Rola El-Husseini Dean gives a talk on sectarian politics in Lebanon.
When: 14 October 2021 13:15 to 14:30 (CEST)
Where: Zoom + CMES seminar Room, Finngatan 16
Registration: Follow this link to register for the event
While Lebanon and sectarianism have become synonymous over the past half century, Lebanese politics cannot be easily summarized as Christians vs Muslims or Sunni vs Shi’a. In the years that followed the Lebanese civil war, we have witnessed many alliances form and break between different sectarian and religious group. Belonging to the same religion, the same sect or ethnic group does not imply seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to politics.
The interest of the group or the personal interest of the leader and his political ambitions often determine political reality, not religious, sectarian or ethnic affiliation. After all, politics is compromise. This is perhaps best seen in the Lebanese case in the alliance between the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of the Lebanese president Michel Aoun and the Shi’a party Hezbollah. The alliance has survived many local and regional upheavals since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two organizations in February 2006. It endured for 15 years, despite political assassinations, a civil war in neighboring Syria, and low intensity conflict in Lebanon.
This coalition between two seemingly disparate groups culminated in the election of Michel Aoun to the presidency in October 2016. What explains the endurance of this strange alliance? Why would a powerful group like Hezbollah share power with the FPM? Political exigency explains the stable relationship between the two organizations. It also elucidates the rationale behind Hezbollah’s support of Michel Aoun and his popularly hated and despised son-in-law Gibran Bassil.
This chapter will examine the ups and downs of the relationship between the FPM and Hezbollah between February 2006 and February 2021 by looking at major events in Lebanese history during that period, including the May 2008 events, the 2009 legislative elections, Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syria war, the election of Michel Aoun, the legislative elections of 2018 and the October 2019 uprising. It analyzes statements made by both party leaderships and studies the local press to identify how political exigency– defined as dire necessity– provides a more compelling explanation for their cooperation than the facile focus on sectarianism.
Rola El-Husseini is an associate professor at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies and Det of Political Science, Lund University. She has previously held positions at Yale University, Texas A&M University, and the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York.
Her first book Pax Syriana: Elite Politics in Postwar Lebanon was published by Syracuse University Press in 2012. The book which was based on extensive fieldwork, analysed power-sharing in the Lebanese political system in the post-civil-war period (1989–2005), and examined the role of Syrian hegemony in underpinning the stability of the Lebanese state.
She has also published on the Lebanese Hezbollah, on Arab Shi‘ism and Iran, and is currently preparing an edited volume on Lebanese Shi‘ism. Rola is now in the process of writing her second book manuscript which addresses the political representation of Arab women after the 2010-2011 Arab uprisings.