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Key players in Lebanon's power struggle

MOUKHTARA, Lebanon—Several of the key players in Lebanon's unfolding power struggle are familiar faces in this nation's bloody history: a fiery warlord turned graying politician, a failed coup leader turned prominent exile, a hostage negotiator turned parliament speaker and a firebrand cleric.

_ Walid Jumblatt, 57, Druze (Muslim sect) leader and parliament member. Holed up at his sprawling summer compound in Moukhtara, in the Chouf mountains some 40 miles southeast of Beirut, he's been the de facto leader of the opposition since his predecessor and ally, Sunni Muslim Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in a Feb. 14 bomb blast. Jumblatt is spearheading the public fight to oust Syrian troops and agents from Lebanon. He took over the Progressive Social Party from his father nearly three decades earlier and has run hot and cold with Lebanon's political masters in Syria since. The parliament member claims to have no political ambitions. Many Maronite Christian leaders in Lebanon have allied with Jumblatt, even though he sent his militia to purge their villages in the Chouf mountains during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

_ Michel Aoun, 69, former prime minister and Maronite general. With the blessing of the United States, Jumblatt's militia and Syrian forces drove Aoun into exile in France in 1990. In recent published interviews, Aoun, who led Christian forces during the civil war, said he planned to return to Lebanon before May's general elections, which could oust Lebanon's pro-Syrian government. Michael Young, opinion editor of Lebanon's English-language Daily Star, wrote in a column Thursday that Aoun and his supporters have to be "moved back into the mainstream" from their exclusionary, sectarian identity honed over a decade of "being treated as a punching ball by successive Lebanese governments."

_ Nabih Berri, 67, leader of the secularist Shiite Muslim Amal faction and the current parliament speaker. Berri, who helped secure the release of American hostages in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, has taken the pragmatic approach to the unfolding power play. He's refused to take sides and is playing the role of mediator.

_ Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, 45, the leader of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah faction, which receives arms and funding from Syria and Iran and operates as a political party as well as an autonomous militia in southern Lebanon. Nasrallah has remained on the sidelines of the current power struggle, although his Islamist faction has accused the opposition of serving as an American puppet. Nasrallah became secretary-general of the faction in 1992, after his predecessor, Sheik Abbas Musawi was killed in an Israeli helicopter attack in southern Lebanon. Under Nasrallah's leadership, Hezbollah has raised its political profile and now holds 12 of Lebanon's parliamentary seats. The United States considers the group to be a terrorist organization.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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