A History of Stability and Change in Lebanon: Foreign Interventions and International Relations

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By: Joseph Bayeh

Publisher: I.B. Tauris

London and New York: I. B. Tauris. 256pp. $99.00 (hardcover), ISBN: 9781784530976

Volume: 5 Issue: 11

November 2017

Review by:

Josef Olmert, PhD

University of South Carolina

Columbia, SC

Domestic politics and foreign interventions are at the very core of Lebanese politics. One cannot go without the other, and in this regard, a book which sets out to examine this phenomenon is always timely. When such a book is published, it is bound to be relevant, that is to say, coming at a time when this connection is so obvious, and so it is in this case. In an amazing move, even by the bizarre criterias of Lebanese politics, Sa’ad Hariri, the PM announced his resignation in Saudi Arabia , not in his native Lebanon, pointing the finger at Iran and their Lebanese stooges, Hizballah, accusing them of a plot to assassinate him, and then stayed over in Saudi Arabia. There can be no more dramatic evidence of the symbiotic connection between domestic politics and foreign policy in Lebanon,and Saudi Arabia itself has traditionally played a part in this Middle East political game. In 1943, a critical year in the political history of Lebanon, the year of the National Covenant , King Ibn Saud grudgingly expressed support for the establishment of an independent Christian-oriented Lebanon, because he objected to the Hashimite ambitions to establish Greater Syria with Lebanon as part of it. This year and its implications is mentioned in Professor Bayeh book, though the Saudi role was really ignored.

This however may be only a minor weakness in the book, as Saudi Arabia of 1943 was not as important as Saudi Arabia of nowadays.The book of Professor Bayeh is devoted to the close, inseparable connection between domestic politics and international relations so far as Lebanon is concerned .A tragic reminder of the bad consequences of this connection is provided by the great Lebanese poet, Said Aql, quoted by Bayeh, saying that’’From this small country, we travel the World, people and countries, and we build wherever we want a Lebanon’’[p. 198]. The tragedy is, that the Lebanese while building Lebanon wherever they want, have failed to do it in Lebanon itself, in their homeland. Bayeh blames the ‘’Muslim Community’’ for the Lebanese instability, which led to civil wars and massive emigration, arguing that the Muslims’’found it very difficult to acquiesce to an independent Lebanon’’, quoting situations involving the Sunni Muslim community,[p.203]. The focus on the Sunnis is surprising, because the Shi’i community ,which is larger than the Sunnis, has been for few decades under the yoke of Hizballah which is an Iranian-led movement, though claiming to be Lebanese, and basically is showing loyalty to Iran rather than to their own country. Clearly, the Shi’is under Hizballah preferred communal interests over Lebanese statehood, as can be seen by their intervention in the Syrian civil war, as well as in other regional conflicts involving Shi’is. The truth is, that segments of Christian communities, such as many Greek Orthodox, have also preferred to serve regional, mostly Arab nationalist causes, rather than Lebanese independence and distinctiveness as a mixed Muslim-Christian state. The famous Lebanese diplomat and scholar, the late Charles H.Malik, himself a Greek Orthodox Christian, referred to it, arguing that the Christians themselves are still looking for their place in the world around them.[ ‘’Beirut-crossroads of cultures’’, in Crossroads of Cultures, p.210]. The sectarian divide ,by far, is the main stumbling block to internal stability in Lebanon, and it is true, as Bayeh argues, that ‘’whenever a major change in the structure of the international system has occurred… a subsequent change in the structure of Lebanon has generally accompanied it’’.[p.199]. Could however this international influence be so effective, had it not been to the chronic inability of the Lebanese communities to decide between themselves about the identity of their state?.Bayeh very eloquently describes the various stages of the political evolution in the last few centuries, and repeatedly emphasizes his main theme, about the impact of regional and international involvements about Lebanese politics, but the fact is, that throughout the book, there is not enough focus on the root domestic causes of Lebanese strife and civil war. Somehow, the reader is left with the sense, that if it was just in the hands of the Lebanese, if somehow Lebanon was on its own, the Lebanese would have found the magical formula to coexist harmoniously.This is not really the case, but to the credit of Bayeh, I should make it clear, that he presents his case with ample supportive documentation, and it is all well-written and henceforth creates the feeling, that his argumentation makes the overall Lebanese situation less complicated than what it really is.

This is one narrative of a troubled country, one of many possible. The great Lebanese historian, the late Kamal Salibi wrote about these complications, that, ‘’should the Lebanese attics one day be properly swept, there would be no end to the ways in which the history of Lebanon could be reinterpreted -for the good of Lebanon, and also for the welfare of the Arab world’’.[Kamal Salibi, A house of many mansions; The history of Lebanon reconsidered, p.234]. I believe, that also professor Bayeh can agree with that, and surely his interesting book is one such valuable interpretation. It is for this reason, that I warmly recommend this book.

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