Global Education

Lebanon pushed into further political turmoil

By Denebola
Published: December 2007

By Christine Busaba

For the seventh time in the past three months, Lebanese politicians stalled parliamentary talks to elect a new president. President Emile Lahoud’s term ended on November 23 after serving nine years as president. In his final hours, Lahoud declared that Lebanon was in a state of emergency.
The presidential spokesman Rafik Shalala declared that “the President of the Republic” ordered a state of emergency, and placed the army in charge of controlling Lebanon, in order “to preserve security all over the Lebanese territory.”
The state of emergency emerged from Lebanon’s inability to produce a successor for Emile Lahoud, leaving the nation without a president for the first time in its history.
Lebanon forms a union of 18 religious communities, where each position in government has a religious affiliation attached to it. The structure of the Lebanese central government consists of a Christian Maronite president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shi’ite Muslim speaker of parliament.
During the mid 1970′s Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war between several Lebanese factions. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, Israel, and Syria influenced the conflict; in 1976 the civil war ended due to the formation of an Arab Deterrent Force, mandated by the Arab League. The subsequent ceasefire led to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon which lasted nearly 29 years. Following the Cedar Revolution that began early February of 2005, in July of that year western-backed, anti-Syrian politician Fouad Siniora entered office as the first prime minister.
Siniora’s government has destroyed ties with Syria, and has pushed forth a policy that does not rely on Syrian support. Although the occupation has ended, many believe that Syria is responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic al-Hariri. In April 2005, the last of the Syrian troops left Lebanon ushering a new era to Lebanese politics. Siniora’s government has also pushed a pro-western campaign, which works towards strengthening his ties with the United States and France.
Recent political problems have occurred as a result of the 2006 summer war with Israel. The war was initiated when Hezbollah, a Lebanese political-militant group, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers during a cross border incursion, causing Israel to respond with an attack on Lebanon. Hezbollah, an organization represented by predominantly Shi’ite Lebanese fighters and citizens, keep joined forces with a Christian Maronite leader Michel Aoun to form a coalition that called Siniora’s government unconstitutional.
Shi’ites are a religious majority in the country of almost four million and under the laws of the post-Lebanese civil war political power is split evenly between each of the religious groups. In recent years, Shi’ites have become a majority and are now demanding more say in the government.
Meanwhile, on November 11, 2006, five Shi’ite cabinet members resigned from Siniora’s government, insisting one third of the positions on the cabinet; the proportion of their population. During late 2006 and early 2007, thousands of Lebanese protesters, marched and proclaimed their support, many in support of Hezbollah. Outside government buildings in downtown Beirut, protesters pitched tents demanding the resignation of Fouad Siniora. Protests filled the streets, supported primarily by Lebanese youth chanting “Siniora out!” Former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, called these protests, “part of the Iran-Syria-inspired coup d’Ètat.”
The main players in Lebanese politics are divided along pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian lines. Catholic leader Samir Geagea and Saed al-Hariri, son of the late Lebanese prime minister Rafic al-Hariri, remain very anti-Syria and continue to push for complete removal of Syrian influence. Meanwhile, Hezbollah, Amal, among other Shi’ite political groups, represented by Aoun, and Lahoud remain pro-Syrian. These divisions have caused the inability to elect a new president, who will fairly represent all of Lebanon.
According to Lebanese law, a president who leaves without a successor must hand over power to the Prime Minister. Therefore Lahoud, the former president of Lebanon, constitutionally gave power to Siniora’s government following the declaration of a state of emergency. Lahoud views Siniora’s government as “illegitimate and unconstitutional. They [Fouad Siniora's government] know that, even if [President] Bush said otherwise.”
The Lebanese constitution states that the president can only serve one six-year term. Lahoud, however, served an extra three-year term because of Syria’s say in Lebanese politics before 2005.
This election is the first one in nine years for the Lebanese people, and it is the first time that a president has left office without a successor, leaving the Lebanese people in unfamiliar waters.

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