In the ongoing series of “be careful what you wish for, you may get it!” I would like to raise the current topic of Lebanon for consideration.
In the past several days here has been much talk from the American State Department and missionaries for the Bush gospel, about the knock on effect of the “liberation” of Iraq and the subsequent elections in that country.
The ever optimistic, seldom realistic US foreign policy establishment points to a truce in the Palestine, to a decision by Mubarak to allow an opposition candidate, and now to the anti-Syrian demonstrators as proof that Democracy is taking root in the Middle East.
In the latter case the Americans regard these anti-Syria demonstrations as the first step toward free elections and removal of a pro-Syrian, Iranian supported regime. At the same time, the US is completely ignoring the fact that the Shiite population in Lebanon accounts for over 40% of the total, while the Maronite Christians, now only 18%. The Shia also just happen to be the bedrock support of the Hizbollah, a ranking member on America’s list of terrorist organizations and sworn enemy of both the US and Israel.
Now, after those first days when it appeared the anti-Syrian contingent would sweep the boards and replace the pro.Syrian government, what did we get but the Prime Minister who had resigned under pressure. Thousands of pro-Syrian, Shiite, Hizbollah demonstrators poured into the streets of Beirut and suddenly talk by Rice turned unhappy, with declarations that Syria was behind the latter demonstrations.
Well they may have been, and it may also have been that the US was behind the initial anti-Syrian demonstrations. That is the nature of politics.
However, let us for the sake of argument follow the American thesis and hoped for result. We would, as US State proposes, have free elections in Iraq. Before we do that it might be well to examine the ethnic cum religious make up of Lebanon and have a quick look at the events which have led to the present sorry state of affairs.
Muslim 59.7% (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Isma’ilite, Alawite or Nusayri), Christian 39% (Maronite Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant), other 1.3%
Of the some 60 percent Muslims, the vast majority, about 1.2 million, are Shia Muslims, you know, the ones who represent 60% of Iraq’s population and all of Iran’s. In the case of Lebanon, the Shiites now account for 40% of the population. The Maronite Christians are the second largest group at somewhere between 20-25%. With this mix of not very compatible interests, it is easy to see that there could be and has been considerable conflict in this country. It is also fairly obvious which element would dominate in free elections – the US’s least favourite political flavour, the Shia, who in turn are either active members or supporters of Hezbollah and supported by the US’s other nemesis, Shia Iran.
Now for a brief visit to Lebanon’s convoluted history
In 1861, the Maronite Christian with the help of France secured a foothold in Mount Lebanon with special administrative privileges. Now fast forward to 1920. Following the final break up of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France were busy carving up and redrawing the map in the Middle East to suit their respective geopolitical interests. Out of the resulting jig-saw puzzle were born….yes, that is right, Iraq, and along with it Syria and Lebanon. None of these national entities existed prior to 1920. Virtually no thought was given to ethnic divisions – Sunni, Shiite, Maronite. It was all about which territories offered what Britain and France wanted in the way of resources geographical positioning. Iraq was created with a jumble of Shiite, Sunni and Kurds; Lebanon with Shiite, Maronites, Sunni and at that time a mere statelet of Syria. Thus, it is not entirely without some basis that Syria considers Lebanon its rightful territory.
Initially the Maronites in the core area of Mont Lebanon were the dominate force, but as their appetite for territory increased, Lebanon became Greater Lebanon and encompassed what it is today. The Maronites, a distinct minority, lorded it over the Muslims, and in 1943 created a National Pact which accommodated the Sunni majority (not Shiite at that time) and set up a 6 to 5 distribution of ministerial posts in favour of the Christians. This, as someone wrote merely papered over the fault lines.
The next major event took place in 1975, the beginning of a Civil War that was to last until 1992. In that interim warring period both Israel and the United States both got their hands dirty. The US backed Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1976 with the support of Israel hoping that the Syrians could put an end to the chaos. The Israelis invaded south Lebanon and bombarded Beirut in 1982 to put a stop to incursions into Israel by PLO forces based in South Lebanon.
Internecine war continued until 1992 and new elections, which all had hoped would end the bloodshed. Again, however, the election of a new government only served temporarily to solve underlying geopolitical weaknesses as recent events have shown. The lack of geopolitical sense in 1920 has come back to haunt all concerned just as they have in Iraq.
Now, the United States is calling for free elections, but what if those elections reflect, as they probably will, the strength of the Shia and their fanatical Hezbollah brothers? Is this better than having a Syrian presence in the country, a force to hold the fractious country together? I can hardly think Israel would look benignly upon on a government intertwined with the Hezbollah. What then – a full scale invasion of Lebanon by Israel? What would it bring about other than more Arab resentment? Could it bring into play Lebanon’s chief supporters, the Iranians and a wider an even more dangerous conflict?
The supported Syria in 1976, but times have changed, now that Assad senior has departed and now that Syria has been a less than enthusiastic ally in the Iraqi conflict, Syria is on the The List. Syria is not only identified by the US as a funder of and haven for terrorists, it is now a prime candidate for regime change. The US wants desperately to put pressure on Syria wherever, whenever, however and Lebanon is an opportunity to do just that. Alas, as usual, the US has not thought through the implications of this policy and could well find that it has an even more unpleasant lot in Lebanon than the Syrians.
Be careful what you wish for…..
Should you wish to read more on the subject of Lebanon’s history I commend you to the following pages: