|Lebanese Social Democratic Party al-Kataeb|
|Ideology||National conservatism, Federalism, Christian Democracy|
Mainly Maronite Christian
The Lebanese Social Democratic Party — better known in English as the Phalange — is a right-wing Lebanese political party. Although it is officially secular, it is mainly supported by Maronite Christians. The party played a major role in the Lebanese War (1975-90). In decline in the late 1980s and 1990s, the party slowly re-emerged since the early 2000s. It is now part of the parliamentary majority, the March 14 Alliance, opposed to the alliance led by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement.
The Lebanese Social Democratic Party is also known as Phalanges Libanaises in French or Kataeb (الكتائب اللبنانية) in Arabic. Kataeb is the plural of Katiba which is a translation into Arabic of the Greek word Phalanx - "battalion" - which is also the origin of the Spanish term Falange.
The Kataeb party was founded by Pierre Gemayel in 1936, who modeled the party after Spanish and Italian Fascist parties he had observed in Nazi Germany during the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin. The movement's uniforms originally included brown shirts and members used the Hitler salute. Despite the party's uniform, its strong sense of nationalism and dedication to a single charismatic leader, the Lebanese Kataeb was not and never became a fascist party nor did it espouse a totalitarian ideology.
In an interview by Robert Fisk, Gemayel stated about the Berlin Olympics:
I was the captain of the Lebanese football team and the president of the Lebanese Football federation. We went to the Olympic Games of 1936 in Berlin. And I saw then this discipline and order. And I said to myself: "Why can't we do the same thing in Lebanon?" So when we came back to Lebanon, we created this youth movement. When I was in Berlin then, Nazism did not have the reputation which it has now. Nazism? In every system in the world, you can find something good. But Nazism was not Nazism at all. The word came afterwards. In their system, I saw discipline. And we in the Middle East, we need discipline more than anything else.
He founded the party along with four other young Lebanese: Charles Helou (who later became a President of Lebanon), Shafic Nassif, Emile Yared and Georges Naccache. Pierre was chosen to lead the organization, in part because he was not a political figure at that time.
During the first years of the Kataeb Party, the Party was strongly opposed to having anyone dominate Lebanon. They opposed the pan-Arabists who tried to take over Lebanon and also the French who had tried to infiltrate their culture and impose themselves within Lebanon. Pierre and the Kataeb Party have always believed in an independent and sovereign Lebanon free of all foreign influence. It actively took part in the struggle against the French Mandate, until Lebanese independence was proclaimed in November 1943. Its motto was "God, Nation and Family."
The influence of the Phalangists was very limited in the early years of Lebanon's independence, but came to prominence as a strong ally of the government in the 1958 crisis. In the aftermath of the crisis, Pierre Gemayel was appointed to the cabinet, and two years later, was elected to the National Assembly.
In 1968, the party joined the Helf Alliance formed with the two other big mainly Christian parties in Lebanon: the National Liberal Party of former President Camille Chamoun, and National Bloc of Raymond Eddé, and won 9 seats (of 99) in the parliamentary elections held that year, making it one of the largest groupings in Lebanon's notoriously fractured political system.
Amin Gemayel, who was President of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988 is the current leader of the Kataeb party. He is the son of Pierre Gemayel who founded the Kataeb party.
In April 1975 Phalangist militiamen were involved in the Bus massacre, commonly considered as the spark that set-off the Lebanese Civil War. In the following days, the 8,000-strong party militia, together with its allies, the Tigers militia and other formations, was heavily engaged in street fights against the Palestinians militias and the Lebanese National Movement.
During the Lebanese Civil war, many Christian militias were formed who gained support from the north of Lebanon. These militias were staunchly right-wing, nationalist and anti-Palestinian with a majority of their members being Maronite. The Kataeb party was the most powerful of these militias at the time of the Lebanese Civil war. The party later went on to help found the Lebanese Forces in 1977 which played a large role within the Lebanese Civil war.
In September 1982, Bachir Gemayel was elected President of the Republic by the National Assembly. He was assassinated less than a month later in an operation thought to have been arranged by Syrian intelligence and was in turn succeeded by his brother, Amine Gemayel. Bachir was thought to have been radical in his approach, and hinted at possible peace agreements with Israel while trying to expel all Palestinian refugees from Lebanon. In contrast, Amine was thought to have been much more moderate.
On 16 September 1982, Elie Hobeika led the massacre of between 328 and 3,500 Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, while the periphery of the camps were under the control of the Israeli army.
After the death of Pierre Gemayel in 1984, his successors Elie Karame and Amine Gemayel struggled to maintain influence over the actions of the Lebanese Forces, which become virtually independent. The Kataeb party began to decline, not playing a major role for the remainder of the war.
The party, lacking direction, broke down into several rival factions. Georges Saadeh took control of the Party from 1986 till his death in 1998. He took a moderate position toward the Syrian presence. Mounir Hajj became the president of the party in 1999, followed by a Karim Pakradouni in 2002. Amine Gemayel left Lebanon in 1988 after his mandate had ended, mainly to avoid a clash with Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces and avoid more Intra-Christian bloodshed. He returned in 2000 to oppose the Syrian role in Lebanon and to back his son's (Pierre) parliamentary election campaign (which he won). His sons Pierre and Samy, had returned in 1997 and had been working on reorganizing the popular base of the party. However his return was not welcome by the established leadership of the party who had become regime puppets. To distinguish themselves from the official leadership, Gemayel's supporters started referring to themselves as "The Kataeb Base" or "The Kataeb Reform Movement". General consensus amongst Lebanese always recognized Gemayel as the legitimate Leader of the party, not because of lineage but because most of popular support.
In March 2005 after the Rafik Hariri assassination, the Kataeb took part in an anti-Syrian presence demonstration, commonly known as the Cedar Revolution. It also became a member of the March 14 Alliance, along with the Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, Lebanese Forces and other minor parties. The Kataeb won 4 seats in the June 2005 elections, 3 representing the Gemayel Leadership (Pierre Gemayel, Solange Gemayel and Antoine Ghanem) and 1 representing the official leadership of the Party. However, they formed one parliamentary bloc after a reconciliation that took place in 2005. This reconciliation was marketed as gesture of good will from Pierre Amine Gemayel who deemed it was time to turn the page and give those who were unfaithful to the party principles a second chance. Practically, it was a way for Pakradouni and his men to leave the Party with as little humiliation as possible since the reconciliation deal stipulated the resignation of the entire political bureau after 2 years. This reconciliation saw Amine come back to the Party as Supreme President of the Party while Pakradouni stayed on as President. Samy Gemayel (Amine's second son) who had formed his own political ideas and identity at the time (much closer in principle and in manner to those of his uncle Bachir) was a very strong opposer of Pakradouni and his Syrian ties and thus was not a fan of this reconciliation. This drew Samy away from the party and prompted him to create a Think-Tank/Research-Center on Federalism named Loubnanouna (Our Lebanon).
In July 2005, the party participated in the Fouad Siniora Government, with Pierre Amine Gemayel as the minister of industry. Pierre played an important role in the reorganization and development of the party. His assassination in November 2006 was a major blow to the party. Syrian intelligence and "Fateh Al Islam" have been accused of the assassination. With 14 March Alliance forces, the party supports the Lebanese government against the illegal weapons of Hezbollah.
In September 2007 another Kataeb MP, Antoine Ghanem was assassinated in a car bombing. Solange Gemayel remained the party's only MP, since Pierre Gemayel's seat was lost to the Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun in a special election in August 2007.
In 2007 also, Samy Gemayel and (most of) his Loubnanouna companions rejoined the Kataeb, prompting a renaissance in the party. Pierre martyrdom playing a major role in public appeal, coupled with Samy's political ideas and persona.
In the 2009 Global Parliamentary Elections the Kataeb Party managed to win 5 seats. 1 in the Metn Caza, 1 in the Beirut-1 Caza, 1 in Zahle, 1 in the Aley Caza and another in the Tripoli Caza. The victories in Beirut-1 and Zahle as well the "piercing" (not allowing the opposition's list to win fully) in Metn were major upsets to the General Aoun's FPM who is an ally of Iranian-backed Hezbollah. These victories enabled Samy Gemayel, Nadim Gemayel (son of slain President Bachir Gemayel), Elie Marouni, Fady el-Haber and Samer Saade to join Parliament. In the first Government of PM Saad Hariri, the Kataeb were assigned the Social Affairs portfolio.