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Leonhardt van Efferink is a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London. For more information about his PhD, please check:
He holds Master’s degrees in Geopolitics, Territory and Security (King’s College London) and Financial Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam).
Lebanon has known a history of weak governments, foreign interference and porous borders. Not surprisingly, many analysts have claimed that Lebanon’s sovereignty is structurally weak. This article discusses Hezbollah’s role in that regard by applying four sovereignty concepts of Stephen Krasner: domestic, interdependency, Vatellian and international legal sovereignty.
In the first part, these forms of sovereignty are defined, followed by a history of Lebanon. This overview focuses on the different sizes Lebanon had in the past, as well as on its population composition and political system. Part 2 discusses the military, social and political roles of Hezbollah in Lebanon, part 3 contains the conclusion and literature list
This article is based on my conference paper "How Hezbollah affects Lebanon’s sovereignty". A pdf file of the complete article is available on the PSA website:
The sovereign state concept has gained a monopoly on virtually all of the world’s territories (Jackson 1990). Sovereignty has been subject to intellectual debate for centuries (Biersteker and Weber 1996). In this debate, sovereignty has experienced a transformation of its meaning in which two questions were critical. Where do we find the legal basis of sovereignty and what range of activities should it protect?
Although disagreements between and within sectarian groups have been commonplace in Lebanon for decades, virtually all Lebanese residents would agree with Salem (1998, p. 25) that "[Lebanon] is a country that is neither truly independent, nor sovereign." This article seeks to provide a theoretically grounded analysis of Lebanon’s sovereignty. As a comprehensive, multi-actor analysis would be too ambitious for a paper of this length, the study looks into Hezbollah’s impact on sovereignty. This Shia organisation has gradually become more powerful in military, social and political terms since its creation in the 1980s.
This analysis applies the four sovereignty concepts that Krasner (2001) considers most popular nowadays. First, domestic sovereignty addresses the capability of the central government to control activities on national territory. Second, Vatellian sovereignty is based on the principle that foreign parties do not have any power whatsoever on the state’s territory. Third, interdependence sovereignty concerns the central government’s ability to monitor and influence cross-border activities. Fourth, international legal sovereignty is the mutual recognition of countries’ right to conclude agreements and means that each state is independent of and equal to other states.
These concepts offer an adequate framework to assess the sovereignty of Lebanon as they reflect traditional weaknesses of this country: weak governments, continued foreign interference, porous borders and the refusal of a neighbouring country to recognise Lebanon’s independence.
Territory, population and authority (here we focus on political system) have an essential place in sovereignty concepts (Biersteker and Weber 1996). Starting with Lebanon’s territory, Muslim rulers took over control of the areas that constitute contemporary Lebanon in 636 AD, after centuries of Roman-Byzantine rule (Held 2006). Lebanon’s current territory belonged to the Ottoman Empire’s province of Syria between 1516 and 1861 (Pipes 1990). In 1861, six European powers forced the Ottoman Empire to create an autonomous region with a Christian governor in Mount Lebanon, creating the basis for Lebanon’s current territory (Bowman 1921).
Syria, including Mount Lebanon, became subject to French mandate area under the League of Nations in 1918 (Chauprade 2009). The French created the current borders of Lebanon in the 1920s to establish a special territory for Christian communities (Harris 2006). Next to Mount Lebanon, the French added surrounding, predominantly Muslim areas, including important coastal cities Beirut, Tripoli and Tyrus, the Bekaa Valley and the area between Mount Lebanon and the boundary with the British mandate area of Palestine (Harris 2006). After becoming independent in 1943, Lebanon has not experienced any territorial changes.
A key feature of Lebanon’s population is the enormous sectarian diversity, which East and Moodie (1956, p. 714) attribute to its "[g]eographical position [that] makes the country pre-eminently a region of intercourse and contact." According to a 1911 census, nearly 80% of the population comprised of Christians in the Sanjak of Mount Lebanon ('Mutasarrifiyya', Harris 2006). The Druze community, an offshoot of Islam, accounted for 11% of the population, while the Shias (6%) and Sunnis (4%) were rather insignificant minorities.
The extension of Lebanon’s territory in 1920 meant that the Christian communities only formed a small majority in Lebanon (Brogan 1998). Nevertheless, most Christian leaders welcomed the territorial adjustment for economic reasons (Harris 2006), while Muslim leaders generally disapproved Lebanon’s creation (Brogan 1998).
Lebanon has been a relatively wealthy country since independence thanks to its commercial and financial sectors (Alexander 1957 and IMF 2009). While the Christians and Sunnis have dominated the Lebanese economy since independence, the Shias have remained relatively poor (Brogan 1998). Main reasons for this position were a lack of fertile land (Owen 2004), bad education standards and poor access to clientele networks (Brogan 1998).
Reliable population data are unavailable as the last census took place in 1932 (Drysdale and Blake 1985). The Shias are probably the largest sectarian group, possibly accounting for one half of Lebanon’s population (Chauprade 2009). Structurally high birth rates and low emigration rates make it very likely that the Shia community eventually becomes a majority in Lebanon (Hamzeh 2004). With 18 recognised sects (Norton 2007), Lebanon is the most religiously diverse country in the region (Drysdale and Blake 1985).
The political system, used here as the third factor that is closely related to sovereignty (as a proxy for authority), has been critical to Hezbollah’s emergence. Between 1861 and its dissolution, Mount Lebanon had a confessional political system, where each major sectarian group (Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Druzes, Shias and Sunnis) had two seats in the administrative council (Hamzeh 2001). When Mount Lebanon was integrated within Lebanon, the political system remained based upon sectarianism, meaning that "...religious communities must be represented as political communities" (Makdisi 2008, p. 24).
At independence, the Shia community lacked a well-educated and effective leadership (Harris 2006 and Mackey 2008). As a result, the Maronites and Sunnis concluded the National Pact in 1943 without consulting the Shias (Norton 2007). The Pact stated that a Maronite should be President, with a Sunni Prime-Minister and a Shia parliamentary chairperson. Furthermore, parliamentary seats were divided between Christians and Muslims according to a 6:5 ratio (Brogan 1998). The 1926 constitution remained in place, giving the President far-reaching powers (Salem 1998).
Frustration about the Christian dominance in politics was a main cause of the civil war that started in 1975 (Salem 1998). Many experts consider the influx of hundreds of thousands Palestinians between 1967 and 1973 –posing a threat to the Christians domination- as the decisive trigger. The Shia community was hardly involved in the outbreak of the civil war, being militarily unprepared and lacking external support (Zisser 1997). During the civil war, militias divided Lebanon in semi-autonomous regions with different political, social and economic systems (Hamzeh 2001).
The Taif agreement in 1989, which ended the civil war, hardly changed the political system. The ratio of Christians and Muslims in parliament was adjusted to 1-1 (Feki and De Ficquelmont 2008). Another change was the transfer of executive power from president to the council of ministers (Salem 1998). The rigid division of the three key political positions among the main sectarian groups remained in place (Glassner 1996).
The civil war had left the Shia the largest sectarian group and the most powerful in military terms (Zisser 1997). However, the agreement did not relate demographic changes to political power (Norton 2007). As a result, the Taif agreement did not change the general perception among the Shia population that the Shia population had disproportionally little power (Milton-Edwards 2006).
The Lebanese State has always been weak, which Owen (2004) relates to two factors. First, the economic elite have always been able to minimise state interference in the economy. Second, politicians have generally sought to serve interests of their constituencies instead of the national interest. According to Brogan (1998), the latter factor has its roots in the National Pact that limited the authority of the state to maximise the autonomy of sectarian groups. As a result, Lebanese citizens feel loyalty towards their community instead of towards the country (Hafez 2008).
Hamzeh (2001) argues that Lebanon’s political system erodes the authority of the state by fuelling clientelism. Hafez (2008) adds that foreign protection of or influence on each community further undermines this authority. Moreover, Hafez (2008, p. 193) argues that Lebanon’s political system "...makes the [state] vulnerable to any stifled sense of frustration or injustice or dispossession felt by any community..." Although the Taif agreement aimed at the introduction of a non-confessional democracy (Glassner 1996), the government refused to do so. Consequently, families that ruled over Lebanon before the civil war dominated the 1990 cabinet and patronage networks swiftly re-emerged (Mackey 2008).
In all, Lebanon’s political system is based upon the principle that the State should interfere in society as little as possible. The resulting weakness of state institutions has made Lebanon vulnerable to infringements of its domestic, interdependence and Vatellian sovereignty. The rise of Hezbollah has made this perfectly clear.
Part 2 discusses the military, social and political roles of Hezbollah in Lebanon, part 3 contains the conclusion and literature list:
Leonhardt van Efferink, editor of EG, will be convening a Country Risk Analysis Summer School at Maastricht University in July/August:
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