Foreword by the Saker: It is my pleasure to share with you an exceptionally well written and interesting report by Ghassan Kadi about the situation in Lebanon and the dynamics in the region. I am also happy to report that Kadi will now regularly write for the Saker blog and share his insights and analyses with us. I have also agreed with him to follow up today’s article with an interview in the form of a Q&A in which I would ask him follow-up questions. I want to invite you to join me in this. If you are interested, please begin your comment with the words “question for Ghassan Kadi” and, assuming that I approve of the question asked, I will include it in my list. Please keep in mind that I am limited to something like 10, maybe 12, questions max, so I won’t be able to include a long list. But I will try my best to include most interesting ones.
The Capitulation of “Grand Liban”
by Ghassan Kadi
“Grand Liban” or Grand Lebanon ie Lebanon in its current internationally-acknowledged state borders, is the love-child of France and a byproduct of the infamous Sykes-Picot Accord that decimated the Levant to first partition it between France and Britain, and to break it up further before granting it its independence.
The French pledged to their Lebanese cronies (who were primarily the heads of the Christian Maronite politics aka the “Maronite Political Entity”) that they will uphold the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon and guard it against any future take-over attempts by Syria. To this effect, Lebanese Muslims sarcastically refer to France as Lebanon’s “caring mother”.
The “Maronite Political Entity” was very apprehensive about the inclusion of the big cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Saida into Grand Liban; cities of high Muslim population. The French quelled their fear and stipulated in the Lebanese constitution that the President of Lebanon and the Army Chief will be Maronites. The fears were compounded by the fact that the Muslims of those cities all of sudden found themselves as citizens of an entity they regarded to be a Western vassal, and they were very angry to be stripped away from mother Syria and shoved on the lap of a state they did not identify with.
When Nasser rose to prominence, many Muslim Lebanese endorsed him and jumped onto the band-wagon of Pan-Arab nationalism. That fad did not last long, but what it was replaced with was much more complex and sinister. Pan-Arabism was replaced by Sunni-Fundamentalism, and for the first time in the history of Lebanon, the Shia started to have a voice.
Up till the 1980’s or so, the Lebanese Shia played a very small role in Lebanese politics. The afore-mentioned Muslims of Beirut, Tripoli and Saida are predominantly Sunnis. They secured the position of the Prime Minister, and the Shia were left with the position of the Leader of House; not a very strategic position, but this was only a part of the issue. The Shia were neglected and their areas were impoverished. What added insult to their injury was that they were concentrated in two areas of Lebanon, the Bekaa and the south, and in the south, their southern neighbour was Israel. Against all odds, the Shia had to rise and defeat Israel scoring a historical win tantamount to the win of David over Goliath.
The rise of Lebanese Shia has introduced a whole new equation to Lebanese politics, and from within a very strong position. If anything, in the very near future, they are tipped to go from strength to more strength.
It is looking increasingly likely that President Assad will win the battle against the coalition that waged a war against Syria in 2011. As a matter of fact, this coalition does not exist anymore. It has been fragmented and the army of fundamentalists it created (ie ISIS) has turned into a nightmare for the countries that helped bring it into existence.
In the meantime, the “Maronite Political Entity” has found new local allies, in fact, the most unlikely allies, none other than their former nemesis; the Lebanese Sunnis. The two original Lebanese sides of politics, Sunni and Maronite, realized that they are both going to lose their stature unless they unite and stand against the Shia and specifically against Hezbollah.
This time, France played no more than a minor supportive role. France is no longer the super power it used to be in the 1920’s and its political and economic reach is limited. The backing of the new Lebanese alliance had to come from a different source, and, ironically it came from the most fundamentalist of all Muslim states, Saudi Arabia.
With his strong associations with the Saudis and an immense wealth, Saad Hariri, the head of the traditional Lebanese “Sunni Political Entity” formed the financial back bone of an alliance with Saudi Arabia and America, with France on the side, an alliance that was intended to secure the integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon as a distinct and entirely independent entity from Syria. Thus the so-called March the 14th Alliance was originally comprised of the “Maronite Political Entity” plus the “Sunni Political Entity” headed by Hariri, as well as the Druze leader Walid Jumblat, but Jumblat soon left.
On the other side of Lebanese politics, we find the March the 8th Coalition. The major player in this coalition is Hezbollah, but it also comprises other progressive and secular elements such as the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP), the Lebanese Communist Party, and against all odds, Maronite leaders such as ex:Army Chief General Michel Aoun and Souleiman Franjieh who are on the “Axis of Resistance” side. The SSNP which calls for the unification of Greater Syria has been established by a Lebanese Orthodox Christian; Antoun Saade. The party is staunchly secular and has been heavily engaged in battle in Syria alongside Hezbollah and the Syrian Army.
Whilst the union of Maronite and Sunnis in the March the 14th Coalition is a marriage of convenience with sectarian anti-Shia objectives, the March the 8th Coalition is indeed a secular coalition despite the presence of the Shia-based Hezbollah as its major cornerstone. Its members and supporters, especially the youth, are sick and tired of their sectarian constitution, among many other things.
Furthermore, the presence of General Michel Aoun specifically in the March the 8th Coalition is signaling the end of the “Maronite Political Entity”. The Maronites themselves are now split up, almost in half. One half wants to uphold the old ways and the other half, led by Aoun, want reform and good relationships with Syria.
In the meanwhile, and as the turn of events in Syria were not going in favour of the March the 14th Coalition, the incumbent Saudi King Salman did what was tantamount to a coup d’etat. Soon after he assumed throne, he appointed his little formerly known son Prince Mohammed as deputy Crown Prince, and in effect, Mohammed became the uncrowned king of Saudi Arabia.
Ever since King Faisal forced his elder corrupt and debauched brother Saud into abdication in 1964, he set a clear lineage for the throne that followed through the reigns of Khaled, Fahed and Abdallah. This has all changed, and the new prince does not like the old guards and their cronies; Hariri included.
Rumours are rife that Hariri is in deep financial trouble. His Lebanese company Oger Liban is closing doors and only employees with strong relations with the boss are getting compensation. The less fortunate others are walking away empty handed. But the Saudi mother company Saudi Oger itself reportedly is deep in debt to the tune of one billion dollars. In the past, Hariri would dig into royal coffers to be bailed out; not this time.
When the war in Syria ends, and this end does not seem very far away now, all indications are that Assad is going to win and that Hezbollah is going to be even more powerful, all the while the traditional “Maronite Political Entity” and the “Sunni Political Entity” are at their nadir.
What observers are not looking at is the fact that the state of “Grand Liban” is capitulating. Everything, all the way from dealing with rubbish to electing a president.
And speaking of presidents, Lebanon hasn’t had one for over a year. If the Maronite-ship of the Lebanese president was the guarantee of the survival of that state, how could this be possible if the Maronites themselves have not been able to agree on a candidate?
But again, this is not all.
After Syria wins its war, it cannot afford to leave a soft underbelly lurking on its borders. Lebanon has been infiltrated by thousands of ISIS activists and fighters. They are mainly located in the north and north east. Their big strongholds are the town of Arsal in the Bekaa and the city of Tripoli; Lebanon’s second largest city. Those radicals will have to be uprooted and no one can do this task other than the Syrian Army and their Lebanese allies. Those who cannot see this clean up coming will be surprised when it happens.
Which nation or power, one might ask, will put the hand up then and take it upon itself to uphold the integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon? Who will come to play the part of the “caring mother” for the Maronites? And which Maronites? The remnants of the traditional “Maronite Political Entity” or the followers of General Aoun?
“Grand Liban” is capitulating. Its sectarian constitution has rotted away. Its political fabric has lost all solid ground to stand on. The decayed institutions that have been built on corruption and bribery have reached a head.
“Grand Liban” was a French lie, a joke that perhaps even its architect General Gouraud himself did not imagine would last a whole century.
Lebanese people of different political persuasions are all up in arms, angry and disappointed with what is left of their government and politicians. Thousands are flocking the streets demanding reform, but there is no reform to be found for an entity that is based on quick sand, built with sticks and held together by paper glue.
The physical rubbish that is littering the country and causing a major crisis is the physical manifestation of the much deeper and more sinister rubbish that underpins the very nature of the state, its sovereignty as an independent stand-alone nation, its identity and its archaic sectarian constitution.
So on one hand there is a specter of Lebanese government that is sectarian, corrupt, weak and dysfunctional, and on the other hand, there is the Lebanese Axis of Resistance (ie March the 8th Coalition) that is secular, organized, strong and capable. If anything, the Lebanese Axis of Resistance is now the rightful body that is much closer to being the effective Lebanese army than the regular Lebanese Army itself. It is not hard therefore to fathom that this alliance can, or perhaps should, one day lead the way to forge a new direction for governance as well as identity.
Once the Syrian Army enters Lebanon, this time it will not be leaving. Lebanon will not ever be able to have peace, security and to assume its true identity without being reunited with mother Syria, and a century of building scaffolds around it to give it feet to stand on has passed. No one seems to be able and willing to keep up this momentum, and all the scaffolds have all fallen to bits.