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Lebanon's Intifada: Can the People Overturn Their Corrupt, Sectarian Leaders?

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Eight years after the Arab Spring started, the triggers for Arab rage have not changed: Corruption, sectarianism, human rights abuses and official state contempt for their citizenry. The ruling clases of the regimes and governments that survived the Arab Spring's explosion and implosion doubled down.

Now, as then, as the rage on the street rises again, from Iraq to Lebanon, those ruling class won't go down without a fight either.

In Lebanon, the popular anger that has erupted on the streets since October 17th directed at state corruption, inefficiency and injustice now has a particular focus: a revolt against the formalized sectarian structure of government that leads to economic and political paralysis, nepotism and intimidation.

But it's a commonly-held assumption that that sectarian form of government is what has saved Lebanon from another appalling descent into civil war. It's that foundational assumption that is now being challenged.

At 8 p.m. sharp for the past few days, #Lebanon’s soundscape has been taken over by protesters beating pots, pans and - here in downtown #Beirut - this metal wall.#LebanonRevolution #لبنان_يتنفض pic.twitter.com/cj0t2Cl1OQ

The Lebanese Civil War was both an internal Lebanese affair, and a regional conflict involving a host of regional and international actors. It revolved around some of the issues that have dominated regional politics in the Middle East over the latter part of the 20th century, from the Palestine-Israel conflict, Cold War competition, Arab nationalism and political Islam.

These conflicts intersected with longstanding disagreements within the Lebanese political elite, and in parts of the population, over the sectarian division of power, national identity, social justice and Lebanon’s strategic alliances.

What is referred to as the Lebanese Civil War was in fact a series of more or less related conflicts between shifting alliances of Lebanese groups and external actors destabilizing the Lebanese state from 1975-1990.

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The conflicts can be divided into five main periods: the two-year war from April 1975 to November 1976; a long interlude of failed peace attempts, Israeli and Syrian intervention and a host of internal conflicts between November 1976 and June 1982; the Israeli invasion and its immediate aftermath from June 1982 to February 1984; the internal wars of the late 1980s; and finally the intra-Christian wars of 1988-90, which eventually ended the war.

Those 15 years of fighting exacted an enormous price. It is estimated that there were 120,000 fatalities – civilians and combatants. Much of Lebanon’s infrastructure was shattered, as was Lebanon’s reputation as a rare model of cross-sectarian coexistence in the Arab Middle East. The Lebanese Civil War was one of the most devastating conflicts of the late 20th century.

The Ta’if Accord that ended the war in 1989 failed to resolve or even address the core conflicts of the war, including the sectarian division of power in Lebanon and the Palestinian refugee issue.

The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 (widely accepted to have been perpetrated by Hezbollah), the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, and continued political instability in the country have added to the sense among many Lebanese that political violence is endemic to their body politic.

Efforts to alter or abolish the confessional system of allocating power have been at the center of Lebanese politics for decades. Those religious groups most favored by the formula established in the National Pact of 1943, which established the ground rules for Lebanon as a multiconfessional state, fixing the government and military positions each community's representatives would hold, depending on their relative proportion in the population, sought to preserve it.

On the other hand, those who saw themselves at a disadvantage sought either to revise it – in the light of updated key demographic data - or to abolish it entirely. Nonetheless, many of the provisions of the National Pact were codified in the Ta'if Acoord, perpetuating sectarianism as a key element of Lebanese political life.

Since 1943, with ratification in 1989, Lebanon's ruling "troika" is distributed as follows: The President, a Maronite Christian; the........

© Haaretz