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The Evolving Patterns of Lebanese Politics in Post-Syria Lebanon

Fouad Ilias

3. Perceptions of Hizballah among FPM Members

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3.1 The Heterogeneous Constituency of the FPM

1To better grasp how Hizballah, an Islamist movement that retains an impressive armed wing, is perceived today by the “secular” but mainly Christian FPM members (although 27% of al “Aouniyé” are Shia), it is necessary to know who these FPM members are, from what social context they originate from and what kind of social and political sensitivities they display.

2Four political generations are represented in the movement: (1) some people in their sixties, among them army personalities close or loyal to Aoun who participated in the civil war (some of them were also exiled to Paris in 1990); (2) activists in their forties who made up the rank and file of those who staged massive demonstrations against Aoun’s isolation and exile after the signing of Ta’if (for example Alain Aoun, member of the political bureau and the General’s nephew). This group wants more status in the FPM today; (3) young members in their twenties or thirties who have no direct experience of the civil war or what the Lebanese call “al-’ahdath” (the events) (Gamblin 2009); and (4) school boys and girls, since the movement has a policy of mobilization in the schools (like many if not all Lebanese political organizations) (Mrad 2009).

  • 14  Fouad Chehab; Lebanese military leader and president (1958-64).

3At the end of the civil war, the people represented by Aoun, or that gathered around him, were essentially Christian, from different social classes, although most of the rank and file came from the middle class. In 1988, these people saw Aoun as the one pushing for the strengthening of the state, one with “Chehabist”14features: a strong, sovereign, central state, with robust social policies and opposed to sectarian discrimination.  Above all, the “Aounist” public was opposed to the militia system prevailing at that time and advocated a return of the state to curb the reign of the militias. The people were hostile to the doctrine adopted by the Lebanese Forces who advocated a federal system for Lebanon. They were also against Israeli plans (also backed by Lebanese Forces) for partitioning Lebanon and turning it into a satellite under Israeli patronage. This served the Israeli vision (and political agenda) of a Middle East divided along sectarian lines (Charara 2009).

  • 15 When FPM members took part in the demonstrations on 14 March 2005 to signify their opposition to Sy (...)

4The Aounist public therefore rejected Syrian domination over Lebanon and saw the exile of its leader as removing any possibility of reversing the status quo imposed on their country. Under Syrian rule, 16,000 Aounists were arrested and many others harassed. The end of the Syrian era signified the rebirth of Aounist activism under the banner of the FPM and according to their old slogan: sovereignty, freedom and independence.15 Since 2005, the movement has witnessed a revival in terms of political legitimacy, but also in terms of ideas and debates within the movement’s rank and file (Gamblin 2009).

3.2 How Hizballah is Viewed by FPM members

5In this section, I will provide some insights as to how FPM members perceive Hizballah, notably its religious and cultural features but also its policies in Lebanon and the region. I had numerous valuable talks with a wide range of FPM members, from grassroots activists to their number one. The FPM constituency is very heterogeneous, as previously discussed, and what follows is far from being an exhaustive picture of their perceptions.

6The way groups perceive each other is a fluid process influenced by the interactions between group members and the context surrounding them. Hamilton (2007) proposes several elements that shape these perceptions such as group homogeneity, or group members being seen as all the same. With group homogeneity, the attributes of group members tend to be over-generalized. “The result, then, is a perception of homogeneity in the group that exaggerates the actual similarities among its members. If stereotyping involves generalizing psychological attributes across members of a group, then perceiving the group as homogeneous facilitates making such generalizations” (Hamilton 2007, 1078).

7Group members can also perceive other groups according to dynamic attributes such as agency, meaning the group is perceived as being able to enact goal-directed behavior, to influence outcomes or other groups or individuals, all of which relate to the group’s ability to increase the value of its outcomes (Hamilton 2007, 1078-1086). This is echoed by Rothbart and Park who agree that the perception of groups based on common or shared attributes leads to an enhanced perception of homogeneity whereas perceptions based on common or shared goals lead to a perception of the group’s agency (Rothbart and Park 2004, 92-94). Moreover, they point out the different dimensions through which the group is perceived and the boundary set, that is, “groupness” depends on which attributes the notion of otherness is built and can be redefined. This notion is also called ascription, or the process by which group members assign attributes or perceived elements as being lines of division between their group and another. A shared fate, or cooperation rather than competition, can redraw group boundaries and define intergroup attitudes.

  • 16 Even if their political appeal among the Shia is certainly smaller, these organizations nevertheles (...)

8In the eyes of many FPM members, Hizballah is the Shia. When they talk about being allied, they are inclined to consider themselves as being allied to the Shia community as a whole. Hence, they tend to attach little importance or nuance to differentiating between the community and its multiple political representatives (although Hizballah is the main representative of the Shia). To substantiate Hamilton’s observations, FPM adherents stereotype the Shia as being Hizballahi, that is, they over-generalize the attribute of political adherence to Hizballah to the whole Shia community. They do not consider the other political affiliations within the community such as Amal, or the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP).16 Therefore, they are inclined to use both labels to mean the same community: Shia and Hizballahi become interchangeable when talking about politics. Moreover, if Hizballah encompasses all the Shia, then all the Shia adopt Islamist beliefs and display a fervent religiosity. Many FPM members pay little attention to the heterogeneous religious practices among the Shia community, especially among Hizballah members (except for example in mixed areas where groups come into contact and generally tend to know each other’s beliefs and habits better).

  • 17 Interview with 3 FPM members before the discourse of Simon Abirania (member of the Foreign Relation (...)
  • 18  Interview with 3 FPM members before the discourse of Simon Abirania (member of the Foreign Relatio (...)

9Hence, asked about their opinions of Hizballah and its Islamist ideology, FPM members answer: “The Christian people (ash- sha’ab al-masihi; “sha’ab”, people in Arabic, understood as “nation”) are very different from the Shia people (ash-sha’ab ash-shi’i), every side has its own set of beliefs. They are free. About the talk of an Islamic state, there is less fear after the MoU.”17 When asked about what kind of changes the Memorandum of Understanding triggered, an FPM activist replied: “Socially, people have different habits and ways of living (women, clothes, alcohol etc.), they are very different! But the MoU has allowed the differences to be, they are now respected. It has allowed people to meet and lowered fears of being ‘swallowed’” (Thouny 2009). In these two excerpts, while FPM members attribute Hizballahi features to the entire Shia community, they also apply Christian attributes to the entire FPM movement, despite the fact that 27% of its members are Shia. The FPM is perceived as Christian, and in alliance with “the Shia.” Furthermore, when asked about Hizballah’s weapons and in what sense they perceive the MoU as having addressed the issue, some members said: “We are against weapons, so the MoU is a way to convince Hizballah to disarm. But at the same time, Hizballah is necessary to defend the country. You know the Shia, they are “tough people.”18They were referring to the Shia community as a whole. Similarly, the community is stereotyped as being entirely involved, or the one involved in resistance activities.

  • 19 Interview with 3 FPM members before the discourse of Simon Abirania (member of the Foreign Relation (...)

10Hence the boundary is firmly set between both constituencies when referring to religious and socio-cultural features, “people have their own beliefs,” as previously mentioned. The sense of groupness is defined accordingly to highlight the differences. “The extent to which we deal with Hizballah is the respect of the right to difference. I don’t like it (the Islamist ideology and certain habits linked to it…), but as long as the respect of that right exists, there is no problem on the social level. Anyway, any social change cannot come other than from within” (A. Aoun 2009). These features or attributes that differentiate the groups are assumed differently, depending on the level of social contacts between both constituencies (Christians and Shia). Geographical differences among FPM members affect perceptions of Hizballah, there is more acceptance in mixed areas than in Christian strongholds: “Christians and Shia have been mixed in the area since a very long time ago, they might have been opposed politically but it did not prevent cohabitation and cooperation. Indeed, the Memorandum of Understanding did cause perceptions to change, but the biggest impact was probably not here in Haret Hreik but in other Christian strongholds where such a mix doesn’t exist” (Thouny 2009). Some FPM members also noted: “There is a Shia quarter here [in Jbeil (Byblos), near Amshit], we never had problems with them. People are used to living together.”19

11While FPM members rely on group homogeneity and stereotyping in order to differentiate themselves from Hizballah (or the Shia), such as their beliefs and cultural differences or what Rothbart and Park call common or shared attributes, they refer to common or shared goals to illustrate what drive them closer to Hizballah. Indeed, Hizballah’s actions, or the group’s agency, are perceived as being close to the FPM’s when it comes to opposing government policies and when its discourse denounces corruption. The notion of a shared fate is emphasized and group boundaries are redrawn around a more open conception of groupness, now centered on the notion of agency, although FPM members differ in their perceptions of Hizballah policies according to their own political background. A new process begins in which a new identity is forged to mirror what both groups have in common.

  • 20  Many consider the warm welcome offered to Aoun in Syria as much more than a reconciliation, as it (...)

12This development also entails that groups coordinate actions and opposition policies and serve to socially anchor the relation between the groups, otherwise it would disappear once there is a political outcome (Tilly and Tarrow 2008, 67-69). It is in this sense that Dumontier proposes that the alliance might evolve into a strategic turning point of two middle-class constituencies both opposed to the hegemony of a mainly Sunni (Hariri-led) ‘asabiyya’ with its Christians allies and subordinates (Dumontier 2008, 114-115). In other words, an opposition identity is formed. This identity also bears some regional implications and political positioning: Aoun’s visits to Syria in December 2008 and Iran in October 2008 show recognition by the FPM leaders that the threats to Lebanese sovereignty do not come from these two countries primarily but from all foreign interference.20 The biggest threat for them lies in Saudi money and fundamentalism spreading to Lebanon and which is said to be far more threatening to Christians. Therefore, the alliance with Hizballah is meant to counter the rising influence of the US-Saudi camp in Lebanon. Before leaving for Iran, Aoun slammed “Lebanon’s subservience to Riyadh and the US administration” (Dot-Pouillard 2009).

13Globally, the Memorandum of Understanding triggered a widespread détente between people of both movements:

…it impacted positively on both constituencies, there was a sense of relief (“irtiah”) and an opening of former division lines between communities. (Raffoul 2009)

…there were problems for example between people in Ain-el Remmaneh (mainly Christian) and Shiah (mainly Shia). After the MoU, there was a big change; much less pressure and people began to mix much more. (Mrad 2009)

In our point of view, the MoU is genuine. It strengthens social peace and internal unity, it is necessary and needs to be reinforced! It served to unblock the situation between populations… this was strengthened during the 2006 war. (Mouhanna 2009)

The MoU, although a top down process, was addressed to receptive audiences:

There were common explanations and conferences about the MoU; we used to tour the regions village by village with Ghaleb Abu Zeinab (Hizballah member of the political bureau) to address the folks. This was very positive, people were themselves explaining why we need to reach out to each other, it was the other way around…Past thoughts about Hizballah were wrong among the FPM and vice-versa but there was a recognition that both are less corrupt and far from the state and the practices around it as well as for the high price that both paid for independence. So there was wide respect among FPM adherents for Hizballah resistance. It is the understanding among constituencies that facilitated the MoU (and this runs against what people say about it). (Al-Abs 2009)

14This difference between the perceptions based on attributes and those based on agency will be further developed in the next section, as one group may actually strive to influence the outcome of its policies in terms of perceptions. The case of Hizballah is very revealing.

3.3 Hizballah’s Reach-out Policies

15In the last section, I analyzed how the perceptions of the Party of God held by FPM members are based on common or shared attributes and common or shared goals. Both are subjected to a process of redefinition and therefore reshaped. In this section I focus on Hizballah itself as an actor that influences how it is perceived outside of its constituency. I propose that Hizballah influences the way FPM members perceive it. Before I explain the first hypothesis tested, I will introduce notions and concepts of mobilization that help frame and analyze it.

16Rejecting the prevailing structuralist and culturalist theories of mobilization, Jasper proposes that strategic choices are one component of the micro foundations of political actions such as mobilization. In doing so, he invites us to focus on the choices and dilemmas that political actors face when involved in mobilization processes. That is, the context or structure alone does not fully explain what the policy pursued by a “complex player” was (see below), but that strategic choices are taken within a complex cultural and institutional context that shape the players themselves (Jasper 2004, 4).

17To center on actors’ strategies implies a change in the level of observation and method and requires the development of qualitative analysis and ethnographic study (Bennani-Chraibi and Filieule 2003, 43-44). Bennani-Chraibi and Filieule, also rejecting the legacy of resource mobilization theory and culturalist approaches, recommend a dynamic perspective, based on the study of mobilization in terms of interactions, by working on how structural elements can lead to specific attempts of mobilization and offer a categorization of strategic modalities of contestation and resistance (Bennani-Chraibi and Filieule 2003, 70 Figure 1 “Exit, Voice, Loyalty and Apathy”). In so doing, there is no need to tackle the issue of definition, that is, determining which of the various individual actions among the infinite activities are actually actions of protest/resistance or not. From individual micro strategies of refusal such as deference, or accommodation but with minimal involvement, to organized collective resistance/opposition actions, a continuum of modalities is described. Actors’ choices among those modalities depend on the interactions occurring between themselves and the context.

18Hence, organized non-state groups such as Hizballah can be categorized as protest groups whose strategies range from overt and legal protest policies, such as participation in the Lebanese electoral system, to openly illegal such as maintaining and expanding an autonomous armed wing, to strategies of parallel structure building, such as local processes of governance and security maintenance that are independent of the state (in fact the party is often accused of running “a state within a state”).

19Scrutinizing the mobilization actions of protest groups by deconstructing their strategy as being the work pursued by simple or complex players to attain their goals (consciously or not) in various arenas, using various resources and skills depending on their position, and addressed to a precise audience can help formalize the analysis of these movements (Jasper 2004, 5-6). Moreover, focusing on strategy allows for the so-called rationality of choices to be explained by the cultural and institutional contexts unlike other rational choice models. Hence Islamist movements can no longer be described as only the representatives of those affected by failed modernization and harsh socio-economic realities. Any analysis has to incorporate the precise patterns of agency and strategy these movements adopt and acknowledge the existence of diverse spheres of meaning they may display that add to their religious identity. François Burgat speaks of a “plastic” and “diversified” phenomenon that bears various claims that can also be democratic and nationalistic (Burgat 2001, 84). Ghassan Salamé considers them as the heritage of the nationalism that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s being more exacerbated, de-secularized and re-traditionalized (Salamé 1995).

20One strategic choice that a movement may embrace is that of extension or reach-out, which means expanding its legitimacy to an external audience, at the price of having to bear the other’s goals and political meaning. Hence, in our case, I propose that it is part of Hizballah’s policy as a complex actor facing dilemmas and choices to have a policy strategy of reach out toward the external audience (the FPM constituency) in order to extend its legitimacy to it and to sustain the political alliance it has forged.

21In what follows, I focus on Hizballah’s role in influencing perceptions as part of a reach out policy. After having lost its political cover at the end of the official Syrian presence in Lebanon, the Islamist movement had to quickly adapt to the new reality in the country’s politics. One way to understand its involvement in the politics of post-Syria Lebanon is through the dilemmas the group faced at that time. As already mentioned, the movement needed a political cover for its resistance factory. In that context, the quadripartite alliance was already a process of reach out on Hizballah’s part, but it failed. Another reach out is the rapprochement with the FPM. The debate that resulted in the Memorandum of Understanding prompted acceptance but also strong skepticism toward the Party of God among Aoun’s followers. Hizballah, therefore, chose to accommodate the external audience that is the FPM constituency.

22Asked about their opinion on whether or not Hizballah has a strategy of reach-out toward the FPM constituency, many interlocutors acquiesced, thus validating the hypothesis proposed:

Yes, it is difficult to imagine it (the situation as it is) without a proper strategy (especially toward the winner of the 2005 legislative elections). Policies and strategies exist. It can have many objectives: an electoral political alliance in order to strengthen their position that is linked to the resistance work of the Hizb, to create a political axis versus internal adversary, or on a local level, in different regions, to have collaboration to win here or there… (Karam 2009)

Yes, there is a well studied, well elaborated strategy. It is not a bad thing, the main negative point is that it needs a broader consensus (meaning more political actors being associated with the understanding). (Domont 2009)

Yes, there is a strategy, obviously, to avoid being perceived only as a sectarian party, they share this strategy with Syria and Iran. They did it well with Aoun, which is the most visible Christian actor. (Salem 2009)

23However, when discussed with a high ranking Hizballah official, the picture was refined to include a more nuanced and realistic approach of Hizballah’s functioning and methods:

The evolution from an understanding into an alliance was a process. The MoU was first meant to face the political situation, and then both parties discovered that the other is honest and has a vision to deal with. So Aoun was defending the Resistance, and therefore the Hizb was ready to please Aoun for internal politics. There is no clear strategy on the practices, but there are exchanges and rapprochement or cooperation. (Fayyad 2009)

24Asked about why Hizballah got closer to the FPM and no other actors within the Lebanese political spectrum, Dr. Fayyad (2009) responded: “First, the FPM is the biggest Christian actor, it focuses on progress and is less corrupt than the others, and we both had the same problems internally since we were both opposed to a team overwhelming the whole political process.” On the same matter, Fawwaz Trabulsi (2009) said: “Both had an interest in piercing the Ta’if system and altering it. They succeeded in doing so in May 2008 and through the Doha Accord. Their achievement is that they managed to impose themselves as a veto power and in the cabinet.”

25Hence, the Memorandum of Understanding that followed months-long debates was meant to confront a political situation shared by both actors struggling to entrench their position in the political landscape. It did not begin as a long term strategic move. However, it did address the main points of disagreement that were preventing a rapprochement between the movements, such as relations with Syria and the critical point of the Hizballah arsenal. This latter was to be addressed within the framework of a national dialogue that would lead to a defense strategy. As for relations with Syria, both agreed on the need for close relations without altering Lebanon’s sovereignty, formal relations would be possible now that the Syrians were out. The MoU also reduced the fears related to the Islamist identity of the Party of God, which could then be perceived differently: “You know, we did some research about the “wilayet-al- faqih,” and it actually needs the approval of 80% of the population, so it is hard to be implemented, and yet; it is open to other religions!” (Raffoul 2009)

26Indeed, by agreeing to a written agreement, the Party of God was already signaling its readiness to make concessions, or, to use a now popular expression, to “unclench its fist.” When the MoU, signed by the leaders, was explained to the rank and file (see above), it triggered widespread sympathy among the receptive FPM constituency, for which Hizballah was by far the cleanest party in the country. Soon, however, more was to come: Aoun reciprocated Hizballah’s opening by backing its ally during the July War, thus opening the door to a consolidation of the relationship that was then considered as an alliance (Al-Anwar 2007). Later, both movements began their sit-ins, blocking downtown Beirut for several months. Moreover, Hizballah joined the FPM and its claims for a national unity government and electoral law reform.

27Hence, the relationship quickly centered on the movement’s agency and Hizballah could therefore be perceived according to its common or shared goals, or in other words, its policies. Its common or shared attributes, such as its Islamist ideology were no longer relevant in shaping perceptions, because the gains achieved by the FPM through its alliance with the Party of God subtly silenced fears or suspicions of the “Shia people” (ash-sha’ab ash-shi’i). It was in such a context of acceptance that the clashes in May 2008 between Hizballah and some “private militia” linked to the Future Movement did not substantively shake the alliance between the FPM and the “Islamist party” of the “Shia People.” Rather, Hizballah’s strong reaction was regarded as necessary to foil the attempts of the ruling clique to act against their political ally (Al-Balad 2008). It prevented the FPM from weakening.

28In addition, the Doha agreement that resulted, which was backed by Hizballah (and which became possible mainly due to the show of force displayed by the Islamist movement that ended the deadlock) allowed for the endorsement of a new electoral law based on much smaller circumscriptions. This freed Christian votes from costly alliances and gave them considerable political weight. This was perceived as a victory for a Christian community that viewed the Ta’if agreement and the old electoral law as the major causes of their “Ihbat” (frustration) and dispossession. Moreover, with the election of Michel Suleiman, it allowed the Christians to recover the presidency that had been weakened since 2004 by the successive waves of unrest the country witnessed, giving the Christians a balancing power over political decisions (ICG 2008, 1). These developments would not have been possible without the acquiescence of Hizballah, which in turn gained further recognition by a large part of the Christian electorate through its alliance with Aoun. Thanks to its favorable gestures toward the FPM, Hizballah reached out to an important constituency and managed to depict itself as a means of empowerment for the Christians.

29In such a context, the Party of God began displaying changes in its discourse. In campaigning for the 2009 elections, the Resistance label, although still vivid in the regions under its control,21 was revised to include the whole set of modern electoral terminology such as “good governance,” “state reform” and “fighting corruption.” This terminology is more acceptable to the Christians than “Defensive Jihad,” “Resistance” or “Martyrdom.”22 Hizballah’s attempt to appear as a more acceptable national partner is a strategic choice aimed at tackling the issue of some of its most problematic sectarian attributes, namely its Shia identity and image. Furthermore, the party often intervenes to settle “disputes” between its allies even at its own expense, such as conceding one of its electoral seats to its partners, the sometimes competing and turbulent Amal and the FPM (Naharnet 2009a; 2009b). Hence, Hizballah appears as the good willing “Grandfather” accommodating and consolidating the shared fate within the ranks of an opposition coalition with sometimes contradictory interests.

3.4 The Loose Institutionalization of the FPM

  • 23 Interview with an anonymous high ranking official of an opposition party affiliated with the March (...)

30“Look, if something happens to Aoun, the Tayyar [“movement/current” in Arabic, designating the FPM] will collapse, because it is not institutionalized.”23Whether an exaggeration or not, these words reflect a broad consensus on how the FPM works. The Tayyar is still centered on the personality of Aoun and the legitimacy of his leadership as a populist with an uncompromising stance toward his opponents in the political system, but lacks the structures to frame this popularity. When “NapolAoun” returned from France to lead the FPM from inside the political arena, the movement’s organizational structure was shaken in order to absorb the elements coming from abroad. Those loyal to the General were given influential high ranking positions. Some existing structures run by people from “within” (with the strong experience of activism that allowed the movement to survive the iron-fisted policy of repression under Syrian tutelage) were therefore dramatically influenced by the changes at the head of the movement. The appointments were made arbitrarily and not subjected to any procedural or democratic processes, upsetting many who felt that their work was not valued enough and who would have expected to be granted the influence they deserved for having offered so much to the movement. In addition:

All the party’s money, including recent donations received during the elections, and the financial support offered by expatriate Lebanese, was paid into the personal accounts of Aoun and members of his family, or into institutions such as OTV (the Aounist television channel) managed by one of his sons-in-law, Roy al-Hashem. This situation has raised many questions within the party. (ICG 2008, 4)

31It is often admitted that in times of crisis, it may be safer for social movements to entrust crucial tasks to trustworthy people who are loyal to the head and with whom the movement may be in a better position to face shaky conditions. Whether true or not, that is, whether FPM popularity suffered from the centralization of its elite or if this allowed the movement to survive attempts of destabilization by a hostile environment remains an open question. The point here is to highlight what the connection is between this loose institutionalization and the shaping of perceptions within the constituency. As we will see, the loose institutionalization implies that decision making is highly centralized and restricted to a narrow core of people. This in turn impacts heavily on supporters’ perceptions.

32While it is commonly accepted that a party system is necessary for the creation of a democracy, there is less agreement on how parties should be built in order to sustain the democratic system. In other words, the existence of parties and a competitive political system (plurality) does not imply that these are genuine channels of opinions and claims from the bottom to the top. One requirement that has received attention is that of party institutionalization. While the concept is understood in various ways and has many controversial definitions, I will focus on a number of notions of interest that I considered crucial for the understanding of the running of the FPM. In doing so, I adopt Randall and Svåsand’s stance toward institutionalization: “But even if we can agree on dimensions of institutionalization, a difficulty remains that these may not all be compatible but can pull in opposite directions […] This leads us to propose that rather than understanding institutionalization as a single process it is best regarded not only as multi-dimensional but as potentially taking a number of different forms” (Randall and Svåsand 1999, 9).

33Here, when I refer to institutionalization it is regarding one single party and not a party system even if the system in which parties function has an impact on them and vice versa. Thus, parties are organizations that could develop into institutions through institutionalization. This process can be dissected into a number of observable criteria that have been addressed by many studies, among which is the work of Basedau and Stroh (2008). In this study, the authors adapted the conceptualization of Randall and Svåsand developed in 2002 to obtain an operational framework that they subsequently used for quantitative study. Although it is not my aim here to produce a quantitative analysis, I nevertheless borrow the conceptualization they offer due to its analytical efficiency:




Roots in society



Level of organization


(Basedau and Stroh 2008, 9)

34Four dimensions of party institutionalization suffice to explain the level attained by an organization/movement, which are: External, Internal, Stability and Value Infusion. Value infusion refers to the appeal the organization enjoys among members and the electorate or, in other words, its necessary existence in terms of popular importance. On the external stability nexus, Basedau and Stroh place (a) roots in society; (b) for internal stability the level of organization; (c) autonomy for external value infusion; and (d) coherence for internal value infusion.

  • (a) Roots in society refers to the extent a movement or organization is entrenched in an environment, group or social fabric.

  • (b) The level of organization designates the degree of complexity within the movement’s structure. This can be the number of subunits but also the formalization of procedures and conventions that mediate and regulate the relations between these subunits and those with the external environment in which the organization operate (such as the relations linking it to the other entities).

  • (c) Autonomy relates to the degree of independence enjoyed by the organization from outside entities, such as states, political systems or other organizations (for example for its funding or decision making etc.).

  • (d) Coherence, as first developed by Huntington (1968), refers to the level of consensus regarding the movement’s boundaries and the procedures for solving disputes within these boundaries.

35Applied to the FPM, the movement is stable externally and has deep roots in society in that it represents a sizeable portion of the Lebanese population and has survived 15 years of political hostility. Moreover, it is autonomous in the sense that it does not depend on an external backer (however this will be further addressed later) like other organizations in the country, and coherent in that its political aura and membership are clearly defined and the movement presents no spillover or off-shooting trends. Hence the movement is externally recognized as being influential and can not be ignored. However, its internal organization is still embryonic. Formal subunits like committees, councils and commissions do exist, but the procedures relating to the internal processes within the organizational structure lack formalization, whereas conventions are only partly set up since there have only been partial exchanges and debates that could lead to their adoption. Therefore, internal democratic practices are still lacking. As already mentioned, the appointment of cadres was pursued independently and not through elections.

We are struggling to follow up! In two years, the FPM had to absorb 80,000 membership requests....and it only has three employees, the rest is voluntary work! We have a structure like any other normal party with a national council whose members are elected from the 26 councils covering all of Lebanon (Lebanon has 26 casas, or political circumscriptions). At the top, there is the president and two vice presidents. We also have an executive committee, an institutional committee etc... In 2005, the General appointed people, now there is a new policy and those interested in leadership should work on the ground for the upcoming internal elections in 2009. Right after the parliamentary elections at the beginning of June, we will start organizing the elections within the party for the end of the year. (Raffoul 2009)

36Therefore, decision-making processes are still monopolized by the top echelons and only partially subjected to popular approval. The channeling of opinons from the bottom to the top is therefore truncated, narrowing the possibilities for diverging views to be translated into effective policy. In other words, there is (still) very little room for expression for people at the bottom. These people still have roughly no other choice but to follow the path drawn at the top in terms of ideas but also political self positioning (or leave the movement). There is a kind of confiscation of the political culture and ideological positioning by the top of the movement.

37Party officials acknowledge these weaknesses. After having exposed what the movement achieved through its alliance with Hizballah and notably in the views of FPM members acquiescence to the alliance, Zyad Al-Abs (2009) agreed that the FPM suffers from a lack of institutionalization. Alain Aoun (2009) also concurs: “I am not saying I am happy with everything, of course I still have some reservations about how some things were handled.” And still others: “The General’s diplomatic adviser recognizes that, in terms of organization, the FPM is still amateurish. Some senior figures are calling for the formalization of nomination procedures for the Central Committee, the executive body of the Movement (at least theoretically).” (ICG 2008, 3).

  • 24 Interview with an anonymous high ranking official of an opposition party affiliated with the March (...)

38Moreover the relationship linking the FPM to other movements (and notably those in the opposition) reveals the sometimes confused organization within the movement.24 In addition, “implicit in the concept of institutionalization is the time dimension. A party cannot be said to be institutionalized if it is not able to survive over time” (Randall and Svåsand 1999, 10). Since 2005, the FPM has had almost no time for structure building to absorb the surge in its popularity as well as the political events that occurred, as reckoned by Dr. Pierre Raffoul (2009).

  • 25  Many do not believe that the FPM suffers from a lack of funding and point out to the sums received (...)

39Last but not least, the scarce availability of resources can be a factor that hampers efficient party building (Randall and Svåsand 2002, 18), and hence: “The FPM has a huge popularity but limited resources, we need money! Some sympathizers did not even have the necessary 20 USD annually to acquire membership. In 2007, Bush blacklisted the institutions or people helping the Tayyar financially, which hampered our ability to get funds from members or donors abroad” (Raffoul 2009).25

40In effect, the Tayyar is still a “tayyar” and not a party in real terms in that it suffers from a lack of internal institutionalization, which hampers the formalization of procedures and transparency. Thus, most of its members, especially the rank and file, are more followers than partners in defining the policies to follow, including the alliance with Hizballah. As already mentioned, it should be noted that the constituency is heterogeneous and that it was far from hostile to a rapprochement. In other words, even if the decision was made at the top, it found a receptive audience (at least partially). However, for those  who opposed the alliance, they could only acquiesece or leave the movement. Consequently, if decisions are made at the top of the movement, it contributes to the way people perceive Hizballah since the perceptions are (at best) “provided” by the top. If the loose institutionalization impacts perceptions by preventing the proper channeling of views from the bottom to the top, leaving the latter with a free hand to lead the opinions, it is when coupled to charismatic leadership that it has the biggest effect on perceptions. The next section, drawing on what has been said, will examine how institutionalization and charismatic leadership are mutually reinforcing and then analyze how this impacts on followers’ perceptions.

3.5 FPM Charismatic Leadership

41Charisma can play an important role in providing cohesion at the beginning of the formation of a party by supplying a decisive figure around which a core of supporters can coalesce and then spread the initial allegiance by turning it into an organizational vector of common action. It is nevertheless a negative factor acting in the opposite sense of any ‘systemness’ and internal organization. In general, the perpetuation of the leader’s figure impedes efforts at institutionalization by preventing the ‘routinization’ of leadership. When the party has no popular base to build on (or no clear roots in society), it is frequently no more than an ephemeral vector of individual interests, often for electoral purposes (Randall and Svazand 2002, 18-19). Hence the more the movement is based on charisma, the less institutionalized it tends to be. In addition, the less organized it is, the less democratic it is, leaving the top with a monopoly over decision making. A vicious circle is set.

42Although the FPM does not fit into the category of ephemeral party-vector since it is well grounded among an ample constituency and its origins date back to the end of the civil war, it remains centered around the magnetic figure of Michel Aoun. The actual FPM is centered on Aoun’s figure and communal representation of its background and political stance rather than a system of cohesive values endorsed by a precise party structure.

People tend to follow their leaders and Aoun managed to switch [the political positioning of] his people. I think he is leading the third Nahda (renaissance) of the Christians. In his view, the West doesn’t protect the Christians (of the East), what protects them is to be allied with political movements that are local. The FPM is based on charismatic leadership and not on bureaucratic leadership. In Hizballah, charisma is clear but institutions exist. (Fayyad 2009)

We told the General: let’s build the party with you, when you are still present! This is our idea right now. (Raffoul 2009)

43Numerous theories exist to describe the relation linking a leader to his base, or the efficiency of leadership. Building on the ideas of Weber, many have attempted to identify the elements through which the leadership succeeds in attaining the acquiescence of the people underneath.  Hence, traditional leadership theories focus on rational motives to sustain people’s acceptance of a leader. Later, behavioral and emotional effects as well as the role of the leader were considered to have a more important impact on the leader’s influence over his followers.

44Among the new theories are transformational leadership and charismatic leadership. Transformational leadership is defined in terms of the leader having an influence over his followers that leads them to sacrifice their self-interests for the sake of the organization and act in a way that enhances the organization’s gains. This is differentiated from transactional leadership where an exchange process mediates the leader-follower relationship and leads to the outcome described above. Charismatic leadership involves the followers attributing extraordinary qualities to their leader such as a strategic vision, compassion, courage but also taking personal risks, showing self confidence, etc. (Yukl 1999, 286-293). Charismatic leadership differs from other forms of leadership in that it is out of the extraordinary qualities that are attributed to them that they can elicit precise behaviors and/or patterns of acquiescence from their followers.

45Tackling the issue in the Arab world and Lebanon in particular, Abu Khalil stresses the preponderance of informal practices penetrating formal structures of organizations and parties. Hence each boss (or “za’im” in Arabic) in the country feels compelled to form a party around his figure where informal practices such as tribal and patron-client relations as well as charisma survived the implementation of formal procedures of governance. Hence, “another feature of party politics in the Arab world deals with personalism in politics. Despite the advances in articulating their interests and the propagation of messages by political parties, people in many countries still respond more immediately to personalities than to issues and abstract ideas. This is not unique to the Middle East region” (Abu Khalil 1997, 152-153). Similarly, Khazen sees the political system in Lebanon as being centered on party-based politics or on independent politicians, stressing the importance of personalities and charisma and the absence of democratic practices, transparency and accountability within political organizations and parties (el Khazen 2003, 605-606).

46However, it is Conger, Kanungo and Menon’s model that appeals to me the most because of its analytical features. In their model of Charismatic Leadership, the authors identify three consecutive stages that describe behavioral components of the leadership process. The first stage encompasses the followers’ perceptions of their leader’s will to challenge the status quo as well as his/her skills and abilities to identify and handle opportunities, constraints and followers’ needs.  “Managers who are seen as charismatic will therefore be more likely to be perceived as both critics of the status quo and as reformers or agents of radical reform” (Conger, Kanungo and Menon 2000, 749). Stage two comprises the followers’ perceptions of the leader’s drawing of an idealized and shared vision as well as his or her ability to present this vision in operational terms. It is the shared and the idealized attributes of that vision that determines the followers’ acceptance of the charismatic figure as the one who would satisfy their needs.

47Finally, the third stage refers to the followers’ perceptions that their charismatic leader is acting in a self sacrificing fashion and taking risky steps in implementing the vision they share with him. Through these efforts, the leader is meant to empower the subordinates and build trust. “Furthermore, in stage three, managers seen as charismatic will also be perceived to be deploying innovative and unconventional means for achieving their visions. Their ability to transcend the existing order through unconventional approaches heightens follower perceptions of the leader’s expertise and follower perceptions of control over events” (Conger, Kanungo and Menon 2000, 749). Accordingly, followers will not only perceive the leader according to its attributes but also change and/or adapt their behavior, attitudes and values in accordance with their leader’s will.

48Indeed, Aounist sympathizers during the civil war portrayed Aoun as the one challenging the status quo by rejecting the militia system during the fights and repudiating the way the same fights were diffused by “Big Brother” Syria. Self sacrifices abounded: Aoun could have accepted his place among the war-mongers becoming the new ruler in the newly signed peace, but refused because his vision of Lebanon did not match that of the militia leaders. The “free” and “sovereign” Lebanon could not exist under the rule of corrupt politicians depending on Syrian goodwill, therefore Aoun preferred exile to submission. Moreover, he managed to grasp the opportunity and handle the task of coming back once the Syrians exited. “NapolAoun” made no compromises and his vision has not changed: “siyada, hurriya, istiqlal.” Furthermore he has not lost his will to challenge the system that he perceives as being the cause of the country’s problems. Anti-establishment rhetoric and bold discourse prove his steadfastness and patent pledge for massive reform.

49In such a context, the relationship with Hizballah therefore becomes an innovative and unconventional means for achieving the vision. It proves Aoun’s expertise and readiness to open up to another actor and portion of the Lebanese population: Hizballah and ash-sha’ab ash-shi’i. Even though, as mentioned, the move was not uncontested, the broad FPM rank and file accepted it and those opposed had no way of expressing or preventing it. In general people acquiesced:

In identity politics, charismatic figures and rhetoric matter very much…People follow leaders’ decisions, they buy it… (Wimmen 2009)

What is surprising about these two movements (contradictory movements in appearance) is the capacity displayed by their chiefs to transform a political agreement into a conviction agreement. This adhesion of opinion is traditional among old militia leaders like Jumblatt or the Lebanese Forces. But Aoun was no militia leader and the public opinion of Aounists is very heterogeneous, so the fact that it adhered was not easy! There is a kind of Schizophrenia, a transformation into conviction. (Domont 2009)

50A very special feature of Lebanon is that five or six leader summarize the whole country! This has its own faults and advantages. Perceptions are linked to the leadership. So it can be witchcraft or an asset!! So it depends more on figures than on a system. (A. Aoun 2009)

51Therefore, people came to accept Hizballah as a partner. Although the party enjoyed some warm qualifiers such as “honest,” “organized” and “pure” in terms of its quasi-absence from day to day politics, it was Aoun’s return and the signing of the MoU that had the biggest impact on the perceptions and acceptance of Hizballah. Aoun himself acknowledges his rule and recognizes the changes at the social level: “People trust their leader; people trusted Michel Aoun and the MoU became possible. But you know, if there is a break between the Hizb and Tayyar, it will remain political, there will be no U-turn among people because they came to know each other” (M. Aoun 2009).

52As a consequence, it can be said that many FPM members did address the question of Hizballah by following their leader’s decision to have a rapprochement. The perceptions of the base were linked to the personality of Aoun and the trust felt toward him. Therefore, former positive depictions of Hizballah among rank and file FPM members were strengthened whereas mistrust and skepticism may have remained but the  impact was limited due to the follower effect. In this context, the top favored and spread the ideas about Hizballah’s honesty and transparency, already popular among Aounist activists. The thorny issues such as the Islamist identity displayed by the Party of God and the question of its resistance factory (its armaments) were no longer the dominant lenses through which the movement was depicted and the MoU was there “to set the rules” regarding these problematic features. Once these were set aside, the movement was perceived as the political partner as depicted by the top echelons of the FPM because the movement’s base trusted its leader’s decision.

3.6 The June 2009 Elections: ‘Routinization’ of an Alliance

53On 7 June 2009, the Lebanese elected their parliament members. The March 14th Coalition won with 71 seats against the 57 for the March 8th opposition, which left the situation virtually unchanged from the elections of 2005. The link between the election results and the perceptions of Hizballah among the FPM members is blurred, however different interpretations are possible. The elections are, of course, a test of the popularity of the FPM and thus of its alliance with Hizballah. Compared to 2005, a discernible decline can be observed for the FPM in terms of votes, even if the movement emerged stronger after the elections in terms of parliamentary representation. It will still lead the biggest Christian bloc in the Parliament. Without going into the details of the elections results, two main points are of crucial interest.

54First, when people discuss the popularity of the FPM, they compare it to the results obtained in the 2005 elections. Yet at that time the political context was far different in that the FPM and its allies were facing a quadripartite alliance regrouping the biggest Muslim movements in the country. Therefore, the surprising results of the Change and Reform Bloc, led by the FPM, has to be attributed at least partly to a sectarian impulse, since Aoun managed to depict himself as the sole defender of the Christians, the Maronite community in particular (ICG 2008, 6). Hence the argument that attributes the 2009 result to the disappointment of the Christians (still not ripe for “tchador and martyrdom”) who chose to punish the FPM for its understanding with an Islamist movement appears a little exaggerated.

55Second, although Aoun failed to persuade the Christians of his role as the sole representative of the community, the FPM scored very well in the Maronite strongholds like Kisrawan, Jbeil, Baabda, Zgharta, and had a strong showing in the Metn and remains the biggest Christian bloc in Parliament.26 Therefore, it is doubtful that the movement was rebuked for its alliance with Hizballah. Rather, I would say that in addition to the numerous interviews conducted and according to the status quo observed in terms of parliamentary representation as well as the results of the FPM in the Christian conservative heartlands, the MoU and the alliance with Hizballah are still well-received by FPM members.


14  Fouad Chehab; Lebanese military leader and president (1958-64).

15 When FPM members took part in the demonstrations on 14 March 2005 to signify their opposition to Syria’s presence, they were told by March 14th coordinators orchestrating the masses to stop shouting the slogan “siyada, hurriya, istiqlal” (sovereignty, freedom, independence). The three-word slogan is now used by the Future Movement (led by Saadallah Hariri, son of the slained Rafiq). (Conference of Simon Abirania, FPM member of the Foreign Relations Commission, Amshit (Byblos), local FPM office, 29 March 2009).

16 Even if their political appeal among the Shia is certainly smaller, these organizations nevertheless have an echo among them, and many Hizballah members or supporters did pass through the ranks of Amal, the SSNP or the Lebanese Communist Party. Yet, a large part of the Shia has no political affiliation, as is the case with other communities in Lebanon.

17 Interview with 3 FPM members before the discourse of Simon Abirania (member of the Foreign Relations Commission), Amshit (Byblos), local FPM office, the 29th of March 2009.

18  Interview with 3 FPM members before the discourse of Simon Abirania (member of the Foreign Relations Commission), Amshit (Byblos), local FPM office, 29 March 2009.

19 Interview with 3 FPM members before the discourse of Simon Abirania (member of the Foreign Relations Commission), Amshit (Byblos), local FPM office, 29 March 2009.

20  Many consider the warm welcome offered to Aoun in Syria as much more than a reconciliation, as it is often portrayed. The huge demonstrations of (mainly) Syrian Christians and Aoun’s visits to several Christian historical sites in Syria appeared as an attempt to portray Aoun as the main Christian figure in Lebanon and therefore to strengthen his position among the community there as its main representative.

21  Mona Harb (2004) provides an impressive account of Hizballah’s mobilization iconography and imagery.

22  Qifa Nabki, “The Age of Nasrallah”, 13 April 2009

23 Interview with an anonymous high ranking official of an opposition party affiliated with the March 8th coalition, Beirut, 24 March 2009.

24 Interview with an anonymous high ranking official of an opposition party affiliated with the March 8th  coalition, Beirut, 24 March 2009.

25  Many do not believe that the FPM suffers from a lack of funding and point out to the sums received from abroad as well as Aoun’s recent visit to Iran, in which the General is said to have enjoyed the Islamic Republic’s largesse.

26  Qifa Nabki, “Anatomy of a victory”, 8 June 2009


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