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The wounded republic: Lebanon's struggle for recovery.

This article examines the main political developments in Lebanon between 1991 and 1994. It covers the principal events involving the successive governments of Omar Karami, Rashid al-Sulh, and Rafiq al-Hariri and provides an overview of the Friendship Treaty and Defense Agreement between Lebanon and Syria, the general elections of summer 1992, and the reconstruction policies of the Hariri cabinet.(1) The article begins with an historical introduction to recent developments and ends with an assessment of Lebanon's current condition and future direction.


Small states in polarized regions seldom have an uneventful history. Open societies among authoritarian regimes are subject to additional pressures; and how much more, then, for a society also segmented along religious and confessional lines, exposed to rapid modernization and Westernization, and playing host to a militarized refugee population totaling over one-tenth of its populace. That the Lebanese political system could not cope with these pressures and collapsed in the mid-1970s should not be surprising; after all, most Arab regimes and other political systems around the developing world succumbed to similar pressures at one time or another after World War II. What is distinctive about Lebanon, is that whereas in other countries the collapse of the post-war political system led to the establishment of a stabilizing, but authoritarian, political regime of the military or one-party type, no such escape into authoritarianism was possible in Lebanon. The collapse of the political order in Lebanon led inexorably into chaos and the outbreak of internal war. As in most pluralistic societies, lasting peace in Lebanon could only be reestablished by agreement.

The war in Lebanon was fought over a number of issues including the balance of power in government, the role of armed Palestinian groups, the redistribution of wealth, and Lebanon's foreign policy orientation. Attempts to resolve these issues began in the early months of the war and resulted in a number of draft documents and agreements, the first of which was the so-called Constitutional Document announced, with Syrian backing, by President Sulayman Franjiyah in 1976. It proposed, among other things, equal representation for Christians and Muslims in Parliament.(2) Efforts at resolution were thwarted by continued polarization over the Palestinian issue and by competing Israeli and Syrian influence over rival groups in the country. The Israeli invasion of 1982 was a turning point in the civil war because it led eventually to a diminution of both Palestinian and Israeli influence in the country, leaving Syria by 1984 as the predominant external power broker. American influence in 1982 and 1983 was violent and short-lived.

Serious efforts at reform began again in 1983-84 with national dialogue conferences held in Geneva and Lausanne bringing together rival political leaders. These conferences made some headway but could not square the circle. A different tack was taken in 1985 by Syria when it pushed the three main militias in Lebanon (the Shiite Amal Movement, the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, and the Christian Lebanese Forces) to negotiate a comprehensive settlement known as the Tripartite Agreement signed in December of that year. That agreement was rejected by President Amin Gemayel and was ultimately scuttled as the result of a coup within the Lebanese Forces led by security chief Samir Geagea.

New talks on reform were then undertaken through intermediaries between the Lebanese president and Syria throughout 1986 and 1987. In these talks, most of the details of the suggested reforms that had been accumulating from the time of the Constitutional Document of 1976 through the Tripartite Agreement of 1985 were worked out. The talks were suspended after the assassination of Prime Minister Rashid Karami on 1 June 1987, but the points agreed upon in these talks would form the heart of the Taif Agreement signed two years later.

The Taif Agreement included a redistribution of political power away from the Christian President toward the confessionally mixed Council of Ministers, the Sunni Prime Minister, and the Shiite Speaker of Parliament. It settled disputes over Lebanon's foreign policy by declaring Lebanon an unequivocally Arab country and mandating special relations with Syria.(3) Meanwhile, the Palestinian question, which had been so prominent in the early years of the war, had faded after 1982; and the issue of the redistribution of wealth had ebbed also as, during the war, most of the wealthy classes had left the country and the middle classes had sunken into poverty. Like most wars and revolutions, the Lebanese war had the effect of making everyone more or less equally miserable.

The escalatory tactics of General Michel Aoun, who was named Prime Minister by outgoing President Gemayel in September 1988 to head the government until presidential elections could be held and whose authority was challenged by Gemayel's previous Prime Minister, Salim al-Hoss, served three purposes: (a) they made the status quo unacceptable and raised regional and international interest in a settlement; (b) they raised the question of the Syrian role in Lebanon; and (c) they exhausted the Christian political and military power base. The settlement urged by the Arab and international community was based on the previous negotiations mentioned above and was embodied in the National Conciliation Document, known as the Taif Agreement. The Agreement was officially adopted by parliament on 5 November 1989. The question of the Syrian role in Lebanon - once raised - was answered (especially after the outbreak of the Gulf Crisis) largely in favor of Syria; and the collapse of Christian power meant that the power balance in Lebanon for several years to come would favor the Muslim communities.

These developments provide the backdrop for understanding the politics of the first years of the so-called Second Republic, established after the constitution was amended in September 1990 to incorporate the reforms listed in the Taif Agreement, and after the forced ouster of General Michel Aoun in October of that same year.(4)


Uncertain Beginnings

To trace the political history of post-Taif Lebanon through the life of its successive cabinets makes sense for two reasons. First, the constitutional amendments mandated by the Taif Agreement shifted executive authority from the President to the Council of Ministers as a collegial body. Thus, a change in cabinets denotes a shift in policy, and the President can no longer independently pursue a policy direction; he can only contribute to or delay policy-making at the cabinet level. Second, the current President, Ilyas Hrawi, does not have a strong power base within the country or within the state; therefore, he is unable to make the most of what executive authority is constitutionally left in presidential hands.

The government led by Prime Minister Omar Karami (brother of the late Rashid Karami) was named, under Syrian auspices, on 24 December 1990, to replace the cabinet of Prime Minister Hoss. The 30-member cabinet included the leaders of the main wartime militias and political parties, a number of traditional leaders, friends of Syria, and friends of the President. Conspicuously not represented were the Aounists and Hizballah.(5) The choice of Omar Karami to lead the cabinet was sensible from the Syrian perspective as his family had long been friendly to Damascus and his home town, Tripoli, fell comfortably within Syria's sphere of influence.

The cabinet had four main items on its agenda, all mandated by the Taif Agreement: (a) to appoint new deputies to parliament in order to render Christian-Muslim representation equal; (b) to formalize the "special relations" with Syria; (c) to dissolve the militias; and (d) to begin extending government authority throughout the country. Despite the boycott of several key ministers, including Samir Geagea, Kata'ib chief George Saadeh, and Druze leader Walid Junblat, the cabinet was able, with Syrian backing, to accomplish, in large measure, all of the items on its agenda.

In June 1991 it named forty individuals to fill nine new Muslim seats mandated in Taif and thirty-one others that had fallen vacant since the last general elections in 1972.(6) Relations with Syria were formalized in the Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination signed in May 1991 and a Defense Agreement signed in September 1991.(7) The main Lebanese militias, except Hizballah, were declared officially dissolved in late March 1991 and over the following months much of their heavy equipment was collected and a fair number of their members were inducted into the army and internal security forces. Most importantly, their sea ports and tax systems were closed down and they were no longer allowed territorial zones of direct control. Finally, the government consolidated its control over Greater Beirut (extending from the Kalb to the Damur rivers) and sent army brigades in the Spring and Summer of 1991 to claim other areas in the South, Mount Lebanon, Kisirwan, and the North.

The Friendship Treaty and Defense Agreement with Syria

The Lebanese-Syrian Friendship Treaty signed in May 1991 calls for cooperation and coordination at the highest levels "in all fields, including political, economic, security, educational, scientific, and others."(8) It also mandates the establishment of a Higher Council composed of the presidents, prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, and speakers of parliament of both countries. The Council is to set policies of cooperation and coordination for the two countries, and its decisions "are binding and effective" on both countries. In addition, the Treaty requires the setting up of joint ministerial committees and the signing of bilateral agreements covering economic, defense, educational, and other affairs. The Treaty also reiterates the passage in the Taif Agreement that says that the two governments "shall decide on the redeployment of Syrian troops in the Biqa valley ... after deadlines fixed in [the Taif Agreement] have expired."(9)

Indeed, much controversy centers around exactly what these deadlines are. The Syrian interpretation is that the deadline expires two years after the implementation of all reforms suggested in the Taif Agreement including holding parliamentary elections on a non-confessional basis and political deconfessonalization of the Lebanese political system. The deadline suggested by the text and understood by most observers and foreign governments, however, is two years "after the ratification of the Document of National Reconciliation [November 1989], the election of the President of the Republic [November 1989], the formation of the Government of National Conciliation [December 1989], and the incorporation of the political reforms into the constitution [September 1990!."(10) By this reckoning, the deadline for a Lebanese-Syrian agreement on redeployment expired in September 1992.(11)

If fully implemented, the Higher Council suggested by the Treaty would introduce a loose confederal framework over the two countries; and since it would be dominated by the more powerful partner, Syria, it would bureaucratize, stabilize, and legitimize an already extensive Syrian influence over Lebanon. So far, the bulk of cooperation and coordination between the governments of the two countries has remained outside the formal organs suggested by the Treaty.

The significance of the Treaty and the Defense Agreement is not only that they raise cooperation between the two countries to new levels, but that they provide a legal foundation for this close relationship after any Syrian redeployment or military withdrawal from Lebanon. Indeed, these two agreements would appear to supersede the Taif Agreement as the main determinants of Lebanon's general policy direction, especially after the ignoring of the Taif deadline of September 1992 and the non-implementation of many of Taif's articles such as repatriation of the displaced, administrative decentralization, and preparing a plan for political deconfessionalization.

Critics of these agreements with Syria charge that they link Lebanon too closely to Syria and that, since Syria is the stronger party, they are merely a cover for its domination of Lebanon. Furthermore, they complain that such close coordination is impracticable between two countries that are so systemically different: one a multi-party democratic political system with a laissez faire economy, the other an authoritarian military autocracy with a centralized and controlled economy. On the other hand, supporters of the agreements argue that an alliance with Syria is a wise choice for Lebanon today in order to shield it from regional and international pressures and to bolster its position in talks with Israel. They add that formalizing relations in official treaties is preferable to leaving them subject to the vagaries and misunderstandings of chance and unofficial understandings. In any case, these observers point out, agreements can always be abrogated.

The Gulf War and the Arab-Israeli Peace Talks

The Karami government also presided over two foreign policy developments: support for the Gulf War alliance in the Winter and Spring of 1991, and participation in the Arab-Israeli peace talks that began in Madrid in the Fall. Both decisions were taken after consultation with Syria. Lebanon suffered serious economic consequences from the Gulf war as Lebanon lost one of its main export markets and many Lebanese working there and remitting hard currency had to return home. The Gulf War and its aftermath would also consume Gulf oil money for years to come - money which could have come to postwar Lebanon in the form of financial aid.

With regard to the Arab-Israeli peace talks, Lebanon had parleyed with Israel three times before the Madrid meetings of November 1991: the UN-sponsored 1948-49 armistice negotiations; the U.S.-sponsored 1982-83 talks that led to the stillborn 17 May 1983 Lebanese-Israeli Withdrawal Agreement; and the UN-sponsored Naqura talks undertaken by the government of Rashid Karami in the Spring of 1984. Unlike the last two times, Lebanon would now be joined by other Arab states at the negotiations, and Lebanon's stand would be bound by the Friendship Treaty and the Defense Agreement signed with Syria. It was agreed that Lebanon's negotiating team to the bilateral talks would stick to a demand for the unconditional implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 425 (of 1978) calling for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon as a prerequisite for talks on any other issue. The Israeli team countered with demands for security guarantees and arrangements similar to those detailed in the 17 May agreement and longer-term commitments for talks on a full peace treaty and normalization of relations. Not surprisingly, the talks, as of this writing, have not gotten very far. In accord with Syrian policy, Lebanon has declined to participate in the multilateral talks.

The Collapse of the Karami Government

The Omar Karami government never enjoyed much popular support, but it began to run into serious trouble in the late Winter of 1992 when the Central Bank (Banque du Liban) suspended its intervention in the financial markets in support of the national currency, and the Lebanese Pound experienced a free fail that would take it from [pounds]L880/$1 (a rate it had sustained for almost a year after the Gulf War) to a low of around [pounds]L1,700/$1.(12)

Indeed, while the Karami government had been active at the political level, implementing sections of the Taif Agreement, regularizing relations with Syria, and extending government authority, it had done very little in the socio-economic sphere in the way of rehabilitating the country's ravaged infrastructure, improving government services, reforming and reviving the public administration, galvanizing the private sector, or securing foreign aid. These omissions came home to roost in the Spring of 1992 when plummeting wages triggered nationwide labor strikes led by the General Confederation of Trade Unions that culminated in violent riots on 6 May. Popular pressure against the government had mounted in March and April, and Prime Minister Karami had all but admitted defeat when he made a special trip to Damascus to discuss stepping down. The Syrian authorities asked him to stay on and urged only a redoubling of efforts to get a handle on the economic crisis. The riots of 6 May, however, forced Damascus's hand. The Karami government resigned, and after consultations with Damascus, Rashid al-Sulh, who had last been Prime Minister when the war broke out in 1975, was named as Karami's successor.


The appointment of the 24-member Sulh government was greeted with little enthusiasm. It contained fifteen ministers from the outgoing cabinet, and nine new ministers, only two of whom, Samir Maqdisi and As'ad Diab, were non-traditional technocrats. Samir Geagea resigned outright, Kata'ib leader George Sa'adeh vowed to boycott it, and Druze leader Walid Junblat - boycotting as well - called it "an unfunny comedy."(13) The cabinet outlined an ambitious agenda including putting a cap on public spending, stabilizing the national currency, increasing tax and tariff revenues, administrative reform, the repatriation of displaced persons, a new naturalization law, strengthening the official media, supporting the liberation of the South, and the holding of parliamentary elections.(14) Of this long list, it was only the last item that received serious attention.

The Parliamentary Elections of 1992(15)

The government's intention to hold elections in the Summer of 1992 was first expressed by Prime Minister Karami in January after a visit to Damascus. It was worked into the cabinet statement of the Sulh government and became the dominant item on its agenda. The demand for holding elections had originally been a demand of the mainly Christian opposition - most notably General Aoun - as a means of embarrassing the government by showing how little popular support it enjoyed. Damascus had refused to entertain the idea, and indeed elections had been no prominent part of the political dialogue in 1991; instead, the government had gone ahead with appointing deputies to parliament rather than electing them.

The shift in policy by Damascus can be attributed to a combination of factors. First, the tenure of a parliament elected to a four-year term in 1991 would expire in 1995, at the same time that the term of the president would expire; a parliament elected in 1992 would serve to 1996. The logic at work was that a 1992 parliament would control the election of the next president in 1995 (who would in turn serve until 2001), while a 1991 parliament would not be able to control the presidential election. Since it had the capacity to influence the general elections, Damascus wanted to have a sympathetic 1992 parliament in place to choose the next president and ensure longer-term cooperative relations.

Second, 1991 witnessed dramatic developments in the Middle East arena: the successful American prosecution of a land war in the Arab Gulf, and the comparably successful American launching of the Arab-Israeli peace talks. Some elements of President George Bush's New World Order were beginning to hit close to home, and Damascus needed to shift its policies accordingly. In Lebanon, this meant undergirding Syrian influence in ways more acceptable within the ethos of this New World Order, i.e. through the legitimizing offices of an elected parliament.

Third, the Taif Agreement stipulated that Syrian forces were to redeploy from Beirut and other parts of Lebanon to the Biqa Valley and adjoining locations in the Fall of 1992. Only a newly-elected parliament would have the legitimacy and authority to ignore or override that deadline.

Finally, raising the banner of elections was an effective way for the government to rob the opposition of one its strongest rallying cries.

Opposition to Elections

Objections to the elections among the post-Taif opposition crystallized quickly. General Aoun set the popular tone by sending video and audio cassettes from France urging his followers to boycott the elections on the grounds that they could not be held in the presence of foreign forces. To be sure, since Aoun had been formally exiled from the country by the government for five years beginning in August 1991 (again extending beyond the important presidential elections deadline of 1995), he could not run for office and thus had no political interest in seeing the elections through. Other exiled Christian Maronite leaders, including former President Amin Gemayel, National Bloc leader Raymond Edde, and National Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun, independently echoed Aoun's position.

Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea, had other reasons for opposing the elections. First, he had participated in unseating General Aoun and had hoped to occupy an important political position in the post-Taif political order; instead, he had been repeatedly marginalized and humiliated. He had more to gain in opposition and in mirroring the popular mood than in going along with the government. Second, he had lost considerable popular support during the Aoun period and was vulnerable to an embarrassing loss in open elections. Finally, the only district where he could ensure electoral success, his northern hometown of Bsharreh, was rendered part of a much larger electoral district, that of the Governorate (muhafazah) of the North, thus diminishing his chances of being elected there.

The Maronite Patriarch, Mar Nasrallah Burros Sfayr, had also participated in undermining Aoun and supporting Taif and had assiduously tried to avoid a break with the government. However, he too had ventured far from his flock during the Aoun period and risked losing them completely. The Maronite community had lost its erstwhile political dominance in the constitutional reforms instituted by the Taif Agreement; but that was a rebalancing of the Lebanese system that the Patriarch and other Maronite leaders had anticipated since 1984 and was one that they had participated in negotiating and were willing to accept. In its implementation, however, the Taif Agreement allowed Syria a high measure of influence in the country and thus favored its closer Muslim allies over its one-time Maronite opponents. The patriarch and other leaders felt that the Taif Agreement had not redressed an imbalance, but simply introduced a new and opposite one favoring Syria and the Muslims. His supporters felt militarily, politically, and historically defeated. Emigration, that had risen to high levels in the Aoun period, continued vigorously, and dark musings about the "last days of oriental Christianity" lent a panicked and desperate edge to political decision-making. The patriarch chose to make his stand over the election issue. The move of such a high level religious figure into the opposition was decisive for the strengthening and legitimization of that opposition but also gave a dangerous confessional character to the election issue.

The Kata'ib Party and many traditional Christian politicians sought to go along with the election decision and felt that the elections were a reasonable way to put the past behind and to bring new dynamism and new figures into the offices of government. The Kata'ib Party and many politicians from the area previously described as the Eastern Sector (al-sharqiyah), however, were eventually forced to succumb to popular and political pressure and join the boycott.

In other parts of the country, the election issue did not stir up as much controversy. Although national opinion polls indicated that the population was as skeptical of elections as it was of most other things the government was doing,(16) most politicians were quite willing to go along with the elections as part of a return to normalcy in the country. The fact that Syria would enjoy influence in the elections as it did in most other processes of Lebanese politics was not viewed as particularly problematic. Few elections in the past had been free of undue influence, from the tame elections of the French Mandate period, to President Bishara al-Khoury's elections of 1947, President Camille Chamoun's elections of 1957, and the Deuxieme Bureau-controlled elections of 1964 and 1968.

As Christian opposition mounted, however, voices of concern began to be raised in the Muslim community that the elections should not cause the unravelling of a national consensus and reconciliation that had been so tentatively achieved through the Taif Agreement. Former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss, Sunni leader Tammam Salam, Deputy Head of the Higher Shiite Council Muhammad Mahdi Shamsiddin, Druze Shaykh al-Aql Bahjat Ghayth, and others, warned that holding elections over the objections of one of Lebanon's large and important communities was inadvisable. Indeed, Prime Minister Rashid al-Sulh made several visits to Damascus to discuss a postponement or rescheduling of elections, but to no avail.

Preparations for the Elections

The Syrian intransigence on the timing of elections had several reasons. First, they wanted to hold the elections before the September 1992 Taif deadline and before the unknown complications of a new American administration. Second, they could not afford giving in to demands that, in essence, emanated from their arch-enemies Aoun and Geagea. Third, they were not averse to a boycott of elections by those elements who were hostile to them, as that would only weaken the position of those elements in the future parliament.

Preparations for the elections were hasty and, indeed, left much to be desired. First, up to a few days before the elections, it was still not certain whether they were to be held at all. Thus, voters and candidates were left in the dark almost up till the last minute.

Second, the media were barred from participating or being a conduit in candidates' electoral campaigns; hence, the electorate was prevented from hearing candidates' views and listening to debates and had to make up its collective mind based on campaign posters pasted on walls and vague pamphlets distributed on street corners. Especially after twenty years of electoral inaction and civil war, a period of political re-education through campaigning and public debates was essential.

Third, the electoral law devised by the government and approved by Parliament on 16 July made a mockery of the Taif Agreement and the basic principles of consistency. The number of deputies set at 108 in Taif was raised arbitrarily to 128, and the principle of holding elections according to the Governorate (in order to encourage moderate multi-confessional voting) was violated. The Governorate principle was respected in Beirut, the North, and the South. In the governorate of the Biqa, however, infighting between President Hrawi of Zahleh and Parliament Speaker Husayni of Ba'albak forced a reversion to elections based on the smaller District (Qada'). In Mount Lebanon, demands by Druze leader Junblat to avoid Governorate-wide elections in order to avoid being swamped by Christian votes also led to a reversion to elections-by-District.

What emerged was a patch-work law with some tiny districts and other massive ones. In the South, for example, each voter could choose 23 candidates and a representative there would be elected with a vote of over 100,000. In other districts, the voter could only choose three candidates and the representative would be elected with a vote of only several thousand. (As it happened, because of the boycott, one candidate even made it to parliament on the basis of forty-one individual votes - perhaps a world record.)

Fourth, the voter lists prepared by the Ministry of Interior were wildly inaccurate. The legal time periods for publishing and publicly reviewing the lists were drastically shortened, and the few lists that were published and reviewed showed grave inaccuracies. Thousands of people long since deceased - in many cases with birth dates proudly displayed as being in the 1860s and 1870s - remained on the rolls, while thousands of others who had been born and reached the legal voting age of 21 could not be found. The overall voting population of Lebanon was declared to be around 2.3 million; however, in an overall population of approximately 3.5 million where over half of the population is under 20, the voting public could be no more than 1.5-1.75 million.

Finally, the run-up to the elections was dominated by an undertone of fear. Coming so soon after the war years and after the cataclysmic events of 1990, candidates tread extremely carefully, while others simply did not dare run at all.

Election Results(17)

Many of the results of the elections were determined beforehand through the time-honored tradition of list-formation and coalition-building, this time with Damascus as the main mediator and power broker. In the North, a joint list between Omar Karami and Sulayman Toni Franjiyah (grandson of the late president) swept the polls. In the South, a coalition list, mediated by Syria and Iran, grouping Amal, Hizballah, the sister of future Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and other traditional leaders, was victorious.

In other areas, the results were not so predictable. Prime Minister Sulh's list in Beirut was roundly defeated by that of Salim al-Hoss, although the Prime Minister himself did narrowly make it into parliament. In Zahleh, the President's own son was defeated, while in Ba'albak Parliament Speaker Husayni's list was trounced by Hizballah's list. Although, like Sulh, Husayni also narrowly made it into parliament, he protested the results, accused Hizballah of vote-rigging, and submitted his resignation as Speaker. In Mount Lebanon, the Shuf and Aley districts were dominated by Junblat's lists while in the predominantly Christian districts of Metn, Kisirwan, and Jubayl candidates were elected, because of the boycott there, with voter participation levels of 5-10%. Indeed, elections in Kisirwan could not be held as scheduled because of a paucity of both voters and candidates; they were rescheduled and held one month later. Overall voter participation was roughly estimated by observers as 29% of those on the voter rolls.(18) Accurate estimates could not be made because the government refused to release the detailed election data.

The elections were held over three successive Sundays between 23 August and 6 September (except in Kisirwan, where they were held on 11 October). The army and internal security forces, backed by Syrian forces, provided a modicum of order in most polling stations and no major incidents of electoral violence were recorded on polling days. Voters moved around freely and, in general, voted without undue coercion or influence. The largest violations were in Ba'albak where Hizballah was still fully armed. There, many ballot boxes disappeared only to reappear filled but unsealed hours later, while in one case armed men went so far as to lay siege to a voting station and physically threaten representatives of rival candidates.

In other parts of the country, the list of irregularities was perhaps no shorter, but less overwhelming. This list included individuals that voted on the basis of false identity cards or cards of deceased persons, filling in of ballots by voting officials without the presence of voters, ballot boxes that mysteriously disappeared and reappeared, boxes that arrived already opened to the vote-tallying stations, vote-tallying that took place without the legally-mandated presence of representatives of all candidates, vote-tallying that was delayed for days for no apparent reason, voting results that were not posted or publicly announced, etc. There is little doubt among most local observers that fraud and vote-rigging occurred; but most of the irregularities appear the result of mismanagement and ineptitude rather than studied intent. After all, the three main officials of the government, who ostensibly controlled the voting apparatus on election day, all suffered badly in the elections.

Several features characterize the new parliament. First, it marks the first electoral breakthrough for Islamist parties in Lebanon. Hizballah returned eight candidates in Ba'albak and four others elsewhere, while Sunni fundamentalists in Beirut and the North returned four. Hizballah had declared its support for the elections very early on and had prepared vigorously and professionally for them. Their social services in poor areas over the past years and their strict organization on election day paid off handsomely.(19) Other ideological parties, like the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (six deputies) and the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party (two deputies) benefitted from Syrian support to make unprecedented gains. In the South, Amal leader Nabih Birri emerged as a clear winner and went on to claim Husayni's post of Speaker of Parliament. In Beirut, Salim al-Hoss led a list of respectable intellectuals to victory to claim the mantle of the progressive bloc in parliament. In the North, the Karami and Franjiyah families consolidated their positions, although surprised and slightly disturbed by the strong showing of former President Rene Muawad's widow, Nayla, who secured the highest number of votes in the Gorernorate. In the districts most affected by the boycott, the elections were unprepossessing and almost farcical, with candidates winning based on the votes of a few households or neighborhoods. Finally, on the whole, the parliament shares the overall characteristic of being friendly toward Syria.

The opposition refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new parliament but refrained from escalating the conflict through further strikes or actions. Most of the international community, non-committal from the beginning about supporting or opposing the holding of elections, issued no firm verdict about the elections but eventually accepted them as a fait accompli.

With the elections accomplished, the Sulh government had fulfilled its main purpose; and with the economy still suffering badly and the continued free-fall of the national currency that had begun in February 1992, the need for a government that could avert socio-economic disaster became apparent.(20)


Over the ten years prior to his appointment as Prime Minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, a native of Sidon who made a fortune as a contractor and confidant of the royal family in Saudi Arabia, had invested millions of dollars in philanthropic, reconstruction, and development projects in Lebanon and had been extremely active behind the scenes on behalf of Lebanon in the region. Indeed, he had been one of the prime movers behind the organization and successful conclusion of the Taif meetings. His financial resources also allowed him a large patronage network within political and official circles. His longtime interest in the post of Prime Minister was an open secret. President Hrawi was a friend and political ally of Hariri - indeed the president, until recently, lived and worked in a Beirut apartment-building owned and kept up by Hariri - and had favored the appointment of Hariri to the Premiership since he assumed office in late 1989. Damascus, however, had twice overridden Hrawi in favor first of Omar Karami and then Rashid al-Sulh. What was behind the Syrian change of policy regarding the acceptability of Hariri, an independent and powerful figure with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the West?

First, as with the general elections, Damascus wanted to increase the credibility and legitimacy of its position in Lebanon in order to face the scrutiny and pressures of the so-called New World Order. Second, the appointment of Hariri was a tit-for-tat - a means to appease Western and local critics unhappy about the ignoring of the redeployment deadline mentioned in Taif. Third, the appointment of Hariri at a time when Bill Clinton had all but secured electoral victory in the American elections was also a gesture to begin on positive terms with a new American administration that was expected to be more hostile to Syria and friendly to Israel than the previous one. Finally, Hariri's appointment was part of a general Syrian rapprochement with Saudi Arabia following the collapse of its traditional patron, the Soviet Union.

Hariri's appointment at the head of a thirty-member cabinet including many able and well-regarded technocrats and business leaders inspired immediate confidence and optimism in the country. The national currency recovered some lost ground and stabilized,(21) and political leaders of all stripes - even members of the opposition - expressed approval of the appointment.

In his cabinet statement, Hariri down-played political issues and emphasized the tasks of rehabilitating the electricity, communications, water, road, and sewage networks; rebuilding destroyed sections of the capital and the country; reviving industry, agriculture, and the service sector; reforming the public administration; and improving living standards for the general population.(22) While moving vigorously in economic matters, he steered clear of sensitive political issues.

Upon assuming power, he asked for a grace period of six months, until the Spring of 1993, before the first fruits of his efforts would appear. In that time, his government began laying the groundwork for large-scale rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. This included pursuing studies relating to specifications needed to solicit tenders from international companies specialized in electricity, communications, water, and other works; by the early Spring, the bidding process had already begun. The government also continued efforts to establish the controversial Downtown Beirut Real Estate Company which would allow the establishment of a private company to appropriate lands in the destroyed downtown portion of Beirut and take the initiative in development and reconstruction there on a commercial basis.(23) By the Spring of 1993, the constituent committee of the company had been established, property values had undergone a preliminary estimate, and plans were underway to complete the property estimates, distribute shares accordingly, solicit outside cash investments, and begin reconstruction work.

The Hariri government was also busy securing foreign aid from Arab and Western sources. Contributions remained below the $2 billion promised by the Arab League in 1989 and below the $3.5 billion estimated as the country's needs for the first three years of rehabilitation work according to the Bechtel and Dar al-Handasah plan commissioned earlier by Hariri and adopted by the Karami government as the official rehabilitation plan.(24) By early 1994, committed foreign aid in the form of grants, soft loans, and commercial loans, totalled around $1.4 billion.(25) This came from protocols with Italy, France, and the European Community and other deals with the Kuwaiti Development Fund, the Arab Development Fund, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and others.(26) Hariri also unveiled a ten-year economic revival plan requiring $10 billion in private and public investment. Despite some complaints that Hariri's government was promising more than it could deliver and complaints that the involvement of the prime minister and other businessmen in government entailed a dangerous conflict of interest,(27) national opinion polls showed continued confidence in Hariri.(28) Indeed, many observers feared that so much popular hope was invested in Hariri, that if he were to fall or be removed from office, the country and economy might suffer a disastrous collapse. There is little disagreement among local observers that Hariri appears to be the most able Prime Minister to assume that post, perhaps since independence. His ample financial resources, his intelligence and integrity, and his wide contacts in the country, the region, and around the world, stand to serve Lebanon in good stead. With his arrival on the scene, the post-Taif government has for the first time appeared in a positive and confidence-inspiring light. If Hariri succeeds in putting Lebanon's economy back together again, that might lead to an easing of political tensions, and a mending of wounds.


The record of the Lebanese state after the signing of the Taif Agreement has been a mixed one. While political reforms of fundamental and long-lasting political importance were introduced into the constitution, the implementation of the agreement began with a military operation against the presidential palace and the Ministry of Defense and against a leader whom a large portion of the Christian population, at least, supported and considered legitimate. While many militias were disbanded and their heavy weapons collected, several other militias including Hizballah and the Palestinian militias remained fully armed. While the war was brought to an end, most of the warlords were rewarded with positions of power and influence. While the Taif Agreement promised national reconciliation, 1993 witnessed a worsening of confessional tensions over the election issue and the continued marginalization of an important portion of public opinion. While the Lebanese state began to put itself together again as an administration, the level of outside control over it reached an all-time high. While a semblance of democratic life appeared to return to the country through general elections, levels of personal and political freedom have remained very low. While governments talk of foreign aid and reconstruction, the majority of the population is sinking into poverty, squeezed between dropping wages and rising inflation.(29) Moreover, entire sections of the Taif Agreement have been ignored while the Agreement itself seems in the process of being largely superseded by the Friendship Treaty with Syria.

Nevertheless, the country is better off now than it was a few years ago, and barring major regional upheavals, it is on the long and gradual road to recovery. First, the Taif Agreement is indeed a valid basis for reconciliation as it provides - by the admission even of its critics - for just and fair representation of Lebanon's main communities. Second, the government of Prime Minister Hariri, after earlier false starts, is charting the correct course for Lebanon's reconstruction and readmission into international acceptability. Third, Syrian influence is not entirely negative in its effects. Despite the many obvious liabilities of its intervention, Syria has also provided the backbone for the ending of the war in Lebanon and the disarming of most militias; when Syria begins redeploying its troops out of Beirut and the western coastal areas (probably as a result of progress in the Arab-Israeli talks), it will remain in Lebanon's political and security interests to maintain close relations with Damascus. Fourth, the current political imbalance between Muslims and Christians because of the coercive implementation of the Taif Agreement, the close relations between Muslim leaders and Syria, and the largely Christian decision to boycott the elections, need not be a permanent phenomenon. Under Taif, Christians enjoy equal footing in government with Muslims, and the Christian president still enjoys wide powers. The circumstances under which Taif was implemented should eventually be regarded as less important than looking for ways to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new political order. The Christians must seek ways to integrate into the new order, while Syria and Lebanon's Muslims must be more understanding of Christian fears.

At another level, while the Hariri government is pursuing its reconstruction and rehabilitation projects, it must not ignore the pressing socio-economic needs of the majority of the population. "Trickle-down" may not be sufficient to respond to public needs, and popular discontent could undermine the current government as it brought down the Karami government in May 1992. Nor can the government gloss over the risks of large domestic indebtedness (approximately $2 billion) through equally risky plans for massive foreign borrowing. In its rush to prove itself, the government must tread a careful path between accomplishing too little and attempting too much.

Lebanon has a long road to travel. But in laying the foundations for political fairness, ending the war, organizing relations with Syria, and beginning the crucial process of reconstruction, the government today is on the right course. Surely it deserves all the regional and international backing it can get.


1. For a review of earlier developments, see Augustus Richard Norton, "Lebanon After Taif: Is the Civil War Over?" The Middle East Journal, 45, no. 3, Summer 1991, pp. 457-473.

2. Representation in parliament according to the National Pact of 1943 had been based on a 6/5 ratio favoring the Christians. For a recent analysis of the National Pact see Farid el-Khazen, "The Communal Pact of National Identities: The Making and Politics of the 1943 National Pact," Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies, Papers on Lebanon, no. 12, 1991.

3. For assessments of the Taif Agreement and its implementation see Joseph Maila, "Le Document d'Entente Nationale, Un Commentaire," Les Cahiers de L'Orient, no. 16-17, 1989, pp. 135-217, and "L'Accord de Taef, Deux Arts Apres," Les Cahiers de L'Orient, no. 24, 1991, pp. 13-69. See also Habib Malik, "Lebanon in the 1990's: Stability Without Freedom," Global Affairs, Winter 1992, pp. 79-109; P. Salem, trans. and annotated, "The New Constitution and the Taif Agreement," The Beirut Review, 1, no. 1, Spring 1991, pp. 199-172; and Elie Salem, "The National Conciliation Document: A Critique," Beirut: The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, 1992.

4. On the turbulent years 1988-1990 see Sarkis Naoum, Michel Aoun: Hilm am Wahm, (Michel Aoun: Dream or Illusion) Beirut: Matba'at al-Mutawassit, 1992; Karim Pakradouni, Le Piege: De la Malediction Libanaise a la Guerre du Golfe, Beirut: FMA, 1991; Carole Dagher, Les Paris du General, Beirut: FMA, 1992; and Waddah Charara, "Deux Ans de Reunification Nationale: Une Libanisation Gigogne," Les Cahiers de la Mediterranee, no. 44, June 1992, pp. 165-174.

5. For a full cabinet list, see The Lebanon Report, 2, no. 1, January 1991.

6. See list of appointed deputies in The Lebanon Report, 2, no. 7, July 1991; see also George Corm, "Liban: Hegemonie Milicienne et Probleme du Retablissement de l'Etat" Monde Arabe: Maghreb-Machrek, no. 131, January-March 1991, pp. 13-25.

7. See texts of agreements in The Beirut Review, 1, no. 2, Fall 1991, pp. 115-133.

8. Ibid., p. 115.

9. Ibid., p. 116.

10. "The Taif Agreement," in The Beirut Review, 1, no. 1, p. 168.

11. For an analysis of this disagreement, see Muhammad Shuqayr, "Ma huwa si'iadat al-intishar al-suri?" (What is the Price of Syrian Redeployment?), al-Wasat, no. 45, December 1992, pp. 6-7.

12. See Georges Corm, "Inquietudes Libanaises," Le Monde Diplomatique, no. 453, January 1992, and Gerald Butt, "Economy in Crisis," Middle East International, no. 421, 20 March 1992, p. 13.

13. Al-Nahar, 17 May 1992.

14. See "Solh Cabinet Statement" The Beirut Review, no. 4, Fall 1992, pp. 138-140.

15. For a detailed study of the 1992 elections see F. Khazen and P. Salem, eds., al-intikhabat al-ula fi lubnan ma ba'd al-harb (The first elections in Postwar Lebanon), Beirut: The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies and Dar al-Nahar, 1993. 500 pp.

16. See LCPS national opinion poll published in al-Wasat magazine, June 1992.

17. For a full table, see The Beirut Review, no. 4, Fall 1992, pp. 168-172.

18. Emile Khoury, "Lubnan 1992," (Lebanon 1992) al-Nahar Special Supplement, 28 December 1992.

19. For an interesting study on Hizballah, see Assaf Khoury, "Hezbollah: La Nebuleuse," Arabie, December 1992, pp. 13-21.

20. See Muwaffaq Madani, "Intahat al-marhalah al-mushawwahah; bada'at al-marhalah al-mushawwashah," (The End of the Deformed Phase; Beginning of the Worried Phase) al-Diyar, 13 October 1992.

21. The value of the pound to the U.S. dollar appreciated from [pounds]L2,500/$1 to [pounds]L1,750/$1.

22. See "Hariri Cabinet Statement," in The Lebanon Report, 3, no. 12, December 1992; and Muhammad Shuqayr, "Taqwimun awwali li al-bayan al-wizari," (Preliminary Assessment of Ministerial Statement) al-Hayat, 12 November 1992.

23. For analyses and critiques of the Downtown plan, see Roger Geahchan, "Beyrouth Centre-ville: Reconstruire ... Reconcilier," Les Cahiers de L'Orient, no. 28, pp. 83-89; and Nabil Beyhum, "The Crisis of Urban Culture: The Three Reconstruction Plans for Beirut," The Beirut Review, no. 4, Fall 1992, pp. 43-62.

24. See Middle East Economic Digest, 36, no. 51, 25 December 1992, p. 28.

25. Al-Nahar, 13 March 1993.

26. For a critique of the government's foreign aid policy, see, Nasser Saidi, "Financing Reconstruction," in al-Buhous, 1., no. 3, November 1992; and Talal Baba, "Munaqashah iqtisadiyah hadi'ah li mas'alat al-qurud", (Economic Discussion of the Debt Issue) al-Nahar, 25 January 1993.

27. See Samir Kassir, "L'Oligarchie Financiere au Pouvoir a Beyrouth," Le Monde Diplomatique, no. 465, December 1992; Sassine Assaf, "Ghiyab al-siyasah wa dawlat al-'amn wa al-mal wa al-i lain," (The Absence of Politics and the State of Security, Money, and Information,) al-Nahar, 27 January 1993; and Isam Na'man, "Antum hukumah adhimah wa nahnu hukumat dhul," (You are a Great Government and we are a Shadow Government,) al-Nahar, 14 November 1992.

28. See LCPS national opinion poll published in al-Wasat, April 1993.

29. See Sarkis Naoum, "Irtaha Lubnan wa Baqiyat al-makhatir," (Lebanon Relaxes but the Dangers Remain) al-Nahar, 24 February 1993; and Marwan Iskandar, "Al-Iqtisad al-Lubnani fi Am 1993 wa ba'duhu," (The Lebanese Economy in 1993 and After), al-Hayat, 9 January 1993.

Paul Salem is Assistant Professor of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut, and the Director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS). He is the author of Bitter Legacy: Ideology and Politics in the Arab World, Syracuse University Press, 1994.
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Author:Salem, Paul E.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Sep 22, 1994
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