Lebanese Forces

An excerpt from “The Lebanese Forces: From Non-State Actor to Political Party”

It is often argued that Geagea has not given up on his dream to monopolize the representation of the Christian community. However, it is also important to keep in mind that as the country was plunged into a series of popular uprisings and upheavals culminating in the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, the primary objective of the party was to free Geagea. From this strategic viewpoint it is not surprising that an electoral alliance was forged between the LF and other zu’ama. This alliance was and still is marketed as representing and safeguarding the unity of the Lebanese people. The slogan is paradoxical at least in a post-election milieu. While it is possible that the LF is truly interested in unity and democratic competition as claimed by Geagea, the argument that it is a serious force in Lebanese politics today is less than accurate, although admittedly the party has successfully reinvented itself from extremism as demonstrated by its quest for federation, to moderation as can be seen in its official statements and positions. The LF can be said to be going through a period of pragmatism, which would gain it enough time to reorganize its structures and strengthen its support base. One of the most interesting decisions of the party has been the removal the cross as the official logo. Geagea explains that this was done because of the necessity of separating religion from politics.1 Not unlike HezbAllah, its “reinvention as a movement with an entry into mainstream Lebanese politics cannot be considered an abandonment of earlier ideological … principles.”2 It is impossible to assert beyond any doubt that such a return to past ideological principles would take place especially that unlike HezbAllah the LF does not have an external ideological base, but given the position of Lebanon as a weak state subject to external interest and interference in domestic affairs and the personal and sectarian as opposed to national and governmental point of departure of its politicians, one can say that anything is possible. In fact, despite Aoun’s role in lobbying for the Syria Accountability Act and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, it is possible that the United States would favour the idea of strengthening the LF, although not to an extent that would enable it to pose a serious challenge to Aoun. A strong, secular Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) breaking the barriers of sectarianism and confessionalism would pose a challenge to American interests in more than one way especially in what pertains to using the sectarian-oriented media in Lebanon to threaten dictatorial regimes in the region with internal unrest. It is probable that the United States would prefer that another sectarian party rise in the place of a secular one, or at least to limit the freedom of the secular party as much as possible. Whether or not Washington is working on such a plan, it appears that Aoun is caving in to the pressures of political realities and moving from a secular to a sectarian diction. This movement only consolidates Lebanon’s absurd position in the region, accurately described by Hudson as follows: “When the Arab world shows signs of political unity, Lebanese policy makers fear that there will be a concerted effort to deprive Lebanon of its autonomy and its liberal economic system. Yet, when there is discord among the Arab states, competing factions pressure Lebanon to choose sides.”3 Lebanon of course cannot in any such circumstance choose sides as one entity or as a matter of fact remain neutral4. So long as there is no real national unity – as opposed to political unity, which is also uncommon – Lebanon cannot hope to have a position on any issue, internal or external. It will continue to be an amalgamation of the policies and positions of the different sects comprising it. Yet if this is true, then the objective of the LF should be to unify, secularize, and modernize Lebanon, a mission that according to Khalifah the Christian community had neglected and which resulted in its decline.5 Such an undertaking by the LF would coincide with the stated objectives of the FPM and remove all barriers to cooperation and real reconciliation between the leaders of the two parties. Moreover, a united Christian front pushing for the secularization of the system would most probably be met by approval from HezbAllah, which has on more than one occasion brought up the issue. The question is whether the LF and even the FPM would be able to set aside their own as well as their constituents’ fears of an Islamic Revolution in Lebanon.6 If both parties realize that secularization and deconfessionalization are unrealistic, the incentive to cooperate would be reduced to past levels, giving way to competition. As of January 2006, this is the ruling situation. It is possible that the inability of Aoun to bring about any change would push the Christian community to a reconsideration of Geagea as their representative, believing that Geagea’s position of political unity is preferable to Aoun’s seemingly unalterable isolation. It is also possible that Geagea is deliberately postponing approaching Aoun, hoping that a stronger and more organized LF would garner more support in a future electoral face-off. In case the LF and FPM do not find common ground between them, the discourse will probably become strictly ideological (as opposed to political) within the Christian community.

Notes: 

[1] Interview with Samir Geagea. Future Television. 15 December 2005. “The cross is our real symbol but it is a symbol in our hearts. We the Lebanese Forces are a political organization and we can’t put religious symbols on political slogans and political organizations… a political organization would carry political slogans and symbols… it is a conviction that we shouldn’t put a religious symbol over a political symbol or a political symbol with a religious one… especially for us, it’s clear that religion is one thing and civil and political organizations are another.”

[2] Ranstorp, Magnus. “The Strategy and Tactics of Hezballah’s Current ‘Lebanonization Process’”. Mediterranean Politics. 3.1 (Summer 1998): 129.

[3] Hudson, Michael C. The Precarious Republic: Political Modernization in Lebanon. (New York: Random House, 1968) 97-98. This description also applies to Lebanon vis-à-vis the non-Arab world.

[4] Moubarak, Walid E. The Position of a Weak State in an Unstable Region:  The Case of Lebanon. Emirates Lecture Series. 44 (Abu Dhabi: ECSSR, 2003) 3.

[5] According to Bassem Khalifah, “[t]he Christians lost the war not only when they carried the guns of others, but also when they neglected their peaceful national mission of unifying, secularizing, and modernizing Lebanon.” 143.

[6] As Phares argues, the evolution of the political culture in the region will greatly influence the internal scene, and in particular the Christian one. 222.

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