BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 13:19 GMT
Lebanon's cocktail of hatreds
Arrest of Lebanese Christians
Lebanon was plagued by religious jealousy for years
By the BBC's Religious Affairs reporter Mark Duff

Former Lebanese minister and pro-Israeli Christian militia leader Elie Hobeika has been killed by an explosion outside his house in Beirut.

Mr Hobeika was the product of an era that pitched Christian against Muslim, Sunni against Shia, and the Druze of the Shouf mountains against whoever it best suited them to be against.

Mr Hobeika, 45, was heavily implicated in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians at refugee camps in Beirut in 1982 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Israeli forces were blamed for allowing their right-wing Lebanese allies - including Mr Hobeika's militia - to enter the camps of Sabra and Shatila, killing men, women and children as they went.

For a generation of Lebanese and Palestinians the killing Mr Hobeika will bring evil memories echoing down the years.

Product of an era

He was the product of an era that pitched Christian against Muslim, Sunni against Shia, and the Druze of the Shouf mountains against whoever it best suited them to be against.

A Palestinian woman holds a helmet at a memorial service
The Sabra and Shatila massacre is still a source of great anger

It was a time that saw leaders within Mr Hobeika's own Maronite Christian community butcher each other - not to mention each others' wives, children and even pets - quite apart from members of rival religious communities.

All this was the result not just of human evil - though those who witnessed the killing at first hand may have thought that played a part - but of a bizarre and anachronistic political system which divided the country's top jobs on confessional - or religious - lines.

By the mid-1970s Lebanese politics was completely out of synch with the demographic realities on the ground.

Bloody cocktail

The presidency always went to a Christian, despite the fact that their traditional standing as the biggest group in Lebanon's patchwork of minorities was by now looking increasingly tenuous.

The Shia Muslims were the fastest growing and probably the biggest group in the country, though the outdated census records made it hard to be sure.

But all they got from the confessional carve-up was the parliamentary speaker's job - hardly the most powerful post in the land.

Poverty and lack of political clout stoked their resentment and encouraged the creation of organisations like Hezbollah to fight their case.

On top of the resentment of the Shia and the pathological insecurity of the Christians came the less than benign interest of powerful outsiders: the well-armed Palestinian refugee community inside Lebanon; the Syrians and, of course, the Israelis.

Put all this together and you end up with the bloody cocktail of tribal hatred, religious jealousy and political rivalry on which Elie Hobeika thrived.

See also:

24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Former Lebanese minister killed
28 Nov 01 | Middle East
Court postpones Sharon ruling
08 Aug 01 | Middle East
Lebanon rounds up Christian opposition
10 Aug 01 | Middle East
Crackdown on anti-Syria Lebanese
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Profile: Elie Hobeika
18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Israelis outraged by BBC documentary
19 Nov 01 | Europe
Sharon summoned by Belgian court
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories