While the 1975 war ended the rule of political Maronism, which contributed to the birth of the first Republic, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri put an end to the rule of political Sunnism, which rose in the presence of the Syrian occupation.
And now, the Shia security role is drawing to a close.
Lebanon was only named as the “Switzerland of the East” because of the stability, prosperity, and affluence it witnessed during the era of political Maronism. Back then, Lebanon stood out as a modern and advanced country, taking a leading position in the region in all aspects. However, the war that erupted on April 13, 1975 due to the division over major strategic options brought an end to the rule of political Maronism and the Lebanese model at that time.
During the time of political Maronism, the state had military, security, and judiciary institutions, and was ruled by law and its people enjoyed stability, coexistence, and peace. The city of Beirut was the capital of the East whose arms were open to all tourists and those who went there to study, receive medical care, or enjoy the nature of the country and its freedom and openness. Beirut was everyone’s most celebrated go-to destination. However, war has destroyed everything and deprived Lebanon of its leading position.
In 1992, Hariri stepped into the political arena to lead his first government following the Taif Accord, ushering in an era that was known as “political Sunnism” due to the following reasons:
1) The regression of political Maronism as a result of the Syrian emasculation of the Taif Accord, which was implemented selectively based on the “victors and vanquished” principle, not to mention the Syrian influence on the Lebanese decision-making process.
2) Syria’s moving of political Shiism away from the forefront of the political decision-making process, opting instead to let Hariri lead on the economic front (without giving him a carte blanche), while leaving security in the hands of Hezbollah.
3) Then-Lebanese army General Michel Aoun’s tactical use of the Taif Accord to his advantage, after he was not elected as the first president of the Republic under the Accord. This made it seem like the Accord replaced political Maronism with political Sunnism, and therefore stripped the Maronites of their powers and empowered the Sunnis. This, however, was not the case in reality, as proven by the current situation under Aoun’s presidency and the fact that he has never brought up the subject since assuming office.
4) Although the strategy of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad required him to strengthen the influence of political Shiism as part of his alliance with post-revolution Iran, he was aware of the significance of maintaining balanced ties with the Arab and Gulf states. Therefore, he gave Hariri complete freedom to hit three birds with one stone: please the Saudis, keep the balance that he was keen on maintaining in Lebanon, and have Hariri play the dual role of the leader of Lebanon and the minister of foreign affairs for Syria.
5) The extraordinary personality of Hariri that allowed him to build an extensive external network and spend political money without any limits. His personality overshadowed all others, and the role he played in leading the government was more significant and influential during his time than it ever was. This was not because of the powers he enjoyed, but rather because of his personality. A simple comparison between Hariri’s leadership of the government and that of others should suffice to realize the difference.
For all those reasons and more, the era from 1992 until Hariri’s assassination in 2005 was called “political Sunnism,” which was best represented by Hariri alone. However, it would be unfair to judge his performance during a time when he did not have complete freedom, and the Lebanese decision-making was influenced by the Syrians at the political, economic and security levels. In spite of this, he managed to set the country on the right course towards development and revive Beirut. He also tried to establish a role for Lebanon to play in achieving peace in the region and to place the country on the global map thanks to his relationships and ties.
As for the term “political Shiism,” it is not quite accurate in light of what really happens on the ground, and it should more accurately be called “security Shiism.” This is because the Shias have a security, military, and expansionary project in Lebanon, not a political one. The essence of the Shia project here is to maintain the presence of Lebanon in the axis they are affiliated with.
Their presence is empowered by weapons, and their role is based on and defined by war. This means that their role is not political in the traditional sense.
The public confrontation with security Shiism started following the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon in 2005. With the Assad regime being its sponsor due to the Alawite-Shia coalition, the Syrian withdrawal left security Shiism on its own to defend its role and project. In addition, it collided with the nascent sovereign uprising and tried to abort it by any means possible.
Therefore, with the assassination of Hariri and the Syrian withdrawal, Shiism took the role of dividing the country into two halves, one supporting the Shia project with its weapons, and the other opposing it. In February of 2006, Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement signed the Mar Mikhael agreement, giving the project of this factional party a wider dimension. This project has gradually moved from having the power of what is known as the “sectarian veto,” to having the power of a third of the seats in the parliament, or what is called the “obstructing third” following its alliance with Aoun, and finally having the majority of Parliament seats during Aoun’s tenure.
The whole era starting from the withdrawal of the Syrian army, during which the Shia duo dominated the political scene due to its weapons, external role, and the division it had stirred, can be described as security Shiism. This era has witnessed the worst events and developments, including assassinations of political figures, wars with Israel, internal fighting, and fighting in Syria. This is in addition to the obstruction of institutions, financial collapse, and the dissolution of the state, which was drained by the rule of weapons and corruption. The security Shiism era is one of the worst eras Lebanon has ever witnessed as it became a rogue state isolated from the world, not to mention that the Lebanese people lost their lifestyle, while Lebanon lost all its touristic, economic and educational strength.
As Lebanon is reaching the edge due to the financial crisis and the lack of the people’s confidence in the state, and as France is interfering through an initiative whose ability to save the day is unknown, thinking that Lebanon can go back in time to before October 17, 2019, the date of the popular uprising, is delusional because an era has already ended. Also, the patchwork policy is no longer feasible nor viable, and nobody would ever approve it anymore, as everyone is looking forward to the birth of a new Lebanon whose components are ready: An inclusive environment that incubates change, a weaker cause for division that was once able to prevent such change, and a new structuring of the whole region.
Instead of contributing to extending the patchwork phase, security Shiism has actively contributed to accelerating the conclusion of an era during which it controlled every inch of the state in Lebanon. And while it could have paved the way for the French initiative to buy itself more time, it decided to follow the lead of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in terms of addressing UNSC
Resolution 1559 with a stubborn approach rather than a flexible one. It also revealed its true aspirations for a political regime which it can control and placed itself against the majority of the Lebanese people and against an initiative that could be the life rope for Lebanon. In view of all of this, the behavior of security Shiism accelerated the dynamics leading to the end of this era and made the people become more convinced of the need for the birth of a new Lebanon.
All events on the ground indicate that the clock has run out for security Shiism and that there is no coming back from this. Events also indicate the approaching birth of a new Lebanon although the nature of its political regime is still unknown. We are, however, certain that Lebanon is turning the page and moving towards a new era.
This article was originally published in and translated from Lebanese newspaper Al Joumhouria.