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Lebanon's Civil War Proves Violence Does Not Reconcile Factional Disputes

Lebanon's civil war proved that violence could not reconcile disputes between religious and political factions. The agreement that ended more than 15 years of bloodshed set forth a power-sharing formula that some today say could serve as a model for neighboring Iraq.

In the 1980s, the term "Lebanization" was coined to refer to civil war and bloodshed.

Beirut-based political analyst Sami Baroudi explains the war grew out of political disputes between Lebanon's Christian and Muslim communities. A Palestinian push for power and Israel's invasion in the early 1980s further fueled the conflict.

"Christians had better representation in parliament than Muslims. So, there was a perception that the share in power was not adequate," he said. "Also, there was a perception among the majority of Muslims that Christians were deriving more benefits. Most Muslims were in favor of Lebanon supporting unequivocally Palestinians in Lebanon. Most Christians were seeing the P.L.O. (Palestine Liberation Organization) as a destructive element in Lebanon."

The 1989 Taif agreement that ended the civil war set forth a power-sharing formula to resolve the disputes peacefully.

As a result, the term "Lebanization" these days has a very different meaning. For most, it is synonymous with reconciliation.

Magda Abu Fadil, who directs the Institute of Professional Journalists at Lebanese-American University in Beirut, says a key lesson was learned from Lebanon's civil war. "It's a no-win situation. War doesn't solve problems, because you're going to end up destroying yourselves," she said. "And, how long will it take to rebuild?"

The power-sharing plan gives both Lebanon's Christian and Muslim communities a voice in running the country. The president must be Christian, the prime minister Muslim. The seats in parliament are divided equally between Muslims and Christians.

Still, Sami Baroudi of Beirut's Lebanese-American University cautions that the rigidity of the power-sharing formula may not hold up in the long term. "Basically, this formula, where you have equality in terms of representation of Christians and Muslims doesn't reflect demographic reality," he said. "According to most accounts, Christians in Lebanon are no more than 30 percent of the population, and they still get 50 percent of the seats in parliament and 50 percent of the ministries. We don't know if 20-25 years down the line, the Muslims will still accept this formula. We don't know if the Christians will be willing to accept less than equality in representation."

Nevertheless, many Lebanese point to the formula as a potential model for neighboring Iraq, where leaders are trying to empower the country's Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities, without alienating those in the minority.

In southern Lebanon, Maha Salman says there are problems reintegrating communities that were cut off during decades under Israeli occupation. Ms. Salman, of the humanitarian organization, Imam Sadr Foundation, says it is a question of rebuilding national identity. "After the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, we have a very big program to integrate these people who were under occupation with their homeland, because a whole generation were cut from their homeland," he said. "Now they are living this idea. Before, they were not living this idea."

Some Lebanese politicians have faulted the government for spending more to rebuild the nation's infrastructure than it did to rebuild the bonds between the people.

Lebanese novelist Emily Nasrallah agrees the emotional wounds of the civil war still have not healed. "I wrote once that people have become little islands during the war, except when the shelters got them together," she said. "Now, you find the common thing among the people, they are little islands in peace, not in war, as if they are avoiding to see the changes they don't want."

The fragility of Lebanon's reconciliation has been used by Syria in part to justify maintaining a military force there. The latest United Nations effort to force Syria's withdrawal, so far, has not succeeded.

Syria's influence over domestic affairs has split Lebanon's political elite and recently sparked several resignations and a Cabinet reshuffle. But Lebanese insist any political wrangling for power these days will be resolved peacefully.