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08-01-2008, 06:38 PM
Lebanon's Sunnis and the Civil War

This article was written in 1993 as my end paper for Middle Eastern Studies. I decided to resist the temptation to adapt it, though I fleshed out some small parts (the ones where I quote David Gilmour’s Lebanon, the Fractured Country) which I thought were a bit skimpy. Obviously the Israelis have left unilaterally in 2000 and so have the Syrians 5 years later after the pressure on them became unbearable following the murder of Rafik Hariri (yet another one of those unsolved assassinations of Lebanese political leaders).

Though times have obviously changed and parallels only go so far, I keep thinking about the Lebanese civil war when reading about the Iraqi one. Most of the Lebanese civil war was fought under the very noses of a foreign occupation force disguised as a peace force (the Syrian army), which was sometimes unable to stop it, sometimes unwilling to and sometimes actively fanning the flames. Neither Syria, nor Israel or any of the other forces meddling in the war were ultimately able to dominate Lebanon in the long run. There were some short-term successes for the Israelis, the US and the Syrians, but in the end the force they applied always summoned a reaction that undid most of their painstakingly achieved results. The only thing the Syrian presence did achieve is that it arguably prevented the disintegration of Lebanon into smaller states.

In the end the war petered out because everyone was sick and tired of the fighting and a peace accord was reached that changed surprisingly little. It still took all the military power of the Syrians and the political and financial power of the Saudis combined with the power vacuum left by the removal of Iraq from the Lebanese equation to enforce it. Sadly the Lebanese nightmare is still not over and as we saw in the summer of 2006, Israel still thinks it can force the Lebanese people and its government into submitting to its will by military power, just as the Syrians think they can by assassination.

Many of the players from the civil war (or their descendants) are still powerful figures: Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah is the leader of the pro-Syrian opposition now, with Amal leader Nabih Berri and former anti-Syrian freedom fighter Michel Aoun as his sidekicks. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has changed sides too and is now in the anti-Syrian camp.


This article is an attempt to answer two questions. First of all: why didn’t the Lebanese Sunni community build a strong militia like the Maronite and Shi’ite communities did? Although a lot has been written about Lebanon, this question is largely ignored and has never been answered satisfactorily in my opinion. Augutus Norton, for instance, pooh-poohs the political fragmentation among the Sunnis by stating: “The Sunni militia was the PLO and as the fortunes of the PLO have waned in Lebanon, so have those of the Sunni community.”1 Most authors follow this approach: they tend toward stating that the fate of the Sunni community was tied to that of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. This explanation is too simple. I will try to prove with this paper that the Palestinian presence was mainly tied to the military power of the leftist parties and not the power of the Sunnis. I will also look at other causes, such as the patron-client system and the Sunni focus on the Arab World.

The question of why the Sunnis have not been able to build a strong militia poses another question: why were most militias at the end of the civil war sectarian, when at the start of the war most of them were the military branch of political parties based on a secular ideology? To answer this question I will look at the rise of sectarianism.

The second question in this paper is why the lack of a strong militia has not resulted in a loss of power for the Sunnis. To answer this question I will look at the post-war developments, including the new electoral law and the 1992 elections.

In order to answer those questions I will have to give an overview of the foundations of the Lebanese political system, the patron-client system, the Palestinian presence, major Lebanese and Palestinian political groups and a short version of the civil war(s). The Sunni community will largely have to wait.

Lebanon’s political system and political developments until 1975

National Pact

Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire until WWI, when it became a French mandate territory granted by the League of Nations. The French also controlled Syria and decided to enlarge Lebanon at the expense of Syria. To the coastal strip inhabited mostly by Sunni Muslim and Greek Orthodox Christians and mostly Maronite Christian and Druze Muslim Mount Lebanon and the Shouf they added the Bekaa Valley and the southern part inhabited by Shi’ites and Nothern Akkar with its Sunni and Alawi Muslims.

Lebanon is without a doubt the most religiously divided country in the Middle East. There are 11 different religious groups that are represented in parliament (10 until the civil war, the Alawite community was not represented before). The largest communities when it was founded were most likely Maronite Christian, Sunni Muslim, Shi’ite Muslim, Greek Orthodox and Druze respectively.

During WWII when France itself was occupied Lebanon became independent. The basis of the Lebanese state is the National Pact of 1943 which was a number of unwritten deals between the Maronite Christian president Bechara al-Khoury and his Sunni Muslim prime-minister Riad al-Solh that have never been officially published or defined.

The Pact stated (among other things):

Lebanon must be independent and neutral: the Muslims would renounce a union with Syria and/or other Arab states, the Christians would renounce separatism and special ties with France or the West.
The Muslims would accept the Christian identity of Lebanon, the Christians its Arab identity.
The president would always be a Maronite, the prime-minister a Sunni, the parliament leader a Shi’ite, the army commander a Maronite, his chief of staff a Druze and the ratio of seats in parliament would be 5 Muslims to every 6 Christians.2 Positions in the civil service were distributed the same way.

The president was elected from Maronite candidates by parliament.

[B]Civil War of 1958

The National Pact was a fragile compromise however which was tested severely several times. In 1958 there was an armed struggle between supporters and opponents of President Camille Chamoun. The most important cause for this was Chamoun’s foreign policy. After the Egyptian president Nasser had nationalised the Suez Canal, Israel, France and Britain had attacked Egypt in 1956. Egypt and Syria called for breaking relations with France and Britain, which Chamoun refused. Prime-minister Abdallah al-Yafi and Minister Saeb Salam then resigned. This conflict flared up when Chamoun accepted the Eisenhower Doctrine on 16 March 1958, which promised military and financial support by the US to every country in the Middle East which requested it to oppose aggression from a country controlled by international communism (i.e. Syria and Egypt). The opposition accused Chamoun of breaking the National act. There was also a conflict about Chamoun’s plans to change the constitution so he could serve a second term.

On 8 May 1958 Nasib al-Matni, the owner of the opposition paper at-Tayer was murdered. The opposition called for a general strike in response, which soon resulted in fighting between the opposition and supporters of the government.3 The opposition was supported by some Maronite leaders, such as Suleiman Frangieh, Bechara al-Khoury and the patriarch. The Sunni leaders Saeb Salam, Abdallah al-Yafi and Rashid Karami and the Druze Kamal Jumblatt were also members of the opposition. Chamoun’s most powerful supporters were two parties whose followers were mainly Christian: the Kataeb and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), who were armed by the pro-Western Iraqi government of Nuri as-Said.4

In July the fighting ended when US marines invaded Lebanon (this was connected to the regional situation: the pro-Western government in Iraq had just been overthrown by a military regime). Army commander general Fuad Chehab, who had kept the army out of the fighting, was elected president the same month as he was acceptable to both sides.5


President Fuad Chehab tried to modernise the country and build a strong state. This policy was named after him (Chehabism) and continued by his successor Charles Helou. The method Chehab used to strengthen the state was the weakening of the opposition by supporting new leaders against traditional ones. After the elections of 1960 a large majority in parliament was behind him and he started his attempts to develop the countryside. He also tried to make the bureaucracy more representative by distributing civil service positions on a 50/50 basis. This policy did not work out however because the Muslim half was mostly occupied by Sunnis (the traditional ruling class under the Ottoman Empire). His other reforms as well were only partially successful, because of resistance by land owners and other traditional leaders.

One of the most significant side-effects of Chehabism was the important role of the intelligence branch of the army, the Deuxième Bureau. This Bureau started meddling in politics and trying to undermine the position of traditional leaders and set up rivals in their place. In the south, for instance, Imam Musa as-Sadr was supported against the Shi’ite traditional leaders. The Bureau also spied on and intimidated opponents.6

Chehabism ultimately failed because it was trying to modernise the state while working inside of the existing system. Important for the story about the Civil War is that Chehabism stimulated the rise of new forces and that the control over these new forces was lost when an anti-Chehabist was elected in 1970.

The electoral system

Lebanon has a district system of voting. Since 1960 there are 26 districts, differing in size and number of seats they have in parliament. The smallest district has 1 seat, the largest 8. Parliament had 99 seats in total, which was increased to 108 in 1989.7 Every seat is fixed to a certain religious sect. Beirut, for instance, is divided into 3 districts; in the third district 1 seat is reserved for a Sunni, 1 for a Shi’ite and one for a minority candidate (a Roman Catholic).8 Every voter has one vote for every seat in the district; however, every candidate only runs against his own sectarian group. This meant that every candidate represented his own sectarian community.


The Lebanese political system is characterised by a patron-client system, that is: a system of personal ties between a political leader called za’im (plural zu’ama) and the voter. The za’im provides services for the client in exchange for political support. These services can consist of getting them a telephone connection or a job, a promotion or protection from the police. The zu’ama were often members of families of landowners like the Karami family (Sunnis from Tripoli) or at least families that were always represented in parliament. Sometimes new leaders emerged where the son took over the political role from the father to create a new dynasty. This happened with the Sunni Ma’rouf Saad and his son Mustapha, for instance.

The za’im had several ways to maintain his clients:

He needed to be elected regularly so he could provide services for his clients from the state coffers. The za’im was most effective if he was a member of the government and the result of this was that the composition of the government was changed often so as many leaders as possible could profit.9
By providing services from other sources, such as own capital or connections with businessmen or charitable societies.
By intimidating voters.
By posing as the defender of the interests of his religious community. That meant the za’im represented the point of view of his community in parliament. This was a result of the electoral system.

It was a populist system: a za’im would respond to pressure from the street, but only to maintain his own position. He would manipulate the demands of his community if possible; if not then he supported them. In 1958, for instance, Saeb Salam and Abdallah al-Yafi responded to the emerging nasserism by joining the opposition against President Camille Chamoun while Sami al-Solh supported the president against the general mood of the Sunnis. As a result, his carreer as a za’im was finished (although it did not finish his family politically).10 This also explains the rise of radical parties who could not offer the individual voter anything materially but could champion the interests of the community.

The most important Sunni zu’ama of Beirut in the 1960s and ‘70s were Saeb Salam, Othman al-Dana, Abdallah al-Yafi and Rashid al-Solh. They fought each other in differing alliances. In Tripoli there was only one important za’im, Rashid Karami, who took over his father’s political role after his death and was a member of parliament from 1951 onward.11

The Maqasid

One of the most important Sunni organisations in Beirut was the Islamic Society for Good Causes in Beirut (Jamiyat al Maqasid al Khayriya al-Islamiya fi Bayrut). This society was founded in 1878 to provide children of poor Beirut Sunnis with an education. The society’s activities had been widened over time: they arranged funerals for all Muslims in Beirut (free for poor families) and they gave grants to other Islamic institutions (like orphanages and the boy scouts) and to individuals. They also ran 21 schools in Beirut (6 secondary schools and a teacher training college among them) and a hospital. Of the 13 primary schools 11 were free as well as 2 of the 6 secondary schools. More than half the beds in the hospital were reserved for patients who were treated free of charge.12

All this meant that, together with the jobs to be divided inside these institutions, the Maqasid society offered the zu’ama a lot to divide among their clients. It also gave a higher status to a Sunni politician if he was in the board of the Maqasid or, better yet, was chairman of the board. The chairmanship of the Society had been in the hands of the Salam family or one of their allies since 1918 excepting a short period between 1926 and 1933. In 1958, Saeb Salam, one of the most powerful zu’ama of Beirut had become chairman.13

In 1966 two members of the board, Rashid al-Solh (an old enemy of Saeb Salam) and Othman al-Dana, (a former ally of Salam from the civil war of 1958) tried to stop the re-election of Salam. This was part of the political struggle between the Chehabists and the opposition against them that included Salam. This attempt failed however because the prime-minister, the minister of Internal Affairs, the president and the mufti (an Islamic scholar who is an interpreter or expounder of Islamic law) who had been asked to arbitrate by al-Dana and al-Solh, refused to get involved.

In 1970 al-Dana and al-Solh decided to take a different approach and they registered 150 of their followers as voters for the elections of the board. Salam responded by registering 300 of his followers. Al-Dana and al-Solh registered 1559 applications.14 These were denied by the board that decided on these matters and had the right to refuse without stating a reason. Al-Dana and al-Solh asked the mufti, a Chehabist, to arbitrate and he took their side. Salam refused to give in however and it nearly came to an armed confrontation when armed followers of al-Dana and al-Solh swore that the denied voters would vote anyway. In the end the election was peaceful though and Salam was re-elected.

Saeb Salam had not been a member of government since 1961 and had not been able to distribute state-favours for a long time. Without the Maqasid he would probably not have survived.


A qabaday is a street thug who is considered an informal leader of a street or neighbourhood. They often engage in demanding ‘protection’ money, arms dealing, smuggling and other shady lines of work. During riots or other trouble between the religious communities, they set themselves up as protectors of their communities. Most of the Sunni qabadayat active in the 1960 and ‘70s had built their reputations during the 1958 civil war defending their neighbourhoods and attacking Christian neighbourhoods loyal to president Chamoun. As a result of that they were considered heroes by the lower classes. The bourgeoisie considered them common gangsters.

These qabadayat however played an important part in drumming up the followers of the zu’ama during elections and other political events. They were also in charge of buying votes, intimidating voters and other things that were not exactly legal but nonetheless part of the Lebanese political landscape. In exchange the za’im would protect him from the police.15

Some qabadayat were not clients of zu’ama but of the Lebanese state or other states. During the Chehabist era the Deuxième Bureau of the army was given a lot of power and tried to strengthen the state by undermining the zu’ama. One of the methods used was to turn qabadayat into clients of the Deuxième Bureau and recruiting them against opposition candidates.16

Ibrahim Qulaylat (who later became the leader of the Independat Nasserist Movement) was one of the qabadayat recruited by the Deuxième Bureau. It was also said about him that he was paid by the Egyptian Embassy in the early 1960s.17 In 1970 he was on Othman al-Dana’s side in the conflict over the chairmanship of the Maqasid. The difference between a qabaday who was a client of some Arab regime and the leader of a party following that regime’s political line must have been unclear. What is clear is that the Lebanese political system and its qabadayat left the door wide open for foreign interference.

After the Chehabist candidate lost the elections in 1970 the Deuxième Bureau was purged of Chehabists. This meant that the control over the qabadayat was lost. Some were recruited by zu’ama who supported the government, but others started their own careers and built ties with Palestinian organisations or foreign governemnts, especially Libya and Iraq.18

Relations between the zu’ama

From the section on the Maqasid it has become clear that conflicts between the zu’ama could get out of hand at times. During parliamentary elections also there were sometimes armed incidents between qabadayat supporting different zu’ama competing for the same district. The conflicts were usually not ideological; it was just a competition for power. Only one Sunni za’im could become prime-minister and only a set number of representatives could be elected in each district.

Chehab and his successor Helou (1958-1970) tried to develop the Lebanese periphery, which had always been neglected, at the expense of Beirut. This rubbed the Sunni zu’ama of Beirut the wrong way, especially because Rashid Karami of Tripoli was prime-minister almost continuously. Othman al-Dana thought that the government robbed the Sunni community of its rights.19 Yet the Sunni areas outside Beirut were favoured, together with other parts of the countryside. Attempts were made to develop the infrastructure and clinics and schools were founded.

For that reason the Sunni bourgeoisie of Sidon and Tripoli did support Chehabism. The Beirutis however only saw the relative neglect of their city and the Sunni zu’ama identified their interests and those of the Beirut bourgeoisie with those of the Sunni community. They were so upset about this that in 1968, there was reconciliation between Saeb Salam, Othman al-Dana and Abdallah al-Yafi and they managed to get al-Dana appointed prime-minister.

The community spirit amongst the Sunni zu’ama was very low then and it wasn’t until the left-wing parties threatened to outflank them that Rashid Karami and Saeb Salam started to cooperate and together with the mufti started calling for “participation” (musharaka).20

Political parties

Besides zu’ama, a large number of political parties were active in Lebanon. Some of them were no more than a za’im’s clients. Ideological parties like the Ba’ath and the Communist Party mostly appealed to young, unmarried men who usually left the parties once they started a family.21 Urbanisation also played a part: people new in town don’t have anything to offer the local zu’ama because they still voted in their village of birth.22 At the same time the zu’ama in those villages had nothing to offer them because they had no influence in the new habitats of the migrants. As the Sunnis (as well as the Greek Orthodox and the Greek Catholics) traditionally lived in the cities, this factor was not as strong for them. Many Maronites moved to Beirut in the 1950s and in the 1960s and ‘70s, Shi’ites moved there in large numbers.23 This would be made worse during the course of the civil war by the Israeli raids in southern Lebanon where many Shi’ites lived.

These newcomers were more inclined to join national political parties who were represented in their old as well as their new residences. For the Maronites this was the Kataeb, for the Shi’ites (at first) the communists and radical leftist groups. The Shi’ite radicalisation was reinforced because the areas where they settled were inhabited by Palestinians or had Palestinian camps (more on this in the next chapter).

Most parties combined ideology with personal and sectarian ties. There are a couple of clues to this:

Party leaders were sometimes members of important families. Farouq al-Moqaddam, for instance, the leader of the 24 October Movement, was a descendant of a family of landowners from Tripoli.24
Party leaders were often succeeded by their sons or brothers. Bachir Gemayel succeeded his father Pierre as leader of the Kataeb. Walid Jumblatt succeeded his father Kamal. In Sidon the Nasserist Marouf Saad was elected in 1957. He was of humble descent and ideologically (Nasserist) inspired yet he was succeeded by his son Mustapha in 1975. In 1985 he became blind form a bomb attack and his brother Osama took over the executive of his party/militia (though Mustapha was still the leader in a formal sense).25
The parties often had a following that was limited to a single sect - like the Kataeb for the Maronites, the PSP for the Druze and the SSNP for the Greek Orthodox – or a single town – like Saad’s and al-Moqaddam’s parties. The fact that the party leaders in question were only known or popular locally must have contributed to that.

The following parties were all more or less ideological:


The oldest political party in Lebanon is the Communist Party of Lebanon (CPL), founded in 1924 or 1925; however, it was illegal until 1970. In 1976 half the members were Shi’ites while Druze and Sunnis combined were 20% of the membership. It was led by George Hawi.26

More important however were two parties that had a following that consisted mainly of Christians: the Kataeb and the Syrian National Party (SNP, al-Hizb as-Suri al-Qawmi).


The SNP was founded in 1932 by Antoun Saada and officially recognised in 1944. The ideology was based on Syrian nationalism - i.e. the pursuit of the unification of geographic Syria - secularism and the opposition of the patron-client system, combined with fascist ideas. The followers were mostly Greek Orthodox as Saada himself was. At the end of the 1940s the SNP changed its name to Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP, al-Hizb as-Suri al-Qawmi al-Ishtiraki). In 1958 they supported Chamoun and in 1961 the party was banned after an attempted coup against president Chehab. In 1967 it changed course and, under the leadership of Inaam Raad, it started cooperating with the left-wing and the Palestinian groups.27
Kataeb (Phalanges)

The Kataeb was founded in 1936 by Pierre Gemayel as a sports club for boys along the lines of the Hitler-Jugend and Franco’s youth movement. Kataeb is a translation of the original name Phalanges (Libanaises). In 1949 it was transformed into a political party but still retained its militia.

The members were mainly Catholics; that is, Maronites and Greek Catholics from the middle classes and lower middle classes. The Kataeb is a very controversial party, its opponents call it fascist and its origins point to that also (the same goes for the SSNP). Though I wouldn’t call them fascists myself (neither their party political program nor their behaviour during the war point to fascist ideology) and although they stress that they favour secularisation, they are the champions of the Maronite cause and Maronite domination.28


As a Sunni response to the Kataeb, an-Narada was founded in 1937 which was also a paramilitary youth club that had the renaissance of Arab/Muslim culture as a goal. An-Narada remained a splinter group however.

Harakat al-Mahrumin/Amal

In March 1974 the Movement of the Deprived (Harakat al-Mahrumin) was founded by Imam Musa al-Sadr. Al-Sadr was an Iranian religious scholar of Lebanese descent who became a Lebanese citizen in 1963. The movement’s goal was to improve the lives of all deprived Lebanese, but had a Shi’ite character from the start. An important reason for the founding of the Movement of the Deprived was the success of the left-wing parties (especially the communists) among the Shi’ites. In July 1975 a militia was founded named Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniya (Lebanese Resistance Groups). This militia was the military branch of the Movement of the Deprived and became known under its acronym Amal (which means Hope). In 1978, Musa al-Sadr disappeared during a visit to Libya under mysterious circumstances.


One of the most important left-wing parties was the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP, al-Hizb at-Taqaddumi al-Ishtiraki), founded in 1949 by Kamal Jumblatt. This party is a good example of the mix of ideological and personal/sectarian ties. Though the party very strongly opposed the sectarian system, the followers were predominantly from the Shouf mountains where the Jumblatt family had been in charge of one of the Druze factions for centuries. Despite of the name, the PSP is a liberal rather than a socialist party. Petran calls him ‘an intelligent conservative’.29

Jumblatt supported the uprising against Camille Chamoun and Chehab’s reforms. At the end of the 1960s he started cooperating closely with the leftist parties. These were the only parties that wanted to get rid of the sectarian system; one of the most important points on Jumblatt’s agenda. It is important to realise here that Jumblatt was a Druze and under the sectarian system he could not be president, prime-minister or even speaker of parliament. The only way he could ever be was if the sectarian system would be scrapped. It is therefore hard to say how much his pursuit of an end to the sectarian system was motivated by self-interest and how much was motivated by idealism. After Kamal Jumblatt was killed in 1977, his son Walid succeeded him as leader of the PSP.

[B]Arab nationalist parties

MAN and its successors

The most influential parties among the Sunnis were the Arab nationalist parties. One of them was the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN, Harakat al-Qawmiyin al-Arab) that was founded in Beirut in 1954. It was a pan-Arab party with branches in the entire Mashriq (the eastern part of the Arab world). From 1962 onward it had two branches: the one that considered itself the left wing had a Shi’ite Lebanese called Muhsin Ibrahim and a Greek Orthodox Jordanian named Nayef Hawatmeh as members, the other wing had a Greek Orthodox Palestinian called George Habash. MAN worked with Nasser and the Nasserist movements in the early 1960s. The movement radicalised however and after the 1967 June War it fell apart in a number of Marxist-Leninist parties, among others:

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP, al-Jabha al-Shaabiya li-Tahrir Filastin), a Palestinian resistance group led by George Habash.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (formerly Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PDFLP, al-Jabha ad-Dimuqratiya al-Shaabiya li-Tahrir Filastin, change its name to DFLP, al-Jabha ad-Dimuqratiya li-Tahrir Filastin in August 1974), led by Nayef Hawatmeh.

The Organisation of Lebanese Socialists (OLS, Munazzamat al-Ishtirakiyin al-Lubnaniyin), this would join a leftist spinter of the Baath Party, Socialist Lebanon (SL, Lubnan al-Ishtiraki) in 1971 to become the Organisation of Communist Action (OCA, Munazzamat al-‘Amal ash-Shuyu’i) led by Muhsin Ibrahim.

The Party of Arab Socialist Action (PASA, Hizb al-’Amal al-Ishtiraki al-Arabi) also led by George Habash. This party considered itself an ally of the CPL and other Arab communist parties.30

Other Arab nationalist parties:

The Baath (Renaissance) Party (Hizb al-Baath) was founded in 1944 by a Syrian Christian named Michel Aflaq who was influenced by marxism and nationalism. The Baath party slogan was One Arab Nation with an Eternal Mission and its objectives were Freedom, Unity and Socialism. The Baath was the first party to adopt pan-Arab unity. It had branches in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan from the 1950s. In 1963 the Baath came to power in Syria but also split into two factions and in 1966 the main branch, led by Salah Jadid forced the minority wing led by Michel Aflaq into exile. After this wing of the Baath took over there in 1968, this branch would move to Iraq and become known as the Iraqi branch of the Baath. In Lebanon both branches were active.

The chairman of the pro-Iraqi Baath was Abd al-Majid al-Rafi’i who was elected to parliament in 1972 for the district of Tripoli. The party line was set in Baghdad.

The pro-Syrian Baath was led by Issam Qansi and party policy for this one was set in Damascus.

The Movement of Independent Nasserists (MIN, Harakat an-Nasiriyin al Mustaqillin) was founded in 1958 and led by a collective leadership chaired by Ibrahim Qulaylat. Qulaylat was a qabaday who had fought against Chamoun in the civil war of 1958 and was later recruited by Egypt and then the Deuxième Bureay (see above). Of its followers 60% were from Beirut and 10% were Druze and the rest about as many Shi’ites as Sunnis.31 The MIN also had a militia called al-Murabitun (named after the medieval movement that is known in the West as the Almoravids) which leaned on the Palestinian al-Fatah militarily.

The 24 October Movement (24 OM, Harakat ‘Arba wa ‘Ishrin Tishrin) was founded in 1969 and led by Farouq al-Moqaddam. It was active in the Tripoli region and was an Arab nationalist party, radical leftist party which followed a pro-Algerian line.

The Nasserist Organisation/Union of Working Forces (NO/UWF, al-Tanzim an’Nasiri/Ittihad Qiwa ash-Shaab al ‘Amil) was founded in 1970 and led by Kamal Shatilla. It was active in Beirut and the Shouf mountains mainly. Its ideology was Nasserist, leftist and pro-Syrian. In 1974 a split occurred and a new splinter group appeared, the NO/UWF Corrective Movement (NO/UWF CM) which was pro-Libyan.

The Nasserist People’s Organisation (NPO, at-Tanzim ash-Shaabi an-Nasiri) founded by Maarouf Saad in 1958. Maarouf Saad occupied the Sunni seat for Sidon from 1957 till 1972. After he was killed in 1975 his son Mustapha took over the party.

The National Movement

Kamal Jumblatt’s PSP, the two Baath Parties, the MIN, Georges Hawi’s CPL, the OCA, the SSNP, Habash’s PASA, Farouq al-Moqaddam’s 24 October Movement, Maarouf Saad’s NPO and some other communist, Nasserist and radical splinter groups more or less worked together under the name National Movement (al-Harakat al-Wataniya).32 The different groups in the NM did not agree on much, but they did about the need to get rid of the sectarian representation in parliament, the bureaucracy and the army.33

The ideologies of the SSNP and the Arab nationalist parties obviously did not conform to the National Pact which demanded the Arabs would not seek unity with Syria or other Arab states. The Arab nationalist parties, the CPL and the SSNP were all legalised by Kamal Jumblatt, as Minister of Internal Affairs, in 1970.34 It is however unclear if the reason for banning them was their incompatibility with the National Pact.

In general it can be said that the most radical parties had the fewest Sunni followers. The followers of the CPL, for instance, were 50% Shi’ites, 30% Christians and 20% Druze and Sunnis.35
The chairman was a Christian. I have no figures on OCA but it seems likely this party also was most popular with Shi’ites. Its leaders were Muhsin Ibrahim, a Shi’ite and Fawaz Tarabulsi, a Greek Catholic.36
It is likely the Nasserist parties’ followers were mostly Sunni. The MIN had a more mixed following but it is described as one of the most militant movements within the NM.37

The Sunni zu’ama and especially Saeb Salam and Rashid Karami were very unhappy about this. They considered Jumblatt’s support to the Nasserist parties in Beirut and his contacts with Farouq al-Moqaddam and Abd al-Majid al-Rafi’i in Tripoli as undermining their clientele.38
As a response, Karami, Salam and the mufti began to cooperate and to urge for more power for the Sunni prime-minister and more participation (musharaka) in general.

The National Movement’s successes in the 1972 elections were not very impressive at first sight. The PSP won 6 seats, the pro-Iraqi Baath and the Nasserist Organisation each won 1 and Maarouf Saad lost his seat.39 On the other hand, for all parties except the PSP and Saad’s NPO, they were the first elections they participated in because they had all been illegal before 1970.

Three years later it would turn out that power in parliament was not as important as military power. All parties had their own militia and all leftist militias were armed and trained by one of the Palestinian groups.

Civil War and Foreign Interference

Many foreign powers have interfered in Lebanese affairs. This interference varied from financial support to one of the parties (Palestinian or Lebanese) to military incursions. The two neighbouring countries, Syria and Israel, were the most active but other Arab and non-Arab powers interfered also. The Lebanese patron-client system and the open society made this easy. Some qabadayat were clients of Palestinian organisations or foreign powers. The two wings of the Baath Party were ruled from Damascus and Baghdad. Feuds between Arab states were fought in Lebanon.40

The Palestinians

The Palestinians were a special case. Strictly speaking they were a foreign power; however, the Palestinian presence had become part of Lebanon, just like that of the Armenians and the Kurds. The difference with these ethnic groups is that the Palestinians had armed organisations. These have played a major part in the Lebanese Civil War, not only as independent powers, but also as instruments of Arab states. This chapter will focus on the Palestinians. First I will take a look at how many Palestinians lived in Lebanon and give an overview of the most important Palestinian organisations. Then I will discuss the civil war until 1983 – that is until the military defeat of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), followed by a survey of the role of the Palestinians, Syria, Israel and the other foreign powers.


It is hard to be sure about the number of Palestinians that lived in Lebanon. In the tables below I have provided the numbers as far as they are known to me. Only Palestinians receiving aid from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency) are registered. These are not absolute numbers: only some of the Palestinians were given aid and were therefore registered. For 1970 there are only estimates, a low estimate by the Lebanese Ministry of Planning and a high estimate by the PLO. The number of Palestinians living in refugee camps in 1970 is also based on a PLO estimate. The estimates for 1980 are both based on UNWRA-numbers with the naturalised Palestinians (both estimates number them as 100,000) and unregistered Palestinians added. The estimates for the latter category are varying. The high estimates are from the Lebanese Front (LF, an umbrella group of the right-wing Maronite groups). The low estimates are figures from international aid groups. The high estimates from 1982 are from the PLO, the low estimates by the US State Department.41

| 1970 | 1972 | 1978 | 1980 | 1982
Low | 234,000 | | |430,000 | 400,000 |
UNWRA | | 184,043 | 211,902 | 226,554 | |
In camps | 130,500 | 95,372 | 91,722 | 111,354 | |
Outside camps | | 88,671 | 120,180 | 115,200 | |

The estimates by the LF are probably exaggerated to make the ‘Palestinian Menace’ look worse. The PLO is probably also inclined to exaggerate the numbers to make their constituency look bigger. The Americans will be trying to make the PLO’s constituency look smaller. Taking the average of the numbers, I estimate there were about 237,000 Palestinians in 1970 and about 500,000 in 1980. The total population of Lebanon, including foreigners was estimated at 2,690,376 in 1970 and at least 2.8 million in 1980 of which 542,000 were foreigners and at most 3.3 million including 897,000 foreigners.42 That means that the number of Palestinians as a percentage of the total population was 8.8% in 1970. In 1980 this was at least 10.3% and at most 18.2%.

The fact that the percentage rose so dramatically is due to the increase in the number of Palestinians and the decrease in the number of Lebanese (mostly because of emigration). The increase in the number of Palestinians is connected to the ousting of the Palestinian guerrillas from Jordan in September of 1970 (Black September, see below).

[B]The Palestinian fighters

The largest faction in the PLO is al-Fatah. The name comes from the inversion of the letters of the official name Harakat at-Tahrir al-Filastini (Palestinian Liberation Movement) and means conquest or victory. Although Fatah was founded in 1959, it only started military operations in 1959 under the name of al-‘Asifa (the Storm).43 Al-Fatah is a nationalist group without a specific left or right wing ideology and it accepts members of all kinds of political leanings. Al-Fatah worked with Arab governments according to the principle that Arab states should not meddle in the affairs of the Palestinian resistance and alternately that the Palestinian resistance should not meddle in the affairs of Arab states. This has made it possible for the movement to have ties with different Arab regimes.

In the course of the 1960s a number of other guerrilla groups were founded, among them the PFLP and DFLP (see above). Both those groups are Marxist-Leninist. The PFLP fathered a couple of splinter groups. The only one of any importance here is the PFLP-General Command (PFLP-GC), founded by Ahmad Jibril, a former Palestinian officer of the Syrian army.44 The PFLP-GC has been under Syrian control from the start.

Besides al-Fatah and the descendents of the Movement of Arab Nationalists, there is a third group: movements founded by the Syrian and Iraqi regimes, the largest of which is the Vanguard of the Popular Liberation War, better known under the name of its military wing, as-Sa’iqa. This group was founded in September of 1966 as the Palestinian branch of the (Syrian) Baath Party.45 The name as-Sa’iqa means the Lightning and was probably an answer to al-‘Asifa. Al-Sa’iqa has always been under Syrian control and never followed its own political course. In Lebanon this would lead to a conflict with the other Palestinian groups.

Iraq also founded its ‘own’ Palestinian group in 1969: the Arab Liberation Front (ALF).46

Besides these guerrilla groups there are the brigades of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), founded by Arab governments: the ‘Ayn Jallout brigade in Egypt, the Qadisiya brigade and the Hittin brigade in Syria. These brigades were commanded by the PLO officially but by the governments of the country they were stationed in, in practice. In addition, in Lebanon there were the Yarmouk and Karami brigades, founded after the ousting of the guerrillas from Jordan in 1970 by former Jordanian army officers and commanded by al-Fatah.47

The major difference between al-Fatah and the other groups was al-Fatah’s emphasis on non-intervention. The PFLP and DFLP were descended from a pan-Arab movement and saw the liberation of Palestine as part of an Arab revolution. They didn’t just consider Israel to be their enemy but also imperialism and ‘Arab regimes in alliance with imperialism’.48 The PFLP was initially supported by Iraq and the DFLP by Syria. They also worked with the leftist parties in Lebanon as a result of their ideology. Where these groups tended to meddle in the affairs of Arab states, the tables were turned with as-Sa’iqa and the ALF. Both can be considered an extension of the regimes that founded them. This was especially clear for as-Sa’iqa during the Lebanese Civil War.

The numerical strength for the groups in 1970 was between 5,000 and 10,000 for al-Fatah and as-Sa’iqa, between 1,000 and 3,000 for the PFLP and DFLP and between 100 and 500 for the ALF and the PFLP-GC.49

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State started negotiations between Egypt, Syria and Israel. This caused a split inside the PLO between proponents and opponents of a Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The opponents – the PFLP, the PFLP-GC and the ALF – founded the so-called Rejection Front at the end of 1974. This Front stuck to the old PLO ideal of a secular, democratic state in all of Palestine and its members resigned from the executive committee of the PLO. During the Lebanese Civil War the members of the Rejection Front followed the same line. The Rejection Front was disbanded in 1978 because Egypt and Israel had made a separate peace and the raison d’être ceased to be.50

[B]Consequences of the Palestinian actions

The raids by the Palestinian fighters resulted in Israeli retaliations inside Lebanon. That meant, in turn, that the Lebanese state tried to control the Palestinian resistance. In 1968 and 1969, fights between Palestinians and the Lebanese army became more frequent. The Palestinians however had a lot of sympathisers under the Lebanese population, especially among Muslims, but also among Christians with the exception of the Maronites. This put Sunni prime-ministers in a difficult position. If they were to deploy the army against the Palestinians they would lose support among voters. In April 1969, prime-minister Rashid Karami resigned after the Lebanese army clashed with pro-Palestinian demonstrators. The government crisis lasted for months while the fights between the army and the guerrillas continued. Syria put pressure on Lebanon by closing the borders on 21 October. On 23 October, al-Sa’iqa started attacking Lebanese border positions.51 Eventually negotiations started in Cairo between the Lebanese army commander Emile Boustani and PLO-leader Yasir Arafat. On 3 November it was announced that an agreement had been reached (the Cairo Accord).52 This accord meant that the Palestinian armed presence was legalised. The Palestinians received the right to set up bases inside Lebanon. They also were given control of the refugee camps which, up to that point, had been under strict control by the Deuxième Bureau.53 However, the Accord failed to stop the sporadic fighting between Palestinians and the Lebanese army.

In September of 1970, the PFLP hijacked several planes and flew them to Jordan where they were blown up after the hostages were released. The Jordanian army then attacked the Palestinian guerrillas who had set up bases in Jordan (Black September). In the months after, the Jordanian army drove back the Palestinian resistance and in July 1971, the armed Palestinian presence in Jordan was ended completely.54

This meant that only Lebanon remained as a base for the guerrillas (Egypt and Syria did not allow raids from their territory) and a huge influx of Palestinians followed. The numbers are disputed: according to international organisations, there were 100,000 but Lebanese Christians put it at between 200,000 and 300,000 with many fighters among them.55

In southern Lebanon the pattern of Palestinian raids into Israel and Israeli raids into Lebanon and skirmishes between the Palestinians and the Lebanese army continued. Funerals for guerrillas often became demonstrations against the government and the army which failed to, or did not want to, stop the Israeli raids but did attack the Palestinian guerrillas. On the night of 3 April 1973 there was an Israeli raid that killed 3 Palestinian leaders in an attack on the PFLP headquarters in Sabra camp. Although the Israelis passed a couple of army barracks on the way and were even directing traffic in downtown Beirut, the army remained passive. Prime-minister Saeb Salam demanded the army commander’s resignation and when the president refused he resigned himself. The funeral for the Palestinians killed turned into a demonstration that was joined by 250,000 people.56

Two weeks later heavy fighting broke out between the army and Palestinian guerrillas when 3 guerrillas (2 Lebanese among them)57 were arrested trying to board a plane to Nice carrying explosives. The PFLP kidnapped 3 soldiers in response. The fights spread quickly among the camps and suburbs of Beirut and the next day to the Bekaa valley where it came to clashes between the army and PLA-units that had entered from Syria,58 no doubt ordered in by the Syrian regime. Syria later closed its border to put more pressure on Lebanon. These clashes were a prelude to the civil war: on the side of the Palestinians the Communist Party of Lebanon (CPL), the Organisation of Communist Action (OCA) and al-Murabitun (MIN) joined the fighting, while the Kataeb fought alongside the army.59

Eventually, after arbitration by some Arab states an agreement was reached, the so-called Melkart Protocol (named after the hotel where the negotiations were held). This basically reaffirmed the Cairo Accord. This was the end of serious confrontations between the army and the Palestinians. In July 1974, however, there were fights between Palestinian guerrillas and the Kataeb who had appointed themselves protectors of the Lebanese state. Besides the Kataeb there were other Maronite militias, like an-Numur (the Tigers) commanded by Dany Chamoun (Camille Chamoun’s son) and the Zghorta Liberation Army (Zghorta is a Christian town in the north near Tripoli), better known as the Marada Brigade, commanded by Tony Frangieh (son of Suleiman Frangieh, the president from 1970-1975). They started arming and training more and more after the Cairo Accord. The clashes in 1973 gave a new impulse to the growth of these militias. The Kataeb started to recruit outside of its party membership.60 The left-wing and Nasserist parties began to strengthen their militias as well.

The Civil War until 1983

Although the Palestinian presence became the spark that set off the civil war, this was not the only cause. Another important cause was that the sectarian distribution agreed upon in the National Pact no longer corresponded to the real proportions between the religious groups (though it is far from clear it ever did). A third main cause was the huge social gap between rich and poor which was mainly a result of the neglect of the countryside. Other causes were the conflict between left and right, between Lebanese nationalism on the one hand and Syrian and Arab nationalism on the other and between sectarianism and secularism.

This section deals with the civil war until 1983. The reason for this is that what can be roughly described as the Muslim camp was dominated by the alliance between the leftist parties and the PLO. In 1982 Israel and then in 1983 Syria put an end to the military presence of the PLO. This meant that the leftist parties were weakened and their place was largely taken by sectarian and fundamentalist parties.

In the course of the war, coalitions of parties formed. These coalitions were instable however because different interests played a part. The Shi’ite militia Amal, for instance, supported the left-wing demands for a more equal distribution of power between Muslims and Christians but was a very strong opponent of the Palestinian presence. The right-wing Maronite militias on the other hand managed to build a very strong united front (by taking over rival militias by force and murdering their leaders).

At the end of February, 1975, a demonstration in Sidon ended in skirmishes with the army in which former member of parliament (and NM member), Maarouf Saad, who was one of the demonstrators was mortally injured. This lead to demonstrations in Beirut against the army and to further clashes in Sidon between armed civilians and the army; however, this time civil war was avoided.

On 13 April, 4 Maronites, including 2 Kataeb members and Kataeb leader Pierre Gemayel’s bodyguard, were killed in a drive-by. The same evening and at the same spot in Beirut a bus carrying Palestinians from Sabra to Tall az-Zaatar was ambushed. That night Beirut was at war and the next day fighting started in Sidon and Tripoli. At first the fighting was between the Kataeb on the one hand and the left-wing militias, supported by the Palestinian Rejection Front groups, as-Sa’iqa and the DFLP on the other hand. The fighting became more and more sectarian however as Christians started slaughtering Muslims at random and vice versa. Shady fascist splinter groups on the Christian side like the Guardians of the Cedar and at-Tanzim and fundamentalist splinter groups like al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya and Jundullah on the Muslim side were probably responsible for most of this. The rightist Maronite militias also started to attack left-wing enclaves inside their territory and driving the inhabitants out.61

In January of 1976, the Maronite militias started the siege of Tall az-Zaatar, a Palestinian camp in mostly Christian east Beirut. The result of this was that al-Fatah, which had kept out of the fighting so far, started siding with the National Movement.

The right-wing Maronites were united politically under the name Lebanese Front, with its military wing the Lebanes Forces. This united the Kataeb, an-Numur and the Marada Brigade as well as a few smaller groups (including the Guardians of the Cedar and at-Tanzim). The NM on the other hand had been weakened in December of 1975 when the pro-Syrian parties had formed their own front. The most important parties in that front were the pro-Syrian Baath and Amal.

In January, Qarantina, a Muslim slum in east Beirut was overrun by Maronite militias who started murdering and driving out the inhabitants. The next day, Damour, a Christian bastion of Chamoun’s was conquered by the NM. The inhabitants befell the same fate of those of Qarantine. Muslim officers of the Lebanese army who objected to the army’s defence of Damour proclaimed the Arab Army of Lebanon (AAL).

During a lull in the fighting in May, presidential elections were held. This was accompanied by a lot of intimidation by as-Sa’iqa which is why the pro-Syrian candidate Elias Sarkis was elected and inaugurated in September. After the elections, the NM, the AAL and the PLO (except as-Saiqa and the PLA’s Hittin brigade) started a major offensive. This was halted by the Syrians who intervened militarily from October of 1976.62 The Syrian intervention would be made official by the decision of the Arab League to send an Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) that was almost exclusively composed of Syrian forces with some token contributions from other Arab states. This was the start of a period of armed peace.

The struggle continued with bomb attacks and kidnappings and on 16 March 1977, Kamal Jumblatt was murdered. Although the assassins were never caught, it was widely suspected that Syria was behind it.63

There was not even so much as an armed peace for southern Lebanon in 1976. A war of attrition was going on there between Israel and its puppet militia headed by Saad Haddad on the one hand and the NM and the PLO (including as-Sa’iqa in this case) on the other hand. In 1978 Israel launched a major attack and occupied a strip between the coast and the Syrian border. The UN Security Council decided a UN-force called UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon) would take over their positions and form a buffer between the Israeli border and the Palestinian forces. Israel and SLA sabotaged this however and UNIFIL was forced to take up positions to the north between the PLO/NM fighters and Haddad’s militia.64 At the same time an alliance had been formed between the LF and Israel.

In the north there was a conflict between the Kataeb and the pro-Syrian Suleiman Frangieh who had quit the Lebanese Front. On 13 June 1978, his son and militia leader, Tony, his wife and their 3-year old daughter were murdered by the Kataeb at their home in Ehden while at the same time, 30 people were killed in Zghorta in a failed attempt to take over Frangieh’s territory.

The LF had succeeded however in banning the troops of the Arab Deterrent Force from their territory. This meant Lebanon was now divided into 4 parts: the part that was ruled by the LF, Haddad’s part, UNIFIL’s part, and the part occupied by Syria. In the LF-ruled part Chamoun’s militia and the other Christian militias had been forced to merge with the Lebanese Forces by the Kataeb. In the Syrian occupied part no militia was strong enough to force the others to comply. Clashes between militias erupted regularly. The dominant factor in this area was al-Fatah, except in the Shouf Mountains which were controlled by the Druze PSP. The Syrian presence mostly limited itself to checkpoints.

After UNIFIL had been deployed, the south settled down to relative calm. After Israeli planes bombed Beirut on 17 July 1981, the American special envoy to the Middle East Philip Habib arranged a ceasefire between the PLO and Israel. The Israelis however had been planning a full-scale assault on Lebanon for a long time in order to get rid of the PLO presence once and for all. When the Israeli ambassador in London was wounded in an assassination attempt by a Palestinian faction that was hostile to the PLO, Israeli planes bombed positions in southern Lebanon and west Beirut. The Palestinians replied with a barrage of missiles on northern Israel and that was the excuse for the Israelis to launch their campaign.65 The Syrian troops mostly kept out of harms way, as did Amal in the south. UNIFIL was unceremoniously swept aside. A couple of days later, Israeli troops were surrounding west Beirut where they made contact with the Maronites. The Israeli attempts to enter the city were repelled by the PLO and her allies, which included Amal in Beirut.66

An agreement was arranged in August that the PLO would leave Beirut and American, Italian and French troops (the Multi National Force, MNF) would be brought in to guarantee the safety of the Palestinian camps. Israel agreed not to enter west Beirut. After the PLO left however, the Western troops left also.

Presidential elections took place under Israeli supervision. Bachir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Forces and son of Pierre Gemayel, was elected president. On 14 September, however, before he was inaugurated, the headquarters of the LF was blown up resulting in the deaths of Bachir Gemayel and 30 militia members. Israel was identified as the guilty party right away, in Christian east Beirut as well as mainly Muslim west Beirut. The reason for this would be that Bachir Gemayel was too independent. Israeli troops wasted no time entering west Beirut.67 Israel allowed the LF into the camps Sabra and Shatila where they slaughtered the inhabitants. The number of dead was estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 including 700 to 800 Lebanese.

The coup de grâce for the PLO presence in Lebanon came in 1983. After a mutiny inside al-Fatah against Yasir Arafat, the Arafat loyalists were driven out of the camps in the Bekaa valley. The rebels were supported by Syria which had wanted to end the PLO’s independence for a long time.

The loyalists withdrew to the camps near Tripoli. Clashes had been going on there for some time between Tawhid, a Sunni fundamentalist group (more on this in the next chapter) and Syria and its allies. The loyalists and Tawhid therefore had a common enemy. When Yasir Arafat joined the loyalists in Tripoli, in the eyes of many Palestinians the conflict changed from a fight between two Palestinian factions to a struggle between the PLO and Syria.68 After two months of heavy fighting, an agreement was reached to evacuate Arafat and his men.

[B]Palestinian-Lebanese ties

There were many ties between Lebanese and Palestinian organisations, from coalitions of convenience to organisational intertwining. In this period there was no unity among Palestinian groups.

The ties between al-Fatah and Lebanese groups limited themselves to arming and training groups considered allies. These alliances came about not because al-Fatah shared an ideology with these groups but because of common interests. Amal was supported at first, for instance, to help defend Shi’ite villages against the Israelis.69 Al-Murabitun was also trained and armed by al-Fatah, probably because they were allies in the fights with the army in 1969 and 1973. In 1983, an alliance came about between al-Fatah and Tawhid because they were both fighting Syria and its allies. Another reason for al-Fatah to support militias during the civil war was to gain more influence over the National Movement.70

The PFLP and the DFLP had ideological motives. They were pan-Arab parties and saw a connection between the struggle in Lebanon and the struggle for Palestine. Both parties had a Lebanese sister movement. The PFLP was very close to the Party of Arab Socialist Action (PASA). In fact, they were the Palestinian and Lebanese branch of the former Movement of Arab Nationalists (see above). George Habash was the chairman of both parties and they published a magazine together. Furthermore, the PFLP and the PASA considered themselves allied to the Communist Party of Lebanon.71

The DFLP was entwined with the Organisation of Communist Action as they published the magazine al-Hurriya (Freedom) together. Both parties originated from the left-wing of the MAN and followed the same line ideogically.72

The ALF was tied to the pro-Iraqi wing of the Baath, but also to Farouq al-Moqaddam’s 24 October Movement.73

As-Sa’iqa had ties to the pro-Syrian Baath and and to one of the Nasserist parties. There was also a party called the Organisation of the Progressive Lebanese Vanguard with its militia, the as-Sa’iqa Auxilliaries. Apart from the resemblance to as-Sa’iqa’s political wing, this party is of no interest whatsoever. The Syrians also founded the Vanguard of the Arab Lebanese Army in June of 1976 (analogous to the ALL).74

Palestinians and Lebanese were tied together on all levels. As is apparent from the UNWRA-numbers, many Palestinians lived outside the refugee camps. Some Lebanese lived in the camps as well, as is evident from the fact that in Sabra and Shatila many Lebanese were murdered. Many Lebanese lived in Tall az-Zaatar too. It is likely that most were Shi’ite migrants from southern Lebanon.75

On the highest level there were contacts between the PLO leaders and the Muslim religious leaders (the mufti, Musa al-Sadr and the Druze leader Abu Shaqra) and the Sunni zu’ama, as is clear from the frequent meetings in the mufti’s house in Aramoun.76

Until 1978 there wasn’t a united PLO position in Lebanon. The Rejection Front was a loyal ally to the National Movement from the start. As-Sa’iqa followed the Syrian line. The position of the DFLP was something in-between. Until 1976, the DFLP fought with the NM, but when Jumblatt seemed to be striving for a military solution, the DFLP distanced itself from him and warned about a rift with Syria. It joined the fights in the direct confrontations with the Syrians but kept trying to reach a compromise with Syria.77

Al-Fatah tried to keep out of the fighting for as long as possible but was swept along during the siege of Tall az-Zaatar. Al-Fatah troops were directed to Damour from southern Lebanon. The Syrian intervention forced al-Fatah, as it did the DFLP, to choose between its Lebanese allies and Syria. That al-Fatah chose for the NM in the end was especially due to the fact that al-Fatah did not trust the Syrian motives.78


Syria’s motives were mostly strategic. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War it became increasingly clear that Egypt would sign a separate peace treaty with Israel. That meant that Syria’s position was seriously weakened. President Assad’s answer to this development was to strive for a common front by the remaining states bordering Israel plus the PLO, under Syrian command. He also wanted to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel and build up his military power to compensate for the loss of Egypt.

The civil war in Lebanon could end in three ways that would all be a threat to Syria’s strategy:
If the rightists were to win, Lebanon would be lost to the common front that Assad had in mind.
If the leftist and Palestinian forces initially supported by Syria won, Israel might be tempted to intervene. It could also lead to a pro-Iraqi regime which would also stay out of Assad’s common front.
An even more dangerous outcome would be a Lebanon divided into a right-wing Maronite state and a left-wing Muslim state. That would mean Syria would get a pro-Israeli mini-state on its western border. It could also set a precedent for a fragmentation of Syria into mini-states based on religious sects.79

From the start of the civil war, Syria tried to end the fighting by negotiations, all the while supporting the leftist parties. After al-Fatah had sided with the left however, a military victory for the left seemed inevitable. Syria decided to intervene in favour of the Maronites. Since then it has made sure that no party would get the upper hand. Syria also managed to get the Lebanese foreign policy under its control so that Lebanon ended up in the Syrian camp in negotiations.

At first Syria did not commit any troops of its own but operated through Palestinian and Lebanese allies (varying from parties sharing the same interest like Amal to puppets completely under Syrian control like as-Sa’iqa). The reason was that this form of intervention did not arouse as much resistance with Israel.80 This also explains the deployment of Syrian troops in PLA and as-Sa’iqa uniforms.81 When this turned out to be insufficient, regular Syrian troops were deployed.

As a result of the conflict between the PLO and Syria, members of as-Sa’iqa and the Hittin brigade of the PLA defected in large numbers.82 Syria preferred to work through proxies throughout the civil war. The Syrian support usually limited itself to supplying weapons and, if necessary, artillery support.


Israel’s meddling in Lebanon started after the raids by Palestinian guerrillas in the 1960s. The aim of the retaliatory raids was probably to get the Lebanese government to take measures against the Palestinian armed activities. The Lebanese governments were too weak for that however, and besides that, the Palestinian question was too controversial a political subject. It is however possible that the Israelis were aware of that and that the raids were meant to provoke a confrontation between the different parties. This would open the way for the sectarian division of Lebanon that Syria feared so much. In Lebanon itself, rumours were spreading about Israeli and even American plans to divide Lebanon as had happened to Cyprus.83

Whatever the truth of this, until 1976 the Israelis limited themselves to bombings and raids. In addition, Israeli bulldozers built unpaved roads to make raids more easy.84 From 1976 onward, Israel started supplying large amounts of weaponry to Maronite militias, ranging from handguns to tanks. Maronite militia members were also trained by Israelis, both inside Israel and in Lebanon.85

Israel had also opened two gates in the fence that marked the border between Israel and Lebanon. This was the start of a new policy called ‘the good fence’. This meant Lebanese inhabitants of the border area were allowed into Israel for medical treatments, to sell their products or to work.86

The Israelis kept extending their activities in the south with patrols, observation posts and setting up a rightist militia as a buffer on the border. In 1978, Israel invaded southern Lebanon with a large military force and set up a so-called security zone. After the invasion of 1982, Israel occupied a large area of Lebanon. One of the goals was to destroy the political threat formed by the PLO. This goal was not reached however. Another goal was to enforce a peace treaty on Lebanon: the invasion took place three months before the Lebanese presidential elections. After Bachir Gemayel was killed, his brother Amin became president with Israeli support. On 17 May 1983, a treaty was signed which was supposed to lead to a mutual withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli troops. Syria however had not been involved in the negotiations and had no intent whatsoever of getting out of Lebanon. The number of attacks against Israeli troops was rising so much however that Israel withdrew unilaterally under pressure of public opinion.

After the Israeli withdrawal from the Shouf Mountains, heavy fighting broke out between the Druze PSP and the Lebanese Forces that Israel had allowed into the Shouf. Israel supported both parties while Syria was also arming the Druze. Israel’s motive was divide and rule. After the attempt to sign a peace agreement with Lebanon had failed, Israel decided to fan the sectarian flames. Not only did it support the Druze, it also allowed the Shi’ites to keep their weapons.87 But this policy did not succeed in winning any hearts and minds. The harsh repression by the Israelis managed to alienate the population they had partially charmed with their ‘good fence’ policy.88

[B]Other foreign powers

Besides Syria and Israel, a many other states were active in Lebanon. Most Arab states tried to counter the Syrian influence one way or another and therefore supported one or more parties. Egypt supported the Maronites to weaken both Syria and the Palestinians because they objected to the peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel. When it became clear that the Syrians were going to intervene in favour of the Maronites, President Sadat sent the PLA brigade stationed in Egypt to help the Palestinians against Syria.

The conservative Arab oil states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates supported the Maronites in what they saw as a struggle between the right and the international left. After the massacres by the Maronite militias, this support dried up however.89 Saudi Arabia would later play a very important role in peace negotiations, for instance, at the conference in Riyadh where the decision was taken to send the Arab Deterrent Force and especially later at the negotiations about the Ta’if Treaty which would end the civil war.

The most important Arab sponsors besides Syria were Iraq and Libya. Iraq supported the ALF and the pro-Iraqi Baath plus the National Movement as a whole. Libya mainly supported the PFLP and al-Murabitun (MIN).

Iran began supporting all kinds of Palestinian and Lebanese movements after its revolution, particularly Hezbollah and Tawhid. After the Israeli invasion, Iran sent a few hundred members of its Revolutionary Guards to the Bekaa Valley.90

Besides their indirect presence in Lebanon, troops from Arab states, among them Libya and Sudan, were represented in the ADF. The result was that a number of regional conflicts were fought in Lebanon. The fighting between the ALF and Amal, for instance, was connected to the Iraqi-Iranian war and Amal came to blows with al-Murabitun as well over the disappearance of Imam Musa al-Sadr in Libya. Pro-Syrian and pro-Iraqi organisations also clashed regularly. There was even an armed confrontation between Libyan and Sudanese troops of the ADF after the president of Sudan accused Libya of involvement in an attempted coup against him.91

The United States mostly played a part in the background at first, through its support to Israel and by mediation. From 1983 onward, the US started meddling in Lebanon directly. After the massacres in Sabra and Shatila another Multi National Force was sent to west Beirut. At the same time, the Americans were setting up a new Lebanese army. In September, US ships, among them the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower and the battleship USS New Jersey, took up positions near the Lebanese shores.92

Although the Americans claimed neutrality, they sided with the Maronites in the struggle between Maronites and Druze in the Shouf Mountains, with the battleship USS New Jersey carrying out heavy bombardments against Druze and Syrian positions. The response came in the form of bomb attacks against US targets in Lebanon. On 24 October 1983, 241 US Marines were killed in a bomb attack against their headquarters.93
In February of 1984, the American troops were withdrawn.

After the US withdrawal, Syria and Israel were left as the most important foreign powers in Lebanon. The struggle for dominance between those two powers will be discussed in the next chapter as this is closely connected to the rise of sectarian and fundamentalist parties among the Muslim population.

[B]Sectarianism and fundamentalism

Civil War continues

After the election of Amin Gemayel in September of 1982, the Maronite victory seemed complete. Gemayel appointed a Kataeb leader as commander of the army. A purge in the army’s ranks followed as officers with dissenting opinions were replaced by members and sympathisers of the Lebanese Forces. After the Israeli withdrawal from west Beirut, this ‘purged’ army took over and the Muslim militias were disarmed.

In May of 1983, Lebanon signed an agreement with Israel making an Israeli withdrawal conditional to a simultaneous withdrawal of Syrian troops. The Syrians had seen their influence reduced considerably after the Israeli invasion and considered this treaty a grievous infringement on their interests. Amal saw the treaty as a threat also. The Shi’ite movement considered it a way to divide Lebanon which they were determined to avoid at all costs.94 This drew them together with the Syrians. Meanwhile the Druze PSP was involved in heavy fighting with the Lebanese Forces which had profited from the Israeli invasion to establish themselves in the Shouf Mountains. On 14 May, even before the signing of the Lebanese-Israeli treaty, the National Salvation Front had been established. This front united staunch Syrian allies like Suleiman Frangieh, Rashid Karami and the pro-Syrian Baath with Walid Jumblatt’s PSP, the CPL and the SSNP. Their most important goals were trying to stop the ratification of the treaty as well as undermining the hegemony of the Kataeb.95

Syria was supplying weapons to the PSP and also started arming Amal. The fights in the Shouf reconciled the two traditionally hostile factions among the Druze under Walid Jumblatt’s leadership. After a couple of mutual massacres by Christians and Druze, there was a mass exodus of Christians from the Shouf. The Druze routed the LF and the Lebanese army and at the end of September, the Shouf was completely under Druze control. In west Beirut fights had broken out in August between the army on one side and Amal, al-Murabitun, the CPL, and the PSP on the other. The militias withdrew after the army promised it would use no violence. This promise was broken however: west Beirut was taken and the (Shi’ite) suburbs heavily bombed.

At the start of November of 1983, a conference was held in Geneva between Rashid Karami, Camille Chamoun, Suleiman Frangieh, Pierre Gemayel, Amin Gemayel, Adil Osayran (a Shi’ite za’im), Saeb Salam, Walid Jumblatt, and Nabih Berri (the leader of Amal).96 This was far from a representation of the warring parties or even the different religious groups. All of the Christians present were Maronites and only Jumblatt, Berri and Amin Gemayel had any military force. The only tangible result was that Amin Gemayel was sent to Washington to discuss the rescinding of the May treaty.97

In February of 1984, the army, together with the LF, attacked the Shi’ite southern suburbs of Beirut after months of bombardments of these suburbs and west Beirut. Nabih Berri called on the Shi’ites in the army to ignore orders. As a result of that the entire Shi’ite Sixth Brigade defected and Amal, supported by the PSP and al-Murabitun, took over west Beirut. On 5 February the government resigned.98

[B]Muslim intra-communal fighting

March saw the PSP and Amal routing al-Murabitun after some nasty street battles. The PSP and Amal were both armed by Syria. Al-Murabitun/MIN, which had been disarmed by the Lebanese army, was no match for either of them separately, let alone the two of them combined. The reason for the attack was probably the anti-Syrian position that al-Murabitun had taken from the Syrian invasion of 1976. The PSP and Amal also supported the anti-Arafat rebels inside Fatah and al-Murabitun was pro-Arafat. Amal had a few other reasons too. Al-Murabitun was supported by Libya which Amal still blamed for the disappearance of Musa al-Sadr.99 The MIN was also a competitor in recruiting Shi’ites. In April of 1985, Amal and the PSP attacked al-Murabitun again, which was accompanied by excesses against the Sunni civilian population, leading to tensions between Shi’ites and Sunnis.100

By April of 1984, the Syrian victory was complete. The treaty with Israel had been cancelled and a new pro-Syrian government was formed with Rashid Karami as prime-minster. However, when Pierre Gemayel died in Augustus 1984, it created a split between the Kataeb Party under Amin Gemayel and the Lebanese Forces under Samir Geagea. Geagea disagreed with the pro-Syrian direction the Kataeb had taken after April of 1984. In March of 1985, Geagea attacked Sidon which was controlled by a pro-Syrian coalition headed by Mustapha Saad. Saad counterattacked together with the PSP and Amal, defeating the LF and driving away the Christian population east and north of Sidon. After this defeat, Geagea was replaced by Elie Hobeika.101 Geagea and Hobeika were responsible for the murder of Tony Frangieh and his family. Hobeika was widely seen as the commander responsible for the massacres of Sabra and Shatila.

In May of 1985, Amal attacked the Palestinian camps in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Amal was a very strong opponent of the presence of armed Palestinians in Lebanon because the Shi’ites had always suffered hard from Israeli reprisals. Some guerrillas had returned to Beirut however. Syria was also strongly opposed to the armed Palestinian presence that was beyond its control. The attack had the adverse effect however of reconciling the different factions in al-Fatah that had clashed heavily in 1983. Moreover, Amal was not supported by the PSP this time, which went even let Palestinians fire at Amal from Druze positions.

The bloody fighting which flared up again in November of 1985 and April of 1986 (Amal’s siege of the camps lasted until 1988 and the fighting and starvation killed more people inside the camps than the LF had in Sabra and Shatila) also made more Palestinian fighters return to Lebanon to defend the camps.102 In 1985 heavy fighting broke out a couple of times between Amal and the PSP, which allowed Palestinians who had returned to join its ranks.103 Meanwhile, in east Beirut there were clashes between the Kataeb and the LF (see above).

In December of 1985, an agreement was reached in Damascus between Amal, the PSP and the Lebanese Forces. The only result however was that Elie Hobeika, who had signed the agreement on behalf of the LF, was ousted in a bloody coup by Samir Geagea, which was supported by Amine Gemayel. Hobeika withdrew to Zahle from where he would try to invade east Beirut several times supported by Syria.

[B]Aoun’s revolt/Ta’if Accord

In September of 1988, a new dimension was added to the conflict in Lebanon. A new president had to be elected because Amine Gemayel’s term of office was drawing to a close. Under extreme pressure by Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces, parliament rejected the candidate supported by Syria. At the very last moment (10 minutes before his term ended),104 Gemayel appointed army chief Michel Aoun prime-minister of a military government. The outgoing government of Salim al-Hoss which was supported by Syria considered itself the legal government of Lebanon.

This was an entirely new twist to the Lebanese Civil War. Though war had raged for thirteen years, and it had looked like division was inevitable, there had always been only one government, no matter how lacking in authority. In February of 1989, Aoun brought the area ruled by the LF under his control and on 14 March, he started his ‘war of liberation’ against the Syrians which was supported by the LF.105

The support that both Aoun and the LF received from Iraq summoned the fear of a direct confrontation between Syria and Iraq among the Arab states. On 26 May, the Arab League appointed a committee consisting of king Fahd of Saudi Arabia, king Hassan of Morocco and president Chadli Bendjedid of Algeria. This committee was charged with finding a political solution to the Lebanese crisis. On 22 September, the three heads of state managed to secure a ceasefire and from 30 September onward, 62 members of the Lebanese parliament met in Ta’if in Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the Arab League. These parliamentarians, consisting of as many Christians as Muslims, presented the Ta’if Accord on 22 October. Aoun rejected the Accord because it legitimised the Syrian presences.106 On 5 November, the accord was ratified by parliament and a new president was elected: René Muawwad. Muawwad however was murdered in west Beirut 17 days later. The killers, as with so many assassinations in Lebanon, have never been caught. On 24 November, Ilyas Hrawi was elected as his successor and he appointed Salim al-Hoss as his prime-minister.

Although Aoun continued to reject Ta’if, Samir Geagea accepted it. At the end of January, 1990, Aoun attacked the Lebanese Forces. In this fight, Aoun was supported by Syria.107 That proves again that Syria’s only goal in Lebanon was to make sure that no single party got the upper hand. The clashes lasted until May 1990 and killed 4000.108

Eventually Aoun was defeated by Syria in October of 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait had thoroughly changed the regional balance of power and Aoun fled to the French embassy. The Lebanese government asked for his extradition for embezzlement of state funds. On 27 August 1991, an agreement was reached giving Aoun amnesty. In exchange he had to leave the country within 48 hours and was not allowed to enter Lebanon nor be politically active for 5 years.109

[B]Causes for the rise of sectarianism

The Lebanese Civil War, which started in 1975 as mainly a conflict between left and right, changed to an increasingly sectarian conflict in the late 1970s and 1980s. Shi’ites fought Sunnis, Druze, Christians, and Palestinians. Druze fought Christians, Sunnis and Shi’ites. Sunnis fought Alawis (in Tripoli) and Christians, but were most of all defeated by Shi’ites and Druze. There were armed conflicts within the sectarian communities too however as there was a general tendency to solve every conflict with violence. A conflict between neighbours could result in clashes between two militias of two factions inside one militia.

How did this increasing sectarianism come about? A number of different factors was important here:

- The Maronites had a tendency to turn to sectarian parties long before the civil war. This was probably due to the migration into town (from Mount Lebanon and the Shouf) that took place in the 1950s for the Maronites. This loosened family ties and strengthened sectarian ones. This phenomenon would happen with the Shi’ites in the 1970s also.110
0 Moreover, the Maronites were in the position of a minority that clutches to power which increased the tendency to present a united front to the outside world. The fear for the Muslims (and especially their armed allies, the Palestinians) also strengthened that attitude because of massacres in the 19th century.111

- The leftist and Arab nationalist parties were ill-prepared at the outbreak of the civil war and mostly limited themselves to defending areas where they had many followers.112 This usually led to the creation of bastions in which a certain sectarian group dominated.

- On both sides there were splinter groups with radical sectarian agendas. On the right-wing Maronite side, for instance, there were the Guardians of the Cedars (Huras al-Arz). This organisation defended the killing of Palestinians by claiming it was done out of Christian charity. They were fighting the Evil inside them.113

On the side of the NM there were militias headed by qabadayat who were barely politicized. There were also Sunni fundamentalists like the Jamaa Islamiya (founded in 1964) with its militia al-Mujahidun that fought in Beirut and Tripoli.114 These groups, but also the Kataeb, killed randomly. At checkpoints civilians were dragged out of their cars and killed based on their identity cards which stated their religion.

- The attacks by the right-wing militias on the Muslim enclaves in east Beirut had an escalating effect. In these attacks, the mostly Shi’ite inhabitants were driven out and the same thing happened at Damour. Groups of uprooted and bitter refugees strengthened both camps. The Maronite militias did not limit their sectarian cleansing to Muslims either. After a failed attack by the NM/PLO from Kura, (mostly inhabited by Greek Orthodox Christians and where the SSNP and CPL were strong) the Kataeb counterattacked, killing, burning and looting monasteries and churches. The inhabitants fled to mostly Sunni Tripoli.115 At the end of the war of 1975-1976 there were 600,000 refugees including 500,000 Muslims and 30,000 Greek Orthodox Christians from Kura.116 The Lebanese Front refused to let non-Christians return to their homes. West Beirut however and other areas under control of the NM and later the Syrians kept their mixed populations. The area under control of the Maronite militias on the other hand was almost totally ‘cleansed’ of people of other sects.

- The demise of the National Movement strengthened sectarianism further. After Kamal Jumblatt was killed, the NM had been weakened considerably. Although his son Walid succeeded him as leader of the PSP as well as the NM, he was irreplaceable as Walid did not have his father’s charisma. As a result of that, the PSP became increasingly Druze in character. After Kamal Jumblatt’s death, Druze fighters killed over 140 Christians in the Shouf.117 This was very disturbing in itself. Walid Jumblatt was more interested in Druze history than in his father’s leftist policies.118 As a result of that, the NM had no strong, central leader who could arbitrate conflicts and the NM was only tied together by the alliance with the PLO. In other words, there was no longer a strong secular movement to counter the sectarian trend. Moreover, sectarian parties like Amal and fundamentalist parties like Hezbollah and especially Tawhid regularly attacked offices of the communist party who recruited from the same constituency.

- The Israeli invasion of 1982 had far-reaching consequences. The Palestinian fighters were driven out and the militias disarmed which created a power vacuum that was filled temporarily by the Lebanese army and later by Amal which was re-armed by Syria. The Israelis also allowed the Lebanese Forces into the Shouf Mountains. The Shouf, where Maronites and Druzes lived in the same villages, had stayed out of the civil war so far except for the killings that followed Kamal Jumblatt’s murder. Now Druze were humiliated and beaten at checkpoints. That made it a struggle for survival to the Druze.119 When the Israelis suddenly withdrew, without a neutral force to fill the vacuum, heavy fighting erupted. This was not just fight between political militias, but a life-and-death struggle between sectarian communities. As they advanced, the Druze uncovered evidence of massacres by the LF.120 The Druze in turn massacred Maronites and as a result, Maronites fled en masse from the advancing Druze fighters. Another area, besides the one controlled by the LF, had now been ethnically cleansed.

[B]The Shi’ites

The rise of Amal among the Shi’ites had a few other specific causes. The Shi’ite areas, Jabal Amil in the south and the Bekaa valley, had been severely neglected by the central government for a long time. This had created a created a steady stream of internal migration to Beirut and external migration to west Africa and the Arab oil states. The new inhabitants of Beirut usually ended up in the slums while the ones who went abroad maintained their ties with Lebanon and often returned wealthy.121

In 1974, Musa al-Sadr founded his Harakat al-Mahrumin and in 1975, the milita Amal. So far, the parties with the most followers among Shi’ites were the two communist parties: CPL and OCA. This changed during the course of the civil war however for the following reasons:

- The interests of the Shi’ites and the National Movement began to diverge. The Shi’ites had suffered severely during the civil war. The inhabitants of Qarantina were mostly Shi’ites and many Shi’ites lived in Tall az-Zaatar as well. Shi’ites fought in many of the militias also. Musa al-Sadr remarked that the NM was prepared to fight the Christians until the last Shi’ite.122

The interests diverged even more in the south. Here the NM, together with the PLO, was engaged in an intense struggle with Israel and Haddad’s militia. The mainly Shi’ite population was trapped between the warring parties and hundreds of thousands fled the area. Israel’s policies were aimed at driving a wedge between the Shi’ite population and the PLO. Many Shi’ites started to blame the increasing Israeli raids on the PLO for provoking those attacks by its presence. Israel capitalised on that by allowing local militias as long as they kept the Palestinians out of their villages. These militias merged with Amal which had the same policy.

- The disappearance of Musa al-Sadr in Libya in 1978 had a huge impact on the growth of Amal. An important part of the Shi’ite faith is the ‘Hidden Imam’. The Imams are the followers and descendants of Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed (imam is also the name for the person who leads the Muslims in prayer). The Twelfth Imam disappeared without a trace and it is believed that he shall return at the end of times as the Mahdi (Messiah). For the Shi’ites of Lebanon, Musa al-Sadr’s disappearance conjured up cultural memories of the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam. Amal’s leadership capitalised on that by not appointing a new chairman, but a vice-chairman. By his disappearance, Musa al-Sadr became a martyr and a stronger symbol than he ever had been while alive.

Another effect was that a deep rift appeared between Lebanon’s Shi’ites and the Libyan regime. The aversion to Qadhafi’s regime also had an impact on the relations with the NM which had parties supported by Libya (most notably the MIN/al-Murabitun).

- The revolution in Iran of 1979 boosted the Lebanese Shi’ites’ consciousness. For Amal it was an example of what a Shi’ite community can do but not a model to follow in Lebanon.123

What’s remarkable in Amal’s political program is how much emphasis there is on Lebanon. This can be explained from the fact that the Shi’ite community is divided into three geographically separate areas: Jabal Amil in the south, the Bekaa Valley and the suburbs of Beirut. If Lebanon were to be partitioned, the Shi’ite community would be divided. In a pan-Syrian or pan-Arab state on the other hand they would be a tiny minority (only Iraq has a sizeable Twelver Shi’ite population). That explains Amal’s emphasis on Lebanese independence, although they do recognise the Arab character of Lebanon.

Amal’s branches in the south, Beirut and Bekaa Valley did not always have the same interests and so did not always follow the same course. The southern branch considered the Israeli invasion of 1982 a liberation from the PLO’s presence which it saw as an occupation. Amal-south did not resist the invasion and even helped the invaders in tracking down Palestinian and Lebanese resistance fighters.124 In Beirut the situation was entirely different. Although there had been clashes there also between Amal and Palestinian groups (like the pro-Iraqi ALF) and NM militias, the Shi’ites in the suburbs still considered the Maronite militias their biggest enemy. Moreover, the Israelis had bombed Beirut heavily, not sparing the Shi’ite areas; therefore, Amal Beirut did fight the Israeli troops.

Amal’s following among the Shi’ites was eroded increasingly by fundamentalist groups after 1982. In July of 1982, a radical faction under Husain Musawi broke away from Amal. Musawi accused Amal’s leadership of collaborating with the Israelis and founded Islamic Amal.125 Hezbollah was also rising, which was supported by Iran. Its headquarters were in the Shaikh Abdullah barracks at Baalbek (in the Bekaa Valley) from 1983.126 The units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were also established in Baalbek.

[B]The Sunnis

The Sunnis had created no large national militia. Before I try to answer the question why not, I will first examine the militias there were.

The Lebanese Sunnis mainly live in the largest cities: Beirut, Tripoli in the north and Sidon in the south (plus the countryside of Akkar near Tripoli). The most important militia in Sidon was Maarouf and then Mustapha Saad’s pro-Libyan Nasserist People’s Organisation (NPO, see above). This party was in the NM which held Sidon together with the PLO. In 1976, the Syrians advanced on Sidon but walked into a PLO ambush and lost six tanks. It failed to capture Sidon in a second attack. Syrian troops then withdrew to positions overlooking the city.127

In 1982, the Israelis captured Sidon. Mustapha Saad became the leader of the local resistance against the Israeli. In January of 1985, his house was destroyed by a car bomb that left him blind. After the Israelis withdrew in February of 1985, the resistance, the People’s Liberation Army (a pro-Syrian coalition of mostly Sunni militias), took over the town. In March of 1985, Sidon was attacked by the LF (see above) which was defeated by Saad together with the PSP and Amal.

In July of 1991, the positions of the People’s Liberation Army were taken over by the Lebanese Army.128

[B]Tripoli: Tawhid

Tripoli had been taken by Syrian troops in 1976. A group called the People’s Resistance resisted the Syrian presence. The group was headed by Khalil al-Akkawi and was based at Bab at-Tabani, an entirely Sunni area bordered by the mountain Baal Muhsin which was inhabited by Alawis, some of whom were Syrian immigrants.129

The hostility of the People’s Resistance, which gradually moved from socialist to islamist in orientation, was based on the fact that the Syrians were obviously siding with the Alawis (the Syrian president and most of his closest associates are Alawis, although 60% of the population of Syria is Sunni and the Alawis are only about 8%). They turned Baal Muhsin into their headquarters and improved the position of the Alawis who were mostly among the lowest classes.

Khalil al-Akkawi himself put it like this: “Lorsque’en 1976 les syriens pénétrèrent dans Beyrouth a fin d’arrêter le déploiement c'est-a-dire entre membres de différentes organisations. Mais a Tripoli, il revêtit un aspect confessionel, parce que les syriens ont transformer Ba’al Mohsen, la montagne des alawites, en base de leur combat. Ensuite ils sont entrés dans la ville et ont mené une chasse à l’homme durant un ans et demi, période pendant la quell ils ont commis tout genre de meurtres et d’actes de terrorisme.”130 (When the Syrians entered Beirut in 1976, they stopped what was going on between members of different organisations. But in Tripoli it took on a confessional aspect because the Syrians transformed Baal Muhsin, the Alawite Mountain, into their base of operations. They then entered the city and conducted a manhunt that lasted a year and a half, during which period they committed all kinds of killings and acts of terrorism.)

The open support of the Syrians for the Alawi Arab Democratic Party (Hizb al-Arabi ad-Dimuqrati) and its militia, the Arab Knights, made the struggle in Tripoli increasingly sectarian. This was one of the reasons that the ideology of the People’s Resistance gradually moved to fundamentalism. Other causes were the weakness of the National Movement in Tripoli and the presence of fundamentalist splinter groups like the Jamaa Islamiya that was mainly active in Tripoli and Jundullah (Soldiers of God). Jundullah was founded in 1975 and active in the Abu Samma area of Tripoli.131

In 1982, Jundullah and the People’s Resistance merged to form Harakat at-Tawhid al-Islami (Islamic Unity Movement), usually called Tawhid.132 Its leader was Shaikh Said Shaaban. From the summer of 1981 onward, there were regular fights between the People’s Resistance (later called Tawhid), on one side and the Arab Knights, as-Sa’iqa and the Syrians on the other. Car bomb attacks were also frequently used by both sides. In July of 1983, the Syrians withdrew from Tripoli but maintained their presence around the city.

After the Syrian Muslim Brothers’ failed uprising in Hamaa (just over 100 km away as the crow flies) in early 1982, many of them fled to Tripoli, feeding the rising fundamentalism.

Besides clashes with the ADP, there were also conflicts between Tawhid and the leftist and secular parties. In October of 1983, 60 CPL members were murdered in a four day killing spree and 200 others given the choice to leave town or be killed too.133 The reason for this was the same as with Amal’s attacks on the communists: they recruited their followers from the same constituency. Moreover, their ideologies were diametrically opposed.

Many of Tawhid’s followers came from the working-class district of Bab at-Tabani and consisted mainly of the lowest classes amongst the Sunnis. Unemployment in Tripoli was rampant as a result of the closing down of factories because of the fighting. There were also a lot of Sunnis who had come to town from Akkar. Tawhid founded clinics in Bab at-Tabani and called for social and political reforms. Their leaders’ lifestyle was austere and they didn’t get rich at the expense of their followers.134

Tawhid’s ideology was characterised by the stress on unity between Sunnis and Shi’ites, which showed its ties with Iran and Islamic Amal and Hezbollah. Tawhid’s ideal however was a renaissance of the Sunni Khalifate which would institutionalise the Islamic authority instead of leaving it in the hands of a small group of religious experts like in Khomeini’s Iran. However, Tawhid was the only Sunni movement to stress an independent Lebanon instead of a pan-Arab state. This is most likely a result of the conflict with the Syrians who were considered occupiers in Tripoli. Tawhid explained the cooperation with the Shi’ites by pointing out that neither Sunnis nor Shi’ites have the majority in Lebanon and that they need to cooperate to guarantee the Islamic character of the state.135

After the fighting between the pro-Arafat faction and his opponents in al-Fatah (see above), the Arafat loyalists handed their heavy weaponry over to Tawhid, making it the strongest militia in Tripoli. Tawhid also controlled the harbour of Tripoli which was worth over 80,000 US dollars in customs-proceeds a month.136

In 1984 and 1985, there were regular clashes between Tawhid and the ADP’s Arab Knights. In September of 1985, there was a very heavy confrontation, after which Syria demanded that both parties hand in their heavy weaponry and let the Syrians take over. When Tawhid refused, the ADP and other pro-Syrian militias attacked, backed up by Syrian artillery, tanks and rockets. After 6 days, Tawhid seemed doomed after they ran out of ammunition but after Iranian mediation, an agreement was reached that Tawhid would surrender its heavy weaponry and the secular, pro-Syrian parties were again allowed to open offices in Tripoli. An Iranian delegation visited the city and pledged financial support to rebuild it.137 In June of 1986, there were clashes with the SSNP after Hezbollah had been clashing with the SSNP a few weeks before.

In December of 1986, fighting between Tawhid and the Syrians flared up again, after which the Syrians arrested a large number of Tawhid members. This was the end of Tawhid’s military power. The cooperation with Hezbollah continued though. In 1987 pamphlets were distributed in Beirut calling for an Islamic Republic and naming Shaikh Said Shaaban as one of the candidates for the presidency of such a republic, along with Hezbollah leader, Shaikh Mohammed Fadlallah, and two other Shi’ite leaders.138


In west Beirut, a large number of small militias were active, with some of them controlling only a few blocks. Many of them were barely politically motivated and consisted of a qabaday and his followers. There were also a lot of militias that were supported by or clients of Arab states.

The difference between organised criminals and militias wasn’t always clear either. Many militia members were drawn by the salary they earned and the possibility of looting rather than political motivation.139

The most important militia in west Beirut at the start of the war was al-Murabitun. In 1975, when there was a battle going on in Beirut for the control of the hotels (very important strategically because they were the highest buildings in town), al-Murabitun brought the other Nasserist party militias under its control. They were forced to merge with al-Murabitun; only the pro-Syrian Nasserists retained their independence.140
Al-Murabitun was not strong enough however to enforce its will upon all the other militias as the Kataeb had done in east Beirut. Al-Murabitun is often considered a Sunni militia, but it is better described as a Muslim militia. Its members were almost exclusively Muslim, mostly Shi’ites and Sunnis, but also some Druze.

There was a large gap between the Movement of Independent Nasserists’ ideology and the ideas of its constituency. The MIN called for the full implementation of the political program of the NM that had secularisation as an important issue. It refused to form a common front with the traditional leaders it meant to replace. Al-Murabitun replaced the traditional leaders in more than just the political sense because it was an important source of patronage in west Beirut. Besides militia members, it had staff at its headquarters, its radio station and its press service. The attacks by Amal changed al-Murabitun’s attitude toward secularism. The second attack in April of 1985, was accompanied by excesses against the Sunni population of west Beirut. This caused great tension between Shi’ites and Sunnis. Prime-minister Rashid Karami threatened to resign. Ibrahim Qulaylat (the MIN’s leader) who fled to Paris, published declarations by the Caliph Yazid; a deliberate provocation of the Shi’ites who consider Yazid the murderer of Imam Hussein, the prophet Mohammed’s grandson. After al-Murabitun was eliminated, new militias arose in the Sunni parts of west Beirut, like the 6 February Movement that was eliminated by Amal in June of 1986.141 On the basis of the disrupted relations between Sunnis and Shi’ites, a few very strongly anti-Shi’ite militias arose. One of them, the Islamic ‘Ulama Society, was headed by Abd al-Hafiz Qasim, whose speeches were broadcast by the Voice of Arab Lebanon, al-Murabitun’s radio station. Another Sunni fundamentalist leader even claimed it is legal, according to Islamic law, to spill a Shi’ite’s blood.142


So then, why didn’t the Lebanese Sunnis manage to build a national militia? In a very real sense there were no Lebanese Sunnis. The Sunnis in Lebanon lived in three separate areas: Sidon and its environs, west Beirut and Tripoli with neighbouring Akkar. In the first chapter, I have already shown that the interests of the Sunnis of Beirut did not always coincide with those of the Sunnis of Tripoli or Sidon. Moreover, there was a fierce rivalry between the zu’ama of Beirut and Tripoli for the prime-ministership.

The differences between the three regions were amplified by the very different circumstances in these cities during the civil war. Tripoli was dominated by the Syrian occupation from 1976. The differences between Christians and Muslims barely played a part here, rather, there was the difference between Sunnis and Alawis and the difference between Lebanese and Syrian, partly because some of the Alawis had come from Syria. It is telling that Tawhid focused on Lebanon instead of the Arab World. The traditional leader of Tripoli, Rashid Karami, lost a lot of influence because of his pro-Syrian attitude. Tawhid capitalised on that and took over a lot of his clientele among the lowest classes. By founding clinics and providing jobs (as militia members) it acted, like most militias, as a kind of super-za’im.

Sidon was occupied by Israeli troops from 1982 to 1985. This meant that, like in Tripoli, there was a common enemy. The local leaders, member of parliament, Nazih Bizri, (an ally of Saeb Salam) and militia leader, Mustapha Saad, (son of the former member of parliament, Maarouf Saad), capitalised on that. Although Mustapha Saad was the leader of the People’s Liberation Army, Nazih Bizri maintained his influence because he resisted the Israeli occupation also. While in Tripoli, Syria was considered the main enemy, while in Sidon, Syria was considered an ally and a pro-Syrian coalition was formed. There were no sectarian tensions either, as the local Christians participated in the struggle against Israel.

West Beirut was divided; although there was a common enemy here too - the Lebanese Forces - they were not present as an occupation force. When after the withdrawal of the Israeli troops, the Lebanese army took over west Beirut, there was a concerted uprising by Druze, Shi’ites and Sunnis. Quickly, it became clear though, that Amal did not allow any competition. This meant a Shi’ite domination of west Beirut, and as a result many Sunnis started viewing the Shi’ites as enemies. Although this resulted in a rising fundamentalism amongst the population, they were not susceptible for Tawhid’s ideology which stresses unity between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Another important reason for the division amongst the Sunnis was that most of them were Arab nationalists. The paradox was that this pursuit of unity among the Arab countries resulted in division. The division of the Arab world was projected onto the Lebanese Sunnis who organised in pro-Iraqi, pro-Syrian, pro-Libyan, pro-Egyptian, and pro-Saudi parties, all of which were supported by the countries whose political line they followed.

[B]Old vs. New

Yet these factors in themselves are not sufficient explanations in themselves. The Shi’ites of Lebanon were geographically divided into three areas as well: the south, the Bekaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut. Arab nationalism had many followers among the Shi’ites as well. Many Shi’ites were members of the MIN as well as the pro-Syrian and pro-Iraqi Baath. The ALF and the PFLP also had many Shi’ite members.143

There were however major differences between the Sunni and Shi’ite situation. Even before the civil war, the Shi’ites were turning away from their traditional leaders much more than the Sunnis. This process sped up during the civil war. The traditional Shi’ite leaders had nothing to offer the Shi’ites of west Beirut because they had no influence there. Neither could they give the Shi’ites in southern Lebanon what they wanted more than anything: protection against the Israeli raids. In addition to that, there was the general neglect of the Shi’ite areas and the underrepresentation of the Shi’ites in parliament and the bureaucracy. The zu’ama were succeeded by Amal and later, partially by Hezbollah, which formed a national za’im of sorts. One of the reasons for Hezbollah’s success is the amount of money pumped into it by Iran. This means Hezbollah can pay its militia members well and can offer financial and medical assistance in impoverished regions.144

In the Sunni areas, the zu’ama were replaced by political parties far less. Although they did not represent military power, they could maintain their positions by other means. In Sidon, Nazih Bizri could keep his position by his opposition to the Israelis and the moral authority that came with that. In west Beirut, the zu’ama seemed to be losing territory to al-Murabitun in the first phase of the civil war. After Kamal Jumblatt’s death, some of them managed a comeback. Saeb Salam still had the Maqasid Society’s institutions which were supported financially by Saudi Arabia. This meant he could still distribute favours. It also meant he was capable of maintaining his independence of the political new order after the Israeli invasion. Salam condemned the election of Bashir Gemayel. This increased his moral authority among the Sunni population of west Beirut.145 Saeb Salam kept his distance from Syria as well however. When the Syrian influence was increasing from the end of 1983, he lost ground again. Salam’s position as representative of Beirut was gradually taken over by Salim al-Hoss. Al-Hoss was a banker who had been prime minister from 1976-1980, though he was not a member of parliament. The patron-client system still existed, though new leaders arose.

In Tripoli, Rashid Karami lost ground to Tawhid by his pro-Syrian position. On the other hand, this position was the reason he became prime minister a few times. It is impossible to say whether he still had the support of his constituency, however. There were no elections between 1972 and 1992, and on 1 June 1987, Rashid Karami was killed when the army helicopter he was travelling in exploded in mid-air. His political role was taken over by his brother Omar.146

The fact that in Tripoli a radical movement could build up so much power is connected to the fact that it had many Sunni migrants from Akkar, which meant the same factors that played a part in the radicalisation of the Beirut Shi’ites were in play there.

It is not true though that the rejection of traditional leaders among the Shi’ites automatically led to the formation of a strong sectarian militia. Coincidence played a major part in this, in the form of the disappearance of Musa al-Sadr and the Iranian Revolution.

It is important to realise that the extent to which the other religious communities were united can easily be overestimated. The Maronites have been divided into the area controlled by the Lebanese Forces and the area controlled by Suleiman Frangieh since 1978. After Pierre Gemayel’s death, the LF clashed with his son, Amin, and later there was a conflict between followers of Geagea and those of Hobeika. The fragmentation continued under Aoun who had his own followers.

The unity among the Shi’ites was short-lived too. By now Hezbollah has become an important factor. A few independent leaders arose alo, like Hussein al-Husseini, a former Amal leader.

[B]Developments after Ta’if

Changing balance of power

In the previous chapter I mentioned the Ta’if Accord that ended the war. This accord was an elaboration of the National Pact. The basic structure remained the same: the president would still be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shi’ite. The balance of power between them was changed however. Parliament’s power was increased at the expense of the president’s. Parliament would now have sole power to send ministers or the whole government home. Before Ta’if, the president also had this prerogative. The prime minister is now appointed by the president after binding discussions with parliament, whereas before, those same discussions were non-binding.

The increase of power for parliament means that the speaker of parliament is more powerful too. The speaker’s position was further strengthened by the fact he is now elected every four years instead of every year.

The prime minister’s position was also strengthened at the expense of the president’s power. The prime minister now forms a government after non-binding talks with parliament. Before, the government was formed by the prime-minister together with the president, with the latter having the final say according to the constitution. Executive power has shifted from the president to the council of ministers, which is chaired by the prime minister.147

The balance of power inside parliament changed also. In Ta’if, it was decided to increase the number of seats in parliament from 99 to 108. The ratio of Christians to Muslims was now to be 5 to 5 instead of 6 to 5. The ratio of seats between the Christian groups remained unchanged. For Muslims, the number of seats was raised: from 20 to 22 for the Sunnis, from 19 to 22 for the Shi’ites, from 6 to 8 for the Druze, and from 0 to 2 for the Alawites.148 That meant that there were 9 new seats to distribute. Quite a few members of the 1972 parliament (the last time there had been elections) had been murdered or had died of natural causes. On 7 June 1991, the government appointed 40 new members in their place.149 This partially new parliament adopted a new electoral law on 16 July 1992, increasing the number of seats again, this time to 128.150

Here is a table of the changes in the distribution of seats in parliament. To make the changes in the balance of power clearer, I have mentioned the percentage of seats for every sect.151

| 1972 | Ta'if | 1992
Maronites | 30 = 30.3% | 30 = 27.8% | 34 = 26.5%
Greek Orthodox | 11 = 11.1% | 11 = 10.2% | 14 = 10.9%
Greek Catholic | 6 = 6.1% | 6 = 5.6% | 8 = 6.3%
Armenian Orthodox | 4 = 4.0% | 4 = 3.7% | 5 = 3.9%
Armenian Catholic | 1 = 1.0% | 1 = 0.9% | 1 = 0.8%
Protestant | 1 = 1.0% | 1 = 0.9% | 1 = 0.8%
Christian Minorities | 1 = 1.0% | 1 = 0.9% | 1 = 0.8%
Sunnis | 20 = 20.0% | 22 = 20.4% | 27 = 21.1%
Shi’ites | 19 = 19.2% | 22 = 20.4% | 27 = 21.1%
Druze | 6 = 6.1% | 8 = 7.4% | 8 = 6.3%
Alawite | 0 = 0.0% | 2 = 1.8% | 2 = 1.6%
| 99 seats | 108 seats | 128 seats
Table 1: Seats in parliament

From this table it is clear that the influence of the Maronites in parliament has decreased; however, they remain the largest group. With the new electoral law, the percentage of seats for the Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, and Druze was back to about the same as before the war and the influence of the Shi’ites and Sunnis increased at the expense of the Maronites and the smaller sectarian groups. According to figures by the Minority Rights Group, the population figures in 1984 were as follows:

Maronites | 25.2%
Greek Orthodox | 7.0%
Greek Catholic | 4.2%
Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic | 4.9%
Other Christians | 1.4%
Sunnis | 21.0%
Shi’ites | 30.8%
Druze | 5.6%
Table 2: Population152

These are estimates however, there are no hard figures. On the basis of these figures, it can be supposed that the Shi’ites are still underrepresented in parliament, despite of the fact their influence has increased. This is due to the fact that the rest of Lebanon fears a parliament dominated by Shi’ites. Pressure from Saudi Arabia has also been a factor. The representation of the Sunnis and the Druze is roughly proportionate to their numbers. The Christians are still overrepresented in parliament, although from these figures you would have to conclude that it is not the Maronites, but the Greek Orthodox and the Greek Catholics rather, who are overrepresented. The power of the Maronites has been greatly reduced by the reduced power of the president. The increased power of the prime minister means that the power of the Sunnis has increased.

[B]Enforcing the accord

The Saudi and Syrian influence on the Ta’if Accord was great. The Saudi pressure is one of the main reasons that the power of the Shi’ites is still limited and that the power of the Sunnis has increased. The pressure by the Syrian regime, which is dominated by Alawites, has resulted in the overrepresentation of the Alawites in parliament.153
The Saudi’s could bring a lot of pressure to the table because both Lebanon and Syria depend on Saudi financial support.

It is striking that the sectarian groups with the strongest militias have done relatively bad. The Maronites had to give up a lot of their power and the Shi’ites saw their power increased but they are still underrepresented. Nothing much changed for the Druze. That the accord was enforced after all is due to the division amongst the Maronites and the changes in the Middle

East after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The division amongst the Maronites between Hobeika’s militia, Aoun’s followers and Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces meant that Syria could play the Maronites against each other. Hobeika was depending on Syrian support and accepted the accord. The Lebanese Forces had been seriously weakened by Aoun and accepted it as well. That meant that among the Maronites, Aoun was the only opponent left. Aoun however depended on Iraqi support. After the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was not able to focus on Lebanon, and Syria got the green light by Saudi Arabia and the US to defeat Aoun.

On the Shi’ite side, Amal accepted Ta’if. Amal had called for the restoration of the power of the Lebanese state154 and it was therefore no surprise that the militia accepted it. Hezbollah’s goal is an Islamic State, but it was weakened because the Iranian support had decreased after bloody fighting between Amal and Hezbollah in 1988.155 Moreover, Hezbollah’s headquarters is in the Bekaa Valley, which made it hard for them to fight the accord.

[B]Militias and foreign troops

In the Ta’if Accord there was a timetable for the disarmament of the militias. This would commence six months after the accord took effect. After two years the Syrian troops would withdraw to the Bekaa Valley. The accord took effect in September of 1990, when parliament adopted constitutional changes based on int. The disarmament of the militias commenced in April of 1991 and went well, although both the PSP and the Lebanese Forces partially handed over their weapons to the countries that had armed them: Syria and Israel respectively.156 In July of 1992, some buildings that had been occupied by militias were taken over by the Lebanese army, among them the headquarters and the television station of the Lebanese Forces.157 At the same time, Hezbollah’s headquarters, the Sheikh Abdallah barracks in Baalbek, was taken over by the army.158 The fact that Hezbollah cooperated with its disarmament is tied to the decision to participate in the elections.

The Syrian withdrawal that Ta’if mentioned also, did not take place. In an interview in July of 1993, the Lebanese prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, tied this withdrawal to the build-up of the Lebanese army. He claimed he would ask the Syrians to withdraw as soon as he was ready (and that they would leave when he did).159

In southern Lebanon, Israel still occupies a strip of land, which it describes as a ‘security zone’. In this area there are about 1000 Israeli soldiers and security service members. There are also about 3000 members of the Israeli puppet militia, the South Lebanese Army. To the north of them there are 5764 UNIFIL soldiers.160 The area occupied by Israel is about 10% of the Lebanese territory. The Israeli and SLA soldiers in the area are attacked regularly by Palestinian and Lebanese guerrillas, particularly Hezbollah, but also Amal and the SSNP.

The problem in the south is that Israel considers the attacks a reason to carry on with the occupation, while Hezbollah and the other groups consider the occupation a reason to continue their attacks. This means the prospects for peace in southern Lebanon are still not good.

The boycott

The new electoral law adopted in July of 1992, paved the way for elections. These were to be held in three phases: on 23 August, in the north and the Bekaa Valley, on 30 August, in Beirut and Mount Lebanon and on 6 September, in the south. Christian (mostly Maronite) leaders called for a boycott and demanded that Syria withdraw its troops first. The Kataeb, the Lebanese Forces, Aoun’s followers, and two other Maronite parties supported the boycott. In the end the Maronite participation in the elections was limited to Eli Hobeika’s pro-Syrian Wa’d (Promise) Party, Suleiman Frangieh (ex-president Suleiman Frangieh’s grandson) and a few independents and SSNP-members. Some Sunni candidates, including Tamam Salam (Saeb Salam’s son), joined in the boycott, but apart from them it was mostly Maronite. Hezbollah’s participation was remarkable because the party had refused to participate in the government. Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, explained the participation by pointing out the differences between being part of the government and being in parliament. He further said that Hezbollah would use all means possible to make sure that the Lebanese state would support the resistance; that is, the resistance to the Israeli occupation.161

[B]The new electoral system

The new electoral law of 1992 changed the electoral districts. The old situation was as follows: Lebanon was divided into electoral districts. Each of those districts had a certain number of seats with the number of seats for each religious sect set. A Sunni candidate only ran against other Sunni candidates and not against candidates from other sectarian groups. The voter had as many votes as there were seats in his district and voted for one of the candidates of his own sect, but also for a candidate for all the other groups. For instance, one of the four districts in Beirut had five seats. Four of them were reserved for Sunnis, one of them for a Greek Orthodox candidate. The voter in that district had one vote for each of the Sunni candidates plus one vote for a Greek Orthodox candidate, no matter what his own religion was. In practice, however, many districts were homogenous. In Tyre, for instance, there were only seats for Shi’ite candidates.

In the new electoral law of 1992, new, bigger electoral districts were introduced in some parts of Lebanon. In Mount Lebanon the old situation continued. In the Bekaa Valley the number of districts was reduced from 5 to 3. In the south, the north and in Beirut itself, there is now only one electoral district. These electoral districts are divided into sub-districts. The candidate enrols in one sub-district and competes with other candidates (from the same sectarian group) who have enrolled in that sub-district. The voter has as many votes as there are seats in the entire district and can therefore vote for candidates in other sub-districts too. The winning candidate is the person who gets the most votes in the entire district, no matter if he has the most votes from his own sub-district and his own sectarian group. This means, for instance, that a Sunni candidate running for the sub-district of Sidon will win the elections if he gets the most votes in the district of south Lebanon.

The enlargement of the electoral district has a dual purpose:

Decreasing sectarianism. In the new districts the population is not limited to one or two sectarian groups as was the case in the old system. The result of this mix of sectarian groups is that radically sectarian candidates stand less of a chance. A Christian, for instance, will probably not vote for a Sunni fundamentalist but vote for his Sunni opponent.
Decreasing the influence of the patron-client system. By enlarging the electoral districts, the number of voters inside a district was made considerably larger, thereby decreasing the importance of personal ties and increasing that of ideologies.

This elaborate electoral system is the result of a compromise between a reformist current in parliament that wanted to do away with districts altogether and wanted a system of proportional representation and a conservative current that wanted to maintain the old districts.

In Lebanon it is customary that the zu’ama enter into an alliance before the elections. This means they make a list with names of candidates of different sectarian groups in one electoral district. The idea is that the follower of one of those zu’ama will also vote for the other candidates on the list. The enlargement of the districts has strengthened this tendency because many candidates are only known locally or within their own sectarian group. The lists offer a possibility to combine the followings of these local leaders.

The election results162

In the north, where 11 of the 27 Sunni seats were, there were two lists: the ‘official list’ headed by Omar Karami and Suleiman Frangieh and the list for ‘change’ headed by Ahman Karami (Omar’s cousin). Omar Karami’s list won 9 of the 11 Sunni seats; the other went to the fundamentalist al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya. Ahmad Karami’s list of change only won 1 of the total: a Greek Orthodox seat. Most of the Sunni MP’s elected were members of traditional leading families except the two members of al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya and one member of the SSNP on Omar Karami’s ‘official’ list.

In Beirut, with 6 Sunni seats, there were several lists. The most important ones were prime minister Rashid al-Solh’s ‘official’ list (with four government ministers on it) and former prime minister, Salim al-Hoss’ list of ‘Salvation and Change’. Al-Hoss’ list had a couple of names of reformists, including the president of the League for Human rights (a Christian) and among the Sunnis, al-Hoss himself, who was considered a technocrat of integrity, and Osama al-Fakhuri who had been in the National Movement as an independent. Al-Hoss’ list was elected in its entirety but it had some blank spots: there were only 3 Sunni candidates on it. Of the other 3 seats, 2 went to fundamentalist parties and one to Rashid al-Solh.

In the south, where the 2 seats in Sidon and 1 of the 5 seats for Marjayoun were Sunni, Amal leader Nabih Berri’s list for ‘Liberation’ was elected entirely at the expense of former speaker of parliament, Kamal al-Asaad’s list, a grouping of traditional southern leaders. Berri’s list had only one candidate for the two Sidon seats, which went to Bahia al-Hariri, sister of multi-billionaire (and later prime minister), Rafik al-Hariri. The other seat went to Mustapha Saad and his Nasserist People’s Organisation. The rest of the Sunni seats are spread out over areas where they are a small minority and don’t have any independent leadership.

[B]Renewal or continuity?

So did these elections represent a break with the patron-client system for the Sunnis? If we are looking at the north, it is safe to answer no. Out of 11 seats, only 3 went to political parties with the others going to members of prominent families. Things are different for Beirut. Of the 6 Sunnis elected here, only 2 represent a party. Of the others, 3 are members of prominent families: al-Hoss, al-Fakhuri and al-Solh. However, only Rashid al-Solh can be considered a tradition za’im while al-Hoss and al-Fakhuri are considered reformists. In Sidon, a woman was elected with the highest number of votes in the south after Nabih Berri. This is an adaptation in the patron-client system so that women can be zu’ama now, rather than a break with the system. The other seat in Sidon went to Mustapha Saad, a party and militia leader as well as a traditional leader which was hardly a clean break with the patron-client system either.

A total of 9 out of 27 seats went to political parties. It is remarkable, however, that those 9 seats went to 7 different parties, the largest being al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya with 3 seats; the Sunni community remains divided. All the parties predate the war, but only two of them, the PSP and the Union of Working Forces, were represented in parliament.

All things considered, there was a bit of renewal. Although only 1 in three seats went to political parties, this is still an increase: in the years 1964, 1968 and 1972 an average of 15% of the Sunni seats went to political parties.163 Besides, some of the non-party members can be considered reformists also.


The Lebanese civil war was a battlefield for all kinds of internal and external conflicts, all being played out on the same stage simultaneously. Behind every armed confrontation (and every bomb attack) there were a number of different conflicts and coinciding interests. This makes the Lebanese civil war one of the most complex, but also fascinating episodes in the history of the modern Middle East; although I’m sure that most Lebanese would have preferred to live in less fascinating times.

In this article I have looked at the civil war from the point of view of the Sunni community. I started out with two questions: why didn’t the Sunnis build a strong militia like the other major religious groups (the Shi’ites and the Maronites) and why did this lack of a strong military power not result in loss of power for the Sunnis?

As we’ve seen, the reasons for the failure to build a strong militia were that the Sunnis lacked a sense of coherence, both for reasons of geography and different circumstances during the war but also because they lacked a sense of coherence as Lebanese Sunnis but focused instead on larger unity (the Arab world) or the region.

Another factor is that the Sunnis did not have as much to lose in the war as the Maronites who had a share of power that was much bigger than what was justifiable because of their number, nor did they have as much to gain as the Shi’ites whose share of power was much smaller than it should have been. The Sunni had a share in power that was about right for their number.

A very important reason is the fact that the Sunnis had turned away from their traditional leaders far less than the Shi’ites (or the Maronites before them). The Sunni zu’ama still had something to offer their followers, as opposed to the Shi’ite zu’ama who had lost their grip on their followers by urbanisation and by the insecurity in southern Lebanon.

The lack of military power did not lead to a loss of political power for the Sunnis. On the contrary, they now have an even larger percentage of seats and the Sunni prime minister is a more powerful figure. This is a result of the pressure exercised by the Saudis and the Syrian desire to maintain the status quo. As a result of the division in the Maronite camp during the negotiations on and the signing of the Ta’if Accord and the change in the balance of power in the Middle East after the Gulf War, Syria managed to get the Accord accepted.

The Ta’if Accord and the new electoral law of 1992 are attempts to renovate the Lebanese state within the framework of the National Pact. This has resulted in a half-hearted compromise that retained the sectarian system while at the same time trying to decrease sectarianism by enlarging the electoral districts.

The paradox of the situation of the Lebanese Sunnis is that the causes of their weakness and those of their ultimate strength are identical. Despite the division among the Sunnis, there have not been bloody street battles for power within the Sunni community as there have been among the Maronites and the Shi’ites. This is a result of the fact there wasn’t much of a common cause and therefore no reason to present a common front to the outside. The close ties with the rest of the Arab world have had positive and negative effects. Although these ties increased the division, they have also resulted in the preservation and even the increase of the power of the Sunni community by the pressure that the Arab League and especially Saudi Arabia exerted.


1 Norton, Augustus Richard, Amal and the Shi’a, Struggle for the Soul of Lebanon (Austin 1987), p. 136.

2 Petran, Tabitha, The Struggle Over Lebanon (New York 1987) p. 33 and Cobban, Helena, The Making of Modern Lebanon (London 1985) p. 70-71.

3 Rizq, Rizq, Rashid Karami – as-siyasi wa rajul ad-dawla (Beirut year unknown) p. 62-64 and Petran, Struggle p. 50-51.

4 Petran, Struggle p. 51.

5 Mansfield, Peter, The Arabs (Second edition) (Harmondsworth, UK 1985) p. 258-264.

6 Petran, Struggle p. 55-56 and Azmeh, Aziz al, The Progressive Forces, in: Owen, Roger (Ed.) Essays on the Crisis in Lebanon (London 1976) p. 62

7 Norton, Augustus Richard, Lebanon after Ta’if: is the civil war over? in Middle East Journal (Summer 1991) p. 463

8 Fiches du Monde Arabe (Beirut/Nicosia 1976-1983) I-L30, 10-12-1980 No 1762 and Johnson, Michael, Class & Client in Beirut – The Sunni Muslim Community and the Lebanese State 1840-1985 (London 1986) p. 26-27.

9 Johnson, Class & Client p 100.

10 Ibid. p. 49-50.

11 Rizq, Karami p 15 and 21

12 Johnson, Michael, Factional Politics in Lebanon: The case of the ‘Islamic Society of Benevolent Intentions’ (Al Maqasid) in Beirut. in: Middle Eastern Studies (January 1978) p. 57.

13 Ibid. p. 60.

14 Ibid. p64.

15 Johnson, Class & Client p. 82-83 and Petran, Struggle p. 35-36.

16 Johnson, Class & Client p. 141 and Azmeh, Aziz al, Progressive Forces p. 63 and Salibi, Kamal S, Crossroads to Civil War, Lebanon 1958-1976 (New York 1976) p. 11.

17 Johnson, Class & Client p. 84.

18 Ibid. p. 178.

19 Ibid. p. 151.

20 Ibid. p. 167-169.

21 Eickelman, Dale F, The Middle East, An Anthropological Approach (Second Edition) (New Jersey 1989) p. 219.

22 Johnson, Class & Client p. 171.

23 Cobban, Making p.116-117.

24 Johnson, Class & Client p. 122

25 Petran, Struggle p. 72, 125 and 163 and Norton, Amal p. 137.

26 The whole section on political parties is based on Chamussy, René, Chronique d’une Guerre – Le Liban 1975-1977 (Paris 1978) p. 212-224 and Odeh, B J, Lebanon: Dynamics of Conflict – A Modern Political History (London 1985) p. 213-217 unless stated otherwise.

27 Petran, Struggle p. 41-42 and 51.

28 Ibid. p. 42-45 and Cobban, Making p 67-68.

29 Petran, Struggle p. 47-48

30 Ismael, Tareq, The Arab Left (New York 1976) p. 62-70.

31 FMA I L41, 25-06-1979 No 1329.

32 Salabi, Crossroads p. 76.

33 Ibid. p. 77 and Johnson, Class & Client p. 168.

34 Petran, Struggle p. 122.

35 Chamussy, Chronique p.214.

36 Odeh, Lebanon p 213.

37 FMA I-L41, 25-06-1979 No 1329.

38 Johnson, Class & Client p.179-180.

39 Petran, Struggle p. 125

40 Johnson, Class & Client p. 179-180.

41 Estimates 1970 FMA I-L20, 08-10-1980 No 1710. Estimate in camps 1970: Cooley, John K, The Palestinians in: Haley, P Edward/Snider, Lewis W (Ed.) Lebanon in Crisis – Participants and Issues (Syracuse, NY 1979) p. 115. UNRWA figures and estimates based on them: FMA I-L20, 08-10-1980 No 1710. Estimates 1982, Cobban, Helena, The Palestinian Liberation Organisation – People, Power and Politics (Cambridge 1984) p. 9

42 FMA I-L16, 24-09-1980 No 1698.

43 Quandt, William/Jabber, Fuad/Moseley Lesch, Ann, The Politics of Palestinian Nationalism (Berkely 1973) p. 65 and Cobban, PLO p.23 and 33.

44 Cobban, PLO p. 161.

45 Ibid. p. 157.

46 Ibid. p. 163 and Quandt/Jabber/Moseley Lesch, Palestinian Nationalism p. 67.

47 Cobban, PLO p. 12 and Chamussy, Chronique p. 225-226.

48 Ismael, Arab Left p. 157.

49 Quandt/Jabber/Moseley Lesch, Palestinian Nationalism p. 66.

50 Cobban, PLO p. 149-152.

51 FMA I-L15, 28-09-1983 No 2304.

52 Ibid.

53 Petran, Struggle p. 75-76 and 103-104.

54 Ibid. p. 107-108.

55 FMA I-L18, 05-10-1983 No 2311.

56 FMA I-L19, 12-10-1983 No 2314 and Petran, Struggle p.144-145.

57 FMA I-L19, 12-10-1983 No 2314.

58 Ibid.

59 Petran, Struggle p. 145-146 and FMA I-L39, 18-12-1976 No 429 and I-L41, 25-06-1979 No 1329.

60 Petran, Struggle p. 151.

61 Ibid. p. 183-184 and Salibi, Crossroads p. 149.

62 Petran, Struggle p. 199.

63 Ibid. p. 220.

64 Minority Rights Group (MRG) Report nr. 61 p. 15.

65 Gilmour, David Lebanon, The Fractured Country (Revised edition) (London 1987) p. 160

66 Cobban, Making p.184-185.

67 Petran, Struggle p. 283 and MRG Report nr. 61 p 16.

68 Petran, Struggle p. 343

69 Johnson, Class & Client p. 71.

70 Petran, Struggle p. 173.

71 Ismael, Arab Left p. 70 and 90.

72 FMA I-L39, 18-02-1976 No 429.

73 Cooley, Palestinians p. 36.

74 Chamussy, Chronique p. 219 and 230.

75 Cobban, Making p. 126

76 al-Muslimun fi Lubnan wa-al-Harb al-Ahliya, (edited by) Dar al-Fatwa (Beirut 1978) p. 92, 262, 269 and 276.

77 Cobban, PLO p. 156 and FMA II-P8, 0804-1981 No 1866.

78 Hudson, Michael, The Palestinian Factor in the Lebanese Civil War in: Middle East Journal (Summer 1978) p. 272.

79 Johnson, Class & Client p. 192.

80 Rabinovich, Itamar, The Limits of Military Power: Syria’s Role in: Haley, P Edward/Snider, Lewis W (Ed.) Lebanon in Crisis – Participants and Issues (Syracuse, NY 1979) p. 60.

81 Cobban, PLO p. 71 and FMA II-P6, 09-07-1980 No 1633.

82 Petran, Struggle p. 201.

83 Corm, Georges, Geopolitique du Conflit Libanais – Etude Historique et Sociologique (Paris 1986) p. 141 and Kuderna, Michael, Christliche Gruppen im Libanon: Kampf um Ideologie und Herrschaft in Einer unfertigen Nation (Wiesbaden 1983) p. 226-230.

84 FMA I-L1, 14-09-1983 No 2289.

85 Petran, Struggle p. 206.

86 FMA I-L1, 14-09-1983 No 2289.

87 Petran, Struggle p 371.

88 Ibid. p. 373 and MRG Report nr. 61 p. 17-18.

89 Bannerman, M Graeme, Saudi Arabia in: Lebanon in Crisis p. 125.

90 Petran, Struggle p. 353.

91 Cooley, Palestinians p. 43.

92 Petran, Struggle p. 327.

93 Ibid. p. 329.

94 Norton, Amal p. 97 and Bailey, Clinton, Lebanon’s Shi’a After the 1982 War in: Kramer, Martin (Ed.) Shi’ism, Resistance and Revolution (Boulder, Colorado 1987) p. 224.

95 Petran, Struggle p 313.

96 Ibid. p. 331 and Johnson, Class & Client p. 207.

97 Bailey, Lebanon’s Shi’a p. 225 and Petran, Struggle, p. 332

98 Bailey, Lebanon’s Shi’a p. 226 and Petran, Struggle, p. 348-349.

99 In August of 1991 Nabih Berri, then a government minister, resigned as a protest against a visit to Lebanon by the Libyan prime-minister: Egyptian Gazette 01-09-1991 in Actueller Informationsdienst Moderner Orient (1983-1992).

100 Arab News 21-04-1985 and Jordan Times 21-04-1985 in AIMO and Johnson, Class & Client p. 212-213.

101 MRG Report nr. 61 p. 19.

102 Ibid. and Petran, Struggle p. 362-364.

103 Petran, Struggle p. 367.

104 L’Orient-le Jour 30-08-1991 in AIMO.

105 Ibid.

106 Ibid. and Norton, Lebanon after Ta’if p. 460-461.

107 Norton, Lebanon after Ta’if p. 467.

108 L’Orient-le Jour 30-08-1991 in AIMO.

109 Ibid.

110 Cobban, Making p. 116-117.

111 In 1860 an uprising by Maronite peasants against their Druze landlords turned to sectarian violence with Druze slaughtering Maronites. Christians were killed by Muslims in Damascus too.

112 Petran, Struggle p. 166.

113 Kuderna, Christliche Gruppen p. 201.

114 Bizri-Bawab, Dalal, Le Mouvement Ibad al Rahman et ses Prolongements à Tripoli in: Carré, Olivier/Dumont, Paul (Ed.), Radicalismes Islamiques Tome 1-Iran, Liban, Turquie (Paris 1985) p. 203.

115 Petran, Struggle p. 208.

116 Ibid. p. 227.

117 Cobban, Making p. 154.

118 Ibid. p. 183.

119 Ibid. p. 200.

120 Ibid. and Petran, Struggle p. 320-321.

121 Norton, Amal p. 23.

122 Ibid. p. 42.

123 Ibid. p. 57-58.

124 Bailey, Lebanon’s Shi’a p. 230

125 Norton, Amal p. 88

126 Jordan Times 28-07-1992 in AIMO.

127 Gilmour, Lebanon p. 139.

128 Jordan Times 17-02-1985 and Turkish Daily News 02-07-1991 in AIMO and MRG Report nr. 61 and Norton, Amal p. 137.

129 Bizri-Bawab, Ibad al Rahman p. 203 and Petran, Struggle p. 340-341.

130 Bizri-Bawab, Ibad al Rahman p. 203.

131 Odeh, Lebanon p. 216.

132 Bizri-Bawab, Ibad al Rahman p. 203.

133 Petran, Struggle p. 341.

134 Bizri-Bawab, Ibad al Rahman p. 212-213.

135 Sivan, Emmanuel, Islamic Radicalism: Sunni and Shi’ite in: Siva, Emmanuel/Friedman, Menachem, Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East (New York 1990) p. 55

136 Norton, Amal p. 138

137 Tehran Times 12-11-1987 in: AIMO.

138 Ibid. 03-11-1987 in: AIMO.

139 Johnson, Class & Client p. 182.

140 Aziz al-Azmeh, The Progressive Forces p. 71.

141 Norton, Amal p. 136-137.

142 Ibid.

143 Ibid. p.38.

144 Ibid. p.106 and Petran, Struggle p. 375.

145 Johnson, Class & Client p. 203-205.

146 Arab News 03-06-1991 in AIMO.

147 Norton, Lebanon after Ta’if p. 462-463.

148 Ibid.

149 Arab News 08-06-1991 in AIMO.

150 The reason it was decided to increase the number of seats every time, instead of redistributing the existing ones, is that in the latter case some zu’ama would lose their districts.

151 Figures for 1972 and the Ta’if Accord: Norton, Lebanon after Ta’if p. 463, figures for 1992: Bahout, Joseph, Liban: Les Elections Législatives de l’été 1992 in: Monde arabe Maghreb Machrek No 139 (January-March 1993) p. 59.

152 MRG Report No 61 p. 9

153 Norton, Lebanon after Ta’if p. 464.

154 Norton, Amal p 61.

155 Norton, Lebanon after Ta’if p. 471.

156 Arab News 26-04-1991 and 31-05-1991 in AIMO.

157 Ibid. 26-06-1991 in AIMO.

158 Jordan Times 28-06-1992 in AIMO.

159 Le Point 10-06-1993 p. 37.

160 Le Monde Dossiers & Documents No 212 July-August 1993 p. 10.

161 Jordan Times 01-07-1992 in AIMO.

162 All the information about the elections is from Bahout, Les élections p. 82-84. Bahout gives a list with for every seat the name, sect and possible party affiliation of the person who won the seat.

163 FMA I-L30, 10-12-1980 No 1762.

12-27-2010, 01:10 AM
Here's a story from the Lebanese press about one former member of Tawhid who was murdered Saturday in the Palestinian camp Ain al Hilweh, near Sidon. Located on the outskirts of the coastal city of Sidon, Ain al-Hilweh, like most other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, does not fall under the control of the Lebanese government but under that of local Palestinian armed factions.

The camp saw normal activity Sunday morning, one day after the body of Ghandi Sahmarani, a member in the disbanded Jund al-Sham Islamist group was found.

Security sources said that Sahmarani, who is a Lebanese citizen wanted by Lebanese authorities, was found hand cuffed, leg cuffed and struck by a sharp device on the head. Sahmarani who hasn’t shown up for a long time, used to live in the Taamir neighborhood, which lies to the north of the camp, and which is considered a stronghold for Salafi Islamists. The area falls under the influence of Osbat al-Ansar, an Islamist group.

The fugitive was a member of Al-Tawhid al-Islami movement in the 1980’s, during which he participated in the fierce battles that broke out between the movement and the Syrian Army in Tripoli. He left Tripoli in 1987 and moved to Sidon where he joined a number of fundamentalist movements including Osbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham. After the disbandment of Jund al-Sham, Sahmarani joined Fatah al-Islam.

Sahmarani reportedly sheltered a number of Islamists who fled the northern Dinnieh district after taking part in the clashes that erupted between their comrades and the Lebanese Army in the district in 2000.

As a member of Jund al-Sham, the group fought the Lebanese Army several times. Armed clashes broke out between the two around Ain al-Hilweh in 2007, when the army was fighting Fatah al-Islam in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.Linkie (http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=122938#axzz19GWV1IwK)

10-28-2014, 02:10 PM
"The army has taken over Bab al-Tebbaneh," said the spokesman, adding that troops had captured 162 fighters since Friday.

The army urged other fighters still at large to turn themselves in.

The soldiers carried out house-to-house searches and made several weapons seizures.

A 72-year-old woman said she had never before been forced out of Bab al-Tebbaneh, "not even during the civil war. But this time, I had to flee my house, along with my five grandchildren. I am in charge of them, because their father is in jail", said Umm Mohammed Jaaburi. "The violence was unprecedented," she said.
Lebanon army back in control of Tripoli (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/10/lebanon-army-controls-tripoli-after-clashes-2014102852350931809.html)

10-30-2014, 03:36 PM
No two people would disagree about the outcome of the most recent round of clashes in Tripoli. The army was able to defeat the gunmen. The outcome is unambiguous, at least in terms of appearances. The Lebanese army succeeded in driving the gunmen underground and removed all signs of their former existence. It set up checkpoints and carried out raids in areas that were forbidden to it in the past even if it cost the lives of 12 officers and soldiers, while there were no heavy casualties among the gunmen.
Jihadi groups in north Lebanon admit to defeat in battle against the army | Al Akhbar English (https://english.al-akhbar.com/content/jihadi-groups-north-lebanon-admit-defeat-battle-against-army)