Chapter 7 - The End of the Lebanese Civil War and the Ta'if Agreement the ”last straw”.


 

The Lebanese Civil war ended in 1990 following the defeat of the Lebanese Army leader Aoun by Syria's intervened military. William Harris saw the collapse of the autonomous Christian enclave of East Beirut as a blow to Christian power in Lebanon[1].

 

The Christians had not just faced a traumatic end to their autonomy on 13 April, but they had to face the consequences of the implementation of the Ta'if agreement, which reduced their power in favour of the Muslims.

 

On the 30th of September 1989, the Arab League plan, hereafter referred to as the Ta'if Accord, was signed in the resort city of Ta'if. The 62 Lebanese members of Parliament, 85 percent of the surviving 73 members who met in Saudi Arabia, included 31 Christian and 31 Muslim deputies[2]. Many Christians considered that this agreement as the single event that sealed their downfall. The agreement united the nation but failed to give the Christians the necessary guarantee for their survival.

 

Following the Ta'if agreement, more ambitious Islamic leaders found an opportunity to consolidate their political gains, and gradually eliminated the Christian presence from the national government[3]. Catholic leaders were against the new agreement. Jose Navalpotro wrote:

 

 

Cardinal Sfeir put the question in sharp relief. Without a strong Christian presence in government, he asked, what would be the incentive to maintain an independent Lebanon? And without a clear agreement with their Muslim neighbours, how could a Christian minority in one small country expect to survive in an"Islamic ocean?".

 

 

The Ta'if agreement emphasised three factors: Firstly, that the new preamble to the constitution unequivocally stressed Lebanon's Arab identity and affiliation. Secondly, that the new preamble should state that Lebanon's system should be based on social justice and equality between all citizens in rights and duties without any differentiation and preference. Thirdly it called for the abolition of political sectarianism.

 

Sami Ofeish asserted that Ta'if addressed the causes of the Lebanese Civil War[5]. Article 24 of the Ta'if accord presents the guidelines for the sectarian distribution of seats in parliament. This article affirms that, until parliament enacts non-sectarian electoral laws, parliamentary seats should be distributed equally between Christians and Muslims[6]. Sami Ofeish commented that the principles of sectarian "proportional representation" were not implemented accurately in the past and they did not accommodate the demographic changes showing Muslims as the numerical majority beginning in the 1960s[7].

 

The Ta'if ‘s agreement improved the position of the prime minister at the expense of the President's traditional functions. According to article 64, the Prime Minister is now the one who heads the government and acts as its representative. The Parliamentary Speaker (A Shiite)'s term is extended to four years instead of one as in the past according to article 44.

 

The Maronite-exclusive Presidency was rendered to be more symbolic. Sami Ofeish wrote that despite the fact that the President is still the head of the state (Article 49), his executive power lies mainly with the council of ministers (Article 17), and the president shares the decision-making with the Prime Minister and the council[8].

 

As we can clearly see, three Presidents rule Lebanon equally, the President of the Republic, the President of Council of Ministers and the President of the Chamber of Deputies. It is important to see that Ta'if reduced the Christian political power in Lebanon in favour of the Muslims.

 

Christine Asmar saw that the Ta'if agreement did not provide any solutions to the Lebanese political power:

 

 

Ta'if was also to have signalled a thaw in inter-confessional hostilities, but instead it may have simply frozen animosities while facilitating the restoration of a central government, leaving unresolved the vital issue of inter-confessional relations, especially at the level of the "street[9].

 

 

One of the consequences of the Ta'if agreement was the signing of a treaty of brotherhood, cooperation and coordination between Syria and Lebanon[10]. A majority of Christians voiced their concern about the treaty. William Harris commented on the Christian opposition to Ta'if:

 

 

Most Christians rejected the Ta'if regime, as they felt alienated both from Christian participants in the government and from other Christian parties, principally the Kata'ib and the LF, which had accepted the new order but dissented on details[11].

Christians boycotted the first post Ta'if’s agreement election in 1992. Judith Harik noted that the Lebanese Maronite community feared that a new parliament would enact laws to end its privileged position in Lebanese society and politics[12]. The Maronites wanted the Syrians out of Lebanon, and believed that elections held before the Syrians departure might be unduly influenced by Syria at their expense[13]. Judith Harik stated that the Christians boycotted the 1992 election, because they felt that the new parliament would not represent their interests[14].

 

 

The Christians' fears were to become a reality when a pro Syrian President was elected in 1993. The new parliaments after 1990 did not contain strong nationalist Christians as before. In the last election of 2000, only a few Christian nationalists were elected, in contrast to 1972 where most Christian members of parliament were Christian nationalists.

 

The decline of the Christian political influence coincided with the economic rise of the Muslims. Jose Navalpotro wrote:

 

 

Under Hariri's regime, the financial aid which is flowing into the country from other Arabic nations is being directed toward institutions controlled by Muslims[15].

 

 

The Christians long time financial superiority over Muslims has finally come to an end. Other Arabic countries are financially aiding Muslim institutions. Muslim wealth has doubled since the end of the civil war in 1990. It is no secret that the current Prime Minister Rafic Hariri's private company Solidaire owns the central business district of Beirut. Moreover, it tenders all government major construction work. Muslim new wealth is channelling new financial and political power for the Muslims. Moreover, the poor Shi'ite area of the South is attracting more government and overseas developments.

 

Among the Christian leaders who remain active in Lebanon, there is a fervent desire for new negotiations. That desire is based on the recognition that they are rapidly losing their political influence. The principal institutions that could offer them access to power are now closed to Christians, or at least offer only the hope of a minor role.

 

Jose Navalpotro noted that there is an absence of strong Christian leadership. He observed that the former Lebanese army commander Michel Aoun is in exile in France, the former president Amin Gemayel was residing in the United States for several years after the end of his presidency in 1988, and Dory Chamoun, who succeeded his assassinated brother Danny, has been unable to mount the sort of sustained and strategic action that would give a sense of new hope to his followers[16]. The Gemayel family finally returned in 2000 and Amin Gemayel's son Pierre was elected to the parliament in late 2000.

 

The absence of strong Christian leaders impedes the Christian community of exercising a powerful influence as in the past. The decline of Christian influence will even increase if there continues to be an absence of a strong Christian leader who mobilises his community and enables it to survive. Another important Christian leader, Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese forces militia, is currently in prison. Navalpotro wrote that in March 1994 the government outlawed his Lebanese forces party, and arrested him. He was accused of engineering the bombing of a Catholic church in Beirut and the assassination of Danny Chamoun.

 

The Catholic bishops pointed out in their public denunciation of Geagea's imprisonment that the government had produced no evidence to sustain the charges[17]. Since the formal conclusion of the Lebanese civil war on October 13, 1990, many episodes have borne testimony to the steadily diminishing influence of the Christians in Lebanon.

 

1990 October -Danny Chamoun, the key leader among Maronite Christians, is assassinated, along with his family.

 

1991 May -Patriarch Sfeir denounces the Syria-Lebanon pact, saying that it compromises the nation's sovereignty and undermines the "national pact" of 1943.

August-General Michel Aoun, the latest Christian leader to emerge as a national power broker, is sent into exile in France, and prohibited from returning to Lebanon for five years.

 

1992 September -Catholics organise a boycott of legislative elections; between 70 and 85 percent of all Catholics refuse to participate. One Christian deputy was elected by just winning forty votes[18].

 

1993 May -Anti-Catholic rioting breaks out in the region of Chouf. The bishops of Lebanon speak out against the purchase of lands in Christian neighbourhoods, which they point out is changing the demographic face of the nation.

 

June - Three terrorists die in the premature explosion of a bomb they were preparing at the site of a meeting of Orthodox and Catholic bishops

 

October - Christian political leaders are the targets in a series of arrests; several are taken to Damascus and held there.

 

December - A Christian cemetery is desecrated in Mansourieh, an apparent warning to Christians that they should not celebrate Christmas.

 

1994 February - A bomb placed in a Catholic Church explodes during Mass, killing eight worshippers; the terrorist act following several days after the massacre of Muslims by an Israeli extremist in Hebron.

 

June -Prime minister Hariri ordered the shut down of ICN television and the Nida'al Watan daily newspaper after they expressed concerns by Christians over the prime minister's land purchases in traditionally Christian areas[19].

 

July - The Maronite bishops issued a new warning about the loss of equilibrium between Christians and Muslims in the nation's government.

 

2000 January -A group of Islamic militants stormed a Christian village killing one resident, while engaging in fighting with the Lebanese Army.

 

September - The Maronite Bishops' council called for the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon, thus voicing a Christian protest to such presence.

 

December -Syria freed about 50 mostly Lebanese Christians political prisoners. However, human rights groups have put the number of Lebanese political prisoners in Syrian jails at anywhere between several hundred and several thousand[20].

 

2001 August - The arrest of 200 Christian youths following their demands at a rally for a Syrian withdrawal. The former advisor to Samir Geagea, Twefic Hindi, was arrested as well as Aoun's representative Nadim Lteif. They were accused of collaboration with Israel and treason.

 

September - The Maronite Bishops'Council renewed its call for the withdrawal and asked Christians not to leave the country.

 

October - Two churches in Sidon and Tripoli were attacked, reinforcing the fact that Christians are still finding it very hard to be optimistic about their safety in their homeland.

 

2002 January -The former commander of the Phalangist army (Lebanese Forces) and a former minister Elie Hobaiqua was assassinated in Beirut along with his three bodyguards.

 









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