The Lebanese Army is Untouchable- Unless it is February 1984

Amin Gemayel, President of Lebanon, 1982-1988

The Lebanese Army is the national army of all Lebanese. Currently the army seems to be engaged in conflict with one segment of the population. In a country like Lebanon, with 18 confessional groups, using the army to confront groups that belong to one confessional group is fraught with dangers- especially when that group’s perceived adversaries enthusiastically support the use of force. The modern history of Lebanon shows that different groups have at times questioned the army’s actions. Prime Minister Saeb Salam one time demanded the resignation of the army commander and when it did not happen, he himself resigned.

 Below is a refresher course on the army, the use of force and confessional implications and consequences- an excerpt from Rosemary Sayigh’s Too many Enemies: The Palestinian Experience in Lebanon (1994):

The February 1984 uprising
All through the autumn and winter the Lebanese Army continued intermittently to shell the southern suburbs from positions both east and west of the ‘Green Line”. Displaced Shi’ites piled into beach huts along the sea and shacks around Shateela and the Sports City. More than once Amal leader Nabih Berri gave warning of his power to shake the regime if the army persisted in destroying Shi’ite-inhabited areas. Feelings came to a head when General Tannous insisted on moving into positions vacated by a French unit of the multinational Forces in Shiyah, right on the edge of the southern suburbs. This was a ‘red line’ for Berri. On 4 February he called on all Muslims in the Lebanese Army to lay down arms. Since at least 60 percent of ordinary soldiers, as well as many officers, were Shi’ite his call had a devastating effect. The army in West Beirut melted, leaving only hard-core Maronites to fight their way out in two days of the worst shelling the city had seen since 1982. As a result, Beirut was divided along sectarian line into Maronite, Shi’ite and Druze battalions. The uprising of 6 February effectively ended President Gemayel’s hopes of extending his authority beyond the ‘Maronite enclave’.

p. 138


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