The Tragedies of Lebanon’s Political Maronitism

The Tragedies of Lebanon’s Political Maronitism

Today, Maronites in Lebanon face challenges and threats within and beyond far more dangerous than ever before. The community’s history is worth reviewing.

No sooner, Washington endorsed the implementation of the Taif Accords, and apparently gave the go-ahead to Syria and its allies in Lebanon to oust Aoun as a price for Syria’s participation in the U.S.-led anti-Iraq coalition. Consequently, Syria occupied Lebanon and expedited the implementation of the Taif Accords, which conferred equal powers to the Maronite president, the Sunni prime minister, and the Shia speaker of the house.

Thanks to Syria and Iran, the Shia Islamist party Hezbollah was able to build a state-within-a-state in Lebanon under the pretext of expelling Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon and defending it against Israel’s aggressions. The murder of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 by Hezbollah members reportedly with Syrian collusion sparked a mass demonstration, known as the Cedar Revolution, which all but crushed the Syrian order in Lebanon. But corruption remained the hallmark of the confessional system. Ominously, since the end of the civil war in 1990 until the present, Lebanon’s political elite have forged a Faustian deal with Hezbollah grounded in preserving national coexistence, but practically expressed in providing political cover for Hezbollah in return for an extraordinary theft of the state by the political ruling class.

The Present

The steady collapse of the economy, the steep downfall of Lebanon’s currency as pegged to the dollar, and the poaching of the people’s savings have pauperized and starved society. It was against this background that the nuclear-like explosion in Beirut’s port in August 2020 sank the country to a depth of destruction and misery unseen in its history. Demonstrations and calls for reform and holding the culprits behind the port explosion accountable led nowhere thanks to obstruction from Hezbollah and the country’s political elite.

Frustrated, demeaned, and fed up with the chronic failure of the political system, proposals of federalism, partition, or creating a Christian state have once again been expressed by mainly Maronite voices. No doubt, the state and nation are facing an unprecedented crisis and need salvation and help. But Maronite plans have to be taken under careful consideration. As shown here, Political Maronitism since Emir Bashir to the present has been affected by both domestic and regional forces which continuously diminished the very influence Political Maronitism had planned to preserve. Today, the Maronites face challenges and threats within and beyond the community far more dangerous than ever before. The community is divided and has neither allies nor partners among the other sects nor among regional countries supporting its plans. Even Washington has been clear about its priorities in Lebanon: building state capacity and strengthening government institutions such as the Lebanese Armed Forces to impose its authority over the total territory of the country.

Broadly speaking, Washington’s view of Beirut still reflects Ames’ outlook. Saudi Arabia and even Israel have brushed aside Maronite exclusive plans. As happened recently, Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, on the order of Israel’s High Court of Justice, declassified documents, which were cited in Haaretz, pertaining to its plans in Lebanon and its relationship with Bashir Gemayel. The documents reveal that many Israeli officials had more apprehension than consideration about the Maronites, and that the real decisionmaker was not Bashir but his father Pierre, who was critical of Israel. Interestingly, some analysts believe the declassification of the documents at this time was partially meant to nip in the bud any formal or informal renewed contact by some Maronites with Israel.

Political Maronitism metaphorically resembles the myth of Sisyphus who is condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity only to have it roll down again once he got it to the top. Suicide was not an option for Sisyphus and his struggle against defeat may have gained him definition and identity. Similarly, Political Maronitism today is a struggle against defeat, but the problem is that the boulder Lebanon’s Maronites are carrying to the top of the hill may crush them on the way down, should they not learn the lessons of their history.

Robert G. Rabil is a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. He can be reached @robertgrabil and

Image: Carlos Haidamous /