Historically, political parties in Lebanon have lacked traits common to parties in most Western democracies. Lebanese parties often have had no ideology, have devised no programs, and have made little effort at transcending sectarian support. In fact, despite their claims, most parties have been thinly disguised political machines for a particular confession or, more often, a specific zaim. Although nondescript, broad titles have been applied, such as National Bloc Party or Progressive Socialist Party. With the exception of a handful of left-wing movements, most parties have been the organizational personification of a few powerful politicians. Even Kamal Jumblatt (also seen as Junblatt), the most ideologically oriented of the zuama, derived his constituents' support principally because he was a Druze leader, not because of his political beliefs. For this reason, any one party could count on only a few votes in the Chamber of Deputies. This situation brought about a continuous stream of coalitions, each often created to represent a point of view on a particular issue. In this system, leaders could not even rely on the support of their coreligionists; in fact, some of the most severe acrimony has been intrasectarian. Nonetheless, in the face of challenges to fundamental issues--such as the six-to-five formula or the pan-Arab question--the various confessionally based parties generally closed ranks.
Before and during the 1975 Civil War, other political groupings were formed. Although ideology played some role in their formation, for the most part these alliances--the Lebanese National Movement and the Lebanese Front--tended to be temporary associations of politically motivated militias under the leadership of powerful zuama, and divisions generally followed sectarian lines. So ephemeral were these associations, however, that after the heaviest fighting of the mid- and late 1970s ceased, several of the groups in these coalitions turned their guns on each other.
Nonetheless, ideology, rather than the power and charisma of a zaim, has been the basis for the formation of a small number of political parties. These multisectarian groups have espoused causes ranging from Marxism to pan-Arabism. To a limited extent, several of these essentially leftist parties also participated in the fighting of the 1970s.
By 1987 political parties, in the sense of constitutionally legitimate groups seeking office, had almost become an anachronism. By virtue of armed strength, the various militias, surrogate armies, and foreign defense forces that controlled the nation had divided Lebanon into several semi autonomous "cantons," each having its own political, social, and economic structure.
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The Amal movement was established in 1975 by Imam Musa as Sadr, an Iranian-born Shia cleric of Lebanon Ancestry who had founded the Higher Shia Islamic Council in 1969. Amal, which means hope in Arabic, is the acronym for Afwaj al Muqawamah al Lubnaniyyah (Lebanese Resistance Detachments), and was initially the name given to the military arm of the Movement of the Disinherited. This latter organization was created in 1974 by Sadr as a vehicle to promote the Shia cause in Lebanon.
Sadr, who at first established his own militia, later resisted a military solution to Lebanon's problems, refusing to engage Amal in the fighting during the 1975 Civil War. This reluctance discredited the movement in the eyes of many Shias, who chose instead to support the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) or other leftist parties. Amal was also unpopular for endorsing Syria's intervention in 1976.
Nonetheless, several factors caused the movement to undergo a dramatic resurgence in the late 1970s. First, Shias became disillusioned with the conduct and policies of the PLO and its Lebanese allies. Second, the mysterious disappearance of Sadr while on a visit to Libya in 1978 rendered the missing imam a religious symbol, not unlike the occultational absence of the twelfth Shia Imam. Third, the Iranian Revolution revived hope among Lebanese Shias and instilled in them a greater communal spirit. In addition, when the growing strength of Amal appeared to threaten the position of the PLO in southern Lebanon, the PLO tried to crack down on Amal by sheer military force. This strategy backfired and rallied even greater numbers of Shias around Amal.
By the early 1980s, Amal was the most powerful organization within the Shia community and perhaps was the largest organization in the country. Its organizational strength lay in its extension to all regions of the country inhabited by Shias.
Amal's ideology had evolved somewhat since Sadr's disappearance, when Husayn Husayni (also spelled Husseini) assumed leadership from April 1979 to April 1980 and was then followed by Nabih Birri (also cited as Berri). Although its charter considers the Palestinian cause a central issue for all Arabs. In the mid1980s, the Amal militia laid siege to Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, in retribution for years of abuses at the hands of Palestinian liberation groups that operated in southern Lebanon. Amal stressed resistance to Israel, and Amal's leadership was perceived by many as being pro-Syrian. The Amal platform called for national unity and equality among all citizens and rejected confederation schemes. Amal was linked less closely to Iran than some other Shia organizations, and it did not propose the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon.
Its broad geographical base notwithstanding, neither Amal's rank and file nor its leadership was especially cohesive. Amal's various geographic branches did not embrace a single position but were subject to particularist tendencies. Moreover, its two leading bodies--the Politburo, headed by Birri, and the Executive Committee, led by Daud Daud--appeared to effect a balance between two competing socioeconomic groups. The members of the first group, personified by Birri, were educated, upper middle class, and secularly oriented (in relative terms). The second, exemplified by Daud, was composed of members who had been in the movement since its inception, who generally were of peasant origins, and who were religiously oriented. In late 1987 the first group was in control of most of the movement, its radio and television stations, and its weekly magazine.
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Established in 1982 at the initiative of a group of Shia clerics who were adherents of Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, by 1987 Hizballah (Party of God) was the second most important Shia organization. Fadlallah, who was born in southern Lebanon but educated in An Najaf, Iraq, moved to East Beirut, where he wrote books on Islamic jurisprudence. Having been evicted by Christian forces during the fighting in 1976, he relocated in Beirut's southern suburbs. Fadlallah continued his work and developed a following, which later evolved into Hizballah.
In 1987 Hizballah followed strictly the theological line of Iran's Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini and called for the establishment in Lebanon of Islamic rule modeled on that of Iran. In pursuit of this goal, the party had developed close ties with Iranian representatives in Lebanon and Syria. In terms of secular policies, Hizballah rejected any compromise with Lebanese Christians, Israel, and the United States. This hardline approach appealed to many Shias, who abandoned the mainstream Amal movement to join Hizballah. These members tended to be young, radical, and poor.
The party's internal structure revolved around the Consultative Council (Majlis ash Shura), a twelve-member body, most of whom were clerics. The council divided among its members responsibilities that covered, among other matters, financial, military, judicial, social, and political affairs. The party's operations were geographically organized, with branches in Al Biqa and Al Janub provinces and in West Beirut and its southern outskirts. Among prominent Hizballah leaders in late 1987 were Shaykh Ibrahim al Amin, Shaykh Subhi at Tufayli, Shaykh Hasan Nasrallah, Shaykh Abbas al Musawi, and Husayn al Musawi; Fadlallah insisted that he had no formal organizational role but was merely Hizballah's inspirational leader.
Hizballah gained international attention in 1983 when press reports linked it to attacks against United States and French facilities in Lebanon, to the abduction of foreigners, and to the hijacking of aircraft. Nonetheless, Fadlallah (who was himself a target of a terrorist assassination attempt) and Hizballah spokesmen continued to deny any involvement in anti-American attacks.
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Independent Nasserite Movement
The Independent Nasserite Movement (INM) was the oldest of several organizations in Lebanon that embraced the ideas of the late Egyptian president, Gamal Abdul Nasser. Despite its claims of nonsectarianism, the membership of the INM has been overwhelmingly Muslim; 1987 reports estimated it to be about 45-percent Sunni, 45- percent Shia, and 10- percent Druze. Its ideology was reflected by its motto: "Liberty, Socialism, and Unity."
The INM came to prominence in the 1958 Civil War and remained a strong force throughout the 1970s. At the height of the 1958 conflict, its militia, the Murabitun (Sentinels), clashed with the forces of pro-Western president Shamun. Consistent with its panArab ideals, the INM was a firm supporter of the Palestinian movement in Lebanon in the late 1960s. During this time, it reenforced the Murabitun. When the 1975 Civil War began, it was well positioned to play an active part. The Murabitun engaged Phalangist fighters in the most severe combat during the early stages of the war, and absorbed many casualties.
In the 1980s, the INM weathered difficult times. It fought with the Palestinians against the Israelis during the invasion of 1982 and with the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) against the Lebanese Army in the Shuf Mountains in 1983. Its alliance with the PSP was short lived, however. In 1985 a joint PSP-Amal campaign virtually eliminated the Murabitun as an important actor in Lebanon and forced INM leader, Ibrahim Kulaylat, into exile.
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Based in Baalbek in the Biqa Valley, Islamic Amal was led by Husayn al Musawi, who was also a leading figure in Hizballah. The movement got its start in June 1982 when Nabih Birri, the head of Amal, agreed to participate in the Salvation Committee, a body set up by President Ilyas Sarkis following the Israeli invasion. The committee included Bashir Jumayyil, the much-despised Maronite commander of the LF. Musawi considered Birri's actions "treasonous" and Amal's orientation too secular. In response, Musawi broke from Amal and set up his own faction, which observers believed was organized primarily along family lines.
Islamic Amal was backed by officials in the Iranian government, and it coordinated with units of Iran's (Pasdaran) Revolutionary Guards stationed around Baalbek. Even so, in 1986 when Iranian officials pressured Musawi to dissolve his organization, he refused. He agreed, however, to remain part of Hizballah, and he reportedly served as a member of its Consultative Council. Press reports linked Islamic Amal, like Hizballah, to anti-Western violence in Lebanon. Although Musawi's rhetoric was vehemently anti-Western, as of late 1987 he had not claimed any violence in the name of Islamic Amal.
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Founded during the 1975 Civil War by Lebanon's Sunni mufti, Shaykh Hasan Khalid, the Islamic Grouping (At Tajammu al Islami) was a loose confederation of Sunni political and religious notables. At one time it included most former or current Sunni prime ministers, ministers, deputies, and lesser politicians. It met weekly under the chairmanship of the mufti, it issued statements on current issues, and it was responsible for nominating Sunni representatives to fill official government posts. In 1987, with politics almost moribund and in the absence of a significant militia, the Islamic Grouping by default was the most important organization of the Sunni community.
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Lebanese Communist Party
One of the oldest multisectarian parties in Lebanon, the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) was formed in 1924 by a group of intellectuals. Over the years, the LCP has had very little impact on Lebanese politics and has been unwavering in its support for Moscow. The party was declared illegal by the French Mandate authorities in 1939, but the ban was relaxed in 1943. For about twenty years, this single organization controlled communist political activity in both Lebanon and Syria, but in 1944 separate parties were established in each country.
During the first two decades of independence, the LCP enjoyed little success. In 1943 the party participated in the legislative elections but failed to win any seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The LCP again ran for election in 1947, but all of its candidates were defeated; in 1948 it was outlawed. During the 1950s, the party's inconsistent policies on pan-Arabism and the Nasserite movement cost it support and eventually isolated it. Surviving underground, the LCP in 1965 decided to end its isolation and became a member of the Front for Progressive Parties and National Forces, which later became the Lebanese National Movement under Kamal Jumblatt.
The 1970s witnessed something of a resurgence of the LCP. In 1970 Minister of Interior Kamal Jumblatt legalized the party. This allowed many LCP leaders, including Secretary General Niqula Shawi, to run for election in 1972. Although they polled several thousand votes, none of them suceeded in claiming a seat. But the LCP's importance grew with the arrival of the civil disturbances of the mid-1970s. The LCP, which had established a well-trained militia, participated actively in the fighting of 1975 and 1976.
Throughout the 1980s, the LCP has generally declined in power. In 1983 the Sunni fundamentalist movement in Tripoli, Tawhid (Islamic Unification Movement), reportedly executed fifty Communists. In 1987, in union with the PSP, the LCP fought a weeklong battle with Amal militants in West Beirut, a conflict that was finally stopped by Syrian troops. Also in 1987, the LCP held its Fifth Party Congress and was about to oust George Hawi, its Greek Orthodox leader, and elect Karim Murrawwah, a Shia, as secretary general when Syrian pressure kept Hawi in his position. Hawi, who had been a close ally of Syria, was reportedly unpopular for his lavish life-style and for spending more time in Syria than in Lebanon. Murrawwah was probably the most powerful member of the LCP and was on good terms with Shia groups in West Beirut. Nevertheless, between 1984 and 1987 many party leaders and members were assassinated, reportedly by Islamic fundamentalists.
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The Lebanese Forces (LF) emerged as a political power in 1976 under the leadership of Bashir Jumayyil. At that time various Christian militias joined forces to bring about the destruction of the Palestinian refugee camp at Tall Zatar. In August of that year, a joint command council was established to integrate formally the several militias, but also to achieve a higher degree of independence from the traditional political leaders, whom many of the LF rank and file regarded as too moderate. Jumayyil first took control of the military wing of his father's Phalange Party and then proceeded to incorporate other Christian militias. Those who resisted were forcibly integrated. In 1978 Jumayyil subjugated the Marada Brigade, the militia of former president Sulayman Franjiyah, killing Franjiyah's son, Tony, in the process. In 1980 the same fate befell Camille Shamun's Tigers militia.
Thus, by the early 1980s the LF controlled East Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and Jumayyil was its de facto president. But Jumayyil did not confine the LF to the military realm only; he created committees within the LF structure that had responsibility for health, information, foreign affairs, education, and other matters of public concern. Jumayyil established links with Israeli authorities, and he consistently battled with Syrian forces. Important feature of the LF's operations were its legal (official) and illegal (unofficial) ports and the revenues generated by the transit trade. In this way, the LF took over the traditional role of the state as a provider of public services.
Following the 1982 assassination of Bashir Jumayyil, the LF suffered serious organizational cleavages. After numerous succession struggles, Elie Hubayka (also seen as Hobeika)-- notorious for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982-- assumed the leadership of the LF. But when Hubayka signed the Syrian-sponsored Tripartite Accord in December 1985 against the wishes of President Amin Jumayyil, LF chief of staff Samir Jaja (also seen as Geagea) launched an attack on Hubayka and his loyalists and defeated them. Interestingly, Hubayka, who was once noted for his close ties to Israel, in late 1987 was headquartered in Zahlah, where he headed a separate pro-Syrian "Lebanese Forces".
In 1987 the LF was one of the most important political and military actors on the Lebanese scene. As leader of the LF, Jaja wielded power rivaling that of President Jumayyil. Jaja embraced a hardline, anti-Syrian position and revived ties with Israel. The LF operated television and radio stations and published a weekly magazine.
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National Liberal Party
Established in 1958 by Camille Shamun after he left the presidency, the National Liberal Party (NLP) was a predominantly Maronite organization, although it had some non-Maronites and nonChristians in its leadership. More or less a political vehicle for Shamun, perhaps the most charismatic of all Christian leaders, the NLP lacked a coherent ideology or program. Although the NLP never matched the organizational efficiency of the Phalange Party, they shared many views, including favoring a free-market economy, anticommunism, close association with the West, and, most important, the continuation of Christian political advantage. In the early 1970s, the NLP claimed 60,000 to 70,000 members and controlled as many as 11 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and Shamun had occupied several ministerial posts after his term as president.
During the 1975 Civil War, the NLP and its militia, the Tigers (Namur in Arabic), participated in the Lebanese Front, and Shamun, who was driven from his home district in the Shuf Mountains, was an active leader in the alliance. When, in July 1980, Bashir Jumayyil launched a surprise attack, defeating the Tigers, the political and military significance of the NLP declined. The party again suffered a severe setback in August 1987 when Shamun died. His son Dani assumed the chairmanship of the party, which still harbored hopes for the presidential election scheduled for 1988.
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Organization of Communist Action
In 1970 two minor extreme left-wing groups, the Organization of Socialist Lebanon and the Movement of Lebanese Socialists, merged to form the Organization of Communist Action (OCA). The organization, led since its inception by Muhsin Ibrahim, incorporated former cells of the Arab Nationalist Movement, which ceased to exist in the late 1960s. The OCA represented itself as an independent, revolutionary communist party and, in the early 1970s, strongly criticized the LCP, accusing its leaders of "reformist" tendencies. Differences between the LCP and OCA, however, shrank somewhat by the mid-1970s, but, although there was talk of unity between the LCP and the OCA, such a union never materialized. Ibrahim played an important role in the 1975 Civil War by virtue of his position as the executive secretary of the Lebanese National Movement and because his organization participated in the fighting. In 1987, however, the OCA was operating underground because Ibrahim refused to go along with the Syrian policy of opposition to PLO head Yasir Arafat. The OCA was also known to have a special relationship with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
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Formed in 1936 as a Maronite paramilitary youth organization by Pierre Jumayyil (who modeled it on the fascist organizations he had observed while in Berlin as an Olympic athlete), the Phalange, or Phalanxes (Kataib in Arabic), was authoritarian and very centralized, and its leader was all powerful. It quickly grew into a major political force in Mount Lebanon. After at first allying itself with the French Mandate authorities, the Phalange sided with those calling for independence; as a result, the party was dissolved in 1942 by the French high commissioner (it was restored after The French left Lebanon). Despite this early dispute, over the years the Phalange has been closely associated with France in particular and the West in general. In fact, for many years the party newspaper, Al Amal, was printed in Arabic and French.
Consistent with its authoritarian beginnings, Phalangist ideology has been on the right of the political spectrum. Although it has embraced the need to "modernize," it has always favored the preservation of the sectarian status quo. The Phalange Party motto is "God, the Fatherland, and the Family," and its doctrine emphasizes a free economy and private initiative. Phalangist ideology focuses on the primacy of preserving the Lebanese nation, but with a "Phoenician" identity, distinct from its Arab, Muslim neighbors. Party policies have been uniformly anticommunist and anti-Palestinian and have allowed no place for pan-Arab ideals.
Unlike many zuama who achieved their status by virtue of inheriting wealth, Jumayyil ascended because of his ability to instill discipline in his organization and, by the mid-1950s, through the accumulation of military might. By the outbreak of the 1958 Civil War, the Phalange Party was able to further its growing power by means of its militia. In that year, when President Shamun was unable to convince the army commander, Fuad Shihab, to use the armed forces against Muslim demonstrators, the Phalange militia came to his aid. Encouraged by its efforts during this conflict, later that year, principally through violence and the success of general strikes in Beirut, the Phalange achieved what journalists dubbed the "counterrevolution." By their actions the Phalangists brought down the government of Prime Minister Karami and secured for their leader, Jumayyil, a position in the four-man cabinet that was subsequently formed.
The 1958 Civil War was a turning point for the Phalange Party. Whereas in 1936, the year of its formation, it had a following of around 300, by 1958 its membership had swelled to almost 40,000. Meanwhile, the French newspaper L'Orient estimated that the Phalange Party's nearest rival, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, had a membership of only 25,000. In addition, although until 1958 it had been able to elect only 31 percent of its candidates to the Chamber of Deputies, from 1959 through 1968 the Phalange placed 61 percent of its candidates in office. Moreover, by the start of the disturbances in 1975, the party's rolls may have included as many as 65,000 members, including a militia approaching 10,000 men.
Throughout the 1975 Civil War, the Phalange Party was the most formidable force within the Christian camp, and its militia shouldered the brunt of the fighting. As part of the Lebanese Front, the mostly Christian, rightist coalition, the power of the Jumayyil family increased considerably. Ironically, as Pierre Jumayyil's son, Bashir, ascended as a national figure, the role of the Phalange Party diminished. This was true primarily because the relevance of political entities declined as the importance of armed power grew. Through a series of violent intrasectarian battles, Bashir seized control of the Lebanese Forces (not to be confused with the Lebanese Front), a conglomeration of the Phalange Party's military wing and some other Christian militias.
During the 1980s, the Phalange lost much of its credibility and political stature. In 1982, under pressure from Israel, which occupied a good deal of Lebanon, Bashir was elected president. Later that year, before talking office, Bashir was assassinated. Subsequently, his brother Amin was elected president, again not so much for his Phalange Party connection as because of his support from Israel. With the death of Pierre Jumayyil in 1984, the role of the party declined further. When the deputy leader of the party, Elie Karamah, a Greek Catholic, was named as its new head, many Maronite members became disaffected. Maronite George Saadah succeeded Karamah in 1987 and strove to resuscitate the flagging Phalange by holding party meetings and by improving ties to the Lebanese Forces. The party, however, was factionalized, and many prominent members had left.
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Progressive Socialist Party
Founded in 1949 by members of various sects who were proponents of social reform and progressive change, the Progressive Socialist Parlty (PSP) has been represented in the Chamber of Deputies since 1951. The party flourished under the leadership of Kamal Jumblatt, a charismatic--albeit somewhat enigmatic--character. Jumblatt appealed to Druzes because of his position as zaim, to other Muslims who were disenchanted with the traditional political system, and to members of some other sects who were attracted by his secular and progressive rhetoric. By 1953 the PSP claimed some 18,000 adherents, and in the 1964 Chamber of Deputies it could count on as many as 10 deputies.
Despite its nonsectarian beginnings and secular title, by the early 1950s the party began taking on a confessional cast. By the 1970s, this tendency was unmistakably Druze; this point was demonstrated in 1977 when, after Kamal Jumblatt was assassinated (perhaps by pro-Syrian Agents), his son, Walid, assumed the party leadership, continuing Druze control of the party.
Over the years the PSP has alternately cooperated with and opposed many of the same parties. For example, in 1952 it helped Camille Shamun unseat Bishara al Khuri as president; then, six years later, it was in the forefront of groups calling for Shamun's ouster. Moreover, from 1960 to 1964, when Jumblatt and Pierre Jumayyil served in the same cabinet, they spent much of their time vilifying each other in their respective party newspapers; then in 1968 Jumblatt allied with Jumayyil and Raymond Iddi (also seen as Edde) in the so-called Triple Alliance.
A reformer willing to work within the system, Kamal Jumblatt played an active role in politics, serving in the Chamber of Deputies and in several cabinets. Although philosophically opposed to violence, Jumblatt was not reluctant to pursue a military course when such action seemed necessary. The stalwart PSP militia was involved against the government during the 1958 Civil War, took a modest part in the Lebanese National Movement throughout the 1975 Civil War, and fought against Phalangist troops and the Lebanese Army in the 1983 battles in the Shuf Mountains.
The Jumblatt family shared leadership of the Druze community with the Yazbak clan, led by Majid Arslan. Although divisions between these two branches have sometimes been wide, the coordinated Druze defense of the Shuf Mountains in 1983 and 1984 helped close the rift. In addition, the Yazbaks suffered several setbacks that drew them closer to the Jumblatt confederation. First, Arslan's son, Faysal, became discredited when he allied with Bashir Jumayyil and the LF before and during the 1982 Israeli invasion. Then, they lost their traditional leader, Arslan, who died in 1983. Consequently, by 1987 most Druze were united behind Walid Jumblatt as leader of the PSP and its formidable militia.
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Syrian Social Nationalist Party
The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) has been one of the most influential multisectarian parties in Lebanon. Its main objective has been the reestablishment of historic Greater Syria, an area that approximately encompasses Syria, Lebanon, Kuweit, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. Over the years the SSNP has often resorted to violence to achieve its goals.
The SSNP was founded in 1932 by Antun Saadah, a Greek Orthodox, as a secret organization. His party, very much influenced by fascist ideology and organization, grew considerably in the years after independence. In fact, in a survey taken in 1958 by the French newspaper L'Orient, the SSNP was said to have 25,000 members--at the time, second only to the Phalange Party. Concerned by its strength, the government cracked down on the SSNP in 1948, arresting many of its leaders and members. In response, SSNP military officers attempted a coup d'état in 1949, following which the party was outlawed and Saadah was executed. In retaliation, the SSNP assassinated Prime Minister Riyad as Sulh in 1951.
In the 1950s, although still banned, the SSNP renewed its activities fairly openly. During the 1958 disturbances, the SSNP militia supported President Shamun, who rewarded it by authorizing it to operate legally. But in December 1961, when another attempted coup by SSNP members failed, it was again outlawed and almost 3,000 of its members imprisoned. In prison, the party underwent serious ideological reform when certain Marxist and pan-Arab concepts were introduced into the party's formerly right-wing doctrine.
Since the 1960s, the party has become more leftist. Most of its members joined the Lebanese National Movement and fought alongside the PLO throughout the 1975 Civil War. But during this period the party suffered internal divisions and defections, and since then party unity has been elusive. In 1987 there were at least four separate factions claiming to be the authentic inheritors of Saadah's ideology. The two most important were led by Issam Mahayri, a Sunni, and Jubran Jurayj, a Christian. Each faction was trying to settle disputes by means of violence. This text will be updated in the near future.
For more detailed information please visit the homepage of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party at: http://www.ssnp.com
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Union of Muslim Ulama
The Union of Muslim Ulama emerged in 1982, when West Beirut was under siege by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It included Sunni and Shia clerics who shared the view that the application of sharia would solve Lebanon's problems and would end the IDF's occupation of Arab land. The union's fundamentalist line reflected its identification with the policies and objectives of Iran.
The Union of Muslim Ulana, which was unique because of its combined Sunni-Shia membership, strove to eliminate tensions between the two communities. For that reason, it organized mass rallies to propagate its views to the broadest audience possible. In 1987 the union was led by Shaykh Mahir Hammud (a Sunni) and Shaykh Zuhayr Kanj (a Shia).
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In general, Armenian groups have supported whatever government was in power. They have tended to focus on issues of interest to the larger Armenian world community and not strictly domestic politics. The three most important Armenian parties have been the Tashnak Party, the Hunchak Party, and the Ramgavar Party. Of these the Tashnak Party has had the greatest political impact.
Founded in 1890 in Russian Armenia, the Tashnak Party sought to coordinate all Armenian revolutionary groups seeking to improve their conditions under Ottoman rule. Although the international Tashnak Party movement advocates socialism, the Lebanese branch of the party prefers capitalism. Since 1943 most of the Armenian deputies in the Chamber of Deputies (four in the election of 1972) have been members or supporters of the Tashnak Party. Prior to the 1975 Civil War, the mostly Christian Tashnak Party was an ally of the Phalange Party.
On the international level, the party has tended to be proWestern, and during the 1950s and 1960s it took an anti-Nasser stance. As has been typical of Lebanon's Armenian community, the Tashnak Party has avoided sensitive and controversial domestic issues and has attempted to play a moderating role in politics. Like other Armenian groups, the Tashnak Party refrained from military activity during the 1975 Civil War. Because the party refused to come to the Christians' side, many Armenian quarters in Lebanese towns were subsequently attacked by Bashir Jumayyil's LF.
The Hunchak Party was organized in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1887. The Hunchak Party has promoted the dual objective of liberating Turkish Armenia and establishing a socialist regime in a unified Armenian homeland. The Hunchak Party in Lebanon has advocated a planned economy and a just distribution of national income. In 1972, for the first time in its history, the Hunchak Party ran jointly for election to the Chamber of Deputies with the Tashnak Party.
Founded in 1921, the Ramgavar Party's ultimate goal was the liberation of Armenia. It has oriented its activities toward preserving Armenian culture among Armenian communities throughout the world. After a period of dormancy, the party was revived in the 1950s in the wake of increasing conflicts between the Tashnak Party and Hunchak Party. The Ramgavar Party presented itself as an alternative that avoided issues divisive to the Armenian community. The Ramgavar Party, sometimes considered the party of Armenian intellectuals, also opposed what it considered the right-wing policies of The Tashnak Party.
The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) was not a political party but rather a highly secret organization that used violence to harm its political enemies, principally the government of Turkey. Established in 1975, ASALA used the Lebanese Civil War as an opportunity to put into practice without government interference its belief in armed struggle. Adhering to MarxismLeninism, ASALA aligned with radical Lebanese and Palestinian groups against rightist forces during the fighting in the late 1970s.
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Kurdish parties have exerted little influence on Lebanese politics. In general, Kurds have been more concerned with international Kurdish matters than with internal Lebanese issues. In addition, Kurdish groups in Lebanon have been characterized by a high degree of factionalism.
Jamil Mihhu established the Kurdish Democratic Party in 1960, but it was not licensed until 1970. Mihhu, however, supported the Iraqi government against Kurdish rebels fighting in that country, and he was captured and imprisoned by the Kurdish resistance in Iraq. Consequently, the leadership of the party passed to Jamil's son, Riyad. Another son, Muhammad, disagreed with his family's position on several issues and therefore in 1977 started his own movement, the Kurdish Democratic Party--Temporary Leadership.
Riz Kari was another Kurdish group dissatisfied with the leadership of the Kurdish Democratic Party. Established in 1975 by Faysal Fakhu, Riz Kari supported the Kurdish forces fighting against the Iraqi regime. For a brief period during the 1975 Civil War, however, Riz Kari joined forces with the Kurdish Democratic Party to form the Progressive Kurdish Front in an effort to eliminate differences in the ranks of Lebanese Kurds. Riz Kari was weakened in the mid-1970s by the defection of part of its organization, which called itself the Leftist Riz Kari, or Riz Kari II. This organization, led by Abdi Ibrahim, a staunch ally of Syria, rejected the formation of the Progressive Kurdish Front because it included the "right-wing" leadership of Mihhu.
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Multisectarian political groups have been primarily left-wing movements. Some groups have argued against the inertia of the zuama clientele system, while others espoused Marxist causes. Small parties sometimes have been externally controlled. In the 1970s, for example, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, under the leadership of George Habash, controlled the Arab Socialist Action Organization, which also fought on the side of the Lebanese National Movement during the 1975 Civil War. In 1987 the Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) parties in power in Syria and Iraq each had a faction operating in Lebanon. The late Egyptian president Nasser left a strong legacy in Lebanon. Many essentially pan-Arab parties have borne his name in their titles.
Although these groups have been characterized as multisectarian, this label may not be entirely accurate. In fact, over the years most have taken on narrower confessional patterns. For instance, Shias were dominant in the Lebanese Communist Party and Organization of Communist Action, whereas the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party has been heavily represented by Greek Orthodox and Druze (of the Yazbak clan) members.
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Source: Federal Research Division - Library of Congress
(Edited by Thomas Collelo, December 1987)
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