Qabalan is His Father’s Son.. Shiite Apprehension Over Taif Injustice 3 Decades later

احمد قبلان
In the midst of the protests against the Eid sermon of the Grand Jaafari Mufti, Ahmad Qabalan, which criticized the Lebanese society as well as the Taif Agreement, it serves well to remember October 1989 which history has repeated with precision. At that time, his father Abd al-Amir Qabalan held the same position of Grand Jaafari Mufti and rejected the Taif Agreement on the second day after its signing; only to walk back what he said unwillingly a few days later. He believed it “Does not fulfil the aspirations of the Lebanese people”. However, he did so because the agreement: “Ends the war and establishes peace”.

Is it then family tradition that the Mufti’s son, Ahmad Qabalan attacks the Taif agreement 31 years after his father, also the Grand Jaafari Mufti, criticized it at the time of its signing under international and Arab patronage?

Returning to October 1989, the date of the signing of the agreement. The Shiite political representation that was comprised of the AMAL Movement headed by Nabih Berri, the Shiite High Council headed by the late Deputy President Sheikh Mohamad Mahdi Chamseddine, and the Grand Jaafari Mufti Abd al-Amir Qabalan. The three received a great shock when they read the terms of the agreement. They had believed that the Shiite sect of which thousands of martyrs had fell in the Israeli liberation battles, along with its ally Hafiz al-Assaad deserved more recognition for their part in taking down the May 17th agreement, and they should have been more favored in the constitutional amendments in return. The removal of presidential powers in favor of additional privileged for the office of the Sunni Prime Minister was resoundingly surprising. Whereas, the position of Speaker of Parliament, which is reserved for Shiites, remained the same.

The Taif did not fulfill Shiite ambitions

Nabih Berri, the leader of the AMAL movement, remained silent back then out of respect to his allegiance to the Assad Regime. Sheikh Mohamad Mahdi Chamseddine settled by calling the Taif a “Necessary Agreement” as it ended the war. He neither defended nor praised it. He instead focused his efforts on the quick formation of a committee to abolish political sectarianism as stipulated in the Taif, in an attempt to cut the losses taken by the Shiite sect. On the other hand, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abd al-Amir Qabalan, then known for his candor and audacity, did not remain silent amidst all the ambiguity. He announced openly and on multiple occasions only days after the signing, that the agreement did not do justice to the Shiite community that sacrificed its youth to liberate Lebanon from the Israeli enemy. On November 6th 1989, the Mufti stated to Al-Nahar newspaper that the Taif Agreement “ does not meet the aspirations of the people who expected more from their representatives who went to Saudi Arabia in terms of getting the country away from a system of fear, privilege, depravation and injustice. Instead they ought to have developed a system that treats all Lebanese equally and allows them equal opportunities. Holding on to such a system and ignoring the aspirations of the Lebanese people keeps us within the cycle of violence and fighting, and it allows exploitation by foreign powers that have their own agendas. That would place the country in a crossroad of which the easier of the options is difficult. This serves the same system that some keep holding on to and is the cause of the illness and that must be eradicated.”

The Taif agreement truly did not meet the aspiration of the Shiite community; not merely in terms of political gains such as quotas as were the political leaders reactions at that time, but because it intentionally pushed the Shiite community away from the state in the direction of militarization in order to preserve its privileges

Qabalan added in the same interview that: “ When the Taif Agreement was announced, we contained the outrage of many from within our community who felt that their efforts and aspirations in building a state that relies on the rule of law were nullified. We explained that the agreement did not fulfill our aspirations completely, but we support it since it led to a cease-fire which is imperative. Ending bloodshed is a national, religious, and moral duty; thus, it was okay to concede in the interest of the common good of the country.”

In a later press interview with Al-Nahar newspaper, the Grand Jaafary Mufti Abd al-Amir Qabalan ended the controversy regarding the Taif Agreement and assuring the people of Lebanon and Shiites in particular by saying: “ When we refuse to establish a state for the sake of one sect, naturally we refuse any state that serves only one sect. The goal is to establish a fair and just state that equates all of its citizens in rights and duties and provides opportunities for those who are competent and capable. From our position as legitimate representatives in the Shiite Islamic High Council, we have declared to our community that there are no new earned privileges for the Shiites in the second republic. However, there is no longer any fear of returning to the 1943 agreement that was adopted by the two largest sects at the time, the Maronites and the Sunnis. That has become part of the past. This is despite the concerns of many within our communities, from both elites and common citizens, that have been confided to us fearing a return to that situation at their expense. That agreement created within the Lebanese community a class system that placed the Shiite sect in the bottom for a very long period of time.”

Greater than Hezbollah and Iran

Going back to the Grand Mufti Ahmad Qabalan’s speech, it is noteworthy that the media reactions that criticized him identified what he said as an appeasement to Hezbollah who are also against the Taif. Those who criticized him missed to important facts: The first is that the Taif agreement truly did not meet the aspirations of the Shiite communities in terms of political gains and sectarian quotas as the political leaders back then explained, but more importantly due to it pushing the Shiite communities towards militarization outside the state. It was as if the Syrians and sponsors of this agreement intentionally neglected the Shiite community in order to ensure they continue carrying arms and fighting to liberate their lands that was still being occupied by the Israeli enemy in the South. Following that, these forced would remain armed even after the liberation and would be used in regional and proxy-wars like Hezbollah are today with their interference in favor of the Syrian Iranian axis.   

The second and more important fact is that: Hezbollah do not themselves consider trading in their arms in return for constitutional amendments or amendments to the Taif agreement. On the contrary, their strategy is clear. Enforcing the sectarian system enshrined by the Taif Agreement, retaining their militia arms as a privilege similar to the Sunni prime minister’s extraordinary powers, and the Christian president’s veto power.

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