Chapter 4: Christian Political Parties and Organisations

 

This chapter explores Christian political parties, and their role in the rise and fall of Christians in Lebanon. These parties have used nationalism as a vehicle to promote their political platforms. These political parties were involved in the 1975 civil war. Moreover, despite the end of the civil war in 1990, the Lebanese Christian parties still try to influence politics in Lebanon. These parties' aim has been to be recognised as the ones who safeguarded the Christians' rights in Lebanon.

 

 

The Phalanges Party (Kataib)

 

It was clearly the single most important actor among Lebanese Christians in the events leading to the 1975 crisis. In the early 1950s, the Phalanges became a parliamentary party and a participant in the traditional game of Lebanese politics[1]. It recruited non-Christian and non-Maronite members. Yet, the Phalanges remained essentially a Maronite party and according to Rabinovich, the Lebanese entity it envisaged was in reality Christian[2].

 

In the summer of 1975, when it appeared that the preservation of Christian control over the traditional political system in Greater Lebanon was no longer feasible, the party, or at least its radical wing, opted for the less desirable goal of a smaller Christian Lebanon based in East Beirut, the Northern part of Mount Lebanon, and the coastal area north of Beirut3. This sentiment was expressed through the publication of an interesting pamphlet by the Maronite Intellectual Centre in Kaslik, under the title Greater Lebanon a half century's tragedy. The pamphlet stated that the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920 by the French mandate was not in favour of the Christians.

 

The Christians knew very clearly that their political dominance, which was safeguarded by the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920 by the French mandate and the 1943 pact, was no longer possible. It was a sound strategy to opt for a smaller country in which they could control and preserve their culture. However, as events later showed, Muslims were not just interested in taking power in Lebanon but also to prevent Christians from ever forming a small or larger Christian Lebanese nation. As a result, the party was very interested in protecting Christian interest in a country, which started to slip away from them in favour of the Muslim majority.

 

The Phalanges party was divided between two schools of thoughts-the school of thought represented by Pierre Gemayel's elder son Amin and that of Karim Pakandouni. They believed that Lebanon's Christians could only survive by coming to terms with their environment. It sought accommodation with Syria, with Lebanese Muslims and with the larger Arab world. The second school of thought was represented by Amin's younger brother Bashir, who, in the summer of 1976, became the Commander of the party's armed forces. This school according to Itamar Rabinovich is sceptical of Arab and Muslim willingness to tolerate a Lebanese Christian entity in their midst, and believed in the need to develop that entity's resources, the establishment of an alliance with Israel, the mobilisation of the Lebanese Christian Diaspora, and the obtainment of American support[4].

 

The second school of thought prevailed over the first one. When Bashir sidelined his older brother, many believed that Bashir ignited strong nationalistic support among Christians. He later became the President of the country for twenty-one days, until his assassination. His brother succeeded him but was much weaker than he.

 

 

The Lebanese Forces

 

The Phalangist army called itself the Lebanese Forces (LF). It mustered up to 20,000 troops, of which a core of 3,000 was a full-time soldier. Under the leadership of William Hawi, and later of Bashir Gemayel, it evolved into a formidable and highly organised fighting force. The Phalangist party practised conscription in the area it controlled, drafting eligible young men to swell its ranks. In internal fighting throughout the Civil War and up to 1982, the Lebanese Forces consolidated its leadership of the Lebanese Christian Front by assimilating other Christian militia, often by force[5].

 

 

The National Liberal party

 

The Phalanges principal ally in the Lebanese front, Camille Chamoun's national Liberal party, was a markedly dissimilar political formation6. A small party organised around the person and personality of its leaders, it lacked the coherent doctrine, elaborate structure, and large membership of its senior partner, the Phalanges.

 

Camille Chamoun presided over Lebanon from 1952 until 1958. He was a bitter opponent and critic of Pan-Arab nationalism, and the only Arab ruler who accepted the US president Dwight Eisenhower's doctrine, which was aimed to help the Middle East nations fend off armed aggression from any communist nation. It even offered to protect the political independence of such nations[7]. The party is currently heading the opposition against Syria's presence in Lebanon.

 

 

Al Marade Party

 

This 3,500-strong unit, also called the Marada (Giants) Brigade, was named after a Byzantine border guard in ancient Lebanon. They represented the interests of Sulayman Franjiyah, President of Lebanon at the outbreak of the Civil War. It was also called the Zhagartan Liberation Army after Zgharta, Franjiyah's hometown. It operated out of Tripoli and other areas of northern Lebanon, but it also fought in Beirut. The military alliance between the Phalanges and the Marada, which was evident at the start of the 1975 civil war, ended on June 13, 1978, with a surprise Lebanese Forces (LF) attack on Ihdin, the Marada headquarters, during which the Marada commander, Tony Franjiyah was killed[8].



 

 

The Order of Maronite Monks

 

The Maronite church has played a big role in Lebanese politics. It has sought to safeguard the right of Christians. During the 1975 Lebanese Civil War, Patriarch Bulus Khureysh, the head of the Maronite Church, did not have any political impact9. On the other hand, the head of the order of Maronite monks Father Charbel Qassis took the activist and militant line within the Maronite church. The Maronite Monastic order, the owners of a sizable portion of Lebanon's agricultural land, provided financial and political support to the Maronite militias[10].

 

The Order of Maronite Monks militia consisted of 200 priests[11]. Father Bulus Na'aman, another powerful militant cleric, later replaced Quassis[12]. Rabinovich explained that Maronite monasteries were storing weapons, ammunition, and food for Christian militias[13]. Priests saw the need to protect Christians against Palestinians and Muslims who were threatening the status quo of Christians.

 

Maronite League

 

The Maronite League was a militant militia headed by Shaker Abu Suleiman, an ardent supporter of Qassis. Like the Guardians of the Cedar (see below), it was a purely Maronite militia without the inhibitions of the politically sophisticated Phalanges and National Liberals. It, therefore, chose to fight alongside these groups rather than to merge with them[14].

 

 

The Guardians of the Cedars

 

The Guardians of the Cedars consisted of about 500 men[15]. Although they advocated a non-confrontational confessional ideology, the Guardians have in practice been among the fiercest fighters for the Christian cause.

 

The political and military leader of the Guardians of the Cedar, Etienne Saqr (nicknamed Abu Arz), worked for the Faranjiyya administration in the early 1970s. But ideologically, Sa'id Aql who sought to draw a clear distinction between Lebanonism and Arabism inspired the Guardians. Aql's conception of Lebanon, originating in and inspired by a remote Phoenician past, and contributing to the development of civilisation, minimises the role of Islam and Arabism[16].

 

The Guardians of the Cedars were frank about their relationship with Israel, unlike the Phalanges and the National Liberals, who sought to conceal their relations with Israel. The Guardians argued publicly in 1976 that the Christians should turn to Israel to ask it to save what was left of Lebanon. Like the Maronite League, they maintained their separate organisation that fought alongside the larger militias[17].

 

 

At Tanzim

 

Arabic for "the organisation". At Tanzim was originally a small secret society of Christian officers within the Lebanese army who supported the Phalanges. At Tanzim accepted members from outside the army, mostly from the upper and professional classes. It fielded its own militia of about 200[18].

 

 

The Lebanese Front

 

In December 1975, when major changes in the Lebanese political system were being discussed seriously and a Muslim summit was convened to formulate a joint position, a comparable Maronite summit was called for. The major Maronite leaders Pierre Gemayel, Camille Chamoun, Charbel Quassis, and Shaker Chaker Abu Sleiman met in the presidential palace[19].

 

In the spring of 1976, the Maronite summit was renamed the Kafur summit. Camille Chamoun was chosen President of the newly formed Lebanese Front. Its leadership included Pierre and Bashir Gemayel, Bulus Na'aman, Edward Hunayian (who had previously worked with Raymond Edde), and two noted Christian intellectuals, Charles Malek and Fouad Ephrem Al Boustani. A joint military command was formed for the various militias, whose new collective name was the Lebanese forces.

 

The Lebanese forces were made up of four militias, the Phalanges, Chamoun's Numur, the Guardians of the Cedars, and the At Tanzim. Two members represented each. Despite the nominal parity, it was clear that the Lebanese Forces were dominated and controlled by Bashir Gemayel.

 

Nevertheless, the formation of an apparently non-partisan, all Maronite forums proved very useful for the further development of the status quo coalition of Christian leaders mentioned above[20]. Halim Barakat said that the Christian rightists of the Lebanese Front have continued to resist the elimination of political sectarianism[21].

 

 









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