Lebanon’s Tangled Web
achieved. However De Gaulle’s Free French Troops invaded thecountry in 1941 to rid Beirut of Vichy forces and left in 1946, whenthe Christians assumed power over both the country and economy.A confessional parliament
was created, where Muslims were givenquotas of seats in Parliament. The President was to be a Christian,the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker a Shia Muslim.These groups defined on religious lines and led by powerfulpatriarchal families, greatly complicate Lebanon’s fundamentaldivision between Muslims (some 60 percent of the population by1975) and Christians. The Maronites, adherents of a Catholic Sectwith around 25 percent of Lebanon’s total population were thetraditionally dominant group, both commercially and politically, afact recognised under the 1943 National Pact which allotted themthe Presidency. The Maronites traditionally look to the West, ratherthan the Arab world, for support and example. Since the 1930’sa prominent element of the Maronite Community had been thePhalange Party, founded by Pierre Gemayel in 1936. Originally setup as an imitation of European fascist movements, the geographicalcentre of Maronite influence is in East Beirut and the NorthernMountains. It is an irony that with this historical lineage they in timebecame key Israeli allies. The Sunni Muslims are traditionally thedominant element of the Muslim population,but not the most numerous, with perhaps20 percent of the country’s population.Under the National Pact they were accordedthe post of PM from one of their Nationalleaders. The Shiites form the majorityMuslim group, with about 30 percent of Lebanon’s population. As the poorestelement in the country they have supportedradical action.During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War anexodus of Palestinian, who fled the fightingor were expelled from their homes, becamerefugees, mainly in the then JordanianWest Bank but many arrived in Lebanon.Palestinians came to play a very importantrole in future Lebanese civil conflict,whilst the establishment of Israel radicallychanged the local environment in whichLebanon found itself. After some 10 to 15years of relative inactivity the PalestinianArabs began to take the initiative again.From the late 1950’s several Palestinianorganisations, of which the best knownis Fatah (Resistance), came into beingfor the purpose of mobilising Palestinianrefugees and carrying out an armed struggleagainst Israel. In July 1958, Lebanonwas threatened by Civil War betweenMaronite Christians and Muslims, fuelled bytensions with Egypt, when the pro-WesternPresident Camille Chamoun did not breakoff diplomatic relations with the WesternPowers that attacked Egypt during the 1956
‘‘The bitterest national struggle in the Middle East isthat involving the Jews and Palestinians. Following the Balfour declaration of November 1917, European Jews sought to secure a national home for all Jews inthe British mandated territory of Palestine, and Jewsresident in other Arab countries were encouraged tosettle there by the Jewish Agency.’’
Above left:President CamilleChamoun.Above middle:King Hussein of Jordan.Above right:Yasser Arafat,leader of PLO.