This is not how Lebanon imagined its 63rd independence day: Between a (Syrian) rock and an (Iranian) hard place, split and ruined on the inside, and threatened by external forces, with more and more European troops in the country's south – and high alert in Israel ahead of the possibility of another war.
Following the assassination of another minister, facing unclear legitimacy by the government, and possibly ahead of another civil war, Ynetnews presents the key figures in Israel's northern neighbor.
The anti-Syrian campFouad Siniora: A Sunni Muslim and current Lebanese prime minister. Siniora was born in Sidon in 1943 and was known for his ties with assassinated PM Rafik Hariri, first as his accountant. Similarly to his political patron, was known for his anti-Syrian views, yet his pleasant character and the prestige he accumulated over the years led 126 parliament members to back him for the post of prime minister. Siniora has become the darling of Presidents Bush and Chirac. During the war and after it he criticized Hizbullah, even if implicitly. He is especially remembered for his "speech of tears" during the war when he called on the world to intervene and save Lebanon from a disaster.
Saad Hariri: Sunni Muslim, 36 years old, the majority leader in the Lebanese parliament and chairman of the al-Mustaqbal (The Future) party. After his father, the former PM and business mogul Rafik Hariri, was assassinated, he promptly stepped into his shoes. He went from being a business management student to being thrown right into the political cauldron and assumed control of the giant empire left by his father. Naturally, for many of his supporters he has become Lebanon's new hope, following about 30 years of Syrian domination of the country. During the last war and after it he slammed Hizbullah and claimed the group executes Syrian and Iranian policies in Lebanon, and serves as an agent on their behalf. His political opponents in Lebanon as well as Syria's president slammed him and his people as "collaborators and Zionist agents."
Walid Jumblatt: A Druze, was born in August 1949. Heads the Progressive Socialist Party established by his father, Kamal, who was murdered in March 1977 by agents working on behalf of former Syrian President Hafez Assad. Currently serves as the most prominent Druze leader in the country. After his father's assassination, Jumblatt was invited to the palace in Damascus, where the Syrian president told him: "You so much resemble your father," hinting at Jumblatt's expected fate should he fail to adopt a pro-Syrian line. Despite this, Jumblatt has engaged in harsh anti-Syrian rhetoric.
Samir Geagea: A Maronite Christian, born near Beirut in 1952. Currently serves as leader of the right-pint party "The Lebanese Forces." Geagea, who was the operational chief of the Phalange militia and responsible for the Sabra and Shatlia massacres was sentenced to several life terms over civil war crimes, yet in July of last year, following a parliament decision, he was pardoned. Since his release he has entered Lebanon's political life and adopted a provocative line against Syria and Hizbullah.
Pro-Syria campEmile Lahoud: Maronite Christian, born in 1936 and the son of General Jamil Lahoud, who was among the leaders of the Lebanese independence movement. Emile joined the army in 1956 and by the end of the civil war served under the command of General Michel Aoun. Following the ceasefire, Lahoud moved to western Beirut, which was under Syrian control. In light of his close ties with Damscus, he assumed key posts in the Lebanese governmetn's army, and eventually commanded the arm. In October 15, 1998, he was elected as Lebanon's president for a period of six years. Due to Syrian pressure the parliament extended his term in office in 2004 by another three years. This move by the Lebanese parliament that was clearly influenced by Syria was one of the factors that led to UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for all foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon. Lahoud is slated to complete his term in about a year, and General Michel Eon is highly interested in succeeding him.
Michel Aoun: Maronite Christian, born in 1935 in southern Beirut. Joined the army in 1956 and was appointed as the Lebanese Army's chief of staff in 1984. In 1988, outgoing president Amin Gemayel appointed him as prime minister until new elections are held. However, then-prime minister Salim al-Hoss, who enjoyed Syria's support, announced that the dismantlement of his government is invalid – leading to two governments working at the same time: Aoun's military government in east Beirut, and al-Hoss' civilian government in the west of the city. On March 14 1989, Aoun declared a "war of liberation" from Syria in order to unite the country and hold free presidential elections. His army fought the Syrian military in Beirut for months – a war that claimed the lives of many civilians and about 1,000 soldiers on both sides.
In October 1990, Syrian fighter jets attacked the presidential palace in Baabda. Aoun, who wanted to avoid a high casualty toll, surrendered and fled to the French ambassador's residence. After 10 months he went into exile in France and acted from afar against Syria's hegemony in Lebanon. During his time in exile he was among the harshest critics of Syria's and Hizbullah's presence in Lebanon – his criticisms often included curses uttered at the Syrian regime and its leader. In May of last year, a few days following the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, he returned to his homeland. In the parliamentary elections in May of this year he surprised everyone when his party joined forces with pro-Syrian factions. He explained that after Syria's withdrawal, the split between pro-Syrian and anti-Syria forces lost its meaning. He focused his election campaign on national values such as a war on corruption, national unity vis-à-vis the ethnic split, and the establishment of a modern country.
Nabih Berri: A Shiite Muslim, born in January 1938. Currently serves as parliament speaker and heads the Amal movement. In the 1970s, Berri served as a lawyer on behalf of the movement, established by Imam Musa al-Sadr. After the Imam disappeared under mysterious circumstances while touring Libya in 1978, Berri returned to Lebanon in order to compete for the movement's leadership. In April 1980, he became the general secretary. Since the mid-'70s, Amal maintained close ties with President Assad's regime in Syria, and these ties turned to a close alliance with Damascus under Berri's leadership. Recently, and particularly with regards to the Lebanon war, the parliament speaker attempted to convey a national image and speak on behalf of "all of Lebanon." He was even appointed as Hizbullah's representative for negotiating a prisoner swap, but he abandoned the post following the Qfar Qana incident.
Hassan Nasrallah: A Shiite Muslim, born in 1960 in eastern Beirut to a family hailing from the country's south. Although the family was not considered religious by Lebanese standards, Hassan, the eldest of nine brothers, started reading fundamentalist literature while most of his peers were playing soccer. After completing high school he went on to study at Shiite colleges in Najaf, Iraq, where he met his spiritual father and former Hizbullah Secretary General, Abbas Musawi. Initially, Nasrallah joined the Shiite Amal movement, but under Musawi's leadership he left, along with dozens of others, and joined a new organization established through the initiative of spiritual leader Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah – the group served as an umbrella organization for pro-Iranian militant officers and their soldiers. This group was later named Hizbullah.
Nasrallah continuously extended his control over religious and military matters. In February 1992, Musawi was assassinated by Israel, and Sheikh Nasrallah succeeded him. That year, the organization started expanding its activity into other areas, including social, economic, and political affairs. In 1992, Hizbullah for the first time took part in parliamentary elections and won 12 seats. Ever since then it has gained strength within Lebanon's political system. Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 granted the organization and its leader great prestige; the last war turned him into an admired figure across the Arab world.
According to the Taif Agreement from October 22, 1989, which is based on a 1932 census, Lebanon's leading government posts are divided among the various ethnicities in accordance with a permanent arrangement: The Maronite Christian representative is always the president; the prime minister is a Sunny Muslim; the parliament speaker is a Shiite Muslim. Now, in addition to the fight against Israel, Nasrallah is eyeing a change in Lebanon's political map and is calling for toppling the government and the holding of new elections. In his view, the current representation does not accurately reflect the Shiites' power, and he also opposes the anti-Syria camp, which he views as too western. Many view Nasrallah as the most influential figure both within and outside Lebanon's political system.