Lebanon has been in the news a lot lately. From union strikes to legal advocacy to intermittent Sunni-Shiite violence to daily Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees currently living in Lebanon to the election crisis to the resignation of Prime Minister Miqati, Lebanon has been boiling for (at least) over two years. While the most interesting political developments have been the work of activist, civil society, and union groups in Lebanon, it is important to offer a primer of the “establishment” political actors in Lebanon, particularly as Lebanon will soon be holding Parliamentary elections. The men below are sure to be the stars of this electoral show.
Rafik al-Hariri was the ex-prime Minister of Lebanon and the most dominant Lebanese politician of the post civil war era. He was assassinated in 2005 and has been lionized by all political actors (particularly the March 14th alliance) since.
Saad al-Hariri is the former prime minister of Lebanon, the head of the Future movement, and the son of assassinated ex prime minister Rafik al-Hariri (see above). He currently claims to represent Sunni Lebanese from his apartment in Paris or his boat on the south of France or his settlement on the moon. When he tries to formulate political opinions, he sounds like this:
The Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP) continues to be an ally to the ruthless and beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad. They are supposedly a “secular” party but practice violence and thuggishness quite religiously. The SSNP are part of the March 8th coalition, where their preferred role seems to be that of “enforcer.”
Saudi Arabia is currently locked in a cold war with Iran that has been transfigured into gas that fuels Sunni-Shiite sectarianism in Lebanon. As the premiere sectarian, sexist, xenophobic, and wealthy Arab country, Saudi Arabia`s influence over the region can be best categorized by this musical interlude:
Nabih Berri is the Speaker of Parliament (a post he has occupied since the end of the Lebanese civil war) and head of the Amal movement. He has been the most successful civil war warlord to transition to “politician.” He is famous for rumors of embezzlement and for amassing a personal fortune seemingly out of nowhere.
Ever since the “May events” of 2008, Hassan Nasrallah-leader of Hezbollah and of the March 8th alliance- has taken to the airwaves time and time again to warn of immanent doom and destruction from “outside influences” who are trying to force a Shiite - Sunni war in Lebanon and thus further delegitimize all armed resistance to Israel. Come to think of it, that kind of makes sense . . .
Walid Jumblatt is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, a warlord turned politician, and claims to represent the Druze community in Lebanon. He is famous for being quite bendy in his political positions and stances, swaying here and there with the changing political winds. What would be better than to introduce him via a song about making do with what`s available, always with someone you really love of course?
Michel Aoun was forced out of Lebanon in the aftermath of the civil war because of his record of breaking constitutional law and using the Lebanese army to bomb parts of Lebanon. In exile, he was one of the architects of the Syrian Accountability Act. He returned to Lebanon following the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri (see above), allied himself to the Syrian regime and its Lebanese allies, and has tried to become president of the republic every since. He makes his political calculations based on that lofty goal. If only he wasn`t so crazy.
Gebran Bassil is a March 8 politician, the son-in law of Michel Aoun (see above) and Minister of Electricity. His tenure as Minister has only exacerbated the never-ending power cuts, dilapidated infrastructure, and the mistreatment of electricity workers throughout Lebanon.
The Gemeyyel dynasty, known for their unique blend of hair products, fascism and war crimes, have spawned two presidents (thus far) and several members of parliament. They are founders and leaders of the Phalange party, a militia modeled on WWII era fascist youth groups. Interestingly enough, this axis inspired militia was allied to none other than the settler colony of Israel during Lebanon`s civil war- at a time when Israel was occupying parts of Lebanon and Syria and ruthlessly oppresing and killing Palestinians in Palestine and in Lebanon. (Male) Members of the Gemeyyel political dynasty are often seen on Lebanese political talk shows, running their fingers through their luscious locks and decrying the (supposedly) waning political role of Christians in Lebanon.
Samir Geagea is head of the Lebanese forces, then even more fascist and more war-crimey heir of than its political daddy, the Phalange Party (see above). Following the civil war, Geagea was the only warlord to be jailed while his warlord peers (see Nabih Berri and Walid Jumblatt above) transitioned to political life (without irony). When he was released from prison following the assassination of Rafik al- Hariri (see above) Geagea continued to announce his xenophobic, anti-Palestinian, anti- Muslim and Israel-loving political “opinions” with confidence.
The March 14th Alliance was formed in the wake of the assassination of ex PM Rafik al-Hariri (see above). Pledging undying love and devotion to common democratic ideals, the coalition has recently splintered because Walid Jumblatt changed his mind (see above) and Saad al-Hariri couldn`t figure out how to lead “his people” from a yacht in the south of France.
The March 8th coalition was formed in the wake of the formation of the March 14th alliance (see above). Since it’s founding the coalition has been allied to the Syrian regime and has been emphatic that Lebanon should remain in the anti-Israeli resistance camp lest it end up like a better-dressed version of Jordan. The March 8th coalition has been in power since 2011, but is beleaguered daily by its alliance with the Assad regime at the time when that regime is ruthlessly killing its own people. However, the coalition has proven itself to be more resilient than its rival, the March 14th coalition, and for now is focusing on weathering the storm of the Syrian uprising.
Sheikh Asir is relatively new to the Lebanese political scene. As self appointed leader of the growing Salafi movement in Lebanon, he has gained a reputation for being everywhere, all the time and saying everything, about anything. Most of his words can be summarized thus: Sunnis Good. Shiites Bad. But Sheikh Asir is maybe right: the important thing, whether skiing on the slopes of Faraya or playing with a plastic gun, is to express yourself.
Mohammad Rashid Qabbani is the Mufti of the republic, the supposed spiritual head of Lebanese Muslims and the head of religious institutions that provide education and apply the personal status laws pertaining to Sunni Lebanese. He has long been suspected of embezzling funds from Dar al-Fatwa. More recently, he has become infamous for his rejection of domestic violence laws, proposed civil marriage laws, and laws that would criminalize marital rape. Clearly, he believes that Allah wants men and women to be equal, sorta.
The Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon has always played an important political role, and is a position that (literally and figuratively) comes with many hats. Al-Rai is no different; he seems to be singularly preoccupied with the fate of Lebanese Christians and with ensuring that they maintain their (non-demographically viable) over-representation in the state. He can also be heard continuing his predecessors’ fixation on the dangers of rock music, devil worshipping, and homosexuality (in that order) in Lebanon.
Iran plays an influential role in Lebanese politics because of its backing and protection of Hezbollah, the Lebanese (Shiite) armed resistance movement headed by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah (see above). With the Syrian regime currently busy killing its people in a bid to maintain power, sometimes it seems that Iran is Hezbollah`s last (good) friend standing.
The United States, whose strongest allies in the region are Saudi Arabia (see above) and Israel (see below) is a strong political player in Lebanon and has been since the Lebanese state gained independence (see the 1958 marine “presence” in Lebanon for evidence). Following the invasion and (continuing) occupation of Iraq, the US has played a more direct (and deleterious) role in Lebanon, all in the name of the War on Terror.
Israel has invaded Lebanon three times in the past three decades, and continues to occupy Lebanese land. Israel daily violates Lebanese airspace, maritime borders and land borders. It also continues to deny the internationally recognized right of return to the over 400,000 Palestinian refugees who live in horrible conditions in refugee maps throughout Lebanon. All of this is before we even get to the fact that Israel is a settler colony occupying historic Palestine, one that treats Palestinians and Arabs as less human than their Israeli counterparts. In short, Israel is responsible for much of the ongoing destruction, death and suffering in Lebanon.
Syria is the most influential political actor in Lebanon. All Lebanese politicians, without exception, have jumped in and out of bed with the Baathist regime so often it would give you a headache, or some other sort of infection. Syria is both lauded and blamed for anything and everything that happens in Lebanon because of its important role in Lebanese politics and in the nine lives of Lebanese politicians.