Cedar Revolution 2005. Social Movement Theory and Political Opportunity Structure in Lebanon

Term Paper, 2013

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Outline of the Social Movement Theory, Specified on the Political Opportunity Structure

2. Political Opportunity Structure in Lebanon
2.1 Opportunities and Threats
2.2 The Political System of Lebanon
2.3 Turning Point 2000: Emerging Opportunities
2.3.1 Change of External Factors in the Region Syrian Predominance in Lebanon: Closure of the System and Loss of Legitimacy Withdrawal of the IDF and death of Ḥāfiẓ al-Asad: Opening New Opportunities
2.4 External Factors and their Impact on Internal Affairs
2.4.1 September 11 2001 and USA´s War on Terrorism: Syria Becomes an Enemy
2.4.2 International Community: UN Resolution 1559
2.5 Change of Internal Factors: Availability of Allies and Foreign Powers

3. Challenging the Syrian Presence: Culminated in the Cedar Revolution
3.1 Internal: Émile Laḥḥūd and Rafīq al-Ḥarīrī
3.1.1 The Military Power Network around President Laḥḥūd and Syria
3.1.2 Withdrawal of Syrian Forces from Lebanon
3.1.3 The Economic and Political Power Network around Rafīq al-Ḥarīrī
3.2 Assassination of Rafīq al-Ḥarīrī and Emerging Protests: Splits in Elites and Trigger of the Independence Intifada
3.2.1 Pro-Syrian March 8 Movement
3.2.2 Anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance
3.3 Protests and New Coalition-Building in Opposition to Elites Affiliated with Syria and Western Powers

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Outline of the Social Movement Theory, Specified on the Political Opportunity Structure

The social movement theory was being developed over a long period of time and still is, as an interdisciplinary study of the social sciences. Many scientists as well as scholars used this theory in order to explain why mobilization occurs, the emergence of movements, their revolutionary characteristics in general and the different types of movements in their different stages in specific. It deals with the political opportunity structure and constraints for a movement within a system or regime, the existing resources for a movement or its members to mobilize for their or its claims and last but not least the framing of its goals and demands in order to gain as much support as possible from the public and political sphere. Furthermore subject of these studies is the effect and the outcomes of mass mobilization and collective action on social, political and cultural spheres. There are different perspectives, in which e.g. the political opportunity structure is used as a variable to examine the social developments and the political outcomes and consequences. As the most important scholars who laid the framework for the today known theory have to be named Charles Tilly, Sidney Tarrow, Michael Mann, Doug McAdam.1

Framing represents generalization and defining of certain grievances and articulating it in distinctions between different factions of society.2 Different symbols, icons and so called empty signifiers can serve to mobilize people for a certain movement or goal. In all these elements there have to be different cultural specific characteristics taken into account, as Tarrow explains.3 Mobilizing is the second feature after the framing context is created, when actors use that context in order to mobilize as many people as possible. An example and probably the most effective way is mobilizing around death, because in that situation a huge mass can be reached and a emotionally charged brought on to the streets, as will be shown for the Lebanese case. The political opportunity structure examines the circumstances and the use of protest as a political resource. Furthermore it deals with the consequences of opportunities and threats to challengers used by power holders and how diverse political structures encourage greater or lesser degrees of opportunity to rebellious groups.4

In this theory, the key point is contention, creating and containing contention against political or social actors and opponents respectively. As the theory is called social movement theory it is mainly interested in and dealing with interaction of social actors on the micro as well as the macro sphere. “Contentious collective action” moreover serves according to Tarrow as “the basis of social movements […] because it is often the only way ordinary people possess to demonstrate their claims against better equipped opponents or powerful states”.5 The special feature, that distinguishes contentious collective action from “normal” actions, is that “ordinary people” are brought on to the political scene in confrontation with opponents, elites, states or other authorities.6 Interesting for analyzing the opportunity structure are furthermore the different power networks evolving around economic, military, state and ideological sphere.7

This paper will focus on the political opportunity structure as a variable in order to examine the Lebanese system and the impact of external factors on the internal opportunity structure of Lebanon, especially the Syrian presence, but the regional situation and the international community will be considered as well. In the beginning there will be an overview of the political system and its complexity. While doing this, the most important factors for applying the political opportunity structure theoretical approach will be scrutinized: First the opening of access to participation for new actors, second the evidence of political realignment, third the availability of influential allies and fourth the emerging splits within the elite.8

2. Political Opportunity Structure in Lebanon

2.1 Opportunities and Threats

As the political opportunity structure deals with interaction of state and society, it can be perceived as the playing field, in which framing context occurs and it is furthermore the prerogative for actors to participate in political context. In general, important for examining the political opportunity structure, are opportunities and constraints for political actors.

Opportunities describe “the [perceived] probability that social protest actions will lead to success in achieving the desired outcome.” Besides that opportunities define “any changes that shift the balance of political and economic resources between a state and challengers, that weaken a state´s ability to reward its followers or opponents or to pursue a coherent policy, or that shift domestic or outside support away from the regime, increases opportunities”9

According to Sidney Tarrow contention increases, when people gain access to external resources and are convinced to have opportunities to use them for their reasons, e.g. ending injustice or change of the social and political situation.10

Often described as the “flip side of opportunities”11 are threats, ‘threat’ relates furthermore to the risks and costs of action or inaction, rather than the prospect of success”.12 According to Tilly and Goldstone, as Tarrow quotes them, action or inaction of certain groups at a certain time depends not only on the costs, it rather depends on the possibility of success, the belief in possible success respectively, no matter how high the costs could be.13

One can see it in the Syrian case, as the regime tried to shoot down the protesters with a high level of repression and the threat to the protester´s lives. But nevertheless they went on, because they perceived the circumstances during the so called “Arab Spring” as their maybe only opportunity since more than 30 years of repression and used it. But anyway, the same can be observed in the Lebanese case during the so called Independence Intifada or Cedar Revolution 2005, as the public and the political leaders organized protests against the Syrian presence in Lebanon and especially its ongoing interventions on the Lebanese political sphere. The trigger for these actions can be seen in the killing of the former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri (Rafīq al-Ḥarīrī) in 2005. Different groups and political as well as social parties and actors used this event, according to Tilly named as “mobilizing around death”, to mobilize as many people and political actors as possible. After the gatherings, at which the withdrawal of the Syrian forces from the country was demanded, because they were perceived as responsible for the assassination, as it would not have been a surprise in the face of the long history of Syria´s direct involvement in political assassinations in the past.14

At that time there were new opportunities opened on the political sphere. New political alignments and coalitions could be forged where political as well as new social actors could define the new Lebanon without Syrian intervention.

New political opportunities were created, for the regime challenging (anti-Syrian) elites especially. Because by the time of the public and political challenge to the Syrian predominance in Lebanon, the “old guard” that was affiliated with the Syrian power was target of the power struggles within the public, but in particular within the Lebanese elites, around whom now could be formed new alignments against. Overall, former President Émile Lahoud was even before the killing of Hariri the cause for resistance against the foreign power. As his term for presidency normally would have ended, the Syrian President Bashar al-Asad (Baššār al-Asad) decided to extend his term for office, ignoring the Lebanese constitution.

2.2 The Political System of Lebanon

The case of Lebanon is very specific and one example of only few political systems in the world because of its deeply divided society along social and confessional lines. There have been many and long violent periods of conflict between the different groups in the history of Lebanon, which have not come to an end until the signing of the Saudi- led Taif (Ṭāᵓif) Accord in 1989. But still, at the beginning of the 21st century the state is marked by inter-confessional riots. There are different approaches in creating a stable political system in such a violent environment with deep rooted inter-confessional divisions that led over the time to distinctive patron-client relationships within the different confessional groups, as the Lebanese case is characterized by a struggle over identity, power and resource distribution. Because in this case the citizens relied more on their confessional or regional leaders than on the state, in consequence “powerful familial, tribal and religious leaders and a weak state”15 were created. As this situation was transformed into the political system, the development of a state-society framework was impeded.16

The period from 1990 to 2006 can be perceived as a stable period of non-violent political process and normal life in Lebanon, because the different confessional groups and all the former militias and warlords have had now to use political power and channels in order to achieve their goals.17 A balance of the power centers was institutionalized by the allocation of power to each of the three major sectarian groups: the president of the state had to be a member of the Maronite-Christian camp, the prime minister from the Sunni Muslim camp and the speaker of the parliament from Shia (Šīʿa) Muslim camp in order to represent the factions of the country equally. This forms the power center in Lebanese politics, the so called “Troika”.18

Although the civil war had come to an end, because the new system was based on sectarian divisions and on religious representation, the so created institutionalized sectarianism was the natural prerequisite for splits and conflicts on the political arena between the different confession groups. This confessionalization of parliamentary elections especially was used as a mean of political warfare, as Zein al-Din puts it.19 The new situation in post-Taif was characterized by the presence of two foreign powers inside the Lebanese territory: Syria by agreement and Israel de facto. Syria was established by agreement, recognized from Arab as well as western states playing a crucial role in post-war Lebanon like before France and Britain during the time of the Lebanese protectorate to safeguard the fragile peace.20 The Syrian involvement has restored and strengthened the ability of the various powers in Lebanon to coexist under a stable and strong regime.21 On the other hand, there was Israel occupying the south. The Arab-Israeli conflict determined one of the most important power networks in Lebanon, the military. Furthermore there are several issues that tensed the inner- Lebanese relations throughout the time the presence of foreign powers inside the country such as the Lebanese-Syrian and the Lebanese-Israeli situation, the abuse of the country for proxy wars, the defective electoral system, and international pressure for change, as Vanessa Shields put it.22

2.3 Turning Point 2000: Emerging Opportunities

2.3.1 Change of External Factors in the Region Syrian Predominance in Lebanon: Closure of the System and Loss of Legitimacy

Syria had entered the civil war on request of the former Lebanese president in the 1970s and played an important role in the country. Since the Taif Agreement had legalized the Syrian presence in Lebanon, the Syrian President Hafez al-Asad (Ḥāfiẓ al-Asad) managed to convince the international community of the advantages of Syria`s role in stabilizing the state as a whole and especially due to its positioning during the Gulf Crisis 1990 by joining the US-led anti-Iraq coalition and in the Middle East peace process.23 For the importance of the Lebanese lands for Syria regarding security measures and hence the need to gain control over the country there can be identified two different levels: On the one hand, there is the internal dimension, because Lebanon could serve as arena for opposition against Syrian regime and its leaders. On the other hand, there is an external measure in the struggle against Israel because of the strategic importance of southern Lebanon, as Israel has occupied the Golan Heights in the Six Day War 1967.24 It justified its assistance to establish a new order in Lebanon, which was further confirmed by several diplomatic agreements and treaties between the two countries, such as the Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation and Coordination 1991 and the Lebanese-Syrian Defense and Security Agreement in the same year. This way the demand of a withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon declined and these agreements formalized the domination of Syria´s military and security services in Lebanon.25

Due to treaties regarding economic cooperation between the two countries, there was a vacuum created for new elites from Lebanon as well as from Syria itself that was used to buy out loyalty and political support.26

As “Lebanon´s political system was still characterized at the end of the 1990s by power struggles for positions of strength and influence on personal, family-regional and sectarian basis”27, Syria used these system given instability of alignment and occurred as a crisis manager that softened inter-communal hostilities and solved inter-elite power struggles and created the illusion that without itself as mediator, the political system would be paralyzed. And this way, Syria defined the “political rules of the game for the Lebanese players”.28

So it profited from inter- and intra-communal rifts to make believe that it was helping different factions, and indeed the actors often accepted the backing of Syria as “modus operandi”29 in the same way as before during the French mandate and later with the western powers.


1 Further reading and an overview provides e.g. McAdam, Doug; David A. Snow: Readings on Social Move-

2 Tarrow, Sidney: Power in Movement. Social Movements and Contentious Politics, New York 2011, p. 31.

3 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 154f.

4 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 26 ff.

5 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 7f.

6 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 8.

7 Tilly, Charles; Sidney Tarrow: Contentious Politics, Boulder 2007, p. 57ff.

8 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 164f.

9 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 160.

10 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 160.

11 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 160.

12 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 160.

13 Tarrow: Power in Movement, p. 160.

14 Rabil, Robert G.: Syria, the United States, and the War on Terror in the Middle East, Westport 2006, p. 155. 5

15 Shields, Vanessa E.: “Political Reform in Lebanon. Has the Cedar Revolution Failed?”, in: The Journal of Legislative Studies, Vol. 14 (2008) No. 4, pp. 474-487, p. 475.

16 Shields: Political Reform, p. 475.

17 Shields: Political Reform, p. 474.

18 El-Housseini, Rola: Pax Syriana. Elite Politics in Postwar Lebanon, New York 2012, p. 14.

19 Zein al-Din, Massyoun: Religion als politischer Faktor? Eine Untersuchung am Beispiel der Frage des politischen Konfessionalismus in Libanon, Baden-Baden 2010, p. 192.

20 Zisser, Eyal: Asad´s Legacy. Syria in Transition, London 2001, p. 131.

21 Zisser: Legacy, p. 148.

22 Shields: Political Reform, p. 476.

23 Fakhoury Mühlbacher, Tamirace: Democracy and Power-Sharing in Stormy Weather. The Case of Lebanon, Freiburg 2007, p. 183f.

24 Zisser: Legacy, p. 133.

25 Bar, Shmuel: „Bashar’s Syria. The Regime and its Strategic Worldview”, in: Comparative Strategy, Philadelphia 2006, p. 408f.

26 Housseini: Pax Syriana, p. 22; Farangieh, Samir: “Redressing Lebanese-Syrian relations”, in: Salam, Nawaf (ed.): Options for Lebanon, Oxford 2004, p. 97-116, p. 110

27 Zisser: Legacy, p. 144.

28 Zisser: Legacy, p. 144.

29 Zisser: Legacy, p. 145.

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Cedar Revolution 2005. Social Movement Theory and Political Opportunity Structure in Lebanon
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg  (Lehrstuhl für Politik und Zeitgeschichte des Nahen Ostens)
Revolt and Revolution in the Middle East
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ISBN (Book)
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Lebanon, Libanon, POS, political opportunity structure, social movement theory, Middle East, Naher Osten, Außereuropäische Regionen, arabische Welt, arabische Länder, Levante, Zedernrevolution, Hariri, Innenpolitik, Syrien, Asad, Revolution, Israel
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Sebastian Voit (Author), 2013, Cedar Revolution 2005. Social Movement Theory and Political Opportunity Structure in Lebanon, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/301243


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