of Beirut it may mean that Hezbollah can win next parliamentary elections scheduled for next year in the bastion of anti-Syrian parties. Although Saad Hariri is a favoured candidate for future PM (20), decrease in area size and concurrently increase in the number of election districts may alter contemporary power proportion.
Anyway, the new government and the President have been facing the solution to many momentous questions which are practically sure to be the subject matter of tough encounters between both fractions. In the foreground will be the new government’s stance on the UN International Tribunal dealing with the investigation of the murders of PM Rafik Hariri and other officials that have fallen victims to assassinations since 2005. Obviously, a major supporter of the tribunal is the pro-western coalition headed by Saad Hariri who is a thorn in Hezbollah’s and Syrian flesh.
Last but not least, the new government will have to cope with many foreign political problems including the relations with Syria with which it still hasn’t any diplomatic ties and which the ruling coalition accuses of assassinating several political representatives and smuggling weapons for Hezbollah and radical Palestinian organisations seeking refuge in Lebanese refugee camps. Nowadays, ongoing peace talks between Israel and Syria about returning the occupied territory of the Golan Heights could thus have a major impact on whole region and affect also relations between Israel and Lebanon between which there’s just an armistice at present.
On 1st June, via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the representatives of Hezbollah surrendered to Israel the remains of Israeli soldiers which died in war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. Hezbollah’s negotiator Wafik Safa as well as ICRC representatives confirmed this to journalists. (21) In exchange for the remains of its soldiers, Israel released a man sentenced for espionage for Hezbollah who had been six year in prison. (22) On 18th June, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert appealed to Lebanon for direct peace talks and emphasised that he was willing to negotiate about all controversial issues. However, it’s necessary to remind that Olmert proposed negotiations to Lebanon as early as 2006. That time, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that Lebanon would be the last Arab country to conclude peace with Israel. (23) According to an unknown governmental official, who the AP agency is referring to, Beirut’s position hasn’t changed as for this matter. (24) The result of US presidential elections in autumn will doubtlessly have a huge amount of influence as well.
As already suggested, another controversial issue on national as well as international level will be the disarmament of Hezbollah’s militia and the pushing through of the Lebanese army’s authority as the only legitimate armed force of the state. Hezbollah is the sole fraction which kept weapons after the civil war. The alleged reason is the necessity of fighting against the aggression of Israel, which perpetually occupies Shib´á farms in the border area between Lebanon and the Golan Heights. Contemporary coalition considers armed Hezbollah the main obstacle to the security of the country’s internal stability although Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the movement would abide by the Doha Declaration and wouldn’t “use violence in order to achieve political objectives”. He also said that Hezbollah “didn’t want the rule over Lebanon” and “would remain in opposition”. (25) Nonetheless, he at the same time declared that he himself would cut off the hands of those who dare to touch Hezbollah’s weapons. (26) This contradiction in statements may be seen in following events too.
In the town of Tripolis in the north of Lebanon, tough clashes between the adherents of the coalition and opposition broke out again in the second half of June. The fights spread gradually to three municipal parts and solely during the first day of unrests, i.e. 22nd June, 4 people died and 33 were injured. In addition to this, on the very same day in the south of Lebanon, Hezbollah supporters attacked the convoy of US chargé d´affaires Michele Sison in protest against her visit to a territory controlled by the group in question. The whole incident was under way just two days after US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had visited the country. In response to May acts of violence, the army dispatched soldiers to the north of the country in order to prevent the spread of conflict to other areas. (27, 28) It’s not known what stirred up violence in Tripolis, however, it remains a question what Hezbollah wants to achieve, or rather, if this action was contrived intentionally or the movement only carries on with a randomly triggered dispute. In May, Hezbollah took a chance when it turned its weapons against other Lebanese communities. However, this step paid off in the end. Anyway, it may pay dearly for the instigation of further civil conflicts. Its political opponents could easily take advantage of Israel’s surprising offer ridding thus the movement of the only argument for the preservation of autonomous armed forces. And this is probably Israel’s intention. The predictability of Hezbollah’s intervention in sectarian conflict may deprive the movement also of the trump card which it has got recently. In the case of Israel offering Lebanon a truce, Hezbollah, as an organisation established with the official aim of fighting against Israel, will lose arguments for armed combat and it will have to fit in with the norms of a conventional political party, otherwise its opponents will attempt to destroy it. No matter that they will most probably fail. Moreover, Hezbollah’s continuing mobilisation ability amounts to a surprising factor. This was manifested in the course of a rapid and unexpected May campaign against the Lebanese Government.
1) Poslanci zvolili za prezidenta generála Sulajmána. SITA, 25.5.2008. http://www.ta3.com/sk/reportaze/85225_libanon-poslanci-zvolili-za-prezidenta-generala-sulajmana
2) JAMALI, Y.: Le Hezbollah accusé de porter atteinte a la souveraineté du Liban. AFP, 6.5.2008.
3) MORAVEC, F.: Libanon je na pokraji občanské války. Kvůli mobilní síti. iHNed.cz, 9.5.2008. http://ihned.cz/2-24631080-000000_d-49 alebo
Nasrallah accuse et menace le gouvernement. 8.5.2008. http://www.france24.com/fr/20080508-nasrallah-accuse-menace-gouvernement-libanais-hezbollah
4) FANCUILLI, J.: Le Hezbollah a pris le contrôle de l´ouest de Beirouth. AFP, 10.5.2008.
5) Crise au Liban. Chronologie. Nouvel Observateur, 7.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites/international
6) Le poids des confessions religieuses dans la crise libanaise. Nouvel Observateur, 7.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites
7) Accalmie apres des combats dans le nord du Liban. 13.5.2008. http://www.france24.com/fr/20080513-violences-reprise-tripoli-liban-
8) Pochovali zavraždeného libanonského expremiéra. Národná obroda. 17.2.2005. http://www.obroda.sk/clanok/24071/Pochovali-
10) Le général Michel Sleimane élu président. Nouvel Observateur. 7.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites/international
11) TEHINI, L.: Michel Sleimane, l´homme de l´unité. FRANCE24, 24.5.2008. http://www.france24.com/fr/20080524-liban-
12) Michel Sleimane, 12eme président libanais. Nouvel Observateur, 7.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites/international
13) La communauté internationale salue l´élection de Sleimane. FRANCE24, 26.5.2008. http://www.france24.com/fr/20080526-
14) ROBERT, P.: Le général Michel Sleimane élu président. FRANCE24, 25.5.2008. http://www.france24.com/fr/20080525-
15) Le général Michel Sleimane élu président. Nouvel Observateur. 7.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites/international
16) Le président reconduit Siniora au poste de Premier ministre. Nouvel Observateur, 7.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com
17) VONDRUŠKA, O.: Jak se Libanon vyhnul válce. iHNed.cz, 26.5.2008. http://zahranicni.ihned.cz
18) MARKOVIČ, J.: „Nekonečný příběh” je u konce, Libanon má prezidenta. iHNed.cz, 25.5.2008. http://zahranicni.ihned.cz
19) Les principaux points de l´accord au Liban. Nouvel Observateur, 7.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites/international
20) ZERARKA, Y.: Le Liban a la recherche d´un Premier ministre. FRANCE24, 26.5.2008. http://www.france24.com/fr/20080526-
21) Hizballáh odovzdal Izraelu pozostatky vojakov. SITA, 1.6.2008. http://www.ta3.com/sk/reportaze/85909_libanon-hizballah-odovzdal-
22) Le Hezbollah remet au CICR des dépouilles de soldats israéliens. Nouvel Observateur, 1.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com
23) Olmert souhaite engager des négociations de paix avec le Liban. L´Orient le jour, 18.6.2008. http://www.lorient-lejour.com.lb
24) Izrael vyzval Libanon k přímým jednáním. České noviny, 18.6.2008. http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/prilohy/blizkyvychod
25) Le Hezbollah n´utilisera pas ses armes a des fins politiques. Nouvel Observateur, 7.6.2008. http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites
26) Nasrallah accuse et menace le gouvernement. FRANCE24, 8.5.2008. http://www.france24.com/fr/20080508-nasrallah-accuse-
27) Des affrontements intercommunautaires ont repris dans le nord du Liban. LeMonde, 23.6.2008. http://www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient
28) L´armée libanaise sépare des factions a Tripoli. LeMonde, 24.6.2008. http://www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient/article/2008/06/24/l-