For some time now it has been clear that not everyone in Christian Lebanon is singing from the same hymnbook. In the wake of Sunday’s by-election result the community appears deeply divided. While the voting went ahead peacefully, the violent confrontations between Christian groups overnight does not bode well for the presidential election next month. The split in the Christian Maronite community runs deep. Amin Gemayel’s father founded the right-wing Phalange party that has long commanded the support of the majority of Christians in Lebanon. His narrow defeat shows his family’s position is under fire. The tiny winning majority for Michel Aoun’s candidate yesterday also does not do him any favours. This opposition politician with ambitions for the presidency wanted to show that he could mobilise the Christian vote.
That community forms a majority in Lebanon; the Maronnite, Aremenian and Orthodox Christians outnumbering the Shi’ites, Sunnis and Druze. Lebanon’s sectarian constitution demands that the president, who is elected by parliament, must be a Christian. Michel Aoun, a long time anti-Syrian, drew a great deal of criticism for his decision in 2006 to ally with the Shi’ite Hizbollah, the guerrilla movement backed by Damascus. He says he wants to transcend social and religious boundaries, and help Christian and Muslim live side by side, putting the 15 years of civil strife, which ended in 1990, finally behind them. This by-election result shows his argument has not necessarily won over his natural constituency. To retain their pre-eminence Lebanese Christians need to find common ground ahead of the presidential elections.