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6.1 A New Order: the Era of the Ta'if Accord

In many ways Lebanon can be seen as an arena where different antagonists have been duelling, conquering each other territories, imposing their wills, defending their interests, or simply been trying to stay alive. Without doubt, the geographical position of the country, the political climate surrounding it, the events during the decades after independence, and its domestic demographic, socio-economic and political structures were, as we have seen, devastating for its fate and well-being. Nor had the Lebanese ever been alone; the sects and factions within its borders had always seeked foreign support, and indeed, foreign support had always been there to stretch out a hand to anyone grabbing it. Since the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, therefore, when internal balance truly was lost, a foreign strong patron has always been present to see to it that some sort of "balance" still existed. The Syrians arrived 1976 but were trashed by the Israelis and their hegemonic aspirations in 1982. The West (MNF) took over the same year but had to leave - beaten and humiliated - in 1984 (like Israel redeployed down south in 1985), whereas Syria regained control and somehow managed to keep it that way a few years afterwards.

All through, however, Lebanon was a battlefield, with no real winners, a number of losers and several internal and external actors in intricate symbioses. Thus, as actors and interests seldom were confined to the internal arena of the country, Lebanon also was a mirror of what was happening on the regional as well as the international levels. Hence, the main breaking point, as I see it, the signing of the Ta'if Accord, or The National Reconciliation Charter, in 1989, and its implementation in 1990-91, meaning the end to the civil war, was a result of the radical world-wide changes at the end of the eighties alongside domestic alterations.

In this chapter, I shall try to briefly elucidate the circumstances and conditions surrounding the Ta'if Accord and its aftermath. Why was it possible to reach an agreement in 1989 and not before? What has the accord and its practical implementation implied for the conditions of Lebanon?

First and foremost, from my point of view, the implementation of the Ta'if Accord brought along two things to Lebanon: on the one hand, internal stability and public security (in comparison to the civil war), and on the other, an institutionalization of Syrian hegemony. How was that possible? Well, in short, on the international level, USSR disintegrated in 1989, i. e. Syria's main patron and arm supplier. Lebanon as an arena of the cold war was buried along with the Soviet state. Moreover, Lebanon had as well lost its "concept" of being supervisioned of one supreme foreign patron. Instead, there were two: Iraq and Syria. Since 1988 Beirut had two governments, one led by the Lebanese army general and Christian Maronite, Michael Aoun, sponsored by Baghdad, and another Muslim-dominated, governed by Salim Hoss, supported by Syria. Truly, this was as much a regional as a national positional warfare, being fought in Beirut, as the forces loyal to each administration crashed and offered the most bloodiest battles the capital had experienced throughout the whole civil war.

Therefore, in October the same year, due to the escalation of the Lebanese war and in the light of the new world order that was about to evolve, an initiative by Saudi Arabia gathered the still surviving members of the 1972 elected Lebanese parliament in the town of Ta'if where they reached the agreement called the Ta'if Accord.[182] This agreement pronounces the extension of Lebanese state authority over all of its territory recognized by the international community, the disarming of the militias, and the realization of reforms within the confessional system (including a future abolishment of political sectarianism) in order to reach a state of equilibrium. However, as the accord invocates the UN resolution 425 (Israel's unconditional withdrawal from all Lebanese territory), it also acknowledges the "fraternal" relations between Syria and Lebanon and the need for a close cooperation between the two states as regards security concerns.[183] Furthermore, although the accord stipulates that Syria, two years after its implementation, shall withdraw its forces to the east of Lebanon, it does not mention when a total withdrawal of Syrian forces shall occur.[184]

Michael Aoun, the president of east Beirut, regarded the Ta'if Accord as tantamount to selling out Lebanon's sovereignity to Damascus. He failed however in recognizing the writings on the wall. On the regional level, in return for standing with the Allies, the Syrian president Assad (no longer a "Soviet vassal") was given "free hands" by the USA in dealing with any opposition to the accord.[185] Crucial as well, Aoun was alone: the international community supported the Ta'if Accord; the Muslims would not stand beside Aoun in a war against Syria; and the Christian camp, at an ever increasing extent, felt the forthcoming regional transformation all through their bones and realized the need for realpolitik.[186]

At a local level, Elizabeth Picard points out, the average Lebanese were more than fed up with a life in fear. The persistent insecurity had created a desperate desire for a strong unifying state that could restore an overhelming order, "opposite to what [they] had suffered in the domination of militias".[187] Finally, the militia order cracked along with a deteriorating economy. The "good business" the civil war had meant to some powerful profiteers vanished. Hani A. Faris also remarks that the militia leaders "realised that no actor was capable of imposing its will on others" as they even began to feel "the public's passive resistance to their hegemony".[188]

Consequently, those international and regional upheavals, alongside the domestical collapse of the militia-system, created the foundation upon which the Ta'if Accord could be implemented. By the end of 1990, Aoun was defeated by joint Lebanese and Syrian forces. In December, a pro-Syrian Lebanese government was appointed in order to accomplish the accord.[189]

6.2 Implementation and outcome

Then, what did the Ta'if Accord mean for Lebanon in practical matters?

As I see it, when comparing the practical results to the aims set out in theory (the basic issues of the agreement I presented earlier), the implementation of the accord can be divided into two spheres. The first one embraces the issue of the extension of the state authorities, which shall be seen in relation to the disarming of all militias and the call for UN resolution 425. The second concerns the constitutional reforms, the signing of two more agreements, and the elections held in 1992.

Firstly, as most militias, at least symbolically, handed over their arms to the government forces, Hizballah did not. The movement simply refused, arguing that it was not a "militia" but a "resistance" against the Israeli occupation.[190] And although the Ta'if Accord refers to UN resolution 425 and declares that "all necessary steps will be taken to liberate Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation [in the south]", several prominent Lebanese politicians - initially even the Lebanese president himself - objected to any continuation of armed resistance due to the insecurity the escalation of fighting in the south implied. However, a solution was reached between Syria and Iran - over the heads of the Lebanese administration - which allowed Hizballah to remain as an armed force as long as Israel remains as an occupier of the southern borderstrip.[191]

Secondly, in order to learn from earlier mistakes and to prevent state-distortion, the new model of the Lebanese state is a "strong, unifying and authoritarian state, dominated by security concerns", a mukhabarat state (arab world for intelligence services) - a political concept "well known in the Arab Middle East"[192] As a result, despite the fighting down south, law and order have been restored (over the territory not occupied by Israel); "daily life has been normalized" and criminal activity has "diminished drastically" although at the expense of civil rights.[193]

Thirdly, in respect to constitutional reforms, the formula of confessionalism was kept intact as principle and model, but with some crucial changes. The distribution of parliamentary seats became a subject of equilbrium: Christians and Muslims received fifty percent each, in contrast to the 6:5 ratio which earlier had been to the benefit of the Christians. The number of seats was furthermore raised from 99 to 108. The traditional principle that the president shall be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the parliament a Shia Muslim, prevailed but the main executive powers were transfered from the president to the cabinet of ministers. Moreover, it is explicitly pronounced in the accord that this political confessionalism should be abolished. It even contains an account of how this should be proceeded in certain specific phases. However, it has not yet been commenced.[194]

Fourthly, the close relations between Lebanon and Syria expressed in the Ta'if Accord, were further deepened as the two countries signed another agreement, the "Treaty of Brotherhood" in May 1991.[195] When disarming the militias and securing control, the Lebanese govermental forces had received an indispensible firm support from the Syrian army and the treaty can indeed be regarded as a "pay-back" from Beirut to Damascus.[196] In short, it consists of several articles which declare that the two countries shall seek "the highest levels of cooperation in all fields, including political, economic, educational, scientific and others"; it emphasizes a joint Lebanese-Syrian track in respect to security and diplomacy, and also draws up models of certain joint institutions - a Higher Council, a Follow-up and Coordination Commitee and a General Secreteriat - in order to accomplish this bilateral undertaking.[197] In response to heavy accusations of irrevocably having sold out the country by signing it, the Lebanese president Hwari stated that there was no choice, that the treaty was "the best option for Lebanon, better than persisting in the previous situation".[198]

Fifhtly, prior to the Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid 1991, Syria and Lebanon signed another agreement: the "Security and Defense Pact" which implied a comprehensive exchange of military issues between the intelligence services of the countries, and the banning of "any activity or organisation in all military, security, political and informational fields that might endanger and cause threats to the other country."[199] The Lebanese defense minister also declared that he would hand over any information to his Syrian counterpart which might be relevant for Syria's interest.[200]

Thus, in my view, balance had undeniably tipped to the favor of Syria. With a new world order, a tacit understanding from US, and a punchdrunk Saddam Hussein, Damascus managed to accomplish in Lebanon in 1991 what the Israelis had failed to do in 1982: to grab the main slices of the Lebanese pie and create Pax Syriana.[201] Law and order, and the disarming of the militias alongside the end of the civil war was to the advantage for the Lebanese citizens, but realized through a bargaining with Lebanese independence. As Joseph Maila notes, left "to deal with Syria alone, Lebanon was unable to prevent Damascus from turning the Ta'if Accord into an instrument applied in ways that suited Syrian interests".[202] Indeed it was. Whatever its worth during the years of civil war, the Lebanese "independence" was from now on in the hands of president Assad. The treaties, the strong authorative state model and the appointment of a pro-Syrian administration was not merely a way for Damascus to secure their control and influence but to institutionalize it; to take the final step to direct supremacy. If "divide and rule" had been the earlier way of control, it was now transformed into supervision from within, through a state structure again enabled to exert its authority. The southern conflict with Israel aside, Syria no longer needed to "walk the tightrope" - it ruled the roost.

Thus, the constitutional reforms, as I see it, in connection with the uneven disarming of militias, was a way for Syria to curb any future opposition and secure a regional interest.[203] Firstly, as the Muslim camp gained from the reforms and the Christians lost, Syria had outmanoeuvered and pinioned their most serious Lebanese challengers, the Maronites. Secondly, by permitting a continued resistance of Hizballah against the Israelis in the south, Syria transformed the south Lebanese stage into a "baseball bat" in any forthcoming peace negotiations with Israel. That is, as the treaties assured that Syria and Lebanon should negotiate in the same track, and as Israel could be assumed to demand security guarantees if ever to withdraw from the south, a trilateral peace settlement - between Syria, Lebanon and Israel - would be the sole solution. Only Damascus can restrain Hizballah, and the Israelis know that. Hence, at the end of the day, high and painful casuality figures among Israeli soldiers, hit by efficient Islamic guerillas, would force the Jewish state to comprehensive concessions in its negotiations with Syria. Until then, Damascus would refuse to extend any state authority down south (and, of course, the Beirut regime would have to comply).[204]

Finally, in 1992, Lebanese parliamentary elections were held for the first time in twenty years.[205] Foremost, they were characterized by a low voting turn out: of those Lebanese entitled to vote not even thirty per cent actually did so. The larger numbers among the Christians - who regarded the regime's manoeuvering around the elections as blatant attempts to preserve the Syrian hegemony - spearheaded the boycott and transformed it into a symbolic "referendum" against the regime.[206] Not only would a presence of Syrian troops guarantee a pro-Syrian parliament, the argument was, but a new electoral law had seriously diminished the influence of the Christian camp within the legislative powers. Furthermore, Lebanese living in exile - most of them Christians - had been deprived of their right to vote.[207] In addition, the election campaign that followed included harassments, arrests and even kidnappings of those not in line with the government, and the voting procedures were accused of comprehensive tampering.[208] Anyway, the elections resulted in a new administration for Lebanon, headed by the multi-billionaire business man, Rafik Hariri as prime minister, and by a cabinet and byparliament of which the bulk was heavily pro-Damascus.[209] Moreover, as a last step to Syrian ascendancy and as a final punch against the unruly Christian community, the Syrian vice-president, Khaddam, declared that Damascus was ready to consider a partial withdrawal from Lebanon - although on the premise that the political system was first to become deconfessionalized. That is, no more formal parity in parliament between Christians and Muslims; the Christians ending up as a proportional minority under the domination of Muslims - to the Christians, just as scaring as unthinkable.[210] Hence, Syrian hegemony was sealed.


[183]In the accord it is explicitly pronounced that neither of the countries will become a "passage or base for any force, state or organization seeking to undermine" each of the two state's security. "This is the concept", it says, "on which co-ordination and co-operation between the two countries is founded, and which will be embodied into the agreements between them in all fields to the mutual beneft of both fraternal countries and within the framework of the sovereignity and independence of each of them". Hiro (1993) p. 240.

[184]For a discussion over the accord see Maila (1993); Norton (1991).

[185]See Picard (1993) p. 38; Faris (1993) p. 27-28.

[186]For an overview of how Aoun turned the Christian camp against him and made himself enemies, see Fisk, (1991) p. 638-644. Richard Norton remarks that to the Shia, Sunni and the Druze, Aoun "was seen as a transparent effort to preserve Maronite privilige." Norton (1991) p. 460.

[187]Picard (1993) p. 39.

[188]Faris (1993) p. 27-28.

[189]Norton points out that this government undeniably had a "pro-Syrian aura", and also underlines that it constituted of former militia heads, following a theory that this would make them "willing to exchange paramilitary authority for a role in politics." Norton (1991) p. 267. Jim Muir suggested that the appointed president, prime minister and speaker of parliament all came from Syrian controlled areas" and that they were "keenly aware of Syrian interests". Of the whole cabinet, he continues, were about "90 per cent pro-Syrian". See Middle East International, 31 May 1991.

[190]"We will not hand over our arms the government as long as Israel remains in the south", Hizballah secretary-general, Sheikh Abbas Musawi, stated. "Our guns are a red line which cannot be crossed". Middle East International, 26 July 1991. Furthermore, Aziz Abu-Hamad remarks that many other militias neither were disarmed. Due to "ample time" to hide away their arms, some were taken into the Israeli "security-zone", others into sectarian held areas, and some were sold on the black market. See Abu-Hamad, (1995) p. 248.

[191]See Norton (1990) p. 471-472; Hanf (1993) p. 623. Dilip Hiro remarks that in return for continuing resistance, Hizballah handed over a document of names on 3500 of its fighters to the Lebanese government. He moreover argues that the government was split and that several "of the ministers approved the strategy of guerilla pressure against Israel until its unconditional withdrawal from south Lebanon". Hiro (1993) p. 196.

[192]Picard (1993) p. 39-40.

[193]Ibid. In addition, the associate director of Human Rights Watch/Middle East, Aziz Abu-Hamad, remarks that although the Ta'if Accord ended the civil war, "human rights violations continue, undermining the civil society that has barely emerged". See Abu-Hamad (1995) p. 248.

[194]Aziz Abu-Hamad remarks that the accord's "promise to reconsider the confessional basis of the political system appears to have been forgotten" and "most indications are that it is not expected to be raised in the near future" (noted in the summer of 1995). See Abu-Hamad (1995) p. 250.

[195]For the whole text in English of the treaty, see Hiro (1993) p. 241-245.

[196]As Theodor Hanf points out, after Syria had fulfilled its undertaking of disarming the militias "without reservation or hesitation", it was high time for the Lebanese government "to fulfil a Lebanese undertaking without reservation or hesitation: the treaty with Syria". See Hanf (1993) p. 617.

[197]The Higher Council meets once a year and consists of the presidents, prime ministers of the two countries and their respective their deputies and the speakers of parliament. The Follow-up and Coordination Committe comprises the prime ministers and the appropriate ministers with the respect to the agenda. It meets twice a year. In addition, there are various ministerial committes which are to meet bi-monthly.

[198]See Hanf (1993) p. 618. The Lebanese observer, Khairallah Khairallah, concluded that the treaty was signed by Lebanon "under pressure", and if the Lebanese had been able to decide the matter themselves "few would have approved". Not because the Lebanese are anti-Syrian, he asserts, but because the treaty has been "forced" upon them: "Syria is giving them a choice between the treaty and the resumption of the piracy practised by the militias in most of the country since 1975". Middle East International 31 May 1991. Translated to English from al-Hayat, 22 May 1991.

[199]See Harris (1997) p. 292-293. Harris remarks that this pact was approved of by the Lebanese government before the ministers even had seen the text of it. Ibid.

[200]See Hiro (1993) p. 198.

[201]A "leading" US official commented: "Given the facts on the ground - Syria's 13 million people to Lebanon's 3.5 million and the continued presence of 40,000 Syrian troops on two-thirds of Lebanon's territory - there really isn't very much we can do about the situation". Middle East International, 23 May 1991.

[202]See Maila (1993) p. 41.

[203] Most targeted, Farid el Khazen argues, were the Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces, whose "military infrastructure was systematically dismantled". Meanwhile Hizballah was kept intact, the government also "showed leniency" towards Amal, the Druze militia and the Palestinian guerillas in the south. Khazen (1993) p. 124.

[204]Asked what would occur if Israel happened to withdraw without any security arrangements, Talal Atrissi (Dr. of sociology at the Lebanese university and "supporter of Islamic movements"), answered with a grin: "Then both Syria and the resistance would be very confused...". Interview in Beirut, 3 June 1996.

[205]William Harris argues that economic misery, social unrest and an "incompetent government", in connection with international pressure on the Syrians to conduct their partial withdrawal set out in the Ta'if Accord, made Damascus hasten the time schedules for the elections in 1992. Harris (1997) p. 280-281.

[206]On Christian grievances prior to elections, see Farid el Khazen (1993) p. 122-124. Khazen also remarks that most deputies and the speaker of parliament were not in favor of any elections at the time. However, they were all subdued to the will of Syria. Ibid.

[207]As the seats in parliament according to the new law were extended from 108 to 128, most of them represented districts where Syrian control was most tangible, and it became thus much easier to manipulate their influence. Ibid. Theodor Hanf argues that the transformation of electoral districts implied that Christian politicians ended up more dependant upon Muslim politicians - when forming electoral lists and coalitions - than vice versa. Moreover, the Christian politicians who had been elected in predominantly Christian areas could no more constitute a blocking minority of one-third of all deputies, and thus, instead "of the parity envisaged in the Ta'if, Muslims would in effect dominate the new parliament." See Hanf (1993), p. 625-628.

[208] See Harris (1997) p. 279-285; Norton & Schwedler (1993) p. 45-65,

[209]The turnout within the Chritian community was extremely low, among certain areas not even 5 per cent. The Christian politicians elected, Theodor Hanf remarks, can thus hardly be regarded as representative for their community. See Hanf (1993) p. 634.

[210]Ibid. p. 636.

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