Monday, November 27, 2006

The Maronite Wild Card

If Cardinal Sfeir had a pessimistic view yesterday about uniting the Christians of Lebanon, then how could anyone be optimistic?

Judging from the nature of the political conflict nowadays, we see new contending players, Hizbullah on one side and the Future Movement on the other side and judging from Iraq, the conflict is along the Shiite-Sunni lines. So when thoughts of a civil war are invoked, we quickly fear a Sunni-Shiite war.

However, the animosity among Christian factions, to be exact Maronite, is perhaps one of the last vestiges of our last civil war. That simmering, yet increasingly-apparent conflict could be just that wild card to lead the country down the violence path.

This is why Syria has focused its assassinations on Christian politicians and its bombings of Christian commercial and residential establishments for the past two years. But this last assassination targeted a Maronite politician and I fear has struck at the heart of that simmering conflict.

What brought all this home was yesterday's statement by former Kesserouan MP Farid Khazen from Bkirki. He said that if Aoun (and FPM) wants to "go down to the streets", there are many strategic areas wherein he can demonstrate. But he gravely warned from demonstrating in Christian areas and added that, "Pierre Gemayyel's blood has not cooled" (dammoo ma barad). He continued, "We did not forget the massacres that took place in Qolei'at, Sin El-Fil, and Nahr El-Mot."

This last statement was powerful, because for the first time and from Bkirki we're hearing statements alluding to the civil war, particularly the years which witnessed fierce battles among Maronites factions.

This is why our civil war has been the most destructive to the social fabric of many communities; not only was the war sectarian and ideological, but it also was intra-sectarian.

And unfortunately it seems that the Maronites have not come to terms with the past. For 15 years, the animosity was put on hold with Geagea in jail, Aoun in exile, and the Phalange Party divided. For 15 years, the Christians left their intra-conflict in their homes and slowly started working together to protest the Syrian tutelage.

I guess, we're back to square one. Except this time the political leaders are working harder to control their supporters and the streets. In my assessment, Amin Gemayyel played an important role in dampening the anger among the Phalangists; right after Pierre's death we held our breaths fearing that all hell will break loose, but that storm somehow is beyond us now.

Aoun upon his return from exile spoiled the "party" and the "love affair". He wanted things to be his way or the highway, and that did not work. His visit to Geagea in jail was a positive move then, but Aoun's provocative words, more than his actions, inflame even the most indifferent about Lebanese politics. His decision to forego the March 14 alliance during the latest Parliamentary elections, butted Christians one against the other and yes, spoiled the "love affair."

He, in the words of Amin Gemayyel, has taken a path that contradicts the slogans his movement stands for, most importantly, sovereignty (siyede). How could Aoun call for sovereignty when he is de facto allied with for instance the SSNP (and if not allied, then is providing them with a political cover)? SSNP's creed does not consider Lebanon to be sovereign, but part of a larger Syria. This is only one example. Gemayyel on Al-Jazeera two days ago called on Aoun to return to his natural place on the Lebanese political map.

From my point of view, diversity is healthy. But apparently diversity in the Maronite political sphere is dangerous and destructive because the Maronite psyche is not letting go of the civil war.

So as I said, the Maronite card is the wild card. We'll watch and see what happens on the streets this week. Hizbullah is promising a "surprise" move. In the words of a Hizbullah spokesman, "We want to keep the government on their feet."

And just when Khazen made his statement from Bkirki yesterday morning, in the evening, in a trash bin next to his house in Qolei'at, three anti-personnel mines (duds) were discovered. Not a good sign of things to come.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."


Anonymous said...

Geagea should have stayed in jail and Aoun in exile. None of them are good for Lebanon in general and the Maronites in particular.
However, it is way too easy to put all the blame on Aoun. I may have lost any respect I had left for the man, but his megalomania insanity may have been contained had they not sidelined him as soon as he got back.

Charles Malik said...


You hit on some crucial issues.

People today forget that Amal and Hezbollah fought each other during the war. In fact, they weren't even on the same page in the early 90s. Berri tried to keep Hezbollah in the corner while he dominated Shia political life.

Come 1996, the situation started to change. And in 2000, Hezbollah had more support than Berri.

The two factions joined together, not just because they were both pro-Syrian. Berri was closely tied to Syria, while Syria tried to keep its strong control over Hezbollah as they became more and more popular. Hezbollah probably could have taken quite a lot of power and influence away from Berri, but because of Syria and because of their pragmatism he was left in power.

Hezbollah and Berri realized they needed unity to measure up to and combat Rafiq al-Hariri, who was amassing his own sphere of influence separate from Syria.

The Christians have not seen the possibilities they could achieve with a united front. In fact, it's probably good that they haven't because it would dramatically increase sectarianism across the country. The Christians would be fighting in each and every electoral district, as they are the only sect whose people occupy every district in the country.

A united Christian front, if it could even be achieved, would increase tensions with Sunni, Shia, and Druze.

Doha said...


I find your point on a united Christian front increasing sectarian tension as interesting. I believe in diversity myself, as I mentioned in my post, yet the diversity right now is leading to hightened tension among the Maronites. It's all the residues piling up from the civil war. Perhaps there is a need for a "hot wash", something that fighting Christian factions did not get the opportunity to do for 15 years following the war.

Has the opportunity been missed following the Cedar Revolution?