This Ministry of the Interior soldier was guarding the site of the attack that killed former Prime Minister Hariri and started turmoil in Lebanon.

The Political Dynasties of Lebanon: An Introduction

Lebanon remains a nation marked by sectarian fault lines and the scars of its violent civil war, however through all of its modern history, common threads have persisted in the nation’s democratic system and key families remain kingmakers and power-brokers throughout its government. In this piece, Edwin Tran introduces a new series setting out to examine the political families and dynasties holding power in Lebanon.

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While Lebanon’s brutal civil war officially ended in 1991, it was clear that significant work remained for the country and that its battles were far from over. In the manic days of post-war governance, reconstruction efforts needed to be planned, political parties needed to be formed, and all the while militant groups (like Hezbollah and the South Lebanese Army) needed to be demobilised. Looming over these developments was the continued presence of the Syrian government and its powerful military forces. In the two decades following the Taif Accord (Lebanon’s peace treaty), Lebanon and its people were able to tackle many of these challenges head on. The South Lebanese Army was dissolved in 2000 and the Syrians were pressured out of the country in 2005. Despite other key issues such as the 2006 Lebanon-Israel War and the ongoing refugee crisis from the Syrian Civil War, Lebanon’s democratic institutions continue to persist.

However, despite the seemingly robust nature of Lebanon’s sectarian democracy, there are layers that should be considered, and a deeper assessment is required in order to truly understand the nature of the nation’s political system. While there have been significant changes in the years following the Lebanese Civil War, it is within the politics of Lebanon that one can see a large thread of continuity. Today, major political parties can trace their roots directly to their ancestral militias from the era of civil war. Parties like the Marada Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, and the Kateab Party all herald from militant groups that vied for power during the days of the Lebanese Civil War. Since the 1992 Parliamentary Elections, many of these parties continued to hold sway and maintain seats in Lebanon, becoming household names for many.

However, issues with the national debt, budget, and electrical grid have deepened the general disdain many Lebanese have for such political parties. Such negative outlooks, surprisingly, have yet to translate onto the electoral stage, and parties like Kateab and Future Movement continue to hold power in the country. There are a significant number of reasons for this consistent presence. Many Lebanese political parties benefit in the sectarian nature of the country’s parliament, and older parties naturally have more resources and historical engagement with their targeted groups. In addition, these political parties offer their constituents significant social benefits and services, from health care to monetary assistance. While these activities are not necessarily bribes, they are key elements in the groups’ continued popularity. Newer parties, such as the non-sectarian and civil-society oriented Sabaa, often lack the resources more established groups have and face difficulties in disseminating their message across the Lebanese population.

At the helm of these more established political parties are key families who hold significant weight in Lebanon. While groups like the Free Patriotic Movement and Amal are defined by their political stances and ideological leanings, a more important dimension to assess are the familial ties that act in the background. Names like the Gemayels, Aouns, and Jumblatts dominate the leadership of these political parties, and just like the historical roots of such organisations, many of these families were prominent militants or leaders during the Lebanese Civil War. The leadership cadre of many parties reveal a web of family members, close friends, and key supporters. As their respective parties have maintained control of the country, so to has their respective influences.

In this series, we’ll examine a handful of Lebanese political families, contextualise their historical development, and assess their current standing and position in the country. From Lebanon’s founding, to the Lebanese Civil War, and beyond, we’ll see how these families emerged into the political fabric of the country and how their influences have ebbed and flowed throughout.

Suggested books for in-depth reading on this topic:

Additional geopolitical reading suggestions can be found on our 2019 reading list

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Edwin Tran is an independent writer focusing on geopolitics and the Levantine region. He is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno with degrees in History and International Affairs, and has published work in various sites from newspapers to academic journals. Edwin has spent time living and researching in the Levant region, and specialises in hybrid organisations and their historical contexts in order to understand their popularity and political successes within civil society.

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Photo credit: Petteri Sulonen