Lebanese Forces Poised To Become Parliament’s Biggest Bloc
Established at the start of Lebanon’s civil war, the party - which opposes Hizbullah - will be the largest Christian party in the country
This week’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon have produced shocking results rattling the country’s complex domestic political arena.
One of the parties that has gained ground is the Lebanese Forces (LF) party, which seems to have emerged as the biggest bloc in Lebanon’s parliament after Sunday’s elections, a boost for the Saudi-aligned Christian group which is opposed to the powerful Iran-backed Shiite Muslim movement, Hizbullah.
This outcome means that the LF will surpass Hizbullah’s main Christian ally, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, as the largest Christian party in parliament.
The LF was established in 1976 as Lebanon descended into civil war by Bashir Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, and other party leaders, uniting several Christian militias including the armed wing of his family’s Kataeb, or Phalanges party.
It was originally an umbrella organization coordinating all the right-wing militias of the LF and served to protect the group against numerous adversaries, particularly the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – which at the time had control over a large part of Lebanon.
The LF’s Lebanese foes included the militia commander and later politician Walid Jumblatt’s Druze forces.
Party leader Gemayel was assassinated in 1982, a month after he was elected president of Lebanon, following an Israeli invasion that reached Beirut. The killing triggered the massacre by Christian forces of Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.
In 1983, the LF was defeated by Druze militias in the Chouf mountains, forcing about 250,000 Christians to flee the area, the biggest single sectarian displacement of the war.
Its current leader, Samir Geagea, took control of the LF in 1986. Under his command, the LF remained the most powerful Christian militia and ran a Christian region of the country.
The final years of the civil war were marred by a bloody war between the LF and then-army commander Aoun, who was head of one of the two rival Lebanese governments at the time, vying for control of the Christian enclave. This conflict, known as the “war of elimination,” resulted in massive destruction in Christian areas.
Following the conclusion of the war, and the Taif agreement which officially ended the war, the LF agreed to the peace deal and relinquished control of its territory and weapons to the army in 1991. But tensions quickly emerged between the LF and the new, Damascus-dominated political order in Beirut as it became evident that the Syrian army was not going to withdraw as agreed upon in the peace deal.
Geagea was arrested and put on trial in 1994, after being accused of bombing a church and political killings during the war. He denied the accusations, saying he was the target of a politically motivated prosecution, describing the charges against him as made up by the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus.
Geagea was cleared of the church bombing but convicted of political killings. He spent 11 years in solitary confinement.
The Syria-backed Lebanese establishment outlawed the LF in 1994, imprisoning many LF activists and confiscating its assets.
Geagea was released from prison in 2005, and immediately went to work against the pro-Damascus factions including Hizbullah.
He is known to be a staunch opponent of Hizbullah, saying the group’s arsenal undermines the state’s authority and causes instability.
The LF elected to stay out of the government after a popular uprising against the sectarian elite in 2019, saying that the country’s political and economic woes can only be fixed by a cabinet independent of political factions.
Tensions grew and clashes erupted between supporters of the LF and Hizbullah and its Shiite ally Amal in Beirut in 2021. Seven supporters of the Shiite groups were killed. Hizbullah accused the LF of committing the deaths.
The LF denied the accusations pointing a finger at both Shiite parties’ backers.
Lebanon shares power among its religious communities, and politics is often treated as a family business. By convention, the president is a Maronite Christian, the premier a Sunni Muslim, and the parliamentary speaker a Shiite.