Lebanon

.. but returned in December 1983 after the PLO forces loyal to Yasir Arafat were evacuated. Other important cities on the coastal plain are Juniye, Sidon, and Tyre. Sidon and Tyre are south of Beirut and have been occupied by Israeli troops since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. In 1984, the population was estimated at 3,480,000 Lebanese (these are estimated because no poll has been officially taken since 1932).

Almost all of these people, whether they are Christian or Moslem, are Arabs, and Lebanon is an Arab country. Mo st of the people can speak French or English or both, but Arabic is the national language. However, the national unity that usually comes from a common language and heritage has eluded the Lebanese people. In many ways, the country is less a nation than a collection of fuedal- like baronies based on religious lines. Each religious community has its own leaders and its own fighting force, or militia. It is reminiscent of China during the early years of the twentieth century, when that nation had a weak central goverment and was ruled by various warlords scattered throughout the country, each seeking political and economic dominance. The Moslems, who now constitute more than half the population, are divided into three major sects: the Shiites, the S unnis, and the Druse.

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The Christians include the Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Orthodox and Catholic Armenians, and Protestants. But neither the Christians nor the Moslems are truly unified; throughout their history Moslem and Christian se cts have fought for political and economic gain. The Moslems, who in 1932 were in the minority, now make up 56 percent of the population in Lebanon. The Shiites, the poorest of the Moslem sects, number about 1 million. They are concentrated in West Beirut and in the city’s southern suburbs, as well as in southern Lebanon in and around Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley. The Sunnis number about 600,000 and are concentrated in West Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, and Akkar, in the northernmost part of the count ry. Rashid Karami, a former Lebanese prime minister, is the leader of the Sunnis in Tripoli and the most influential Sunni in the country.

The militia, Morbitun, a force of 5,000 well-trained fighters, is stationed in West Beirut, Tripoli, and other Su nni areas. The Druse, a secretive Moslem sect, number about 350,000, but their influence is greater than these numbers would indicate. The Druse live primarily in the Shuf mountains and in other areas to the south and east of Beirut. They now have close ties to Syria, where there is a large Druse community. The Syrians have supplied the Druse with a large assortment of weapons, including artillery and tanks. The Druse militia numbers about 4,000 men and has joined forces with the Shiite militia i n and around West Beirut to battle the Christian-dominated Lebanese army and the Christian militias.

Another major Moslem force in the country – and a constant threat to it – are the 500,000 Palestinian refugees and the remnants of the PLO. Their le ader, Yassir Arafat, and thousands of his troops were forced out of Beirut by the Israelis in 1982 and out of Tripoli by Syrian-backed PLO dissidents in 1983. The dissident PLO forces no longer recognize Arafat as their leader because of his lack of mili tancy in the fight with Israel. The Syrians, in addition to controlling these dissident members of the PLO, also control the 3,500-man Palistine Liberation Army. The Christians, who in 1932 made up a majority of the Lebanese population, are now only about 44 percent of the population.

The largest Christian sect – and thus far the dominant one in the nation’s political and economic life – are the Maronites. They number about 580,000 and make up 38 percent of the Christian population and 17 percent of the national population. The Phalange party, headed by Pierre Gemayel, is the most important Maronite political group. The Phalangist militia is the largest of the Christian militias. It controls East Beirut, the area along the coast just north of the capital, and some areas in southern and central Lebanon. This militia has been heavily armed by the Israelis.

Each of these peoples has played an important role in Lebanese history. Moslems and Christians have lived in harmony for long period s of time, but they have frequently engaged in bitter warfare, much as we are seeing today. For nearly a decade this hapless nation has suffered continuous civil war among its various religious and ethnic groups. It has been invaded twice by Israel, which now controls all of southern Lebanon, and it has been occupied by Syria, which controls most of eastern and northern Lebanon. Nearly 500,000 Palestinians – refugees from the Arab-Israeli wars – live in Lebanon, where they have formed a “state with in a state.” And a succession of peacekeeping forces – Arab, United Nations, and Western – have not only failed to establish peace, but have exacerbated the already horrific situation.

Why haven’t the Lebanese people been able to put aside their sec tarian differences to work toward a stable government that represents all of the people? The complete answer to this question lies deep within the unique history of Lebanon. In 1943, the year that France, which ruled Lebanon as a League of Nations manda te, reluctantly gave the nation its independance. As independence approached, the nation’s two most populous and powerful sects, the Maronites and the Sunnis, formulated what is known as the National Pact – an unwritten agreement that spelled out the cou ntry’s political makeup as well as its general orientation in foreign affairs. The National Pact allocated political power to Lebanon’s religious sects on the basis of population. The census in 1932 showed that the Christians had the majority with j ust over 50 percent of the population.

As a result, it was agreed that the President of Lebanon would always be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister would always be a Sunni Moslem. Other important positions were given to other sects. The Preside nt of the Chamber of Deputies, for example, would always be a Shiite Moslem and the defense minister would be a Druse. In addition, the Christians were to have six seats in Parliment for every five seats held by Moslems. This system guaranteed the Maron ite Christians control of Lebanon.

This system worked well enough for fifteen years. From 1943 until 1958 the nation’s economy boomed and Beirut was transformed into the showcase city of the Mediterranean. The government seemed stable enough, but th ere were problems boiling beneath the surface and in the mid-1950s the system began to come apart. For one thing, the Moslems, especially the poorer Shiites, had a substantially higher birthrate than the Christians; many people believed that the Shiites had surpassed the Maronites in population. But the Christians would not allow a new census to be taken, for this would have meant a reallocation of the nation’s political power, with the Moslem sects gaining at the expense of the Christians.

With their hopes for political gains dampened, the Shiites became disenchanted. Why is this once prosperous nation on the verge of total collapse? There are a number of reasons, but the primary one is that the Lebanese people belong to at least fifteen differe nt religious sects and their loyalty to these sects is greater than their loyalty to a united Lebanon. Had the people’s sense of nationhood been stronger, they would not have suffered the destruction of the past decade.