The Foundation of Hezbollah
In 1943, Lebanon gained independence after 23 years of being under French colonial rule. The new leaders signed the Lebanese National Pact, a power-sharing agreement that divided the cabinet evenly among the major religious groups. In accordance with the Pact, the Prime Minister must always be a Sunni Muslim, the President a Maronite Christian, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shi’a Muslim.
This arrangement, while seemingly satisfactory, only disguised severe underlying problems that the Lebanese government faced. Sectarianism within the government was very much at play, and unrest in neighboring states like Syria, Israel, and Palestine under the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) often spilled over into Lebanon. In 1975, the country fell into a state of socioeconomic and political instability and the Lebanese governmental system collapsed. These underlying complex and multidimensional causes led to a 15-year-long civil war (1975-1990).
At the time, the Shi’a community, which was seen as the religious group with the least amount of political power in Lebanon, was represented by the Amal Movement. Founded in 1974, a year before the Lebanese Civil War broke out, the movement evolved into a militant group, with its objective being to gain more respect and resources for Lebanese Shi’as. The Shi’as gained another voice, however, in 1982. Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Shi’a party “Hezbollah” emerged. Its goal was to establish an Islamic republic and drive Israel out of Lebanon.
Hezbollah, an Arabic word meaning “Party of God,” coordinated its efforts with Iran, from which it obtained significant logistical assistance. According to a 2019 State Department report, Iran supplies Hezbollah with weapons and over 700 million USD per year. It recruited troops mostly from dissatisfied younger, more radical members of Amal. The group resists Western influence, has allegedly engaged in multiple terrorist attacks against Westerners, and is designated as a terrorist group by many countries, including the United States.
Hezbollah’s Involvement in Lebanese Politics Post-Civil War
Since the 1992 Lebanese elections, Hezbollah has been greatly involved in the Lebanese government, with eight of its members being elected to Parliament. In 2018, after the last national election in 2009, Hezbollah was granted thirteen seats, three more than its partner Amal. Although it has significant influence in the cabinet, it does not have any direct control over any main cabinet posts, due to its designation as a terrorist organization by various countries. If it was given direct control, it would impact Lebanon’s international funding.
Hezbollah is involved in various social services, such as schools, health-care facilities, and youth programs, all while maintaining its military arm. When the civil war ended, Hezbollah was the only militia allowed by Syria to keep its weapons, to aid the continuous Arab-Israeli War. This resulted in Hezbollah supporting Syria, the Al-Assad regime, and their civil war. Despite arguments that claim that the existence of Hezbollah violates UN Security Council Resolution #1559, a 2014 report found that nine percent of Sunnis, and thirty-one percent of Christians, have a high opinion of the group. This is mainly due to them feeling protected by Hezbollah, seeing that they are such a heavily armed organization.
Lebanon’s Top Christian Party’s Perspective
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) is the top Maronite Christian party in Lebanon, founded by Michel Aoun in 2005 before his presidency. The party’s aim is to defend Christian rights within the Lebanese political system. In 2006, the FPM established an alliance with Hezbollah. This alliance, labeled the Mar Mikhael Agreement, was for the two parties to reach certain objectives. These included assisting Aoun’s bid for presidency in the 2014-2016 elections, as well as ensuring a military presence, especially during the following year’s war with Israel.
In 2016, when Aoun became president, Gebran Bassil became the head of the FPM. As one of the most influential politicians in Lebanon and the president’s son-in-law, Bassil is Aoun’s senior advisor and has served as the minister of water, energy, and foreign affairs.
Bassil believes that Hezbollah is FPM’s only ally and is crucial to defend Lebanon, stating that it had “spared Lebanon the evil of strife and division, safeguarding it from foreign aggression, and deterred Israel and repelled terrorism.”
The FPM, however, believes that the Mar Mikhael Agreement has failed and must be re-examined. In December 2021, the FPM announced the possibility of ending its alliance with Hezbollah. Members of the FPM began questioning why the alliance with Hezbollah was still in place, seeing that it had not done its part in reforming Lebanon. While this alliance has been a major factor in Lebanese politics for over fifteen years, FPM member Charbel Khalil said that the deal “is dead.”
The Bassil-led party has felt politically pressured to distance itself from the Shi’a group ever since the 2019 liquidity crisis. The crisis was caused in part by Hezbollah’s failure to adequately respond to the needs and demands of the people. Although Hezbollah has managed to provide petrol for Lebanon during the ongoing fuel crisis, the quantity of fuel will barely make a difference in terms of resolving the crisis.
The 2022 Elections
With the upcoming Lebanese general elections in 2022, the Maronite Christians are hoping to win a significant number of seats. The extension of Aoun’s term is still being considered, seeing that he is eighty-nine years old. FPM’s Plan B is to give power to Bassil.
With Hezbollah being the FPM’s only ally, cutting ties would damage its chances of getting any significant parliamentary blocs in the upcoming elections. It would also ruin Bassil’s presidential ambitions entirely. While many Maronite Christians do not condone any of Hezbollah’s actions and demands, it seems as though they have no option but to remain allies until further notice.