Even as the war in southern Lebanon heats up and
a cease-fire looks increasingly distant, thoughts turn to what will happen in
the aftermath. Since the 1960s, Lebanon’s many religious
groups have had strained
relations, but a unified Lebanon could be one of the few positive results
of the current violence.
For most of the 20th century, Israel and Lebanese Christians considered
each other allies,
but with Christians finding themselves under Israeli
air attacks, those days could be over.
Lebanon’s internal politics are not easy to follow; complicated political
and religious alliances have existed for decades. In 1943, when their neighbors
were gearing for war, Lebanese Christians and Muslims agreed
to share political power and lived in mostly peaceful balance. Unfortunately,
the violence that arose next door would eventually bleed through the border,
mostly in the form of refugees.
Sectarian strife grew during the '60s and led directly to the Lebanese
civil war in 1975. Adding to the problem, the Palestinian
Liberation Organization had moved into southern Lebanon after being expelled
from Jordan. Eventually the Syrians and the Israelis interjected themselves
into the conflict as well. (And by driving out the PLO in 1982, the
Israelis also unwittingly became a midwife to Hezbollah.) The war itself
ended in 1990, but the Israelis didn’t leave until 2000 and the Syrians only
complicity in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik
Hariri led to last year’s Cedar
Revolution and the expulsion of Syrian troops; however, Syria allegedly
continues to exert influence through the Shi’ite Hezbollah and President Émile
Lahoud, who interestingly enough is a Maronite
Christian. After Syria's official departure, Lebanon seemed to be heading toward
more religious strife,
especially between groups for and against Syrian intervention. Then Michel Aoun
returned from exile.
Aoun, also a Maronite Christian, is one of Lebanon’s more interesting characters
and likely to become an even more important
player in postwar Lebanese politics. His long,
colorful history, including stints as a brigadier general and transitional
prime minister, has earned him the people’s respect even when they have doubted
his methods. The cost of his attempt to free Lebanon from Syrian rule was a
14-year exile in France at then-President Francois
Mitterand’s personal request.
Appearing this week on al-Jazeera, Aoun reiterated his stance that a united
Lebanon must include Hezbollah members because they are "an
integral part of the people." Now that the Syrian troops are gone, Aoun
believes the country can reunite across religious backgrounds. As leader of
the third largest political party, the Free Patriotic Movement, Aoun even came
to an agreement
of understanding with Hezbollah last winter.
"We want to create a secular culture with the people so that the population
begins to demand it and [will] be able to confront religious authorities that
refuse it, " reads a statement
on the FPM leader’s Web site. Still, some are angered
by the FPM’s alliance with Hezbollah and fear a Hezbollah win almost as much
as an Israeli one.
However, with the war raging in the South, Aoun has joined a number of Christians
who are accepting Shi’ite refugees into shelters
and homes as
fellow citizens in danger. Because the Christians
are also not immune to Israeli attacks, the dream of secular unity seems
increasingly possible under Aoun’s populist leadership.
Analysis by Margaret Griffis for Antiwar.com