So since I had some time this winter break to do some “pleasure reading” and not focus too much on my academic texts, I bought a few books from Virgin Megastore and quickly browsed through the comments I had marked on the margins of my copy of Kamal Salibi’s Cross Roads to Civil War: Lebanon, 1948-1976.
Reading his account of Lebanon’s “first” civil war, some of the events and conclusions struck me as too similar for comfort:
Firstly, a few of the points of the Five Demands of Kamal Jumblatt are still relevant and as urgent today as they were back in 1975: (1) Dismantling the confessional system; (2) Amending the constitution to redefine the responsibilities of the branches of the executive; (3) Changing the electoral law; (4) reorganizing the Lebanese Army; and (5) Removing restrictions on naturalization. Except for the last one, all the other remain extremely urgent in today’s political context. In due time, it would be great to see the last one materialize as well.
Secondly, during what Salibi calls the “Fourth Round” of the first civil war (i.e. the war of 1975-1976), Prime Minister Rashid Karami and President Suleiman Frangieh stopped talking to each other and the government’s mechanisms were fully paralyzed, a paralysis that was exacerbated by Kamil Chamoun’s demands as well. Similar to the time of Hariri and Lahoud and today with Seniora and Lahoud.
I also found it interesting that towards the end of 1975, Rashid Karami was considered to be “the only leader in authority who still represented the threatened national integrity of the Lebanese state” (133). Karami = Seniora today? Not so pleasant to point out that Rashid’s brother, Omar, has not been able to impress the populace as such.
Another interesting parallel was the Hay’at al-Hiward al-Watani (the Committee for National Dialogue) which is extremely similar to the roundtable discussions sponsored by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. This time around however, the dialogue is not under the tutelage of the Syrian government. Back in 1975, it was mediated by Syrian Foreign Minister ‘Abd al-Halim al-Khaddam.
Perhaps the most interesting point, however, is the fact that following Black Saturday, Saeb Salaam and Kamal Jumblatt, among others, openly called for the resignation of Frangieh from the presidency. They believed that this was the “necessary first step towards a national reconciliation” (147). Too similar for comfort? I don’t believe that history repeats itself, but this is certainly a bit too crazy.
The last thing I wanted to point out, is that while most people talk about Syrian occupation beginning after Ta’ef with the approval of the international community and the United States in particular, Salibi provides a different viewpoint, suggesting that in January 20, 1976, after the Syrian mediators arrived in Beirut, al-Jiyya (a Maronite resistance point) and al-Sa’diyyat fell, “the whole country fell now under Palestinian military occupation and, indirectly, under Syrian control” (158). This is the first time Salibi actually mentions formal Syrian occupation of Lebanon, albeit vis-a-vis the Palestinians. This book was published in April 1976. Syrian tutelage, informal, or not, had been around for almost half a century…