Thursday, December 08, 2005

International Crisis Group on Lebanon

A couple of days ago, fellow blogger Hassan sent me an Interational Crisis Group (ICG) report on Lebanon. Blogger Lazarus at Letters Appart also read the report, and has posted an entry with some quotations from it.

I will copy and paste some quotations of certain Lebanese politicians and analysts from the report that I found to be very revealing.

Thank you Hassan for bringing this to my attention. I also tip my hat to ICG for conducting what appears to be a very thorough study.

The U.S., France and UK are helping overhaul the security sector:[1] France is compiling an inventory and audit of security forces, and a blueprint for reconstruction of the security sector of security services; and the UK is helping to streamline multiple and overlapping security agencies under the defence ministry. The U.S. reportedly was asked by the government to assist in securing the mountainous frontier with Syria with physical barriers, lethal platforms and sensors.[2]

[1] Crisis Group interviews with Western diplomats, Beirut, October 2005.

[2] Geostrategy-Direct,, October 11 2005.

Rafiq Hariri was a Sunni leader, not just in Beirut, but throughout Lebanon and the Arab world. This is our revenge: to put Bashar al-Asad on trial. Maybe we can topple the regime. The Sunnis form the majority in Syria….We cannot continue with the Shiite Alawi regime.[1]

[1] Crisis Group interview with Walid Kebbe, op. cit,

The Americans don’t understand the complexity of relations between Sunni and Shiites. The Christians are the only ones who can live together with Sunni, Shiite and Druze. There are no mixed villages with Sunnis and Shiites. Only the Christians live with all. Therefore, if you really want a solution for Lebanon, you have to discuss with the Christians to gain the confidence of all parties. That’s the lesson of centuries of experience in Lebanon and Arab history. Sunni and Shiite cannot live together. Christians are needed.[1]

[1] Crisis Group interview of Michel Aoun, Beirut, 27 October 2005.

Aoun opposes Lebanon’s rule by the House of Hariri. Hizbollah opposes placing Lebanon under Hariri’s international alliance. As a result, there’s a new alliance between Aoun and the president, Hizbollah and Syria against Jumblatt, Hariri and Western powers.[1]
[1] Crisis Group interview with Ibrahim Amin, al-Safir newspaper, Beirut, 5 October 2005.

Sectarian tensions are greater than at any time since 1990. Lebanon has always been a place where Shiites and Sunni coexist. But outside involvement – of Iran with Shiites and of Arab states with Sunnis – is making matters worse.[1]

[1] Crisis Group interview with Hani Abdullah, political adviser to Ayatollah Hassanein Fadlallah, Beirut, 26 October 2005. Ali Fayyadh, an analyst close to Hizbollah, echoed this view: “The Middle East is unstable, a storm is raging, and Lebanon is at the heart of the storm. The last time Sunni-Shiite tensions were as high was in 1986, during the Camp Wars [when Amal attacked refugee camps controlled by Palestinian Sunnis]”. Crisis Group interview, op. cit. Islamist groups also may be finding fertile soil. Salafi preachers have established schools in Lebanon in recent months, some of which propagate militant anti-Shiism. Salafis interviewed by Crisis Group declined to say whether Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf and Iran’s former leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were Muslims; Shiite preachers accused Salafi clerics of exacerbating sectarian tensions through incendiary sermons. Crisis Group interviews, Beirut, October 2005.

The resistance is part of the equilibrium for Lebanon’s stability. For Larsen to say it is illegitimate is explosive. If there is international pressure to erode the resistance, Lebanon will pay the price of chaos. If the army tries to intervene, it will be divided because a majority of the army is Shiite, and Hizbollah will be forced to defend itself. If the U.S. attacks Syria, this would be a strategic threat to Lebanon, and we would be sandwiched between Israel’s and America’s armies, and we would have a duty to deploy the resistance.[1]

[1] Crisis Group interview with Ali Fayyadh, op. cit.

The message is, if you seriously consider disarming Hizbollah, you will have a potentially explosive situation, as the focus will return to the issue of representation. Shiites may demand a majoritarian system and Hizbollah would be at the forefront of this demand. So in a way, and in terms of domestic politics, Hizbollah without arms would be much more dangerous than Hizbollah with arms.[1]

[1] Crisis Group interview with Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Beirut, 16 June 2005.

God granted the individual…reason. A man of religious learning can advise Muslims, for example, ‘not to vote for corrupt candidates’. But it is still up to the individual himself to decide who is corrupt and who isn’t. Hizbollah violated this principle…. Shiites were made to feel endangered, so they felt compelled to vote. And that’s dangerous, as now the Shiites think the resistance’s weapons are theirs.[1]

[1] Crisis Group interview with a Fadlallah political advisor, Beirut, 28 June 2005. He added that relations between Nasrallah and Fadlallah are strained, and they have met only once since Hariri’s assassination. On this issue in particular, Fadlallah appeared to be seeking to curb efforts by Hizbollah to assert a hegemonic position among Shiites.

I’m side-by-side with Hizbollah. It’s a big asset against any Israeli aggression. I oppose 1559 because it was designed to serve Israel. As long as Israel won’t abide by international law, the Lebanese Army and Hizbollah should both survive in the South.[1]

[1] Crisis Group interview with Walid [flip-flop] Jumblatt, 11 October 2005.

Their attitude [on joining the government] is a dramatic change from the past. But they are going to instrumentalise the state to protect the resistance. They know how difficult it will be for the U.S. and Israel to mess with them. The party is not becoming “Lebanonised”; rather it is “Hizbollah-ising” the state.[1]

[1] Crisis group interview with Saad Ghorayeb, Beirut, 23 June 2005. See also “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (for 21 January 2005 to 20 July 2005)”, 21 July 2005.


Lazarus said...

I found this report to be very well done, and very sensitive to the issues that could possible destablize Lebanon.

I was originally planning on using the quotes they had in the report, but there were just too many good ones to choose from :) I especially found the one by Saad-Ghorayeb very interesting.

Abu Kais said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Abu Kais said...

Aoun: There are no mixed villages with Sunnis and Shiites. What about Beirut???

Anonymous said...

Yes Beirut is not a village and the mixing there is very recent. But MA is right to point out that almost all mixed villages in Lebanon are Christians with another Muslim community. Muslim-Muslim is rare. You find almost no Druze-Shia, Druze-Sunni or Sunni-Shia villages.

Raja said...

For all their cultural, educational and economic accomplishments, Aoun's comments show that Maronite politics is very much village politics. I hate generalizations, but Aoun's comments were just too blatant!

I love the fact that Lebanon's center of gravity is the village... The village sort of gives Lebanon a sense of authenticity (as opposed to the supercifiality of life in Beirut)! And for god's sake I'm considered to belong to a village even though I've never lived there before, and its my mom's parents' village, not my dad's.

However, I wonder whether Lebanon is better or worse off with its political center of gravity in its countryside rather than the urban centers (specifically, Beirut where a third of the population actually lives).

On another note, I believe I have a list of other towns with mixed Muslim populations:

1. saida
2. sour
3. hasbayya
4. rashayya (???)

any more?

Master Blaster said...

Interesting about Fadlallah and Nasrallah, which is why I noted their recent meeting during Ramadan. The last comment by Saad-Ghorayeb is a very rare sober comment on her part. I've said it in a different way various times.

Btw., re. Aoun's comments, of course its a gross generalization, but there is an element of truth in it at some level. What I mean by that is that whereas Saida is a "border" case, and the same in the Bekaa (Beirut, again, is an exception), you don't have really any substantial Shiite presence, say in the North. But you have a very substantial Christian presence. The opposite in the South (south of Saida), there's no substantial Sunni presence, but (at least before the war chased a lot of them away) there is indeed a substantial Christian presence. Same in south Mount Lebanon. It's Druze and Christian. The Bekaa breaks that a bit, but still, grosso modo, it's Shiites with Christians more than anything else.

So it's reductionist, but does contain an element of truth in some way. But, clearly (and that's why it's half-true, half-ideology), it reflects Aoun's conception of his role, first and foremost (i.e., an equal with the two other major sects' representatives), and the role of the Christians in post-Taef Lebanon. And to tell you the truth, I think it's not a bad approach. At least it's based on communication with all the sects.

Another element, one that Michael Young once commented on, is that the Sunnis and the Christians have had a longer history of political interaction, and have established a tradition. The Shiites and the Sunnis however, don't have that type of history. Not on that scale.

Master Blaster said...

By the way, when I said it's not a bad approach, I meant for the Christians in general, and I don't mean to endorse Aoun's notion of a Troika of sorts, whereby one representative monopolizes a sect. You know my view on this anyway.

Anonymous said...

Raja these are cities (if you use a Lebanese scale), and as you can see there isn't a lot of them. But whatever.

The important thing is our capital, and greater Beirut is the home of more than half of the Lebanese. It's modern, cosmopolitan, and inhabited by all the Lebanese sects, it's the essence of Lebanon. It's more Lebanese than the villages.

I saw once a TV documentary on Lebanon that concluded with the following words: the tiny territory of Beirut has become the home of most of the Lebanese and this sectarian 'promiscuity' (in a positive sense) will create an inter-sectarian with time. It was a little bit optimistic considering that even in Beirut people live in their sectarian micro-societies, but there's some truth in it.

hummbumm said...

lebanon is going to hell in a handbasket is my viewpoint of these excerpts. Religious fundamentalim on the rise, regional powers looking to fight proxy wars, global power involvement, and we have not even gotten to Syria and Israel!
Can't we all just get along?
On a serious note, much as I dislike Hizbullah, there is something i dislike more is salafist idealogues, cause if shia are not seen as muslims, and therefore fair game, not much hope for the rest of us. Now we see how the death of hariri has affected things, his son is but a pale shadow.

hummbumm said...

PS. i agree with Raja on the village politics. Speaking of electoral reform, one should be able to vote from one's place of domicile. This would strip the feudal powers of their power, and reflect lebanon more accurately. And it would improve municipal governance as well. by the way on the village level, i can't think of any village which are both christian and muslim or druze.
it is christian village then druze village then christian etc.. none are mixed. Souk el gharb, aitat, deir el qamar, beittedine, bhamdun, soufar etc...
Aaah I got one Hammana is mixed, a true standout and a beautiful place.

AbdulKarim said...

I think of Akkar as a good exmpale of co-existence. An example of the mixed villages there is the following.

Alawite-Sunni villages like Al-Hisa (7isa) and there are other villages like that most of them in the Plain(Sahel Akkar).

Christian-Sunni villages like Bazbina. Bazbina, for me, is the best example of peaceful co-existence and mutual respect.

There are as well villages that are not mixed but attached to each other like Baino and Al-Burj. Baino is Greek Orthdox and Al- Burj is sunni and they are two seperate villages with different local council but they are so near that you get out of one street of a village only to find yourself in the other village.

It is also worhty to note that in Tripoli, there is a considerable Alawite community.

BTW, I believe that the real Lebanon is outside Beirut where two thirds of the population lives.

Raja said...

hummbumm, something tells me that you're connected to Hammanna somehow.

Raja said...

Vox, I agree that there is at least some truth to the conclusion of that documentary.

Tallet el Khayyat,
Ain el Tineh,
Korniesh el Mazra'a,
Ramlet el Bayda,
Ain el Mrayse,

all these neighborhoods could be a little bit more diverse, but there is no denying that people from different sects live in them. Let's see if this trend grows.

hummbumm said...

Good times were had in Hammana, but it is not my hometown and my childhood friends now live in the States and are selling their home to a Kuwaiti, so there goes those memories. With my childhood haunt sold to Saudis, the connections are fraying. Furthermore from these two data points, I will extrapolate: Damn Gulfies are buying up the country!!!

Anonymous said...

By the way, one has to mention downtown Beirut, that may be a little bit artificial but nevertheless is very mixed.

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