The Economist: Lebanon Civil War 12th Deadliest since 1946


Source: The Economist

The Economist has come up with a brilliant piece that tries to tackle civil wars and intrastate conflicts into a meaningful set of data and patterns. Of course, that is virtually impossible given the sheer differences and scales between the 246 civil wars that have taken place since the end of WWII. But, there are a few lessons to learn and trends to look out for which this piece goes over pretty well.

Lebanon gets a lot of attention in this piece too, especially the often-overlooked former Speaker of Parliament, Hussein El Husseini, who shares his insight on how the end to Lebanon’s bloody civil war was evident from early on, but no one was really willing to stop (no one being the militias and their foreign sponsors)


The solution, says Mr Husseini, was clear more or less from the beginning. The country’s various religious groups, each with its own militias, had to share power. Lebanon could not be conquered by one side, nor divided among all. Its people are too mixed; Mr Husseini’s prominent Shia Muslim family includes Christians and Sunnis, and that is par for the course. “But the militias were against it,” he says.

Attempts by Mr Husseini and others, notably the tycoon Rafik Hariri, to reach the obvious but fugitive solution took him to the outside powers sponsoring the militias: America, France, Iran, Israel, Syria and Saudi Arabia. He was repeatedly rebuffed until, in 1989, finally despairing of the war, the outsiders agreed to stop paying their proxies. Mr Husseini quickly convened representatives from the various communities and militias in Taif, a resort in Saudi Arabia. After a lot of haggling, they signed an accord that led to peace a year later.


What I loved about this piece is that it tries to gather all the wisdom and experience from previous civil wars, which I feel would help us try and imagine what the end to the Syrian one could be like. After the fall of the Soviet Union, “victories” in civil wars plummeted from 58% to just 13%, and wars ended with negotiations 40% of the time versus just 10% during the Cold War.

With all the fuss about Geneva II, another paragraph resonated with me a lot:


Another essential in peace negotiations is combatants’ acceptance, at least privately, that the hope of winning has died away. Anyone still contemplating victory will find negotiated compromises unbearable. Were fighters to listen to the experts with the databases, they would come to the table earlier; a majority of victories come in the first year of a civil war. But most cling to their original dreams long after all possibility of attaining them has faded.


And, then, The Economist goes on to explain how peace can often be gloomy and disappointing, like in Lebanon’s case. In fact, I’d argue the civil war never really ended, but the fact that death tolls are less than 1000 combatants per year (the scale used to determine whether or not there’s a civil war in a country in this article) keeps Lebanon off that map.


One reason for backsliding is that peace often fails to bring the prosperity that might give it lasting value to all sides. Power-sharing creates weak governments; nobody trusts anyone else enough to grant them real power. Poor administration hobbles business. Ethnic mafias become entrenched. Integration is postponed indefinitely. Lacking genuine political competition, with no possibility of decisive electoral victories, public administration in newly pacified nations is often a mess.

Lebanon is a prime example. When the sects carved up power in 1989 they fixed quotas for all public bodies. Even department heads in the telecoms regulatory authority are appointed according to a religious formula. Loyalty is to sects, not the public. Services are virtually non-existent; reliable electricity supplies are rare. The latest government fell in March and nothing has replaced it. Still, many Lebanese prefer this state of affairs to the bloodletting of the 1980s. Better to condemn one’s children to a poorly run country than to endanger their lives.


And, I must admit, this article shed some light on Hussein El Husseini that I never considered, and I guess you could say I have newfound respect for that man, who worked for peace when everyone else was busy making war, and at the end, was put aside and the warring chieftains changed from military fatigues and grimy boots, to dress suits and polished shoes.


Mr Husseini, who helped bring peace to Lebanon, says he knew the years of pleading were finally getting results when the militias stopped receiving money from abroad. He never won any prize for his role; the militias eventually pushed him out of politics. Sitting in his home under a picture of Pope John Paul II, he wonders how many more people could have been saved if the guns had fallen silent earlier.

The imposing view of the Mediterranean he once enjoyed from his flat is a distant memory, blocked by new buildings. It doesn’t matter, he says. After all, construction shows that Lebanon has regained a measure of peace and prosperity. It even manages to offer refuge to a million Syrians who have fled their own civil war.


I’m sorry I quoted so much, but the briefing is long and I know most of you guys don’t read a lot, so I tried to pick the parts I felt you should read most. But, if you have the time, I really, really, really recommend you read it all. It tackles everything from Rwanda and South Sudan, to Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and everything in between. It’s very insightful, draws brilliant conclusions, very pragmatic and has convincing data and numbers and visuals. Read it here on The Economist website.


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