Divided Lebanon

January 4, 1980

Report Outline
Continuing Bloodshed and Chaos
Roots of Current Sectarianism
Difficulty in Resolving Conflicts

Continuing Bloodshed and Chaos

Religious Factionalism; Khomeini's Impact

The question is whether Lebanon, like Humpty Dumpty, can be put back together again. The answer to that question will determine more than the survival of a strife-torn nation once acclaimed as the “Switzerland of the Middle East.” Lebanon long has been prey to acute religious conflicts, which now are also convulsing Iran and creating destabilizing influences elsewhere in the Middle East. The passage of time since the 1975–76 Lebanese civil war has not improved the prospects for accommodation among the many embittered factions and the outside interventionists in Lebanon. It thus remains, apart from Iran, the most volatile country in the most volatile area of the world.

Religious and sectarian factionalism has a long history in Lebanon. Christians and Moslems have been feuding for centuries. The French, who gained control of Lebanon after World War I, tried to bring about a workable political structure in 1943 with a compromise agreement among the six major religious groups — the Maronite, Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians and the Sunni, Shiite and Druze Moslems. The unwritten National Pact of that year was based on a 1932 census in which Christians, particularly the Maronites, outnumbered Moslems; by common consent, only a Maronite would occupy the presidency. Successive presidents used that office to block another census.

It is widely believed that a new census would show a Moslem majority, with the Shiites as the largest religious group in the country. Lebanese Shiites, generally poor and powerless, have been looked down on by both Christians and Sunni Moslems. Until his mysterious disappearance in August 1978, Shiite religious leader Iman Musa Sadr repeatedly pressed the government for more attention and benefits for his people. While Sadr remains a powerful symbol, another Shiite leader, Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has become a popular hero to some Lebanese Shiites.

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