The wounded republic: Lebanon's struggle for recovery.

Author:Salem, Paul E.

This article examines the main political developments in Lebanon between 1991 and 1994. It covers the principal events involving the successive governments of Omar Karami, Rashid al-Sulh, and Rafiq al-Hariri and provides an overview of the Friendship Treaty and Defense Agreement between Lebanon and Syria, the general elections of summer 1992, and the reconstruction policies of the Hariri cabinet.(1) The article begins with an historical introduction to recent developments and ends with an assessment of Lebanon's current condition and future direction.


Small states in polarized regions seldom have an uneventful history. Open societies among authoritarian regimes are subject to additional pressures; and how much more, then, for a society also segmented along religious and confessional lines, exposed to rapid modernization and Westernization, and playing host to a militarized refugee population totaling over one-tenth of its populace. That the Lebanese political system could not cope with these pressures and collapsed in the mid-1970s should not be surprising; after all, most Arab regimes and other political systems around the developing world succumbed to similar pressures at one time or another after World War II. What is distinctive about Lebanon, is that whereas in other countries the collapse of the post-war political system led to the establishment of a stabilizing, but authoritarian, political regime of the military or one-party type, no such escape into authoritarianism was possible in Lebanon. The collapse of the political order in Lebanon led inexorably into chaos and the outbreak of internal war. As in most pluralistic societies, lasting peace in Lebanon could only be reestablished by agreement.

The war in Lebanon was fought over a number of issues including the balance of power in government, the role of armed Palestinian groups, the redistribution of wealth, and Lebanon's foreign policy orientation. Attempts to resolve these issues began in the early months of the war and resulted in a number of draft documents and agreements, the first of which was the so-called Constitutional Document announced, with Syrian backing, by President Sulayman Franjiyah in 1976. It proposed, among other things, equal representation for Christians and Muslims in Parliament.(2) Efforts at resolution were thwarted by continued polarization over the Palestinian issue and by competing Israeli and Syrian influence over rival groups in the country. The Israeli invasion of 1982 was a turning point in the civil war because it led eventually to a diminution of both Palestinian and Israeli influence in the country, leaving Syria by 1984 as the predominant external power broker. American influence in 1982 and 1983 was violent and short-lived.

Serious efforts at reform began again in 1983-84 with national dialogue conferences held in Geneva and Lausanne bringing together rival political leaders. These conferences made some headway but could not square the circle. A different tack was taken in 1985 by Syria when it pushed the three main militias in Lebanon (the Shiite Amal Movement, the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, and the Christian Lebanese Forces) to negotiate a comprehensive settlement known as the Tripartite Agreement signed in December of that year. That agreement was rejected by President Amin Gemayel and was ultimately scuttled as the result of a coup within the Lebanese Forces led by security chief Samir Geagea.

New talks on reform were then undertaken through intermediaries between the Lebanese president and Syria throughout 1986 and 1987. In these talks, most of the details of the suggested reforms that had been accumulating from the time of the Constitutional Document of 1976 through the Tripartite Agreement of 1985 were worked out. The talks were suspended after the assassination of Prime Minister Rashid Karami on 1 June 1987, but the points agreed upon in these talks would form the heart of the Taif Agreement signed two years later.

The Taif Agreement included a redistribution of political power away from the Christian President toward the confessionally mixed Council of Ministers, the Sunni Prime Minister, and the Shiite Speaker of Parliament. It settled disputes over Lebanon's foreign policy by declaring Lebanon an unequivocally Arab country and mandating special relations with Syria.(3) Meanwhile, the Palestinian question, which had been so prominent in the early years of the war, had faded after 1982; and the issue of the redistribution of wealth had ebbed also as, during the war, most of the wealthy classes had left the country and the middle classes had sunken into poverty. Like most wars and revolutions, the Lebanese war had the effect of making everyone more or less equally miserable.

The escalatory tactics of General Michel Aoun, who was named Prime Minister by outgoing President Gemayel in September 1988 to head the government until presidential elections could be held and whose authority was challenged by Gemayel's previous Prime Minister, Salim al-Hoss, served three purposes: (a) they made the status quo unacceptable and raised regional and international interest in a settlement; (b) they raised the question of the Syrian role in Lebanon; and (c) they exhausted the Christian political and military power base. The settlement urged by the Arab and international community was based on the previous negotiations mentioned above and was embodied in the National Conciliation Document, known as the Taif Agreement. The Agreement was officially adopted by parliament on 5 November 1989. The question of the Syrian role in Lebanon - once raised - was answered (especially after the outbreak of the Gulf Crisis) largely in favor of Syria; and the collapse of Christian power meant that the power balance in Lebanon for several years to come would favor the Muslim communities.

These developments provide the backdrop for understanding the politics of the first years of the so-called Second Republic, established after the constitution was amended in September 1990 to incorporate the reforms listed in the Taif Agreement, and after the forced ouster of General Michel Aoun in October of that same year.(4)


Uncertain Beginnings

To trace the political history of post-Taif Lebanon through the life of its successive cabinets makes sense for two reasons. First, the constitutional amendments mandated by the Taif Agreement shifted executive authority from the President to the Council of Ministers as a collegial body. Thus, a change in cabinets denotes a shift in policy, and the President can no longer independently pursue a policy direction; he can only contribute to or delay policy-making at the cabinet level. Second, the current President, Ilyas Hrawi, does not have a strong power base within the country or within the state; therefore, he is unable to make the most of what executive authority is constitutionally left in presidential hands.

The government led by Prime Minister Omar Karami (brother of the late Rashid Karami) was named, under Syrian auspices, on 24 December 1990, to replace the cabinet of Prime Minister Hoss. The 30-member cabinet included the leaders of the main wartime militias and political parties, a number of traditional leaders, friends of Syria, and friends of the President. Conspicuously not represented were the Aounists and Hizballah.(5) The choice of Omar Karami to lead the cabinet was sensible from the Syrian perspective as his family had long been friendly to Damascus and his home town, Tripoli, fell comfortably within Syria's sphere of influence.

The cabinet had four main items on its agenda, all mandated by the Taif Agreement: (a) to appoint new deputies to parliament in order to render Christian-Muslim representation equal; (b) to formalize the "special relations" with Syria; (c) to dissolve the militias; and (d) to begin extending government authority throughout the country. Despite the boycott of several key ministers, including Samir Geagea, Kata'ib chief George Saadeh, and Druze leader Walid Junblat, the cabinet was able, with Syrian backing, to accomplish, in large measure, all of the items on its agenda.

In June 1991 it named forty individuals to fill nine new Muslim seats mandated in Taif and thirty-one others that had fallen vacant since the last general elections in 1972.(6) Relations with Syria were formalized in the Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination signed in May 1991 and a Defense Agreement signed in September 1991.(7) The main Lebanese militias, except Hizballah, were declared officially dissolved in late March 1991 and over the following months much of their heavy equipment was collected and a fair number of their members were inducted into the army and internal security forces. Most importantly, their sea ports and tax systems were closed down and they were no longer allowed territorial zones of direct control. Finally, the government consolidated its control over Greater Beirut (extending from the Kalb to the Damur rivers) and sent army brigades in the Spring and Summer of 1991 to claim other areas in the South, Mount Lebanon, Kisirwan, and the North.

The Friendship Treaty and Defense Agreement with Syria

The Lebanese-Syrian Friendship Treaty signed in May 1991 calls for cooperation and coordination at the highest levels "in all fields, including political, economic, security, educational, scientific, and others."(8) It also mandates the establishment of a Higher Council composed of the presidents, prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, and speakers of parliament of both countries. The Council is to set policies of cooperation and coordination for the two countries, and its decisions "are binding and effective" on both countries. In addition, the Treaty requires the setting up of joint ministerial committees and the signing of bilateral agreements covering economic, defense, educational, and...

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