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A Reading Into Lebanon’s Parliamentary Elections of June 7, 2009

June 2009
Elections are not new to Lebanon. Lebanese elections, June 7, 2009 included, have been dominated by the country’s traditional leading (Zu'ama) families and by the power of money. The advent of the Hariri billions during the past thirty or so years has elevated the power of money in Lebanese politics to unprecedented heights.

Might Lebanon’s June 7, 2009 parliamentary elections defuse Lebanese political and sectarian tensions?
The short answer is no. Lebanon is ruled by a relatively rich minority among Lebanon’s four million people. This minority is guesstimated to represents about 40% of the population. The minority controls the political and economic fortunes of the country. The June 7, 2009 results maintained the status quo.

It is difficult to know with accuracy the population size of each of Lebanon’s religious sects. The last official census was taken in 1932. No census since that date was allowed to take place. Today, the general consensus is that Lebanon’s Shi’ites are guesstimated to be around 40% of the population, Christians roughly 35%, Sunnis about 20%, and Druzes some 5%.
The societal divide in Lebanon is political and economic, not religious or sectarian, although Lebanon is home to 18 different religious sects, all recognized in the Lebanese constitution. The ruling minority encompasses Maronites and other Christians, Sunnis, and Druzes. Likewise, the opposing majority encompasses the downtrodden Shiites, Maronites and other Christians, Sunnis, and Druzes.

In the June 7, 2009 elections, 40% of the population won 71 out of 128 seats (55%), while 60% of the population won 57 seats (45%).

In terms of the popular vote, however, the parliamentary majority won the minority of the popular vote: 45%, while the parliamentary minority won the majority of the popular vote: 55%.

That no official census since 1932 has been allowed and that Lebanon’s parliamentary seats are divided along sectarian lines using 1932 census data, as agreed upon in the 1989 Taif Accord, encapsulates the root cause of Lebanon’s unstable political structures; a time bomb waiting to explode, if not defused sooner than later.

The Taif Accord ended Lebanon’s last civil war (1974-1989). The Accord stipulated that the 128-seat parliament would be divided equally among Christians and Muslims and that these are then subdivided among the country's religious sects: Maronites (34 seats), Greek Orthodox (14), Greek Catholics (8), Armenian Orthodox (5), Armenian Catholics (1), protestants (1), and another seat for minorities. Sunnis and Shi'ites get 27 seats each, Druzes get eight, and Alawites two.

That the Lebanese Shi’ites, around 40% of the population, share 21% of the parliamentary seats, while Christians, roughly 35% of the population, enjoy 50% of the parliamentary seats make Shi’ite men and women as if they were lesser voting beings than Christian men and women. Under such conditions, it is easy to see why the Lebanese model of governance is fraught with danger, a model  not conducive to long-term peaceful sectarian co-existence. In the modern age of human-rights consciousness, Lebanon’s discriminatory election law borders on being a form of apartheid. As the Shi’ite proportion of the population increases, given the higher growth rates of Shi’ite families than Lebanon’s other groups, the already capricious balance of power in Beirut will become even more unstable. It will only be a matter of time before the Shi’ite majority will demand a discarding of the Taif Accord and insist on a system of periodic census-taking, along with a one-person one-vote election law applied equally to every citizen who is resident in the country and subject to paying taxes. Otherwise, Lebanon’s civil unrest would eventually erupt, yet again.

The Effect of the June 7, 2009 Parliamentary Elections on Lebanese Syrian Relations
The June 7, 2009 parliamentary elections affirmed the presence of Saudi politics in Lebanon in a major way. Syria does not welcome Wahhabi dominance next door. Saudi Wahhabi designs over Syria and Lebanon go back to the early days of independence from the French Mandate. In the early 1950s, until the fall of the Iraqi monarchy, the Hashemite kings in Iraq and Jordan, the Al-Sauds intractable enemies, were obstacles in the way of Wahhabi ambitions. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Nasser’s Egypt was the impediment. Since the early 1980s, however, Saudi Arabia implanted in Lebanon what might be described as a Trojan horse loaded with Saudi money called Hariri.

Saad Al-Hariri is a son of Rafiq Al-Hariri. He holds Saudi and Lebanese nationalities. Rafiq Al-Hariri was born in 1944 in the Lebanese port city of Sidon to a Sunni Muslim family of modest means. In 1965, he left for Saudi Arabia, working as an accountant in a construction company. He moved from rags to riches swiftly. Fifteen years later, Rafiq Al-Hariri was on the Forbes top 100. After his assassination in 2005, his family members featured in Forbes’ list of billionaires in 2006. Saudi Oger, a construction company owned by Al-Hariri is a thriving business in Saudi Arabia constructing and servicing profligate palaces for senior Al-Sauds.

In 1978, Rafiq Al-Hariri and family were made citizens of Saudi Arabia. They were allowed by the ruling family to keep their Lebanese citizenship contrary to Saudi law, which does not recognize dual citizenship of Saudis. Rafiq Al-Hariri returned to Lebanon in the early 1980’s; implanted there by the Al-Sauds to construct a strong Sunni front to face the rising power of Lebanon’s Shi’ites since the early 1960s under the leadership of the cleric Musa Al-Sadr (disappeared in 1978 while on a visit to Libya).

In Lebanon, making large donations and gifts to various groups and causes Rafiq Al-Hariri’s billions bought him a solid political power base in Lebanon. Hariri prepared the groundwork for the 1989 Taif Accord. Taif paved the way in 1992 for Rafiq Al-Hariri to become prime minister. He was prime minister from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2000 until his resignation on 20 October 2004. Hariri was assassinated on 14 February 2005.

Syria objects to Saudi Arabia’s encroachment for two reasons. First, Damascus worries that a Saudi controlled government in Lebanon might compromise the defenses of Syria’s own border with Israel. Given the countries’ contiguous geography the defenses of the Syrian and Lebanese fronts need, in Syria’s view, to be closely coordinated if the Syrian front is to maintain a semblance of viability.

Secondly, Syria considers Wahhabi intolerance and hatred of other Islamic sects and religions a threat to Syria’s age-old religious harmony and way of life. To most Syrians, Wahhabism is a primitive doctrine turned into a seventh century religious cult by Wahhabi clerics and political leaders in order to prolong their rule; an anathema to Syria’s moderate Hanafi Sunni rite, let alone Syria’s other religions and sects. To Syria’s ruling Alawites, Wahhabi belief that the Alawites, indeed all Shi’ites, are non-Muslim heretics could endanger the very existence of the Alawites and their regime. To Syria, Lebanon would not be allowed to become a Wahhabi gateway to Syria. It may be predicted that even if Syria reaches its own peace agreement with Israel in the future, Damascus would continue to want to keep Lebanon free of Wahhabi control.
The Wahhabi Agenda: Indoctrination at Home and Proselytization Abroad
Restoring Islam to its “true” tenets was the battle-cry of the 1805 and 1902 rebellions by the Al-Saud and Abdulwahhab clans against the Ottoman sultans. Upon the establishment of Saudi Arabia in 1932, Wahhabism was made the legitimating ideology of the new kingdom. To maintain its legitimating credentials, Wahhabi clerics zealously indoctrinate the citizenry and expatriate workers into believing that Islam is the perfect religion, that Wahhabism is the most truthful representation of “true” Islam and that the Al-Sauds are the most ardent protectors and promoter of Wahhabism. The Palace ulama brainwash the populace into believing that absolute submission to Islamic authority is at the core of the Islamic faith and that blind obedience to the Saudi king is a form of piety. Palace ulama hammer the populace with 4:59 of the Quran: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” Also, that the Prophet said, according to Muslim’s Hadith collection, “He who obeys me obeys God; he who disobeys me, disobeys God. He who obeys the ruler, obeys me; he who disobeys the ruler, disobeys me.” Predestination, a basic Islamic belief, makes tyrant rulers as if God ordains them.

Fusing blind obedience to the ruling family with Islam, the mixture not only rules out elections and representative governance, but is also used to eliminate political dissent. Dissent is made synonymous with fomenting societal turmoil, deviation from the true Islam, even apostasy, serious charges, indeed, that could lead to execution in a system based on religious dogma. Just as the sword delivered the Al-Sauds to power in the name of Islam, the sword terrifies would be opponents in the name of Islam as well. In a clever exploitation of Islam, Wahhabism nullifies the potential political opposition of one-half of society simply by  denying the basic human rights of Saudi women.

The Al-Saud claim to legitimacy does not stem from a relationship of Al-Saud clan to the family of the Prophet Muhammad, or to his Quraish tribe. The Al-Saud’s claim to legitimacy derives from the opinion of certain scholars who believed that seizing power by force was sufficient to legitimate the authority of Islamic rulers. It ought to be mentioned that the Quran takes a jaundiced view of kingship. In 27:34: “Surely when kings enter a city they destroy it and despoil the honor of its nobility.”  

That the Prophet had reportedly said that Islam would split into 73 sects but only one would go to heaven spurred Wahhabi leaders to expropriate paradise. They reward it to their followers.

Not only among Saudis, Wahhabism has also spread among some of the tens of millions of Muslims who had worked in Saudi Arabia since the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973 and those who continue to work there. While reliable data is difficult to obtain, it may be guesstimated that some 70-80 million foreign nationals (8-10 million residents for 35 years, assuming a 3-5-year stint each) have been subjected to the Wahhabi way of life. If only a tiny proportion were radicalized, hundreds of thousands, possibly a few millions could be floating around spreading Wahhabi extremism around.

In foreign lands, Wahhabi clerics with vast support from the Saudi government have been energetically proselytizing non-Wahhabi Muslims and others with success. Given the poverty of the great majority of Muslims outside Saudi Arabia, the deep Saudi purse from the government and wealthy private individuals have been working wonders in luring non-Wahhabi clerics from Egypt and Lebanon to Pakistan and Afghanistan to propagate the Wahhabi creed and politics. The Saudi Al-Haramain Foundation, for example, claims to have built 1,300 mosques in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, sponsored 3,000 preachers, and produced 20 million religious pamphlets between the time of its formation in the early 1990s and its closure by the Saudi government in October 2004 after the US government listed the foundations’ offices in many countries as supporting terrorism.

The predominance of Saudis (fifteen out of the nineteen hijackers) on September 11, 2001, along with Osama Bin Laden and many of his lieutenants suggests a connection between the Saudi way of life and jihadist terrorism. This is not to imply that 9/11 was a state-sponsored crime. Rather, it was the work of individual jihadists produced by the Wahhabi way of life. Six years after 9/11, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia and nearly half of the foreigners in US detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis. Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality. Religious indoctrination cannot be disregarded in the shaping of human behavior.

That factions and leaders among Lebanon’s Maronites, let alone the Druzes, have found it politically convenient and financially lucrative to join hands with Hariri’s Wahhabi sponsors is like the lamb befriending the wolf.