Shattered Christian Minorities in the Middle East
Though the author of this site is concerned with history of the Phoenicians, based on popular demand he publishes, herewith, studies about Christian minorities throughout the Middle East. Further, opinions presented herewith do not necessarily represent the author's opinion or this Website. Countries covered include: Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Holy Land, Iraq and Iran. Contributions regarding these or other countries are welcome. Events of 2005 in Lebanon made material in this page dated.
For additional reading on the status of persecution of Eastern Christians, please read detailed accounts in this site "Shattered Christian Minorities in the Middle East," "Persecution of Maronites and other Eastern Christians," "The Syriacs," "The Palestinian Christian: Betrayed, Persecuted, Sacrificed," and in the Assyrian site: "Genocides Against the Assyrian Nation" or in the "CopticWeb dedicates to the persecuted Copts of Egypt".
The Rise and Fall of Christian Minorities in Lebanon by Fouad Abi-Esber BA MA
Christians in the Middle East are fast disappearing from the area. The Lebanese Christians, who constitute the only influential Christian community in the Middle East, are fast declining in numbers and power.
This paper discusses the history of the Christian minority in Lebanon, and the decline of their hold on political power, in favour of the Muslim majority. It will focus on the Christian contribution to the cause of the civil war and the Ta'if accord which brought an end to that war. The paper will be divided into eight chapters. The paper will start by giving a brief overview of the special influential Christian position in the 19th century and its survival during the 1860 civil war with the Muslim Druzes. Then it will discuss the role of Christians in the formation of the Lebanese Republic and Lebanese independence.
Christian nationalism is looked at in depth, in order to discover the roots of the civil war with the Muslims. Moreover, it was the existence of many different ideological Christian parties that incited the civil war.
This paper will concentrate on the role of Christians in the civil war of 1975-1990. The main focus will also be on the causes of the decay of Christian status in Lebanon. In 1990, the civil war 'is said to have' ended* following the Christian Army's General Michel Aoun defeated by the Syrian military. The paper will show how at the end of the civil war, Christians were perceived as losers and Muslims as winners of the civil war. It will demonstrate that the role of the Lebanese Christians has became negligible and it is a matter of time when the Christians will surrender their remaining powers to their Muslims counterparts.
*Editorial Comment: The claim that there was an end to the civil war is vigorously rejected by many because 60,000 Syrian soldier and their secret service continue to occupy Lebanon together with 5,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and thousands of Palestinian from Fatah, Popular Front "Jabha el Sha3beyyeh" and other terrorists organizations operate and have a freehand in Lebanon.
For additional reading on the status of persecution of Eastern Christians, please read detailed accounts in this site "Shattered Christian Minorities in the Middle East," "Persecution of Maronites and other Eastern Christians," "The Syriacs," "The Palestinian Christian: Betrayed, Persecuted, Sacrificed," and in the Assyrian site: "Genocides Against the Assyrian Nation" or in the "CopticWeb dedicates to the persecuted Copts of Egypt".
Chapter 1: Christian Status prior to 1945
THE BIRTH OF CHRISTIANITY IN LEBANON AND THE ADVENT OF ISLAM
Despite the fact that Islam prevailed 600 years after Christianity, the Middle East is now overwhelmingly populated with Muslims, with the Christian minority comprising about 14 million Christians or 10% of the population.
The Christians, mainly Maronite, have existed in the area, of what is known today as Lebanon since the fourth century, and moved in large numbers to Mount Lebanon(Jabal Loubnan) in the eighth and ninth centuries. The Maronites took their name from John Maron, a learned monk who was Patriach of Antioch in the 8th century. The Muslim (Shiite, Sunni and the Druze sects) community emerged in Mount Lebanon at a later stage.
Marguerite Johnson traces the heritage of the Lebanese Christians directly to Jesus. By the 5th century, Christianity became the dominant religion in the area of Lebanon. After the forceful advent of Islam beginning in the 7th Century, many Christian communities along the coast of Lebanon converted to Islam. However, the mountains of Lebanon remained a Christian haven.
Peter Kolvenbach saw that the history of Lebanon's Christians and the history of Lebanon were so intertwined that without the Christians, and especially its Maronite sect, there would not have been a Lebanon and without Lebanon the destiny of Christians in the Middle East would have been different.
The 1860 civil war between the Maronites and the Druze erupted when Maronite peasants revolted against their landlords who were given land ownership by the Ottoman Empire. The Druze launched a pre-emptive strike against villages in the north with the help of Turkish officials. Engine Akarli mentioned that few Shiites and Sunnites, joined the Druze against the Maronites and the Greek Orthodox Christians (even though the Greek Orthodox had been friendly with the Druze before this incident). Akarli said that the Ottoman troops themselves failed to stop the Druze attacks due to their unwillingness to fight fellow Muslims.
The 1860 civil war left more than 15,000 Christians dead and more than ten thousand homeless. Later, however, the Ottoman foreign ministry imprisoned the Druze leaders involved in the war, and even punished a number of Ottoman officers and officials for having failed to prevent the 1860 civil war.
This was the first Lebanese civil war between Christians and Muslims. It is important to note that the Maronites had been subject to persecution by the Turkish rulers over centuries. However, the 1860 war was the first of its kind between the Lebanese people themselves.
It is hard to ignore the role of the Maronite Church in Lebanon in any study of the Christian political status in Lebanon. The role of the Maronite Church in Lebanon focused on strengthening the status of Christians during the Ottoman rule. Following the purge of the Druze leadership by the Turkish authorities, the Maronite Church emerged as the only significant institution in the Lebanese Mountains. The Church's special position encouraged it to aspire to greater influence. It was very conscious not only of the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Christians over the Druze in the Mountains, but also of the greater educational and material advances of the Maronites.
The 1860 events had created uproar in Europe, particularly in France. Although the Turkish Empire took swift action against the Druze, a large French force landed in Beirut for the purpose of protecting the Maronites and other Christians. Foreign intervention by the French persuaded the Ottoman Empire to form a small force in Mount Lebanon, which comprised of 160 men, 97 Maronites, 40 Druzes, 16 Greek Orthodox, 5 Greeks Catholics and 2 Muslims. Later on, Mount Lebanon was able to mount a military force of 10,000 men where Arabic replaced Turkish as the language of command and instruction. This development helped to strengthen the Christians who were the main core of the force. Moreover Christians were happy to be given a sort of autonomy by the Muslim Turkish Empire.
John Spagnolo wrote that in this particular period of 1860, international communities were looking after the interests of communities within Lebanon of a similar faith. For example, Russia wanted three seats to be reserved for the Greek Orthodox. In its turn, France wanted the Maronite representation to be increased on the administrative council of the mutasarrifiyya.
The protection of Christianity by the international community helped increase its survival chances in the midst of the Muslim conquest in the Middle East region. Marguerite Johnson noted that from the Byzantines and the Crusades in the Middle Ages to the French and Americans in 1984, the Christians have repeatedly relied on foreign powers to guarantee their survival and political power.
Because this section does not give sufficient information on the subject, the following material is inserted from another article in this site entitled "Phoenician Christians:"
Advent of Islam and Christians of the East
By Dr. George Khoury, Catholic Information Network (CIN)
The Arab Prophet
During his lifetime, Muhammad reacted differently at different times to Jews and Christians depending on the reception they accorded him and also on his dealings with Christian states. At first, Muhammad favoured the Christians and condemned the Jews because they acted as his political opponents.This is reflected in Sura 5:85 : Thou wilt surely find the most hostile of men to the believers are the Jews and the idolaters; and thou wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are those who say, "We are nasara"; that, because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud. (Sura 5:85; see also Sura 2:62; 5:69; 12:17).
Later he turned against them and attacked their belief that Jesus was God's son (Sura 9:30), denounced the dogma of the Trinity (4:17), and pointed to the division of the Christians amongst themselves (5:14). Most often though, Muhammad adopted an intermediate position: the Christians are mentioned together with the Jews as "People of the Book," while their claim of possessing the true religion is refuted. (See Sura :114; 3:135, 140; 9:29). And they will be punished by God.
Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden--such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book until they pay the tribute out of hand...That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before God. God assail them! How they are perverted! They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords apart from God, and the Messiah's, Mary's son, and they were commanded to serve but One God; there is no God but He (Suras 29-31).
During his lifetime Muhammad settled his relations with Christian political entities by treaties whereby they were allowed to keep their churches and priests, and also had to pay tribute and render some services to Muslims.
During the period of two hundred years following Muhammad's death, the attitude of Islam to Christianity remained generally similar to what it had been during the closing years of the prophet's life; Christianity was regarded as parallel to Islam, but corrupt. To this extent, Islam was superior. The outstanding consequence of this period, however, was the impressing on the masses of ordinary Muslims the view that Christianity was corrupt and unreliable.This, together with the death penalty for apostasy, kept the Muslims in lands ruled by the scimitar effectively insulated from Christian propaganda. Let us view this more closely, considering first the period immediately following the death of the prophet in 633 A.D.
The Covenant of Umar I (634-644)
The year after the death of the prophet in Arabia, the stage was set for a full-dress invasion of neighboring lands. In 634 the Arab forces won a decisive victory at Ajnadayn, and Damascus surrendered to Khalid ibn-al-Waleed in September 635. Jerusalem capitulated in 638 and Caesarea fell in 640, and between 639 and 646 all Mesopotamia and Egypt were subjugated. The last links connecting these Christian lands with Rome and Byzantium were severed; new ones with Mecca and Medina were forged. In about a decade the Muslim conquests changed the face of the Near East; in about a century they changed the face of the civilized world. Far from being peripheral, the victories of Islam proved to be a decisive factor in pruning life and growth of Eastern Christianity.
After the Arab invasions have stopped, there arose the problem of administering these new lands. Umar ibn-al-Khattab (634-644) was the first man to address himself to this problem. Despite the fact that later additions were made to it, it is agreed that the surviving covenant represents Umar's own policy. The conquered peoples were given a new status, that of dhimmis (or ahl-al-Dhimmi). As dhimmis they were subject to tribute which comprised both a land-tax (later kharaj) and a poll-tax (later jizyah) while they enjoyed the protection of Islam and were exempt from military duty, because only a Muslim could draw his sword in defense of Islam.
How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs
The Christian community, educated and civilized in the multicultural Byzantine east, was the catalyst that brought modern education and learning to the invading Arab tribes. By translating the works of the Greeks and other early thinkers and by their own contribution, the Christian community played a vital rule in transmitting knowledge. Later on, that flourished in the major Arab contribution to the fields of science and art. Some names of Eastern non-Arab Christians that should be remember for this often forgotten and unappreciated fact are:
Yusuf al-Khuri al-Qass, who translated Archemides lost work on triangles from a Syriac version. He also made an Arabic of Galen's De Simplicibus temperamentis et facultatibus. Qusta Ibn Luqa al-Ba'lbakki, a Syriac Christian, who translated Hypsicles, Theodosius' Sphaerica, Heron's Mechanics, Autolycus Theophrastus' Meteora, Galen's catalog of his books, John Philoponus on the Phsyics of Aristotle and several other works. He also revised the existing translation of Euclid. Abu Bishr Matta Ibn Yunus al-Qanna'i, who translated Aristotle's Poetica. Abu Zakariya Yahya Ibn 'Adi al-Mantiqi, a monophysite, who translated medical and logical works, including the Prolegomena of Ammonius, an introduction to Porphyry's Isagoge. Al-Hunayn Ibn Ipahim Ibn al-Hasan Ibn Khurshid at-Tabari an-Natili, and the monophysite Abu 'Ali 'Isa Ibn Ishaq Ibn Zer'a. Yuhanna Ibn Batriq, an Assyrian, who produced the Sirr al-asrar. 'Abd al-Masih Ibn 'Aballah Wa'ima al-Himse, also an Assyrian, who translated the Theology of Aristotle (but this was an apidged paraphrase of the Enneads by Plotinus). Abu Yahya al-Batriq, another Assyrian, who translated Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos. Jipa'il II, son of Bukhtyishu' II, of the prominent Assyrian medical family mentioned above, Abu Zakariah Yahya Ibn Masawaih, an Assyrian Nestorian. He authored a textbook on Ophthalmology, Daghal al-'ayn (The Disease of the eye). Hunayn Ibn Ishaq, an Assyrian. Sergius of Rashayn, "a celepated physician and philosopher, skilled in Greek and translator into Syriac of various works on medicine, philosophy, astronomy, and theology". Other Monopysite translators were Ya'qub of Surug, Aksenaya (Philoxenos), an alumnus of the school of Edessa, Mara, bishop of Amid.
For further details, see book review: How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs
The Ummayad caliphs (661-750) lived as Arabs first and Muslim second. As a consequence, their era was liberal in both political and religious matters. However, during the rule of the Ummayad caliph Umar II (717-720) there arose the concern to summon conquered peoples to Islam and to create favorable conditions allowing an equitable or better participation of all Muslims in the social and political life of the community. Umar was shocked that non-Muslims should exercise authority over Muslims, and tried to prevent it. In Egypt he removed some of the Coptic officials from their positions and replaced them by Muslims, and it seems that he applied this policy throughout the whole empire. He wrote to the governor of Egypt: "I do not know a secretary or official in any part of your government who was not a Muslim but I dismissed him and appointed in his stead a Muslim." This policy of Umar II was translated during the later Abbasid era into a major program due to the discontent of many Muslims with the excesses and corruption of the liberal Ummayad caliphs and the frustration that non-Arabian Muslims, especially Persian Muslims, felt on being treated as second-class citizens. Also due to external political circumstances and to the unruly and socially disruptive conduct of some Christian groups, Umar II reacted with some vehemence against the Christians. He abrogated the jizyah for any Christian who converted, and imposed other demeaning restrictions:
Christians may not be witnesses against Muslims. They may not hold public office. They may not pray aloud or sound their clappers. They may not wear the qaba', nor ride on a saddle. A Muslim who would kill a Christian would be liable to a fine, not death. He abolished the financial arrangements whereby churches, convents and the charities were maintained. Despite these exceptions, Ummayd rule was characterized on the whole by political as well as religious and intellectual liberalism. That is why Ummayad caliphs, with the exception of Umar II, did not press for or even favor, conversion to the Islamic faith.
The Abbasid Era (750-1258)
With the Umayyad's fall in 750 the hegemony of Syria in the world of Islam ended and the glory of the country passed away. The coming to power of the Abbasid dynasty marked a radical change in the balance of power within the caliphate. In a vast and complex body such as the caliphate had now become, there was an intricate network of party interests, sometimes conflicting and sometimes coinciding. The recovery of the equilibrium was thus no simple matter; and for the whole of this century, (i.e., the 8th century) the caliphs had as a prominent aim the framing of a policy which would rally the majority of the inhabitants behind it. In an Islamic environment, it was inevitable that such a political struggle should have religious implications. First, and vis-a-vis other Muslim groups, the Abbasid caliphate touched a number of risings of Kharajites who refused to submit to the new rule. There were also other opponents who questioned the legitimacy of the Abbasids' claim to the caliphate. As for the Christians as well as for the rest of ahl-al-Dhimmi, the Abbasid era would prove to be less tolerant of non-Muslims and would either re-enact old anti- Christian legislation or create new restrictions.
The Abbasids chose Baghdad for headquarters, though for a short period of time al-Mutawakkil (847-861) transferred his his seat back from Iraq to Damascus (885). As the Melkites were few in numbers in Mesopotamia it was the Nestorians and the Jacobites who under Abbasid rule shared more strongly in the literary life of the country and brought greater contributions.The beginning of the Abbasid caliphate until the reign of al-Mutawakkil (847-861) marked the zenith of the Nestorian Church from mid 8th century to mid 9th century. This prodigious success was made possible by the great number of zealous and educated monks, formed by the many schools existing at the time. In Baghdad itself, there were apparently many important monasteries, groups of professors, and students. There were, for example, the school of Deir Kalilisu and Deir Mar Fatyun and the school of Karh.
In the last two schools medicine and philosophy were taught along with the sacred disciplines. Christian physicians and especially scribes exerted some kind of tutelage within the Nestorian Church, and tried their best to obtain for their community a more benevolent legislation from Muslim rulers. Though the Abbasids showed tolerance towards the other religious, non-Muslim groups, still their tolerance was displayed mostly vis-a-vis some of their coreligionists who lived on the margins of traditional Islam.
The Christians, especially the Melkites who lived in the eastern provinces of the empire, had much to endure. Before, al-Mutawakkil Abu Gafar al-Mansur (754-775) imposed many vexing measures upon the Christians. In 756, he forbade Christians to build new churches, to display the cross in public, or to speak about religions with Muslims. In 757, he imposed taxes on monks, even on those who lived as hermits, and he used Jews to strip sacristies for the treasury. In 759, he removed all Christians from positions in the treasury. In 766 he had the crosses on top of the churches brought down, forbade every nocturnal liturgical celebration and forbade the study of any language other than Arabic. In 722, he required both Jews and Christians to exhibit an external sign to distinguish them from other believers. Abu Gafar al-Mansur also put in prison, for different reasons, the Melkite Patriarch Theodoret, the Patriarch Georges, and the Nestorian Catholicos James. Al-Mahdi (775-785) intensified the persecution and had all the churches built since the Arab conquest destroyed. The Christian tribes of Banu Tanuh, which counted 5000 fighters, were forced to embrace Islam. Angered by the defeats he incurred at the hands of the Byzantines, al-Mahdi sent troops to Homs in Syria, to have all the Christians abjure their faith. However, many of these laws were not enforced. For example, when Umar II tried to dismiss all dhimmis from government services, such confusion resulted that the order was ignored.
The Barmakid viziers, of Turkish origin, who were the strong arm of the Abbasid caliphs, seem to have manifested a certain measure of benevolence towards ahl-al-Dhimmi (the tributaries) and especially towards the Christians. It is only at the end of the rule of Harun al-Rahid (786-809), i.e., after the disgrace of the Barmakids, that some measures were taken against the Christians. Harun al-Rashid re-enacted some of the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish measures introduced by Umar II (717-720). In 807, he ordered all churches erected since the Muslim conquest demolished. He also decreed that members of tolerated sects should wear a prescribed garb. But evidently much of this legislation was not enforced. Under his son al-Ma'mun (813-833) there was in 814 a general persecution in Syria and in Palestine. Many Christians and church dignitaries escaped into Cyrpus and into Byzantine territories. Conditions under al-Watheq (842-847) did not improve and were sad indeed for the Christians. Under al-Mutawwakil (847-861) there was intensification of discontent on the part of Christians due to harsh conditions imposed on them. In 850 and 854 al-Mutawwakil revived the discriminatroy legislation and supplemented it by new features, which were the most stringent ever issued against the minorities. Christians and Jews were enjoined to affix wooden images of devils to their houses, level their graves even with the ground, wear outer garments of yellow color, and ride only on mules and asses with wooden saddles marked by two pomegranates-like balls on the cantle. Basing their contention on a Qur'anic charge that the Jews and the Christians had corrupted the text of their scriptures (Surs. 2:70; 5:16-18), the contemporary jurists ruled that no testimony of a Jew or Christian was admissible against a Muslim.
Legally speaking, the law put the male dhimmi below the male Muslim in nearly every way. It protected his life and property but did not accept his evidence. Eight acts put the dhimmi outside the law: conspiring to fight the Muslims, copulation with a Muslim woman, an attempt to marry one, an attempt to turn Muslim from his religion, robbery of a Muslim on the highway, acting as a spy or a guide to unbelievers, or the killing of a Muslim. However, despite these stringent laws, the social status of Christians was not that bleak. The consequences of this anti-Christian legislation were mitigated to a certain degree by the number and influence of some Christians in prestigious and vital professions, such as in medicine and high positions of government; e.g., Abu l-Hasan Sa'id ibn Amr-ibn-Sangala, who occupied the position of secretary under the Caliph al-Radi (934-40), and who was as well appointed as special secretary for the two sons of the Caliph in 935, and also Minister of Expenditure, and who rendered inestimable services to the Christians. Because Islam prohibits the practice of usury to Muslims, Christians exercised a certain monopoly on the trades of goldsmith, jeweller, and money-lender. Consequently, many Christians were rich and this stirred further feelings of jealousy against them. On the whole, relations between Muslims and Christians were peaceful and unfair laws were not always enforced.
However, the Christians could not help but feel and endure the stigma of inferiority. Even the literature of Islamo-Christian controversy should not mislead us on their true condition in the land of Islam. The tolerance they enjoyed was not the result of a state policy consistently upheld by all the caliphs. On the part of the caliphs, it was mostly motivated by their concern to protect and advance the sciences and the arts. The Islamization of Syria and Iraq and other lands no doubt facilitated Arabization. After the Arab military victory, there was the conquest and victory of Islam as a religion when many Christians in Syria and other lands converted to Islam to escape their oppressive and humiliating conditions. Finally there was the linguistic victory as Arabic supplanted Greek and Syriac.
Addendum: Persecution of the Coptic Church
The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church Of Egypt
Perhaps the greatest glory of the Coptic Church is its Cross. Copts take pride in the persecution they have sustained as early as May 8, 68 A.D., when their Patron Saint Mark was slain on Easter Monday after being dragged from his feet by Roman soldiers all over Alexandria's streets and alleys. The Copts have been persecuted by almost every ruler of Egypt. Their Clergymen have been tortured and exiled even by their Christian brothers after the schism of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. and until the Arab's conquest of Egypt in 641 A.D. To emphasize their pride in their cross, Copts adopted a calendar, called the Calendar of the Martyrs, which begins its era on August 29, 284 A.D., in commemoration of those who died for their faith during the rule of Diocletian the Roman Emperor. This calendar is still in use all over Egypt by farmers to keep track of the various agricultural seasons and in the Coptic Church Lectionary.
For the four centuries that followed the Arab's conquest of Egypt, the Coptic Church generally flourished and Egypt remained basically Christian. This is due to a large extent to the fortunate position that the Copts enjoyed, for the Prophet of Islam, who had an Egyptian wife (the only one of his wives to bear a child), preached especial kindness towards Copts: "When you conquer Egypt, be kind to the Copts for they are your proteges and kith and kin". Copts, thus, were allowed to freely practice their religion and were to a large degree autonomous, provided they continued to pay a special tax, called "Gezya", that qualifies them as "Ahl Zemma" proteges (protected). Individuals who cannot afford to pay this tax were faced with the choice of either converting to Islam or losing their civil right to be "protected", which in some instances meant being killed. Copts, despite additional sumptuary laws that were imposed on them in 750-868 A.D. and 905-935 A.D. under the Abbasid Dynasties, prospered and their Church enjoyed one of its most peaceful era. Surviving literature from monastic centers, dating back from the 8th to the 11th century, shows no drastic break in the activities of Coptic craftsmen, such as weavers, leather-binders, painters, and wood-workers. Throughout that period, the Coptic language remained the language of the land, and it was not until the second half of the 11th century that the first bi-lingual Coptic-Arabic liturgical manuscripts started to appear. One of the first complete Arabic texts is the 13th century text by Awlaad El-Assal (children of the Honey Maker), in which the laws, cultural norms and traditions of the Copts at this pivotal time, 500 years after the Islamic conquest of Egypt were detailed. The adoption of the Arabic language as the language used in Egyptians' every-day's life was so slow that even in the 15th century al-Makrizi implied that the Coptic Language was still largely in use. Up to this day, the Coptic Language continues to be the liturgical language of the Church.
The Christian face of Egypt started to change by the beginning of the second millennium A.D., when Copts, in addition to the "Gezya" tax, suffered from specific disabilities, some of which were serious and interfered with their freedom of worship. For example, there were restrictions on repairing old Churches and building new ones, on testifying in court, on public behavior, on adoption, on inheritance, on public religious activities, and on dress codes. Slowly but steadily, by the end of the 12th century, the face of Egypt changed from a predominantly Christian to a predominantly Muslim country and the Coptic community occupied an inferior position and lived in some expectation of Muslim hostility, which periodically flared into violence. It is remarkable that the well-being of Copts was more or less related to the well-being of their rulers. In particular, the Copts suffered most in those periods when Arab dynasties were at their low.
The position of the Copts began to improve early in the 19th century under the stability and tolerance of Muhammad Ali's dynasty. The Coptic community ceased to be regarded by the state as an administrative unit and, by 1855 A.D., the main mark of Copts' inferiority, the "Gezya" tax was lifted, and shortly thereafter Copts started to serve in the Egyptian army. The 1919 A.D. revolution in Egypt, the first grassroots dispaly of Egyptian identity in centuries, stands as a witness to the homogeneity of Egypt's modern society with both its Muslim and Coptic sects. Today, this homogeneity is what keeps the Egyptian society united against the religious intolerance of extremist groups, who occasionaly subject the Copts to persecution and terror. Modern day martyrs, like Father Marcos Khalil, serve as reminders of the miracle of Coptic survival.
Despite persecution, the Coptic Church as a religious institution has never been controlled or allowed itself to control the governments in Egypt. This long-held position of the Church concerning the separation between State and Religion stems from the words of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, when he asked his followers to submit to their rulers: ``Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'' [Mathew 22:21]. The Coptic Church has never forcefully resisted authorities or invaders and was never allied with any powers, for the words of the Lord Jesus Christ are clear: ``Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'' (Mathew 26:52). The miraculous survival of the Coptic Church till this day and age is a living proof of the validity and wisdom of these teachings.
For additional materials on the status of persecution of Eastern Christians, please read accounts in this site "Shattered Christian Minorities in the Middle East", "Persecutions of the Syriacs", "Persecution of Maronites and other Eastern Christians" or in the Assyrian site: Genocides Against the Assyrian Nation.
AUTONOMOUS GOVERNMENT AND BIRTH OF SECTARIAN POWER SHARING FOLLOWING THE 1860 CIVIL WAR
The origin of the Christian hold of power in Lebanon can be dated back to 1861. In 1861 foreign powers imposed what is known as the "Reglement Organique" in which the Ottoman government designated Mount Lebanon as an autonomous Ottoman province to be ruled by a non-Lebanese Ottoman Christian governor, selected by the Sultan, and approved by the great powers Of Europe. The autonomous province was to become a special Ottoman governornate or mutasarrifiyya. A new 12-member council whose seats were allocated on a sectarian basis aided the governor. Aziz Abu Hamad said that this system increased the Maronites power at the expense of the Druze and other sects.
In the opinion of one historian, Aziz Abu Hamad, Christians from 1861 were able to be autonomous during the Ottoman rule. This was very crucial for the development of their nationalism and their aim of forming a Christian state. Many Maronites conceived the mutasarrifiyya as the basis for an independent Lebanon that would be a Christian bastion and an out-post of Western Europe in the Middle East.
The Christian Druze confrontation spilled into the beginning of the twentieth century. For instance, in September 1903, Christian and Muslim clashes resulted in the death of 7 Christians and 15 Muslims. An estimated 20,000 Christians, mainly Maronites, took refuge in the mountains until sectarian tempers cooled.
THE FRENCH MANDATE AND THE INCREASE OF THE CHRISTIAN POLITICAL INFLUENCE
Christian power in Lebanon increased in September 1920 with the establishment of the state of Lebanon under the French mandate. The creation of Grand Liban (Greater Lebanon) by general Gouraud, High Commissioner for Syria and Lebanon, was the first step taken by France to fulfil its pledges to its traditional Lebanese Christians, especially the Maronites for the establishment of a Christian state. The establishment of an independent Christian state, with extended borders, and under French protection was the realisation of a centuries old dream of Christians especially the Maronites.
For the Muslims in Syria and the areas newly attached to Lebanon (Akkar, Tripoli, Beirut, Bekaa and the South), however, it was the final blow in a series of demoralising events which had began six weeks earlier, with the defeat of the Arab army at Maisalun, and the subsequent occupation of Damascus by the French and the expulsion of Faisal the Syrian king from Syria.
The Lebanese Muslims were disappointed about not being able to unite with the Muslim dominated Syria. Christians welcomed the French mandate power that sided with them. The governance system, which the French designed for Lebanon, favoured Christians over Muslims. The establishment of a pro Christian system strengthened the status of the Christians in Lebanon and in the Middle East.
Abbot Paul Naaman adjudged the establishment of the republic of Greater Lebanon to the efforts of the Maronite Church, and considered it as the Church's greatest accomplishment. Following the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920, the relations between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon deteriorated rapidly; Muslims attacked Christian villages in Lebanon. The creation of Greater Lebanon set a time bomb by forcing Muslims, whose allegiance was to Syria and to the Arab nation, to be citizens of the new state.
Eyal Zisser explained that the Christian population in Lebanon dropped from 85 per cent to 54 per cent once the new areas were added to the new region of Lebanon's Mountain. The creation of Greater Lebanon would contribute to their fall 70 years later, with the addition of those Muslim populated areas.
Sami Ofeish elaborated that the sectarian system was at work as early as 1920s:
Seats in the first parliament, initiated in 1926s were allocated on a sectarian basis. The sectarian allocation of top state offices also started to take shape during this period, although the Christian elite predominantly filled them.
The 1943 PACT
It is very important to look carefully at the structure of the Lebanese political sectarian regime. That structure has ensured Christian political dominance until 1990. The sectarian system was reinforced with the declaration of independence in 1943 following the collapse of the French mandate. President Bishara Al-Khouri (a Christian) and Prime minister Riad Soleh (a Muslim) joined in an unwritten agreement, which was called the National Pact.
The National Pact set a new political system for Lebanon. It resolved to preserve the position of the presidency for the Maronites, the premiership for the Sunnis, and the parliament speakership for the Shiites. Moreover, the Pact agreed to distribute parliamentary seats, cabinet posts, and administrative and army positions at all levels on a sectarian basis. Sami Ofeish said that the National Pact favoured Christians and in particular the Maronite elite.
The 1943 Pact cemented the Christian political power, which was given to them in the 1920s by the French Mandate. It enabled Christians to rule Muslims for the next 32 years until it started to crack in 1975. Certainly, Christians enjoyed overwhelming control of the political system, despite the allocation of the next two top political office positions to Muslims.
Similarly Mark Tomass noted that the Christians acquired the lion's share of sectarian jobs:
This pervasive sectarianism was reflected in the constitution of 1943 drawn under the French Mandate (1920-1945). It allocated specific government posts to sect leaders. Because of their greatest and specific ties to France, Maronite-Christians acquired the lion's share of posts.
All the above may give the indication that the Christians were given the edge over the Muslims, and, therefore, they dominated the country until the start of civil war.
Chapter 2: Christians maintained hold on power from 1943-1975
This chapter argues that the Christians managed to hold on to power despite the Muslims attempt to demand a far more share of power from the Christians.
According to Brenda Seaver, the Lebanese political situation between 1943-1975 endured periods of severe internal strain. The major causes of this strain were the 1958 civil war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the influx of Palestinian refugees and the PLO's arrival in Lebanon1. These above-mentioned events would serve as a catalyst for the civil war of 1975 and the fall of the 1943 political system in 1990.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NEW STATE OF ISRAEL AND ITS EFFECTS ON CHRISTIAN_MUSLIMS IN LEBANON
The creation of Israel in 1948 greatly affected the cordial harmony between the Lebanese Christians and Muslims. The reason for this is that some Christian leaders publicly met with Israel. However, Muslims saw Israel as the main enemy to the Arab world and that any cooperation with it would be considered treason.
Patriarch Antoine Arida was the first Christian leader to sign a Zionist-Maronite treaty of 19462. The treaty laid down the guidelines for the establishment of close ties and co-operation between the Maronites in Lebanon and the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine, on the basis of mutual recognition of rights and national desires3. The Christians made no secret of the fact that they believed that they could benefit from the ties and experience of the Jewish Yishuv4.
Eyal Zisser explained the reason for the Maronites seeking ties with Israel:
The only thing the Maronites wanted was to recruit discreetly Israel support for their struggles in the Lebanese domestic arena, keeping these connections as tightly under wraps as possible5.
Despite the fact that the parties involved did not execute the treaty, it shows how Christians were looking for an ally to protect them from the enemy within namely "the Muslims" who started to gradually distance themselves from the National pact of 1943.
According to Eyal Zisser, there were other Christian leaders who voiced their sympathy to the Zionist movement publicly, namely the archbishop of Beirut, Ignatius Mubarak6. Since the Muslims saw Israel as an obstacle for a mightier Muslim Arabic world, they sought support from outsiders such as the Palestinians in the early stages of the Lebanese civil war and Syria in the later stages.
THE CIVIL UNREST OF 1958
The political power of the Christian political elite was challenged in 1958. The country was shaken during this period. In 1958 Syria and Egypt came together in the United Arab Republic (U.A.R) under full Egyptian command. The union received support among the majority of the Lebanese Shiites and Sunnis7.
The Lebanese government dominated by Christians was fearful of the supporters of the pro Arab unity who were trying to topple the government. President Camille Chamoun backed by the bulk of Christians was absolutely determined to preserve Lebanon. As a consequence, only a small spark was needed to ignite widespread violence8. Therefore on 8th May, unknown assailants killed an anti-regime Maronite journalist in Tripoli (the Second largest Lebanese city). Public order instantly collapsed in Tripoli and the Muslim sections of Beirut, as riots extended into the mobilisation of gangs and small militias by radical parties Nasirites and Ba'th9.
President Chamoun, a Christian, asked the Eisenhower administration to curb the civil unrest of 1958. The Eisenhower administration quickly responded by sending 10,000 Marines, in order to shore up the government's forces. Aziz Abu-Hamad cited that the Maronite-led government troops and the Maronite militia battled an alliance of Muslim militias and their leftists and Nasirist allies in Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon and Tyre10. Aziz added that the 1958 crisis was defused when President Chamoun dropped his plans for a second term11. Christians and Muslims were finally content with the election of the army commander Fouad Shihab as the new president, and, consequently, the US withdrew from Lebanon.
During the 1958 civil war, the Christian dominated government fought alongside the Maronite militia against Muslims and leftists. Even though the 1958 war was caused by the clash of pro Lebanese sovereignty and pro Arab unity groups, it reinforced the belief that the Lebanese community was divided along sectarian lines. Thus, the Christians favoured Lebanese sovereignty while the Muslims favoured Lebanon joining a more desired unified Arabic league nation.
THE 1967 ARAB-ISRAEL WAR AND THE PALESTINIAN INCREASED INVOLVEMENT IN LEBANON
The 1967 Arab-Israel war further strained the relationship between Christians and Muslims. This was due to the fact that the Lebanese political leadership refused to commit its troops to the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The non-commitment enraged many Lebanese Muslims12. After the defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 war, the Palestinians started to launch attacks against Israel from Lebanon. Israel retaliated by shelling Lebanese towns and villages.
Aziz Abu-Hamad showed that the Palestinian military action against Israel divided Christians and Muslims again:
Muslim leaders proclaimed support for the Palestinian cause, Christian leaders expressed their opposition to dragging Lebanon into the Middle East conflict13.
Although Lebanese Muslims had only minority representation in the Lebanese Parliament, they outnumbered Christians in 1968. This was largely due to the higher rates of Christian emigration and higher Muslim birth rates. Aziz Abu-Hamad explained that in 1968, Muslims demanded several government changes including an end to the accord that reserved key positions for Maronites, such as the Commander of the army and the Governor of the central Bank14.
The Cairo agreement of 1969 gave Palestinians the right of autonomous administrative control over their refugee camps in Lebanon. Christians objected to the agreement arguing that it was a betrayal of Lebanese sovereignty15. The Christians' anger compelled Christian parties such as Phalanges( Kata'ib) and Camille Chamoun's National Liberal parties to establish military camps for their militias16. These newly trained Christian militias assisted the Lebanese army in their clashes with Palestinians in 1970. Although that crisis was temporarily resolved by reaffirming the Cairo Agreement, the Christian leadership, girded for the next round, determined to uphold Lebanese sovereignty and the Christian character of Lebanon17.
The Jordanian army expelled Palestinian fighters in September 1970 from Jordan. The move was aimed to stop the Palestinians from attacking Israel who used to militarily retaliate by bombing Jordan18. Many newly arrived expelled Palestinian fighters entered Lebanon taking advantage of the 1969 Cairo agreement, which granted Palestinian relative autonomy in Lebanon. Aziz Abu-Hamad said that several Lebanese factions, mostly Muslim and leftist groups, used the PLO's autonomy and political and military power to press for greater participation in decision-making19.
During the 1973 Arab�Israeli war, differences between Christians and Muslims deepened. The Christians were upset to see South Lebanon a battlefield between Israel and the Palestinians, while the Muslims took the opportunity in return to show dissatisfaction with their economic and political status in a Christian dominated political system20.
Chapter 3: Christian Nationalism vs. Muslim Nationalism
This chapter explores nationalism in Lebanon. Nationalism can be considered as one cause of the rise and fall of Christianity in Lebanon.
Meir Zamir described the spread of Christian nationalism in Lebanon as one of the three nationalistic movements that emerged simultaneously in the Middle East. The other two being the Muslim and Jewish movements1.
It is very hard for people with different nationalistic persuasions in the same country to stay unified. I will limit my study to the Christian and Arabic/Muslim nationalism, due to the fact that Lebanon housed only few a hundred Jews.
Theodor Hanf stated that the Lebanese nationalists, mainly Christians, tried to prove that Lebanon had existed since time immemorial and stressed its independence and uniqueness. He added that Arab nationalists, usually Muslims, tended to present the history of what is now known as Lebanon as a provincial chapter in the history of Arab-Islamic empires2. He added that there had been disputes about when which part of the country was first called Lebanon, and whether one or other of the contemporary communities was already a nation in the past3.
Marguerite Johnson identified Christian nationalism in terms of their distinctive cultural identity in the Middle East4. The cultural character of the Christian community was rooted in their religious separateness from the rest of the Near East and was nourished by centuries of long cultural ties with Western Europe.
Christian nationalism helped increase their survival chances in Lebanon. However, it also contributed to their own downfall. Their nationalism clashed with Muslim and Arabic nationalism. The Muslims showed an equal resolve to claim Lebanon and tried to remove the Lebanese Christians from political power.
In Lebanon, until recently, most Christian children were taught that Lebanon is a Phoenician and a western oriented nation, while most Muslim children students are taught that Lebanon is an Arabic country and an integral part of its Islamic World. Many Christians believe that they are Lebanese and not Arabs.
Ghassan Hage reasoned that the Muslim Shari'a's differentiation of people on the basis of their religious identity led Christians to become acutely conscious of their status as a religious minority5.
The biggest fear Christians have had is how to survive in such a Muslim dominated region. This has prompted them to deny Muslims the opportunity to turn Lebanon into an Arabic and Muslim nation. This was done by spreading their notion of nationalism, which they associated with Lebanese sovereignty away from Arabic and Islamic influences.
Christian nationalism made the Christians reluctant to share their power with Muslims until the commencement of the 1975 Lebanese civil war. They were worried about their future as a minority, surrounded by a majority Muslim population that was hungry to claim its fair share of power due to their superiority of numbers. Lebanese Christians were always keenly mindful of past atrocities inflicted on their brethren in the Middle East at the hands of the Muslims- namely the demise of Armenians in Turkey and the persecution of Coptic Christians in Sudan and Egypt. The majority of Christians associate themselves with Phoenician roots and not to the Arab Bedouin (Originally Arab).
Antoine Najm did not agree that nationalism ran along strict religious lines. He saw that Arabists, be Christian or Muslim, aspired to either annex Lebanon to the "Greater Arab Nation" or to establish an Islamic or quasi-Islamic state. Lebanese nationalists rejected this political stand6.
The clash of nationalism between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon may be illustrated by a recent incident surrounding the celebrated poet Khalil Gebran. Recently, the American Maronite Union wrote to the American Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, clarifying that the famous Lebanese poet Khalil Gebran is Lebanese and not an Arab7. Their protest was to the Middle East Descent Association in America, honouring Khalil Gebran as an Arabic American in the presence of Powell8. Tom Harb the chairman of the American Maronite union explained:
While we certainly would not be opposed to any party that would honor Khalil Gibran, we express our concerns as the identification of this great Lebanese-American as an "Arab-American"9.
David Gordon discussed the view of Muslims and Christians about each other. He outlined Muslim opinion about Christians as follows:
Firstly, Muslims rejected the maintenance of a Christian state. They objected to the way power was distributed so that it enabled Christians, particularly Maronites, to dominate a nation whose majority were Muslims. Moreover, Muslims believed that power should be based not upon sectarian distribution but upon the principle of one vote per person.
Secondly, Muslims claimed that the Christian establishment has repeatedly sought to split Lebanon, politically and culturally, from the Arab world. They argued that the Maronites supported the crusaders and that the Maronite Patriach Ignatius Mubarak had explicitly supported Israel.
Thirdly, Muslims argued that the Christian establishment had favoured and promoted private and foreign education, in order to erode the position of the Arabic language. Typically, Muslims believed that many textbooks had belittled Arab accomplishments and promoted the image of Lebanon as once a Phoenician and now a Christian state10.
The Christians' view of Muslim nationalism was put succinctly also by David Gordon. He explained that Christians believed that Arab nationalism was inevitably "Muslim". He added that they further claimed that Muslims were hypocritical in calling for a secular state, while at the time never abandoning their "personal status"(according to which matters of inheritance and marriage are determined by Koranic prescription). Lastly, Christians believed that integration of Lebanon politically or economically into the Arab world with its authoritarian and socialist tendencies, would only jeopardise the freedom and prosperity that both Muslims and Christians enjoyed in Lebanon. Christians further saw that the realisation of Muslim demands would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg11.
The Christians' belief was that Arab nationalism was inevitably Muslim. This is true, owing to the fact that the ordinary Arabic citizens and government stressed the Islamic nature of the Arab world.
This chapter explored how Lebanese Christians and Muslims espoused different nationalistic views. The spread of this divided nationalism was made easier by the existence of political and religious political parties, which I will discuss in the next chapter.
Chapter 4: Christian Political Parties and Organizations
This chapter explores Christian political parties, and their role in the rise and fall of Christians in Lebanon. These parties have used nationalism as a vehicle to promote their political platforms. These political parties were involved in the 1975 civil war. Moreover, despite the end of the civil war in 1990, the Lebanese Christian parties still try to influence politics in Lebanon. These parties' aim has been to be recognised as the ones who safeguarded the Christians' rights in Lebanon.
The Phalanges Party (Kataib)
It was clearly the single most important actor among Lebanese Christians in the events leading to the 1975 crisis. In the early 1950s, the Phalanges became a parliamentary party and a participant in the traditional game of Lebanese politics1. It recruited non-Christian and non-Maronite members. Yet, the Phalanges remained essentially a Maronite party and according to Rabinovich, the Lebanese entity it envisaged was in reality Christian2.
In the summer of 1975, when it appeared that the preservation of Christian control over the traditional political system in Greater Lebanon was no longer feasible, the party, or at least its radical wing, opted for the less desirable goal of a smaller Christian Lebanon based in East Beirut, the Northern part of Mount Lebanon, and the coastal area north of Beirut3. This sentiment was expressed through the publication of an interesting pamphlet by the Maronite Intellectual Centre in Kaslik, under the title Greater Lebanon a half century's tragedy. The pamphlet stated that the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920 by the French mandate was not in favour of the Christians.
The Christians knew very clearly that their political dominance, which was safeguarded by the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920 by the French mandate and the 1943 pact, was no longer possible. It was a sound strategy to opt for a smaller country in which they could control and preserve their culture. However, as events later showed, Muslims were not just interested in taking power in Lebanon but also to prevent Christians from ever forming a small or larger Christian Lebanese nation. As a result, the party was very interested in protecting Christian interest in a country, which started to slip away from them in favour of the Muslim majority.
The Phalanges party was divided between two schools of thoughts-the school of thought represented by Pierre Gemayel's elder son Amin and that of Karim Pakandouni. They believed that Lebanon's Christians could only survive by coming to terms with their environment. It sought accommodation with Syria, with Lebanese Muslims and with the larger Arab world. The second school of thought was represented by Amin's younger brother Bashir, who, in the summer of 1976, became the Commander of the party's armed forces. This school according to Itamar Rabinovich is sceptical of Arab and Muslim willingness to tolerate a Lebanese Christian entity in their midst, and believed in the need to develop that entity's resources, the establishment of an alliance with Israel, the mobilization of the Lebanese Christian Diaspora, and the obtainment of American support4.
The second school of thought prevailed over the first one. When Bashir sidelined his older brother, many believed that Bashir ignited strong nationalistic support among Christians. He later became the President of the country for twenty-one days, until his assassination. His brother succeeded him but was much weaker than he.
The Lebanese Forces
The Phalangist army called itself the Lebanese Forces (LF). It mustered up to 20,000 troops, of which a core of 3,000 was a full-time soldier. Under the leadership of William Hawi, and later of Bashir Gemayel, it evolved into a formidable and highly organized fighting force. The Phalangist party practised conscription in the area it controlled, drafting eligible young men to swell its ranks. In internal fighting throughout the Civil War and up to 1982, the Lebanese Forces consolidated its leadership of the Lebanese Christian Front by assimilating other Christian militia, often by force5.
The National Liberal party
The Phalanges� principal ally in the Lebanese front, Camille Chamoun's national Liberal party, was a markedly dissimilar political formation6. A small party organized around the person and personality of its leaders, it lacked the coherent doctrine, elaborate structure, and large membership of its senior partner, the Phalanges.
Camille Chamoun presided over Lebanon from 1952 until 1958. He was a bitter opponent and critic of Pan-Arab nationalism, and the only Arab ruler who accepted the US president Dwight Eisenhower's doctrine, which was aimed to help the Middle East nations fend off armed aggression from any communist nation. It even offered to protect the political independence of such nations7. The party is currently heading the opposition against Syria's presence in Lebanon.
Al Marade Party
This 3,500-strong unit, also called the Marada (Giants) Brigade, was named after a Byzantine border guard in ancient Lebanon. They represented the interests of Sulayman Franjiyah, President of Lebanon at the outbreak of the Civil War. It was also called the Zhagartan Liberation Army after Zgharta, Franjiyah's hometown. It operated out of Tripoli and other areas of northern Lebanon, but it also fought in Beirut. The military alliance between the Phalanges and the Marada, which was evident at the start of the 1975 civil war, ended on June 13, 1978, with a surprise Lebanese Forces (LF) attack on Ihdin, the Marada headquarters, during which the Marada commander, Tony Franjiyah was killed8.
The Order of Maronite Monks
The Maronite church has played a big role in Lebanese politics. It has sought to safeguard the right of Christians. During the 1975 Lebanese Civil War, Patriarch Bulus Khureysh, the head of the Maronite Church, did not have any political impact9. On the other hand, the head of the order of Maronite monks Father Charbel Qassis took the activist and militant line within the Maronite church. The Maronite Monastic order, the owners of a sizable portion of Lebanon's agricultural land, provided financial and political support to the Maronite militias10.
The Order of Maronite Monks militia consisted of 200 priests11. Father Bulus Na'aman, another powerful militant cleric, later replaced Quassis12. Rabinovich explained that Maronite monasteries were storing weapons, ammunition, and food for Christian militias13. Priests saw the need to protect Christians against Palestinians and Muslims who were threatening the status quo of Christians.
The Maronite League was a militant militia headed by Shaker Abu Suleiman, an ardent supporter of Qassis. Like the Guardians of the Cedar (see below), it was a purely Maronite militia without the inhibitions of the politically sophisticated Phalanges and National Liberals. It, therefore, chose to fight alongside these groups rather than to merge with them14.
The Guardians of the Cedars
The Guardians of the Cedars consisted of about 500 men15. Although they advocated a non-confrontational confessional ideology, the Guardians have in practice been among the fiercest fighters for the Christian cause.
The political and military leader of the Guardians of the Cedar, Etienne Saqr (nicknamed Abu Arz), worked for the Faranjiyya administration in the early 1970s. But ideologically, Sa'id Aql who sought to draw a clear distinction between Lebanonism and Arabism inspired the Guardians. Aql's conception of Lebanon, originating in and inspired by a remote Phoenician past, and contributing to the development of civilization, minimizes the role of Islam and Arabism16.
The Guardians of the Cedars were frank about their relationship with Israel, unlike the Phalanges and the National Liberals, who sought to conceal their relations with Israel. The Guardians argued publicly in 1976 that the Christians should turn to Israel to ask it to save what was left of Lebanon. Like the Maronite League, they maintained their separate organization that fought alongside the larger militias17.
Arabic for "the organization". At Tanzim was originally a small secret society of Christian officers within the Lebanese army who supported the Phalanges. At Tanzim accepted members from outside the army, mostly from the upper and professional classes. It fielded its own militia of about 20018.
The Lebanese Front
In December 1975, when major changes in the Lebanese political system were being discussed seriously and a Muslim summit was convened to formulate a joint position, a comparable Maronite summit was called for. The major Maronite leaders Pierre Gemayel, Camille Chamoun, Charbel Quassis, and Shaker Chaker Abu Sleiman met in the presidential palace19.
In the spring of 1976, the Maronite summit was renamed the Kafur summit. Camille Chamoun was chosen President of the newly formed Lebanese Front. Its leadership included Pierre and Bashir Gemayel, Bulus Na'aman, Edward Hunayian (who had previously worked with Raymond Edde), and two noted Christian intellectuals, Charles Malek and Fouad Ephrem Al Boustani. A joint military command was formed for the various militias, whose new collective name was the Lebanese forces.
The Lebanese forces were made up of four militias, the Phalanges, Chamoun's Numur, the Guardians of the Cedars, and the At Tanzim. Two members represented each. Despite the nominal parity, it was clear that the Lebanese Forces were dominated and controlled by Bashir Gemayel.
Nevertheless, the formation of an apparently non-partisan, all Maronite forums proved very useful for the further development of the status quo coalition of Christian leaders mentioned above20. Halim Barakat said that the Christian rightists of the Lebanese Front have continued to resist the elimination of political sectarianism21.
The Army�s Christian Leadership
The Christian leadership within the army can be considered an important component of the status quo coalition, which consists of Christian groups, which refused to relent their power to Muslims. The Lebanese army's refusal to take sides during the crises of 1952 and 1958 was a rare phenomenon in post-world war II Middle East, where political history has been largely shaped by military intervention and domination. The higher echelon of the professional officer corps was predominantly Christian, and the army was seen as one that was predominantly Christian. The army was seen as one of the ultimate guarantors of both the Lebanese political system and the Christian character. In the 1950 and 1960s, Muslim politicians repeatedly demanded a national service law that would transform the army into a predominantly Muslim force22. The bulk of the army was positioned in Beirut and the centre of the country.
Accommodationist Christian leaders
The Christian community had also moderate Christian politicians and public figures such as the former president Elias Sarkis and Raymond Edde (the son of president Emille Edde). They sought accommodation policies with the opponents of the (namely the Muslims). However they did not possess the coherence of an actual political school or bloc. Moreover, these leaders were willing to concede a large share of power in the political system to the Muslim community. They strongly opposed the notion of partition.
Chapter 5: The Christian role in the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990
The Lebanese Civil war and its outcome changed the status of Christians in Lebanon and helped their political decline. The Civil War started in 1975 and many historians still do not agree on its immediate causes. However, Brenda Seaver cited two events, which marked the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War.
The first event occurred in February 1975, where Lebanese fishermen's unions in Sidon, Tyre, and Tripoli jointly protested the establishment of the Protein Company, a modern high-technology monopolistic fishing company owned in large part by former president Camille Chamoun, a Maronite Christian1.
Brenda Seaver added that the army began firing upon protesters mortally wounding Ma'ruf Saad, the Sunni Muslim leader of the popular Nasserite Organization of Sidon2. Following Sidon's events, street demonstrations erupted virtually in all of Lebanon's major cities and intense fighting occurred between Christian troops and gunmen aided by Palestinian commandos.
While the second event, according to Seaver, took place on 13 April 1975, when unknown assailants attempted to assassinate Pierre Gemayel, the leader of the Phalanges, while he was attending the consecration of a new church in the Christian Beirut suburb of Ain Rumana. Gemayel survived, but three of his bodyguards died3. Seaver added that a group of Maronite militiamen at Ayn Al-Rumana retaliated by ambushing a bus containing mostly Palestinians on their way to the Tel-Al Za'atar refugee camp, killing twenty-seven passengers4. The incident incited heavy fighting throughout the country between the Phalangists on the one hand and Palestinian militiamen and leftist Muslims on the other hand, resulting in over 300 deaths in three days. The first incident highlighted the Muslims' uneasiness about the privileges that the Christian elite were enjoying. The protest was not just a protest against the opening of the company, but because it was owned by one of the Christian power brokers. Moreover, it followed a constant outcry of Muslim leaders against the privileges and wealth of the Christians.
After the Cairo Agreement in 1969, which sanctioned the arming of Palestinians in Lebanon, the Christians perceived the continuing presence of the Palestinians in Lebanon as a serious threat.
These above incidents are not the only factors, which led to the eruption of the Civil War. The nature of nationalism in Lebanon has played a crucial role in making the Civil war inevitable.
Twefik Khalaf noted that the Christians had a hidden agenda when fighting broke out between the Phalanges and the Palestinians. The Phalanges wanted to hold on for a few days and then engage the Lebanese Army in a Jordanian style campaign against the Palestinians5.
The Christians may be indirectly blamed for the eruption of the civil war, due to the fact that the demands of Muslims for more equality fell on deaf ears. As a result of a fifteen-year Muslim boycott of the Lebanese state during the French mandate, there was always considerable disequilibrium in the civil service, which was made up largely by Christians. The disequilibrium continued well into the independent republic: young civil servants appointed in the 1930s reached retiring age only in the 1960s6. This ably explained the reason behind the Christian control of the civil service.
In the fifties, Maronites and Greek Catholics Melkites and Sunni Muslims were over represented at the expense of the Shi'ites. As Muslim communities lagged in university education, Muslim deputies, parties and institutions were among the zealous champions of the principle of proportionality or quota citing Article 95 of the constitution which stipulated an adequate distribution of civil service posts among the communities7. Christians, with their educational advantages, rejected the Muslim demand, citing that Article 12 of the constitution, stipulated that all citizens should have equal access to the civil service and that the only criteria of selection was merit and ability8.
The above example effectively explains that the different interpretation of the constitution by Christians and Muslims had made them in conflict with each other.
Brenda Seaver criticised the Christian militias, as they often seemed to act in defiance of the Lebanese Front's leadership9. Ghassan Hage cited Christian notorious atrocities on 6 December 1975. The day was to be known later as "black Saturday", where more than two hundred Muslims were brutally massacred by Christians. This event was usually explained as an act of revenge for the killing of Christians in Muslim areas10.
Simon Haddad recorded that Palestinian refugees were slaughtered in Tal Al Za'atar in 1976 and in Sabra and Shatila camps in 198211. Rex Brynen estimated that Christians killed about one thousand Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims and evicted twenty thousand from the Palestinian protected areas of the Al-Karantina and Al-Maslakh slum districts12.
The years between 1975-1990 were the darkest time for Christian. This was due to the atrocities committed by the Christian militia and by the atrocities committed on Christians by Muslims and Palestinians. Charles Sennott recalled the war memory of one Christian villager Michael Abu Abdella from Damour. Abu Abdella remembered the attacks that devastated his village Christian community and had caused thousands to flee13.
During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, a Phalange faction led by Elie Hobaiqa attacked the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and massacred about one thousand unarmed refugees, including women, children, and old men14. Israel was blamed widely for not intervening to stop it once it had began15.
However, the Lebanese forces denied its involvement and the victims' relatives have recently launched criminal proceeding at a the Belgium supreme court against the current Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was the Defence Minister during the 1982 invasion.
Chapter 6: Causes of the Decline of the Christian status in Lebanon
The decline of the Christian role in Lebanon was caused by four factors. Firstly, the typical strife with the Muslim foes, secondly by internal Christian division and fighting, thirdly by foreign intervention and fourthly by voluntary and forced emigration of many Christians.
The political and social Christian decline can be traced to their struggle with the Muslim majority. Christians were exhausted by their war with the Muslims. Fawaz Gerges noted that Latif Abul-Husn believed that the 1975 war revolved around three main issues: Reform of the political system, the national identity of Lebanon and Lebanon's sovereignty1.
According to Abul-Husn, the Christians could have been in conflict with the Muslims over the three above issues. The Muslims wanted to reform the political system, which favoured Christians. They wanted to translate their numerical superiority into political power. They wanted a system, which they could control. Moreover, they saw Christians as an obstacle to the formation of an Islamic state similar to the rest of the Middle Eastern states. The Muslims chose war instead of dialogue, due to the fact that the Christians continued to ignore their grievances. The war was more destructive to the Christians than to the Muslims.
In 1983, a civil war erupted in the mountains between the Phalanges and the Druze on a large scale. The Druze defeated the Christians. They drew no distinction between their Christian supporters and opponents. Around sixty villages were devastated, thousands of civilians were murdered, and tens of thousands were driven out or had fled. The spiritual leader of the Druze, Sheikh Abu Shakra, summed up the brutality of this phase of the civil war stating that the Christians would never again live in the Druze Mountain2. For the Christians, the episode was a disaster of a similar magnitude as in the Chouf, where about fifty Christian villages were razed to the ground in 19833.
Theodore Hanf noted that there had been radical changes in the southern section of Mount Lebanon, the upper Metn, the Aley region and the Chouf. In 1975, the Christians comprised a good half of the population, a decade later about 1 per cent. The Christians were expelled from the coastal strip in the first two years of the war4. They were eradicated from certain areas and replaced by Muslims. There were several wars between Christians and Muslims but the 1983 Mountain war stands as the most significant war, which caused the death of thousands of Christians and expelled them from the Mountain area.
At the end of the civil war in 1990, as Christian-Muslim relations improved, many Christians started to return to their villages. The government even started to financially aid them to renovate or build new houses.
The struggle with the Muslims caused the Christians to slowly surrender their traditional hold of power and opted to emigrate seeking a better future.
The decline of the Christian power in Lebanon can be also traced to internal divisions and infighting among the Christians themselves. The Phalanges saw that the Maronite political pluralism ought perhaps to be tolerated, but the community's military power had to be under one authority, and that authority had to be theirs5. For this reason the Phalanges sought to break the independent power of their two principal partners, the Franjiyya and the Liberal National Party. The relations with Franjiyya worsened after they disagreed over relations with Syria.
The Phalanges sought to expand their party organization into Northern Lebanon and to undermine the Franjiyya family's economic base by disputing Franjiyya's right to raise levies in the heavily industrialised region around Chekka, South of Tripoli6. Franjiyya responded to the challenge by killing the chief Phalanges organiser, Jud Bayeh. The Phalanges retaliated by shelling Tony Franjiyya's home in the village of Ehden, killing him and his immediate family in June 19787. Itamar Rabinovich questioned whether or not his assassination had been planned; it is obvious that excessive brutality divided the Christian camp8. Franjiyya accused Lebanese Forces of collaboration with Israel and opted to side with Syria9.
In 1980, Bashir Gemayel's militia destroyed the military infrastructure of the Tigers, the National Liberal Party's militia, in the Beirut area. The Phalanges sought to expand their mandate and their demographic and territorial bases by becoming the representative authority for all Lebanese Christians not just the Maronites10.
On 31 January 1990, after the Lebanese forces announced its reluctant endorsement of the Ta'if Accord, Michel Aoun had to consolidate his position with his Christian constituency. He attempted to wrest control of the small Christian area between Beirut and Jebail, but in the process inaugurated a Christian civil war in January 199011. Kail Ellis commented that the conflict lasted until July of that year and ended without a clear-cut victory for Aoun12. Before the fighting stopped in mid-March, nearly 750 civilians had been killed and 3,000 wounded, but the Lebanese Forces continued to support the new accord13. Ellis noted that the war had negative political consequences for the Christian community and that it was estimated that the war had caused $1.2 billion in property damage14.
Another reason for the decline of Christian influence in Lebanon is that not all Christians shared the dream of a Christian state. For example, Christian members of both Lebanese communists and the national progressive parties aimed for a non-secular political system and called for the abolition of the religious based political system. Theodore Hanf noted that the civil war between the Christian communities had weakened them more than all the previous attacks of Lebanese and foreign foes15.
Christian relations with foreign powers have also contributed to their decline. In the words of Lebanon's premier columnist, Ghassan Tueni, it was the others' war. Lebanon was used as a battlefield for the ongoing clashes in the Middle East and the superpower rivalries resulting from the cold war16.
Eyal Zisser commented that stronger relations between Israel and the Lebanese Maronite community inevitably led to the civil war in Lebanon in 197517. Eyal added that such relations were founded on the common belief that Jews and Maronites must forge a strong alliance to ward off hostile Muslim-Arab attacks18.
Brenda Seaver outlined that without Palestinians; the Lebanese system might have persisted:
At the very least, if the Palestinian problem had never existed, there would have been more time for strong elites to emerge who could have dealt with the difficulties of modernization by carrying on the Shihab tradition of social reforms and instituting moderate political reforms19,
Brenda Seaver gave an accurate analysis of the Palestinians contribution to the collapse of the Lebanese political system. The Palestinians might have tried to turn Lebanon into an alternative permanent state, as compensation for their homeland. The Palestinians' interference worsened the already tense relations between Christians and Muslims. Despite the several episodic civil wars between Muslims and Christians, the whole population had co-operated together for many centuries.
Syria has also played a big role in the decline of the Christian's role in Lebanon, despite its initial intervention militarily in their favour in 1976. When in 1976, the Lebanese National Movement LMN that was fighting Christian forces was about to gain victory over the Christian; the Syrians intervened, explicitly stating that their reason for doing so was to help the Christians20.
Ghassan Hage explored the reasons behind Syria's help for the Christians in 1976:
Undoubtedly, however, it aimed to avoid the creation of a mini Christian state that the Christians would have proclaimed in all likelihood in the areas that remained under their control21.
It is important to note that Syria helped the Christians to secure a foothold in Lebanon. However, the Christian leaders, who governed Lebanon at the start of the civil war, failed to predict the implication of Syria's initial friendly intervention in Lebanon. Rex Brynen noted that the massive Syrian military intervention in Lebanon served to Arabize the Lebanese civil war, substantially shifting the conflict from its initial Lebanese social and political bases to the broader regional arena22.
The honeymoon between the Christians and the Syrians was short lived. Ghassan Hage said that following Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's trip to Jerusalem, an Israeli conceived peace plan (what became known as the �Begin plan') emerged allowing for a role of the Christian Right, namely the Phalanges. They did not hesitate to grab the opportunity and quickly turned against Syria23.
On February 7, 1978 a limited armed confrontation between the Syrians and some Christian elements of the Lebanese army took place. Soon after, this confrontation developed into a full-scale war24. The Begin plan allowed Israel to invade and stay in South Lebanon until a permanent solution prevented the Palestinian guerrilla from returning25. Here, the Christians represented by the Lebanese Front, took its most extremist stand on the Palestinian presence in Lebanon and called for the elimination of the Palestinians armed presence26. Syria was furious at the Christians' apparent siding with Israel and so began bombardment of the Christian quarters of Beirut27.
Ghassan Hage presented the reasons for the Syrian aggression against the Christians:
It was a reflection of the frustration of Syrian President Assad to see the Christian rightists, whom he had basically saved, and whom he had attempted to handle with the utmost care, move away from him with ease28.
There was some notion in 1978 that Syria and the Muslims wanted to eradicate the uniqueness of Lebanon and the Christian presence in it. This led Camille Chamoun to call on the �civilised world' to stop the Syrian bombardment of the Christian area29.
Christian civilians paid a high price for the political mistakes of their own leaders. Those leaders did not foresee that Syria would demand full support for its policies, which shifted again to support the Palestinian presence in the South, something that is against the Christian's principle of a free Lebanon. The civilians were bombed every time their leaders disagreed with Syria or the Muslim militias, namely the Lebanese national movement.
William Harris saw that the conflict was not between Christians and Muslims, but between Christians and Syria:
�the struggle for Lebanon was conducted between Maronite leaders in East Beirut and Hafiz al-Asad in Damascus-not between Christians and Muslims, and certainly not between Christians and Shi'is30.
Following the end of the civil war in 1990, the political power of the Christians declined even further. Alan George described how the Maronites were marginalized:
�Their selective representation in the political hierarchy and the exile or imprisonment of leading political figures31.
The Christians' position declined even further, when a major ally of the past, the United States, refrained from urging Syria to withdraw. In 1958, the United States rushed to help president Camille Chamoun to quell a rebellion, which was staged, by Muslims and followers of former Egyptian president Abdel Nasser. Later, however, The United States abandoned its role in Lebanon, owing to the fact that in 1983 the American embassy in Ain al-Mreisse was demolished by a suicide bomb attack that killed more than 60 people32. Six months later, suicide bombers made simultaneous attacks on the multinational force that arrived a year earlier at the request of President Amin Gemayel. The results of the attacks were devastating when 58 French paratroopers and 241 Americans marines were killed. Finally the Americans pulled out of Lebanon.
The Christians in Lebanon felt uneasy about the United States failure to demand Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. Jose Navalpotro wrote that the United States believed that the timetable for the Syrian withdrawal was a matter that should be resolved between Damascus and Beirut33. He added that Washington does not regard this question as an important issue in the overall stability of the Middle East, or a pivotal matter to be resolved in the Arab-Israeli peace process34.
Christian Emigration from Lebanon, in large numbers, also contributed to the decline of the Christian influence in Lebanon. Both Muslims and Christians fled Lebanon, but far more Christians left. From a pre-war Lebanese population of roughly 4 million, 500,000 of the 700,000 who emigrated were Christian. Just how many Christians remain in Lebanon is in dispute. There are no official population figures for Lebanon. Some estimate that about 1 million residents or 25 percent of the country are Christians. This figure is less than half of the nearly 60 per cent majority of the early 1970s.
William Harris saw that Christian numbers declined in Lebanon as the years went by: 1911 79%, 1921 55%, 1932 51%, 1943 52%, 1970 42%, 1990 35%35. It is hard to see the Christians current decline in status to be reversed in the view of Harris's statistics. It is very plausible that the number of Christians will become negligible in 50 years and thus their presence in the Middle East will be in jeopardy. Christians need to have the numbers in order to have a legitimate claim to sharing power with the Muslims. Charles M.Sennott quoted a Christian lawyer Nehmatalla Abi Nasr talking about the effect of Christian migration:
"The Christians leave for opportunity in the West or to get away from the war,'he says,'Then they lose more and more influence here, and then they are increasingly afraid to return. This process feeds on itself."36.
The migration of many Christians from Lebanon has indeed contributed to their political decline in a nation, where they used to be the majority. The voluntary migration adds to the fact that thousands and thousands of Christians died in a war or faced expulsion from their own houses and lands. The Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Nsrallah Boutrous Sfeir, complains stridently that an upsurge in non-Christian immigration to Lebanon, coupled with the government's recent decision to grant citizenship to a large number of Muslims, is weakening the Christian voice in Lebanon,37
The End of the Lebanese Civil War and the Ta'if Agreement the �last straw'.
The Lebanese Civil war ended in 1990 following the defeat of the Lebanese Army leader Aoun by Syria's intervened military. William Harris saw the collapse of the autonomous Christian enclave of East Beirut as a blow to Christian power in Lebanon1.
The Christians had not just faced a traumatic end to their autonomy on 13 April, but they had to face the consequences of the implementation of the Ta'if agreement, which reduced their power in favour of the Muslims.
On the 30th of September 1989, the Arab League plan, hereafter referred to as the Ta'if Accord, was signed in the resort city of Ta'if. The 62 Lebanese members of Parliament, 85 percent of the surviving 73 members who met in Saudi Arabia, included 31 Christian and 31 Muslim deputies2. Many Christians considered that this agreement as the single event that sealed their downfall. The agreement united the nation but failed to give the Christians the necessary guarantee for their survival.
Following the Ta'if agreement, more ambitious Islamic leaders found an opportunity to consolidate their political gains, and gradually eliminated the Christian presence from the national government3. Catholic leaders were against the new agreement. Jose Navalpotro wrote:
Cardinal Sfeir put the question in sharp relief. Without a strong Christian presence in government, he asked, what would be the incentive to maintain an independent Lebanon? And without a clear agreement with their Muslim neighbours, how could a Christian minority in one small country expect to survive in an"Islamic ocean?".
The Ta'if agreement emphasized three factors: Firstly, that the new preamble to the constitution unequivocally stressed Lebanon's Arab identity and affiliation. Secondly, that the new preamble should state that Lebanon's system should be based on social justice and equality between all citizens in rights and duties without any differentiation and preference. Thirdly it called for the abolition of political sectarianism.
Sami Ofeish asserted that Ta'if addressed the causes of the Lebanese Civil War5. Article 24 of the Ta'if accord presents the guidelines for the sectarian distribution of seats in parliament. This article affirms that, until parliament enacts non-sectarian electoral laws, parliamentary seats should be distributed equally between Christians and Muslims6. Sami Ofeish commented that the principles of sectarian "proportional representation" were not implemented accurately in the past and they did not accommodate the demographic changes showing Muslims as the numerical majority beginning in the 1960s7.
The Ta'if �s agreement improved the position of the prime minister at the expense of the President's traditional functions. According to article 64, the Prime Minister is now the one who heads the government and acts as its representative. The Parliamentary Speaker (A Shiite)'s term is extended to four years instead of one as in the past according to article 44.
The Maronite-exclusive Presidency was rendered to be more symbolic. Sami Ofeish wrote that despite the fact that the President is still the head of the state (Article 49), his executive power lies mainly with the council of ministers (Article 17), and the president shares the decision-making with the Prime Minister and the council8.
As we can clearly see, three Presidents rule Lebanon equally, the President of the Republic, the President of Council of Ministers and the President of the Chamber of Deputies. It is important to see that Ta'if reduced the Christian political power in Lebanon in favour of the Muslims.
Christine Asmar saw that the Ta'if agreement did not provide any solutions to the Lebanese political power:
Ta'if was also to have signalled a thaw in inter-confessional hostilities, but instead it may have simply frozen animosities while facilitating the restoration of a central government, leaving unresolved the vital issue of inter-confessional relations, especially at the level of the "street9.
One of the consequences of the Ta'if agreement was the signing of a treaty of brotherhood, cooperation and coordination between Syria and Lebanon10. A majority of Christians voiced their concern about the treaty. William Harris commented on the Christian opposition to Ta'if:
Most Christians rejected the Ta'if regime, as they felt alienated both from Christian participants in the government and from other Christian parties, principally the Kata'ib and the LF, which had accepted the new order but dissented on details11.
Christians boycotted the first post Ta'if�s agreement election in 1992. Judith Harik noted that the Lebanese Maronite community feared that a new parliament would enact laws to end its privileged position in Lebanese society and politics12. The Maronites wanted the Syrians out of Lebanon, and believed that elections held before the Syrians departure might be unduly influenced by Syria at their expense13. Judith Harik stated that the Christians boycotted the 1992 election, because they felt that the new parliament would not represent their interests14.
The Christians' fears were to become a reality when a pro Syrian President was elected in 1993. The new parliaments after 1990 did not contain strong nationalist Christians as before. In the last election of 2000, only a few Christian nationalists were elected, in contrast to 1972 where most Christian members of parliament were Christian nationalists.
The decline of the Christian political influence coincided with the economic rise of the Muslims. Jose Navalpotro wrote:
Under Hariri's regime, the financial aid which is flowing into the country from other Arabic nations is being directed toward institutions controlled by Muslims15.
The Christians long time financial superiority over Muslims has finally come to an end. Other Arabic countries are financially aiding Muslim institutions. Muslim wealth has doubled since the end of the civil war in 1990. It is no secret that the current Prime Minister Rafic Hariri's private company Solidaire owns the central business district of Beirut. Moreover, it tenders all government major construction work. Muslim new wealth is channelling new financial and political power for the Muslims. Moreover, the poor Shi'ite area of the South is attracting more government and overseas developments.
Among the Christian leaders who remain active in Lebanon, there is a fervent desire for new negotiations. That desire is based on the recognition that they are rapidly losing their political influence. The principal institutions that could offer them access to power are now closed to Christians, or at least offer only the hope of a minor role.
Jose Navalpotro noted that there is an absence of strong Christian leadership. He observed that the former Lebanese army commander Michel Aoun is in exile in France, the former president Amin Gemayel was residing in the United States for several years after the end of his presidency in 1988, and Dory Chamoun, who succeeded his assassinated brother Danny, has been unable to mount the sort of sustained and strategic action that would give a sense of new hope to his followers16. The Gemayel family finally returned in 2000 and Amin Gemayel's son Pierre was elected to the parliament in late 2000.
The absence of strong Christian leaders impedes the Christian community of exercising a powerful influence as in the past. The decline of Christian influence will even increase if there continues to be an absence of a strong Christian leader who mobilizes his community and enables it to survive. Another important Christian leader, Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese forces militia, is currently in prison. Navalpotro wrote that in March 1994 the government outlawed his Lebanese forces party, and arrested him. He was accused of engineering the bombing of a Catholic church in Beirut and the assassination of Danny Chamoun.
The Catholic bishops pointed out in their public denunciation of Geagea's imprisonment that the government had produced no evidence to sustain the charges17. Since the formal conclusion of the Lebanese civil war on October 13, 1990, many episodes have borne testimony to the steadily diminishing influence of the Christians in Lebanon.
1990:October-Danny Chamoun, the key leader among Maronite Christians, is assassinated, along with his family.
1991:May-Patriarch Sfeir denounces the Syria-Lebanon pact, saying that it compromises the nation's sovereignty and undermines the "national pact" of 1943.
August-General Michel Aoun, the latest Christian leader to emerge as a national power broker, is sent into exile in France, and prohibited from returning to Lebanon for five years.
1992:September-Catholics organise a boycott of legislative elections; between 70 and 85 percent of all Catholics refuse to participate. One Christian deputy was elected by just winning forty votes18.
1993:May-Anti-Catholic rioting breaks out in the region of Chouf. The bishops of Lebanon speak out against the purchase of lands in Christian neighbourhoods, which they point out is changing the demographic face of the nation.
June- Three terrorists die in the premature explosion of a bomb they were preparing at the site of a meeting of Orthodox and Catholic bishops
October- Christian political leaders are the targets in a series of arrests; several are taken to Damascus and held there.
December- A Christian cemetery is desecrated in Mansourieh, an apparent warning to Christians that they should not celebrate Christmas.
1994 February � A bomb placed in a Catholic Church explodes during Mass, killing eight worshippers; the terrorist act following several days after the massacre of Muslims by an Israeli extremist in Hebron.
June-Prime minister Hariri ordered the shut down of ICN television and the Nida'al Watan daily newspaper after they expressed concerns by Christians over the prime minister's land purchases in traditionally Christian areas19.
July- The Maronite bishops issued a new warning about the loss of equilibrium between Christians and Muslims in the nation's government.
2000 January-A group of Islamic militants stormed a Christian village killing one resident, while engaging in fighting with the Lebanese Army.
September-The Maronite Bishops' council called for the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon, thus voicing a Christian protest to such presence.
December-Syria freed about 50 mostly Lebanese Christians political prisoners. However, human rights groups have put the number of Lebanese political prisoners in Syrian jails at anywhere between several hundred and several thousand20.
2001 August- The arrest of 200 Christian youths following their demands at a rally for a Syrian withdrawal. The former advisor to Samir Geagea, Twefic Hindi, was arrested as well as Aoun's representative Nadim Lteif. They were accused of collaboration with Israel and treason.
September-The Maronite Bishops'Council renewed its call for the withdrawal and asked Christians not to leave the country.
October-Two churches in Sidon and Tripoli were attacked, reinforcing the fact that Christians are still finding it very hard to be optimistic about their safety in their homeland.
2002 January-The former commander of the Phalangist army (Lebanese Forces) and a former minister Elie Hobaiqua was assassinated in Beirut along with his three bodyguards.
Implication of the Christian's decline in Lebanon
The lessons of war had taught Christians that the Muslim power brokers in the area.e.g Syria would not accept an establishment of a small Christian country. Christians now hope that the Muslims will not take the opportunity and attack them in a final assault to take total control of Lebanon.
The survival of the Christians will depend on their internal unity and on the will of Muslims to allow the existence of a Christian minority in Lebanon. As Christian numbers are falling in Lebanon, Muslims will always control the destiny of Lebanon and its inhabitants, especially the Christians. One option left for the Christians is to resist giving their remaining power to Muslims and to increase the birth rate and remain in Lebanon. Marguerite Johnson was optimistic of Christian survival:
The Christians may lose their predominant position, but whether in Beirut or among the cedars of Mount Lebanon, they will undoubtedly retain the stubborn will to survive that has made them both an asset and a menace to their Muslim neighbours for twelve centuries1.
There is evidence that Christians, still have the resolve to remain influential in Lebanon. Charles Sennott said that the Maronite Patriarchate filed a suit against the Hariri government's 1995 program that naturalized some 300,000 Muslims from Syria, Iraq and other countries2. The Patriarchate thought that the move would further marginalise Christians in Lebanon3.
Charles Sennott considered that the death of George Saade, leader of Lebanon's Phalanges party, the largest Maronite political entity, symbolised the end of the dominant role Christians have played in government4. This is an accurate description of the current Christian status in Lebanon. A majority of Christians are not optimistic of their survival in Lebanon-they simply wonder about what sort of future they will have in Lebanon.
These are anxious days for Lebanon's Christian community, now less powerful and privileged than at any time since the country was created. The Christian's privileged status in Lebanon was challenged due to the demographic shift that increasingly favoured the Muslims over them. Moreover, their status was challenged by the rise of a radicalised Muslim intellectual class who were supportive of a socio-political change and pan-Arabism1.
Abbott Paul Naaman said that the Maronites today must follow in the footsteps of all those who came before and worked for centuries to accomplish this mission2. The remaining Christians in Lebanon ought to remember that they must preserve Lebanon for their children. They just ought not to give more concessions to Muslims without written guarantees. Christians need to be represented by powerful Christian leaders.
Christians are now worried that Muslims, with their numerical advantage, will persist in demanding more power. However, Antoine Najm noted that a Christian scholar Reverend Jean Ducruet offers a solution for Christian problems3. Ducruet said that a new political system ought to be established in which all confessions share in the making of national decisions and in which not one confession can impose on the nation what is not acceptable to the tradition of the other confession4. He added that a numerical majority is not compatible with consensual democracy, which necessitates a coalition government and a mutual veto on decisions that are seen as contrary to the vital interests of any community5. It is a sensible proposal, which will protect Christians in Lebanon. However, it is not expected that the Muslim majority will agree. They hope for the abolishment of the sectarian system, so they can run the country completely.
By now, the cause of Christians is all but defunct, where their survival is uncertain.
-- Fouad Abi-Esber BA MA
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