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The Battle for Lebanon
Lebanon's Colourful Sectarian Tapestry

The battle for Lebanon is a battle between a relatively rich minority (numerically) among Lebanon’s estimated six million people and a poor majority. The minority controls the political and economic fortunes. The majority refuses to be dominated. The divide is political and economic, not religious or sectarian; though, Lebanon is home to 18 different religious sects, all recognized in the Lebanese constitution. Religion and sectarianism are exploited by politics and economic power.


The minority encompasses factions within the Maronite and other Christian communities, traditionally known for their anti-Syria, pro-France and the United States affiliation. These are led by late president Amin Gemayel’s Phalange Party and Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces. Additionally, the minority includes Sunni Muslims, led by Saudi/Lebanese billionaire Saad Al-Hariri’s Future Movement and a large faction among Lebanon’s small minority of Druzes, led by Walid Junblat’s Progressive Socialist Party. 

The majority includes Maronite and other Christians; led by former general and current President, Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. The majority includes also the Shiites; led by Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah and Nabih Berri’s Amal movement.

It is difficult to know with accuracy the religious and the sectarian make-up of Lebanon’s population. The last census was taken in 1932. That census gave Christians more than half of the population, with the Maronites a third of the population. However, Christian numbers have been declining since 1932 due to relatively low rates of population growth compared to Muslims’ growth rates, especially the Shiites, and to migration from Lebanon to Europe and the Americas. 

Today, the general consensus is that Shiites represent over 40% of the Lebanese, Christians roughly 35%, Sunnis around 20%, and Druzes about 5%. That no census since 1932 has been allowed to take place reflects the seriousness of Lebanon population issue. The rich minority may be guesstimated to be about 40% of the population. 


The Hariri Family

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. 


In 1978, Rafiq Al-Hariri and family were made citizens of Saudi Arabia. He returned to Lebanon in the early 1980’s; implanted by the Saudi ruling family in response to the absence of a viable Sunni leadership in the country and the rising power of the Shiite population since the early 1960s under the leadership of the cleric Musa Al-Sadr. Al-Sadr disappeared in 1978 while on a visit to Libya). 


In Lebanon, Rafiq Al-Hariri established his power base through making large donations and contributions to various groups and causes. He laid the groundwork for the 1989 Taif Accord, which Saudi Arabia organized. Taif ended the fifteen-year civil war (1975-1990) and paved the way in 1992 for 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.



The Shiites have been for centuries the downtrodden of Lebanon, suffering abject poverty, illiteracy, and ill health. Marginalized and discriminated against as second-class citizens by the government and society. Their liberation started in 1959 with the arrival to the coastal city of Tyre of Musa Al-Sadr, an Iranian-born Lebanese Shiite cleric, son of a long line of distinguished Shiite scholars. At the turn of the nineteenth century, his ancestors escaped Ottoman persecution from Tyre to Iraq’s holy city of Najaf, then to Iran. 

A close religious connection between Iran and the Shiites of Lebanon had been established some five centuries ago. Shah Ismail made Shiism the state religion of the Safavid dynasty (1502-1737) instead of Sunnism, presumably to fight the Sunni Ottomans. Lacking the clerics to convert and teach Shiism to his subjects, Shiite scholars from southern Lebanon (Mount Amel) were invited to establish schools and train Persian clerics in Shiism. Ever since that time a theological bridge between Iran and Lebanon flourished.

Musa Al-Sadr awakened in the Shiites of Lebanon a sense of dignity and worth unknown before. He replaced their innate self-pity, sorrow, and submission by a fiery spirit of hope, defiance, and revolution. In 1974, Al-Sadr formed the Movement of the Disinherited, a political movement aimed at social justice. In 1975, the Amal movement was formed as the militia wing of the Movement of the Disinherited. After Al-Sadr’s disappearance in 1978, the momentum of his work gave rise in the early 1980s to Hezbollah, a militia trained, organized, and funded by Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards. In addition to its military wing, Hezbollah organizes extensive networks of social development programs, running hospitals, schools, and social help for the poor.


Geopolitical Shift

Until the cataclysmic events of September 11, 2001, Rafiq Al-Hariri was content to rule in Lebanon under Syria’s domination. Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976 at the request of the Lebanese. They stayed in Lebanon for 29 years before being forced out on April 26, 2005, by Security Council Resolution 1559 of September 2004. 

After 9/11, matters changed. The Bush administration’s response to 9/11 was to want to reshape the Middle East; change the regimes of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, destroy Hezbollah in Lebanon plus Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip; and, force a settlement of the Arab Israeli conflict on Israel’s terms. US forces occupied Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in April 2003. Saudi Arabia would play a major role in Washington’s unfolding plans.

That 15 out of the 19 murderers on 9/11 were Saudis threatened catastrophe to the Al-Sauds. Fearing America’s retaliation, the Al-Sauds performed an act of preemptive surrender. The Al-Saud regime become even more obsequious and obvious in their submissiveness to Washington than ever before. Post 9/11, Saudi Arabia’s interest in Lebanon took a new purpose; install in Beirut a pro Washington government, destroy Hezbollah, and change the regime in Damascus. The instrument would be a Trojan horse loaded with Saudi money called Hariri. 


In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Al-Hariri/ Gemayel/ Geagea/ Junblat alliance, known as 14 March alliance, controlled the Lebanese parliament and the cabinet. Prime minister Fouad Seniora had been for years an employee of Al-Hariri companies serving as finance director. Seniora was made finance minister in Rafiq Al-Hariri’s cabinets then prime minister in 2005 by Saad Al-Hariri and his Saudi backers. The 14 March alliance succeeded in removing Syria’s troops from Lebanon in 2005. 

The Saudi plan, however, has run into trouble. Hezbollah proved to be more resilient than to be sidelined easily. In July 2006, Israel failed to destroy Hezbollah despite 33 days of relentless bombardment from the air, land, and sea using the most sophisticated weapons that destroyed much of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure and killed more than 1,000 civilians. Also, when Lebanon’s cabinet decided on May 6, 2008 that Hezbollah’s communication network should be dismantled and that the head of Beirut’s airport security must be removed, Hezbollah reacted violently forcing the cabinet on May 14, 2008 to reverse the two decisions. In the aftermath of this showdown, government and opposition representatives reached on May 21, 2008 in Doha, Qatar a power-sharing agreement in which the Hezbollah-led opposition increased its seats in the cabinet from six to eleven out of 30 seats; winning a veto power over the cabinet decisions. 


Syria's Strategy

Syria objects to Saudi Arabia’s political encroachment of Lebanon. Syria and Lebanon have been over the millennia one society. Natural Syria has always signified Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. A look at the map shows why. Lebanon, a small land of 10,230 square kilometers, is surrounded by Syria from all sides (375 kilometers), the Mediterranean Sea to the West (225 kilometers) and a strip of land to the south bordering Israel (79 kilometers). Two-hour drive separates Damascus from Beirut. Many of the families in Beirut and Tripoli, for example, have branches in Damascus and Homs. Syrians and Lebanese share the Arabic language, values, customs, habits, food, music, let alone centuries of being ruled as one entity. They became two separate states after the French mandate ended in the mid 1940s. 

The occupation of Iraq in 2003 by former President G.W. Bush handed Iraq to Iran on a silver platter, wittingly or unwittingly. In its failure, the Bush project created the Shi’ite Crescent from Iran to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Mr. Obama, as if to continue what G.W. Bush had started, empowered Iran further. He allowed Iran to help destroy and occupy Syria ever since the Syrian revolution against the Asad regime exploded in March 2011. Syria’s heavy hand over Lebanon is presently fortified by Iran’s heavy hand over the Asad regime. As long as Iran needs Hezbollah to be its forward military defense line on Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria’s control over Lebanon will be supplemented by Iranian power. Without Syria, the Shi’ite Crescent will be broken, Hezbollah strangled, and Iran rolled back.


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