Subordination of the Lebanese Factions to Foreign Forces and Dissolution of Lebanese Society
Ahmad Beydoun, born in 1943 in Beirut, is a sociologist by profession and leftist intellectual. He has authored a dozen remarkable books on Lebanese historiography, its political system, the civil war, and the quest for a Lebanese national identity. He is among the most respected historians and sociologists in his country.
Beydoun seeks in his text to explain and deepen our understanding of the sectarian system in Lebanon. This system is largely based on "patron-client" relationships and is characterized by a large degree of foreign dependence and protection for the various groups in the country. The dependence and protection are largely ideological, religious, and financial. Beydoun devotes much of his text to explaining the implications of this support for the unity of the nation.
The civil war in Lebanon formally ended with the Taif Agreement (1989) and the adoption of the Amnesty Act (1991—for all political crimes committed before the enforcement of this law). The war was over, but sectarianism was consolidated and deepened. Lebanon's fragility and geopolitical position meant that regional and international actors continued to take an interest in the country with strengthened “support” for the various groups. Baydoun claims that this support has led to a lack of national unity and community—not least in the top tier, which in turn has put the fragile government institutions to the test. These factors have led to a deepening polarization and to citizens with little confidence in the state's ability to resolve conflicts and crises in a fair way.
In a frank, initiated, and pedagogical way Ahmad Beydoun, among other things, explains the intricacies of the system and its consequences.
The introduction is written by Gufran Al-Nadf, a longtime Swedish diplomat who served in Syria and Lebanon between the years 2004-2007. She is currently active as the Swedish Foreign Affairs’ Director for the Swedish Diplomatic Training Programme.
In the past, I had the chance to make a comparison that still resonates today. It aimed to underline the contrast between the weak socio-political consequences of the cooperation by Lebanese Christian leaders with the Israeli government during the country’s civil war, on the one hand, and the profound transformations that the Iranian influence brought about in Lebanese Shiism on the other hand. Naturally, I am referring to the anti-Palestinian alliance that some Christian leaders built with Israel ever since the violence began in Beirut. One that reached its climax during the 1982 invasion of the capital and began to decline afterward. I also refer to the relationship, which lasted for a much longer time, in occupied southern Lebanon, between the Israeli agencies and the local Christian leadership. Nothing approximately has been left of this relationship, except bitterness among some Christians about the immense damages it caused, in terms of their relationship with other religious factions and the position of the Christian minority in the Levant. The aforementioned can find an explanation in the ominous, sterile confrontation between an arrogant Israeli side and a Lebanese Christian project that wanted to take back control of its destiny.
The difference between this first case and the relationship that the Lebanese Shiites established with Khomeini's Iran is that the latter embodied an ideological homogenizing project, stimulated by the overall social elevation of the Shiites in Lebanon. And although signs of dissonance and discomfort due to the unbalanced relationship between the Lebanese and Iranian sides exist, they are in no way a threat to the solid link between Teheran and its Lebanese proxy. Rather, the real threat lies in the gloomy perspective that it offers to the Lebanese side, as it is used by the so-called Islamic republic as a tool in its open battle in the international arena. Further, this relationship is deepening the divide between the Lebanese Shiites and other sects in their country. Finally, the partial “Iranianization” of religious rituals, social life, and behavior is causing deep cracks within the sect itself, a particularly deep fracture, that is however still camouflaged by the heavy and overwhelming presence of Hezbollah.
Accordingly, it is clear that when capitulation by a Lebanese community to a regional or international power occurs, the shape it takes varies depending on the situation. Such a relationship could remain confined to the political or material level. Otherwise, it could also take a symbolic or ideological dimension that will give it exceptional power to influence and reshape the community. These three models of subordination work together or individually; they might even compete with one another. In any case, we cannot look at these patterns as if they had similar intensities, duration, and consequences. Crossing from one kind of political alliance to another is usually easier than entering or exiting what we called “the symbolic model of subordination”. Each model generates commitment or loyalty with its characteristics and its incentives. Among several Lebanese sects, the intensification of the sectarian symbolic network has remarkably increased – albeit in different degrees. If anything, this leads to a more difficult cross-sectarian communication, understanding, and intermingling. This is exacerbated by the historic rivalry between these sectarian units that goes back to the civil war. The impact is therefore felt in the way sects interact with each other: whether building for a “common life” of cross-sectarian cooperation or living as separate groups in the same geographic area, but also when it comes to consensus or disagreement in politics and cultural exchanges.
As we said, Lebanese sects today do not share a similar degree of dependence on international players. The formulas governing this dependency are also varied. According to the project that foreign patrons seek to implement in Lebanon, the relationship of dependency with the local client would either expose the country to devastating danger or limit improvement and development to the dependent sect. These two visions look very unequal at first glance; however, they are very similar if viewed from another angle. In both cases, Lebanon ends up with appropriate conditions to reinforce sectarian polarization in the long run, which endangers social and political cohesion, as well as other international competitors in the Lebanese arena. At the same time, these changes will undermine the sectarian state as it is unable to adapt itself accordingly to the new challenges it is facing. To add to this, the Lebanese factions do not usually have a choice regarding the identity of their patron and his demands; rather, they are obligated to approve of the available sponsor and accept what the balance of power dictates.
The support provided by a foreign power to a group of the political sectarian parties in Lebanon becomes an indispensable resource in proportion to an exaggerated increase in the relative weight of the target sect. Abandoning it or losing it may become, because of this exaggeration, a disaster. The aforementioned exaggeration must be understood in a sense that includes both material weight and moral weight at the same time and includes various aspects of the group's existence. This exaggeration affects the sect’s relations with other communities of the nation, which leave direct effects on the daily lives of individuals, who may re-evaluate themselves and their belonging to their community, as well as their vision of other groups and formations. It is necessary to look at the small size of the country, the fissures that permeate the society, the limits imposed by these fissures on the formation and exercise of the central authority, and the geographic situation in which the country found itself since the day the State of Israel was established in 1948. These are all factors that have facilitated the subordination of this sectarian group or that to external forces that benefit from this dependence as well.
In the targeted sectarian group, there is a solid and huge nucleus that tends to dominate and monopolize political representation. This nucleus is reinforced by various means and institutions that cannot be competed with by any opposition grouping that arises, based on the sole resources of the community itself or even on the resources of the entire nation. The acquired means must include a political apparatus, a media, and advocacy apparatus, and a service apparatus with various facilities. They also include, when necessary, a military apparatus with intelligence and security arms.
Thus a state of deep dependence on the foreign sponsor arises and becomes rooted in the internal structures of the community, its lifestyle, and its sources of livelihood. This will also lead to a modification in the structure of affiliation and hierarchy among the community figures and includes an increase in the intensity of rituals, religious and other, and an exaggeration in their spectacle, which leads to an excessive emphasis on the distinction. This also includes different types of support and solidarity exerted by the patron, which have moral or political, and other economic effects. Therefore, liberation from dependence means – as mentioned –various sorts of losses and regression in the general position, which is difficult to bear. It is not without a paradox that this alienation can necessarily allow a sectarian group of limited size and limited resources to transform, in its apparent condition, into a party with a regional influence, but also to a party with an international print as well. The behavior of other parties towards the group confirms this situation little by little, despite its lack of objective foundations characterized by appropriateness and permanence.
In general, dependence on the outside is associated with a state of hostile mobilization in the group, which the group uses to stand in the face of one or more opponents, inside or outside, or both. Otherwise, there is no sign of the extensive and high-cost strategic support on the part of the patron (with different kinds of cost), if this state of hostility does not exist, and if the concerned Lebanese community does not play a role in it and accept the consequences of this role, no matter how destructive they may be. The natural sense of danger is treated with forms of mobilization that may become overwhelming. The hardcore in particular will accept the possibility of destruction and will strive to justify it, first for itself, and then for the whole community. This is because it acquires its power and dominance through this excessive link with the approval of the external patron. The influence and might of this nucleus foil any potential action of its opponents within the group itself. Unless there is a far-reaching change in the broader political context, it remains difficult for opponents to rally and show solidarity against the will of the dominant core. Familiar factors of all kinds disintegrate their powers, without having any chance of solidarity after confronting these disintegrating factors. Opportunism, hesitation, and lack of confidence in allies are also active in their ranks, in addition to pressures and fear of the nucleus and all other temptations or means of compulsion to obey that deter their efforts.
Taking all of that in mind, the central government cannot be cohesive over basic matters in foreign policy and national defense. It is also impossible to reach a coherent policy for development that goes beyond the perspective of quotas. The gravest result of the formation of a huge nucleus in the sect that is dependent on a foreign power is the abolition of an alternative representation of the sect in the central government. For an indefinite period, this representation will remain in the hands of one party, which may take the form of an organization or a bloc to present its leadership. It is usually impossible to keep up with it because it is supported by a foreign power and because it strongly believes that it is irreplaceable. In addition, the unity of state institutions, including administration and armed forces, becomes especially fragile and vulnerable when the sectarian character of the political division emerges. This is because the loss of cohesion at the summit and the dominance of sectarian tension in the periphery are straining the adherence of these institutions to their unity and the assumed image of their mission. All of this would greatly limit its effectiveness in crises and undermine the rule law in general.
Finally, there is a trend towards a sectarian allocation of political and administrative positions in these institutions, and parties will not mind sharing shreds of them if needed. This will reinforce the doubt in the state's ability to settle the disputes, as a rule, that is, in its ability to carry out the task that is considered one of the necessities of the state's existence in the first place. In the same vein, sectarian logic is imposed on public services, especially education, where their effectiveness is nullified or reduced. These services lose their functions as means to realize citizens' belonging to the one state and the equanimity of the latter as the ultimate authority that protects rights among communities, safeguard diversity, and encourages intermingling among their members. Together with the flourishing of Corruption and anti-social formations spread alongside the flourishing of the sectarian presence in the normal social work activities. This is because various types of crimes and misdemeanors are protected and taken care of within the sectarian political system. These care and protection usually remain unnoticed until they are needed; they then come out into the open as soon as a good cause calls for it.
Dependency inevitably leads to an internal confrontation that is not free from bouts of violence that can escalate and transform, when necessary, into an armed conflict. The tendency to dependence is contagious and spreads from one extreme to the other, to maintain balance and protect the soul. That, of course, if the protector was available and when resorting to him seemed rewarding for both sides. The confrontation between the internal parties may take place in anticipation of a breach of the external role that is likely to become a grave breach of the internal balance. It can also happen to correct the defect after it occurs if there was an opportunity to do so. Confrontation, therefore, can be instigated because certain internal parties, for reasons that are essential to them, refrain from recognizing the superiority of the party, which receives the external support. In addition, the tendency towards conflict can be triggered by the acceptance of the various internal parties for the patronage of different external parties that disagree among themselves, which makes potential or occurring internal conflicts, at one level, a disguised conflict between the external patrons themselves. Ending the conflict, in this case, depends on the consensus among them.
This susceptibility to dependence and the subsequent fragmentation of the Lebanese nation or the prevention of its consolidation does not change unless a change in the system of regional relations and its international context. It may also befall if one major party to the basic political system changes its approach, as a result of the change of the position of regional power. Finally, this change might occur if the state of hostility that controls the region is addressed and if a formula for cooperation existed that provides protection for its parties, including Lebanon, as countries. If such a formula existed, it may stop the tendency of one or more countries in the region or those which have a say in the region from subjugating a part of the society.
Realpolitik compels the Lebanese to be tempted to belong (including in his political existence) to a large group of believers numbering hundreds of millions (now that it has accepted his affiliation) than to belong to a small country with a population of no more than four million people, which tries to stand out. And when there is a large and wealthy country that offers to take charge of your affairs from afar, affiliation with it may seem to you more attractive than belonging to a crumbling state, which you see, from your position in it, committing all the major sins, even those that such a small nation cannot commit. The validity of this statement is reinforced by the fact that globalization, with its efficiency in bringing the sides of this planet closer together, has made both of these options possible. However, there is one problem that stands in the way of this logic, beyond its apparent clarity and innocence. It does not fit at all with what the Lebanese call their common life and boast unjustifiably about this privilege. In fact, on the contrary, the aforementioned logic is about to shorten life in its literal meaning here: the life of those who are still residing on this part of the earth, including those who transgressed and adopted this logic.
In every option that favors civil peace in Lebanon, it is natural that the excessive inflation of the weight of a group or sect should not be accepted as a result of external support that cannot be without a strategic political purpose. There is no doubt that more than one sect will consider itself a loser if it is forced to abandon this strategy. Just remember the material loss, not to mention what will befall the group's vanity and how it will lose its strength. Tens of thousands of Lebanese families live by what might be called the political mode of production. These will have to find other ways to earn their livelihood. Many of the centers in this bloated sector have existed for mere mercenaries, and that many of their ‘workers’ are not productive at all.
On the other hand, it is fair and natural for there to be anti-discrimination guarantees that do not deny or demote the rights granted to a group or sect whose personal weight is genuine and not borrowed, especially those right of representation in the government and the state political and social institutions. The weight in this sense must be defined according to the spirit of democracy and is derived from the community's various resources: from the status of its elites, its demographic size, its role in the country's economy, etc., and from the evolution of all of this from stage to stage. The extreme acceptance of this or that deviation and closing the doors to its correction, as the system of political sectarianism used to do, ends, sooner or later, with the spread of disintegration and ruin in the national community. It has become urgent, in the context of the current terrible crisis, for the mass of victims to refuse to fall into or abide in any of the two devastating precautions.
– End –