Saudi Arabia’s determination helped end the Lebanese Civil War
On Oct. 22, 1989, 23 days of intensive talks between the 30 Muslim and 32 Christian members of the Lebanese parliament at the Saudi Arabian resort of Taif ended with agreement on a national reconciliation charter, designed to end 15 years of civil war.
Multi-sectarian Lebanon had been plunged into a brutal conflict in 1975 partly because the allocation of parliamentary seats along religious lines, established during the French mandate from 1923 to 1946, had not been adjusted to take account of a shift in demographics in favor of Muslims.
What became known as the Taif Agreement, the result of determined diplomacy by Saudi Arabia and the Arab League, paved the way to peace. As one jubilant MP from east Beirut told Arab News on the day agreement was reached: “We have extricated the tumor from the Arab body and stopped the bleeding which was painful and interminable.”It was a prognosis that was to prove over-optimistic.
PARIS: The Taif Agreement was the outcome of a concerted attempt by Saudi Arabia to bring about an end to the Lebanese Civil War. Other parties included Syria’s Hafez Assad, the US administration, and the various Lebanese factions fighting in the war. Saudi Arabia wanted to find a solution involving all these players to stop the war and bring about an improvement on the 1943 Lebanese National Pact.
This pact was the unwritten agreement between then-President Bechara El-Khoury and Prime Minister Riad Al-Solh that founded independent Lebanon as a multi-confessional state. It was a power-sharing arrangement between Christians and Muslims, whereby the president was always required to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shiite. The powers handed down were of particular benefit to Lebanon’s Christians. The civil war required an adjustment in this equilibrium. It also required an adjustment in Lebanon’s relations with the Arab world in a period where Assad was getting more powerful, with the aim of being more influential and hegemonic in Lebanon.
The Taif Agreement was fathered by then-Speaker Hussein El-Husseini, who was hosted by Saudi Arabia in Taif under the guidance of the late Prince Saud Al-Faisal and a Lebanese friend of the Kingdom, who was then a businessman, named Rafik Hariri. The agreement covered political reform, giving full power to the Council of Ministers and greater power to the Muslim prime minister, as opposed to previously, when all powers were concentrated with the Christian president. It established special relations between Lebanon and Syria and a framework to begin Syria’s withdrawal from the country. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa later denied there was a commitment made to Prince Saud to withdraw from Lebanon. It was only after the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri in 2005 that Syria finally pulled out.
“We have extricated the tumor from the Arab body and stopped the bleeding which was painful and interminable.”
Lebanese MP in Arab News, Oct. 23, 1989
Saudi Arabia had, since the late 1970s under Lebanese President Suleiman Frangieh and then Elias Sarkis, joined all Arab and international efforts to bring an end to the war in Lebanon. The Taif Agreement achieved this after it was approved by the Lebanese Parliament on Nov. 5, 1989. Rene Moawad subsequently became president.
When Saudi Arabia pushed for the peace conferences in Geneva and Lausanne in 1983 and 1984, respectively, but failed to stop the war, it continued to mediate with the involvement of the Arab League Tripartite Committee to Lebanon, under the chairmanship of Prince Saud. The representatives from Morocco and Algeria were former foreign ministers Abdellatif Filali and Sid Ahmed Ghozali, respectively, and they were joined by the Arab League’s Special Envoy to Lebanon Lakhdar Brahimi.
Fighting between Maronites and Muslims in Lebanon begins when suspected PLO gunmen attack a Christian church in East Beirut, killing four. Phalangists retaliate, killing 30 Palestinians in a bus, triggering widespread fighting.
The Arab League summit in Riyadh calls for an end to the civil war and creates the peacekeeping Arab Deterrent Force.
Start of the Hundred Days’ War in Beirut between Christian militias and the mainly Syrian troops of the Arab Deterrent Force.
Israel invades southern Lebanon to halt attacks over the border by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Christian phalangist Bachir Gemayel, former leader of Lebanese Forces Maronite militia, is elected president.
Gemayel and 26 other high-ranking Phalangists are killed by a bomb planted by a Maronite Christian.
Outgoing president Amine Gemayal defies precedent and appoints a fellow Maronite Christian, General Michel Aoun, as prime minister, a role traditionally reserved for a Muslim.
Aoun declares war of liberation against Syrian occupation.
The Taif Agreement is reached, but opposed by Aoun.
The Taif Agreement is ratified and parliament elects Maronite Christian René Moawad as Lebanon’s 13th president.
Moawad is assassinated by unknown assailants.
Aoun is driven into exile in France by Syrian forces.
Aoun returns to Lebanon after Syrian troops finally withdraw.
Aoun is elected president of Lebanon.
The last committee meeting in Rabat before Taif in 1988 was when these three ministers summoned Al-Sharaa and warned him that they had proof of Syria’s arming of both then-Prime Minister Michel Aoun’s army and the Lebanese Forces headed by Samir Geagea. Aoun had been appointed interim prime minister by outgoing president Amine Gemayel, who did not accept Assad’s diktats. Assad’s forces pounded the Christian stronghold of Achrafieh. Aoun, protected by French Ambassador Rene Ala, then left for France to begin his long exile.
(Rafik) Hariri was shuttled between various world capitals to organize a conference in the Kingdom to agree on reform and the election of a president
Efforts to end the war did not stop and Saudi Arabia worked through two negotiators, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and Hariri. This was the outset of Hariri’s political involvement on the Lebanese scene. King Fahd entrusted Prince Bandar to direct efforts for a solution in Lebanon, and Hariri was shuttled between various world capitals to organize a conference in the Kingdom to agree on reform and the election of a president.
Hariri managed to persuade the Lebanese deputies to come to Saudi Arabia, where they were hosted in Taif. They agreed to correct the balance of power and give more influence to the Council of Ministers and the Muslim prime minister.
Saudi Arabia thus took the initiative and helped put the Lebanese Parliament back into action, since negotiations with the militias had failed to achieve peace. The Taif Agreement was concluded, but Aoun never accepted the terms. Following the election of Moawad and his assassination 15 days later — as he was returning from the Lebanese Independence Day celebrations — Zahle deputy Elias Hrawi, who was favored by the Syrians, became president.
One unforgettable sentence uttered by a brilliant French diplomat, having served in Lebanon, still rings true in view of the disastrous situation currently prevailing there: “The political class who made the civil war in Lebanon is still in power, but it cannot succeed in ruling the country.”
- Randa Takieddine is a Parisbased Lebanese journalist who writes for Arab News. She covered the last committee meeting in Rabat before Taif in 1988 for Al-Hayat and headed its bureau in France for 30 years.