The birth of the state
Mountainous and impervious, the current Lebanon was from ancient times not very accessible to the control of the political authorities of the area. After the Arab conquest, it was partially Islamized, while remaining the seat of important Christian communities; its relative isolation also made it a valuable refuge for ethnic and religious minorities from the Near East. A preponderance of Maronites and Druze was determined, while to the North of Tripoli and on the coast Sunni and Greek Orthodox prevailed, to the South of Sidon and in the Beqaa region Greek-Catholics and Shiites.
- The autonomy of the local potentates continued even after the Turkish conquest (1516-17) and the situation remained relatively stable until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the European penetration, the economic and social transformations and the decline of the Ottoman Empire the organization of the region and the relations between religious communities are being discussed. The conflicts between Maronites and Druze provided France with the opportunity for a first military intervention in Beirut (1860), which led to the creation (1861-64) of an autonomous province in the area between the Mediterranean coast and the Lebanon, headed by a Catholic governor and a council of representatives of the various religious communities. After Paris took control of Syria and Lebanon, confirmed in 1920 by the mandates of the League of Nations, a Lebanese state was born much larger than the previous autonomous province at the expense of Syria, with territories inhabited mainly by Muslims (mostly hostile to separation from Syria), making its religious composition more complex and the definition of the political order is more problematic.
- Built on the basis of the privileged relations between the Maronites and France, the new state was founded on the one hand on their economic and political hegemony (partly extended to other Christian groups), on the other on the attempt to give life, starting since 1926, to a complex institutional structure that guaranteed, in some way, all religious communities. It found complete expression, on the eve of the country’s independence (1944; but the last French troops were withdrawn in 1946), in the so-called (unwritten) National Pact of 1943, under which both parliamentary seats and government posts they had to be divided among the various confessional groups according to fixed quotas; similar distributions were foreseen in the public administration and in the armed forces. The quotas were established taking into account a 1932 census, according to which Christians constituted the majority of the Lebanese population (50%). These figures, which had already aged compared to the reality of the country in 1943, would have increasingly diverged from them, mainly due to the birth rates recorded by the Muslim population compared to the Christian one; the advantageous condition for the latter, in particular for the Maronites, ensured by the National Pact, was therefore destined to become less and less acceptable for Muslims; however, the Christians refused to question it.
- To the institutional problems were added those deriving from the conditions of social inferiority of the majority of the Muslim population and from the differences in political alignment that overlapped religious divisions: among Christians, especially among Maronites, conservative and pro-Western positions prevailed; among Muslims, orientations inclined to Arab nationalism.
The Palestinian problem and the civil war
According to localcollegeexplorer, the internal conflicts within Lebanese society were manifested with vigor already in the 1950s. In 1952 the first president of the Republic (Maronite according to the National Pact), Bishāra el-Khūrī, was forced to resign; in 1957-58 the pro-Coccidental politics of his successor Camille Nimr Sham‛ūn gave rise to a bitter conflict with the pro-Nasserian and pan-Arab opposition, which resulted in an insurrectional situation: order was restored with the intervention (1958), at the request of Sham‛ūn, of US military forces and the crisis was resolved thanks to the policy of national reconciliation conducted by the new president Fu’ād Shihāb.
- From the end of the 1960s the explosion of the Palestinian problem sharpened the traditional contrasts: after the Six Day War (June 1967), a new wave of refugees joined the refugees of 1948, with a considerable impact on the political-religious balance; at the same time, the development of the Palestinian guerrilla, starting from bases located in southern Lebanon, exposed the country to Israeli reprisals; these problems worsened after the 1970-71 Jordanian crisis (Black September), which transformed the Lebanon into the main operational base of the Palestinian guerrilla. The PLO militants clashed repeatedly at first with the Lebanese army, then above all with the paramilitary forces of the Christian right (in the first place the Falange of Pierre Gemayyel), while the regular army was falling apart and the conflict tended to spread to the whole of society; when the left (such as the progressive bloc of the Druze Kamāl Giunblāt, in favor of a change in the socio-political structure of the Lebanon and close to the PLO) and the Muslim forces from 1975 began to clash with the right-wing militias, the crisis degenerated into war civil.
The Syrian and Israeli interventions
The Syrian military intervention after months of fighting and thousands of victims, including civilians, did not put an end to the conflict; in 1976 the Syrian troops in Lebanon (about 30,000 men) were recognized by the Arab League as the Arab Dissuasion Force (FAD): Damascus thus obtained formal legitimacy for a prolonged intervention in the country. The conflict that broke out in 1975 provided an opportunity for Israel to intervene in the Lebanon in 1978, which aimed primarily at creating a ‘security strip’ to the North of its borders to prevent Palestinian attacks. An indirect control was imposed on the southern end of the Lebanon through the Christian militias of Major Sa‛ad Ḥaddād supported by Tel Aviv, which in 1979 proclaimed the independence of the security belt from the Beirut government; at the same time a new phase of the civil war was opening with the FAD employed against the Christian militias. The Israeli incursions – since 1978, the dispatch of a UN interposition force was of no avail – culminated in June 1982 with the invasion of all southern Lebanon up to Beirut (while Syria maintained control of the north and the valley of the Beqaa). For the massacre of civilians perpetrated in September by Christian militias in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, areas directly controlled by Israel, the then defense minister A. Sharon he was forced to resign. The military occupation in the South of the Lebanon lasted until 1985, but Israeli forces remained in the security zone until 2000. In this area, the events linked to the civil war and the Israeli occupation favored the growth of Shiite radicalism and the birth of the Hezbollah (Party of God) militia.
The escalation of the clashes
The invasion favored the advent of a Phalangist-led government in Beirut; in 1982 Bashir Gemayyel, son of Pierre, was elected to the presidency of the Republic and, after his death in an attack, his brother Amin, who in 1983 signed a peace treaty with Israel. After the withdrawal of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force (1984), Gemayyel had to come to terms with Syria and abrogate the treaty with Israel. Subsequent negotiations with the opposition eventually led to the formation of a government of national reconciliation but did not end the civil war. While the negotiations remained blocked on the issue of institutional reforms, rejected by the Christian right, conflicts and armed clashes also developed between factions of each of the two opposing camps; the Shiite group Amal, supported by the Syrians,
- The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon was followed by a progressive growth of Syrian influence and from 1986 Damascus assumed an increasingly important role in the face of the crisis and the disruption of Lebanese society.
- In June 1987, Prime Minister Rashīd Karā´mī, leader of the Sunni community, fell victim to an attack and was replaced ad interimby Salīm al-Ḥuṣṣ; in 1988, at the end of his mandate, Gemayyel appointed a provisional military government that was to lead the country until the election of the new head of state: thus there were two governments, the civil one (presided over by al-Ḥuṣṣ), and the military (led by Michel ‛Awn [Aoun]), who actually gave birth to a Christian secessionist enclave in and around Beirut, with a further resurgence of the civil war.
End of the civil war and growth of Hezbollah
In 1989, the agreement reached in at-Taif (Saudi Arabia) between the warring factions on the progressive withdrawal of Syria and on the modification of the system of confessional quotas gained growing support and led to the progressive isolation of the military government. In 1989 the forces of Damascus and those loyal to the civilian government reconquered the secessionist enclave and finally, in 1991, the reconstruction of the regular army and the demobilization of the militias (but in the far South the anti-Israel guerrillas of Hezbollah and Palestinians) ended the civil war (which cost over 100,000 deaths) after sixteen years.
- The Lebanese political order achieved a gradual stabilization based on the acceptance of Syrian hegemony. The differences between religious communities remained alive, despite the cautious progress made by the normalization process, and the element of tension continued to be the Israeli occupation of the security belt in the south of the country.
- The government formed in 1992 by the businessman Rafīq al-Ḥarīrī, in the aftermath of the first elections held since 1972, in which Hezbollah won a broad consensus, started the reconstruction of the country. The Israeli occupation of the security belt, in addition to fueling the endemic conflict with the Palestinian guerrillas and Hezbollah (accompanied by the incursions of the Tel Aviv forces in southern Lebanon), represented the main obstacle in the negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, in the framework of the Arab-Israeli negotiations started in 1991 and, in 1996, the suspension of the peace process in the Middle East postponed the solution of the problem of the Palestinian refugees settled in the country.
- In 2000, following Israel’s withdrawal from the security zone, Lebanon regained control of the south of the country. Important legislative elections resulted in the overwhelming victory in Beirut of al-Ḥarīrī, the archenemy of President Émile Lahoud (pro-Syrian, elected in 1998) and supported by the Druze leader Walid Giunblāt, promoter of an unscrupulous alliance with the Christian right.
- In 2004, the renewal of Lahoud’s presidential mandate for another three years, with an amendment to the Constitution, precipitated political tensions, which resulted in the resignation of al-Ḥarīrī, replaced by Omar Karā´mī, whose government in favor of Damascus and supported by Hezbollah fell following the massive popular demonstrations triggered by the assassination of al-Ḥarīrī (2005). After Syria finally withdrew from Lebanon, the 2005 elections led to the formation of a government chaired by F. Siniora, a collaborator of Ḥarīrī. Any hypothesis of disarmament of the Shiite militias proved impracticable, after the new conflict with Israel unleashed in 2006 by the anti-Israeli military activity of Hezbollah, now rooted among the population and author of a real parallel state, in Beirut, political life was marked by incurable divisions and bloody episodes; only in May 2008, 18 months after Lahoud’s term expired, did Parliament manage to elect the new president, former army chief Michel Suleiman. The 2009 elections saw the victory of the pro-Western coalition led by Saad Ḥarīrī, who set up a government of national unity; took over on Jan. 2011 Sunni billionaire N. Mikati, whose appointment, decided by Suleiman and supported by Hezbollah forces, sparked strong protests from supporters of the outgoing premier. In June 2011, the violent popular uprisings in Syria against B. Assad spread throughout the country, causing bloody clashes between opposing factions of Sunnis and Alawites loyal to the Syrian president.In March 2013, while the civil war that broke out in Syria continued to have serious repercussions in the country, undermining the geopolitical balance of the area, Prime Minister Mikati resigned due to the impossibility of reaching an agreement within the government. and he was succeeded as prime minister designate by T. Salam, who from May 2014, at the end of Suleiman’s mandate, also assumed the presidential office ad interim. The new executive of national unity, formed only in February 2014, is found to face a further worsening of the tensions produced by the Syrian conflict: the presence of extremist groups along a large part of the border between Syria and Lebanon has led to clashes between these groups and the Lebanese security forces and raids within Lebanese territory.
In October 2016, after two and a half years of stalemate and with the support of Hezbollah, former general M. Aoun won the parliamentary vote to take up the post of president, and the following month he entrusted former premier S Ḥarīrī the task of leading a new executive; in November of the following year, the politician announced his resignation due to Iran’s interference in the country’s political life, suspending them a few days later following President Aoun’s request for dialogue.
The legislative elections held in May 2018 – the first since 2009 – with a very low turnout (49%) highlighted a clear change in the political balance of the country, with Hezbollah achieving a consistent success, winning 14 seats in parliament single-chamber, and the decline of the Movement for the future of Ḥarīrī (down from 38 to 21 seats), partly offset by the success of the Lebanese Christian Forces led by S. Geagea, the prime minister’s strategic ally. In the following months, the worsening of the economic crisis continued to erode the consensus granted to the executive, accused of corruption and managerial incapacity, until it resulted in street demonstrations in October 2019 that forced the premier Ḥarīrī to resign, taking over from him in January 2020 H. Diab, who also resigned in August following the violent protests following the explosion that destroyed various neighborhoods in downtown Beirut, causing over 200 deaths and thousands of injured. In the same month the Parliament instructed the diplomat M. Adib to form a new executive, but the following month, having failed to find a government agreement between the parties that had nominated him, the politician gave up; in October 2020 the Parliament assigned a new mandate to the former premier Ḥarīrī, who, however, in July 2021 – unable to form a new executive -resigned from the position, the entrepreneur N. Mikati succeeded him in September.