After 15 years of declining political influence, Christians are making a comeback in Lebanon, according to a recently released report of the International Crisis Group (July 15).
There has been a reassertion of Christian political leadership in the country, such as Amine Gemayel, Michael Aoun, and Samir Geagea, since Syria’s withdrawal in 2005. These leaders have managed to restructure, more or less successfully, their respective political groups. Regarding political alliances, Aoun has become the head of the opposition coalition and has succeeded in imposing an electoral reform that will give more autonomy to many Christian MPs, who formerly needed to enter into alliance games with Muslim political forces.
Former army commander Michael Suleiman was elected president, which has allowed Christians to recover that institution. He is seen as a leader providing balance to the current situation. Despite tensions between Aoun and himself, there is a need to negotiate cooperation between the president and the popular leader. While the Christian political scene is now split into two camps (Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces and Amine Gemayel’s Phalanges on one side; General Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement on the other), in a situation of growing polarization between Sunnis (dominated by the Future Movement) and Shiites (represented by Hizbollah), the Christian electorate will play a decisive role in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
Due to Aoun’s strength (with his controversial alliance with Hizbollah since February 2006), it seems likely that opposition forces will come to dominate the Lebanese political scene. Christians will find themselves empowered in the political field, in exchange for recognition of Hizbollah’s armed forces, writes International Crisis Group analyst Patrick Haenni.
The full report is available online in French only, while the executive summary is also given in English, at: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/ind ex.cfm?id=5573&l=1.