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Monday, August 6, 2007

Lebanon parliamentary elections: Government keeps one seat, loses one.

QUOTE: “My argmument is that War makes rattling good history; but Peace is poor reading.”

-Thomas Hardy, ‘Spirit Sinister”

HISTORY IN THE NEWS: DEVOTED TO THE DEEP ORIGINS OF CONTEMPORARY EVENTS AROUND THE WORLD.

BULLETIN. Alternate support and opposition to Syrian intervention during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war continues to split Lebanon's Maronite Christian community.

IN THE NEWS TODAY. Lebanon holds elections for two empty parliamentary seats of deputies who have been assassinated. Both had been vocal opponents of Syrian intervention in Lebanon. Both candidates are Christians, but one is loyal to the Syrian-backed opposition while the other is loyal to the government. Coalitions representing anti-Syrian government groups and the pro-Syrian opposition, have divided Lebanon since 2005, and have now been edging toward civil war.

Christian government candidate Mohammed Amin Itani was easily elected to replace assassinated Sunni government deputy Walid Eito.

More dramatically, however, Camille Khoury of the pro-Syrian opposition Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian opposition party, edged out Amin Gemayyel, leader of the Government's Christian Falange Party. Amin is the father of Pierre Gemayyel, the assassinated deputy whose empty seat was won by Khoury. Khoury's party, the Free Patriotic Movement, is led by a Maronite Chrstian, General Michel Aoun. Aoun, formerly an anti-Syria military man, has since switched sides, joining the large Shia opposition party, Hezbollah.

Lebanon is almost evenly divided between an anti-Syrian movement, centred around the western-backed Sunni-Christian government and a pro-Syrian movement which is largely Shia and Christian. Now, the Christian community itself is split with Amin Gemayyel leading the pro-government Christians and Aoun leading the Christian opposition.

After Syria was strongly suspected in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri in 2005, the Syrian military was forced out of Lebanon by international pressure. Since then, three factors have polarized the country. First, the repeated assassination of Lebanese opponents of Syria; second, calls by government loyalists and the international community for Syria- linked suspects to be brought to trial at an allegedly impartial international tribunal; and third, the boycott of the government by the opposition parties, due to the government's refusal to give the Shia party, Hezbollah, the power of veto.

The opposing Christian party leaders, Michel Aoun and Amin Gemayyel will be competing next month in elections to replace Lebanon's the pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud.

LOOKING BACK:

The Christian Gemayyel clan became prominent in the 1930s with the ascendancy of Pierre Gemayyel. His sons, Amin and Bashir, were leaders in the Lebanese Civil War of the 1970s and 1980s. Amin Gemayyel's son Pierre was assassinated last November.

General Michael Aoun rose to power as President Amin Gemayyel's successor in the late 1980s. Now they are on opposite sides.

1936- Pierre Gemayel (b. 1905 and father of Amin), of a prominent Maronite Christian family is educated in France. Having visited Nazi Germany, he brings the idea of a Fascist militia to Lebanon, which he names the Phalanges Libanaises, It is founded to oppose Pan Arabism.

1958- Unrest during the Suez Crisis. Maronite President Chamoun’s acceptance of US aid and his opposition to a union of Syria and Egypt causes fighting between Christians and Lebanese Pan Arab Nasserites, the latter with Syrian and Egyptian support. Pierre Gemayyel’s Maronite Phalanges Libanaises supports Chamoun. The Maronites invite intervention by US Marines. The Soviet Union protests.

-1958- Sept. -after the election of President Fuad Chehab , a 'Salvation Cabinet" is formed with leaders of the four opposing groups: Rashid Karami and Hussein Oueini represent the Muslims; Raymond Edde and Pierre Gemayyel, the Christians. Muslims have now achieved parity with Christians. The Salvation Cabinet is given rule by decree for six months.

-Gemayyel's Christian, Falangist party is the only party in the tri-partite alliance of right-wing, pro-Western parties that could be said to have national power. Pierre Gemayyel will hold several cabinet portfolios throughout the 1960s.

1958-59- Michel Aoun, son of a prominent Maronite family gets military training in France.

-late 1960s- Bashir Gemayyel (b. 1947), younger son of Pierre Gemayyel, protests the presence of the PLO in Lebanon.

1970- Bashir and elder brother Amin Gemayyel begint to take over leadership of the Maronite Phalange from their father Pierre. Their ascendancy begins the eclipse of Chamoun.

1970- Amin Gemayyel is elected to parliament. His brother Bashir, meanwhile works for a Washington law form where he is recruited by the CIA.

1975- April- Lebanese Civil War breaks out- -Bashir Gemayyel becomes comander of the Lebanese Forces of the Lebanese Front, a coalition of rightist Maronites. He moves into alliance with Israel.

1976- Syria forms the Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) and invades Lebanon at the request of Maronite leader Suleiman Franjieh, supporting the Maronites to prevent the Palestinians from gaining control. Syrian intervention is opposed by Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt.

-1976- Amin Gemayyel, elder brother of Bashir of the Maroite Falangist party, gets in touch with Syrian army.

1978- May- patriarch Pierre Gemayyel visits Israel where he signs an agreement with the Israelis for arms and training.

1978--June- Bashir Gemayyel engineers assassination of fellow Maronite rival Tony Franjieh.

1978-1980- Michel Aoun gets military training in the United States.

1980- the broad division in the civil war is between the larglely Christian-Sunni "Front of Lebanese Forces" and the "Front of National and Leftist Forces" which includes Hezbollah and the Druzes. However there is internecine fighting among the factions that make up both sides. On the conservative, Christian-Sunni side, Bashir Gemayyel, son of Falangist founder Pierre Gemayyel consolidates the Falangist party by force through more internecine fighting. He crushes the Tiger militia of ex-president Chamoun's National Liberal party, giving Gemayyel control of all east and northeast Beirut. But he fails to quell another militia, the Maradas. Gemayyel's Falangists join forces with Israel against the PLO.

- December- Pierre Gemayyel buries the hatchet with Chamoun and they join their Maronite forces with the Lebanese Front manifesto which favours a federal system within a united Lebanon.

-Bashir Gemayyel's militia gets arms and training from Israel.

-so far, Bashir's older brother Amin has kept a low profile and stayed out of factional politics and the civil war.

1982- -Israel invades Beirut and drives out the PLO. Bashir Gemayyel's Falangist militia links up with Israeli troops in south Beirut.

-with Syria and the PLO defeated and Israel triumphant, Bashir Gemayyel's Falangists are left in control.

Aug. 23- Maronite Bashir Gemayyel is elected President.

-Sept. 14- When President Bashir Gemayyel is assassinated in a bombing of the Christian Falangist headquarters,, Israel, fearing further instability, occupies Beirut. In the process it allows a proxy force of Christian Maronite militias to massacre Palestinian refugees in the Shabra and Shatila refugee camps- the Christians probably doing do in retaliation for the death of Gemayyel.

-Bashir’s brother Amin Gemayel, backed by Syria, is elected president. He manages to be popular at home and abroad.

-President Amin Gemayyel appoints General Michel Aoun as his chief of staff.

-Amin Gemayyel attempts a reconciliation of different Lebenese groups to win confidence among Muslims. He appoints Shafiq al Wazzan as prime minister and resists Israeli pressure to sign a peace treaty.

1983- - May- in a treaty brokered by the US, President Amin Gemayyil, though a Maronite must ask Israel, as well as Syria, to withdraw, if he is to retain national support. Even if it exposes him to Druze and Muslim militias. Nevertheless he successfully negotiates Israeli withdrawal after refusing to sign the peace treaty which Israel had held as a condition. As a result, Israel withdraws its protection of his regime and the Syrians refuse to pull out.

-when Israel finally withdraws, the Christian militias clash with Syrian backed Druze militias. Amin Gemayyel's government is weakened.

1984- February- President Amin Gemayyel tries using the army to quell the Shia of west Beirut. This results in the collapse of the army into religious factions. Now Gemayyel has nowhere to turn for help except Syria.

-President Amin Gemayyel is forced to recognize Syrian influence.

-March--at a Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, President Amin Gemayyel appoints a reconciliation government under Rashid Karami. Amin's father, Pierre is present along with reconciled ally Camille Chamoun.

-April- Pierre Gemayyel joins Karami's reconciliation government.

August- Pierre Gemayyel dies.

-As internal strife eats at the Falange party in the wake of the death of Amin's father Pierre, Amin also becomes the target of Muslim and Druze leaders. As a result he refuses to recongize the agreement they had brokered with Syria.

-the pro-Syrian leaders agree on parity for Muslims in government instead of the 6-5 ratio that favours the Christians, a move opposed by Amin Gemayyel. This also places him in opposition to Syrian president Hafez Assad. Assad supports Lebanon's pro-Syrian factions against Amin Gemayyel.

-Sept. President Amin Gamayel’s term ends. Due to an election boycott, he brings in military government by General Michel Aoun whose mandate is to expel Syrian troops.

-surrounded by enemies, Amin Gemayyel goes into exile in France.

-Aoun appoints five military officers to cabinet but the three Muslim officers refuse to serve.

1989- Syrian troops are attacked by the Lebanese army in a 'War of Liberation,' led by General Michel Aoun. Muslim militias turn against him.

-President Gemayyel refuses to reduce the the permanent Maronite majority in the Taif Accord assembly.

-Oct.- the Arab League proposes the Ta’if Accord, signed by the last members of the assembly standing before the civil war in 1975; the accord reduces the representation of Maronite Christians in the Lebanese government. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accepts it reluctantly.

-General Aoun rejects the National Reconciliation Charter which had been accepted as part of the Taif Accord.

-Nov- Aoun refuses to accept the election of of Rene Muawad as president and remains in the presidential palace Baabda, outside Beirut.

1989-1990- resistance to Syrian occupation by Gen. Michel Aoun is put down by Syria

1990s- Hezbollah drives Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

1990- President Muawad assassinated. President Elias Hrawi succeeds him.

-General Aoun refuses to recognize President Hrawi and digs in at the presidential palace.

-internecine fighting among Maronite Christian groups weakens General Aoun's position.

--Syria and allied Lebanese opponents of Aoun close in on the General's forces .

1991- after taking refuge in the French embassy, Aoun is forced to leave the country.

2000- Pierre Gemayyel Jr, son of Amin, elected to parliament. He is part of the nationalist, anti-Syrian group that surrounds Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

2005- Pierre Gemayyel Jr re-elected.

2005- Feb 14- Hariri is assassinated. Syria is strongly suspected.

2005- March- Pierre Gemayyel Jr., an opponent of Syria, takes part in the nationalist, democratic and anti-Syria Cedar Revolution in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

2005- May 7- Michel Aoun returns to Lebanon, pays respects at the grave of Rafik Hariri. Aoun enters election in late May, opposing the March 14 Coalition which represents anti-Syria Sunni-Maronite supporters of the late Hariri.

-Aoun founds his own party, the Free Patriotic Movement.

-apparently changing sides, Aoun began talks with the pro-Syrian forces of Hezbollah and Amal. He sees this as a strategy for uniting Lebanon.

2006- Feb 6- Aoun formally enters into alliance with Hezbollah.

2006- Nov 21,. Lebanon's finance minister, Pierre Gemayel Jr. is assassinated. Syria, once again is suspected. In light of UN disclosure of Syria's implication in the Hariri assassination, Syria is suspected of attempting to derail any further inquiries.

Dec. 1- Aoun joins Hezbollah in its protest against the Siniora government's refusal to recognize Hezbollah's cabinet strength with a right of veto.

2007- August- In parliamentary by-elections, Government candidate Mohammed Amin Itani is easily elected to replace assassinated Sunni government deputy Walid Eito. More dramatically, however, Camille Khoury of the opposition (Michel Aoun's) Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian opposition party, edges out Amin Gemayyel, leader of the Government'sChristian Falange Party.

FROM PAST INTO PRESENT: The coastal Lebanon region has always, in one sense or another, been separate from Syria and the Arab world. From ancient times it was associated with the Mediterranean and the west as the seafaring kingdom of Phoeneicia. Even after the arrival of Islam, a pre-existing Christian population continued to be oriented,toward the west. In the 17th century, France became the protector of Lebanese Maronite Christians and trading, political and religious contacts with Europe, especially with France, intensified. Even after independence and expiry of the French mandate in the 20th century, Lebanese Christians identified themselves with France and the west, while the Muslim population tended to look toward Syria and the Arab world.

The 'east-west' split in Lebanon has been exacerbated by a long history of interethnic fighting and confessional disputes among Christian and Sunni and Shia Muslims, leaving Lebanese factions with little recourse but to call on outside forces for assistance or intervention. The intervening powers have been Syria, Israel and the west. So complex were the shifting alliances during Lebanon's civil war that Lebanese Christians have, at times, called on Muslim Syria to back Christian-dominated governments and at other times turned against Syrian intervention. Sometimes, Lebanese Christians have themselves been split over Syria, as they are today.

FOR A TIMELINE OF THE HISTORY OF LEBANON see the entry 2/27/07 -France's Sarkozy offers all-party talks and scroll to the end.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES ON LEBANON:

11/21/06- Pierre Gemayyel Assassinated. (see entry for Nov. 17 and scroll down)
2/6/07- Murmurs of a Renewed Lebanese Civil War. (see entry for Nov. 17 and scroll down)
5/20/07- Tripoli Sunni Group Battles Lebanese Government.
6/ 1/ 07- Hezbollah decries UN tribunal.
6/27/07- France's Sarkozy offers all-party talks.

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