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