|Participant in Lebanese civil war (1975-1990)|
Al-Tanzim logo 1970-1990.
|Groups||Lebanese Front, Lebanese Forces|
|Leaders||Fuad Chemali, Georges Adwan, Fawzi Mahfouz, Obad Zouein|
|Allies||Kataeb Regulatory Forces (KRF), Guardians of the Cedars (GoC), National Liberal Party (Noumour)|
|Opponents||Lebanese National Movement (LNM), Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Syrian Army|
The Al-Tanzim, Al-Tanzym or At-Tanzim (حركة المقاومة اللبنانية - التنظيم | Arabic for “The Organization”) was the name of an ultra-nationalist secret military society and militia set up by right-wing Christian activists in Lebanon at the early 1970s, and which came to play an important role in the Lebanese Civil War.
The emblem of the group, a map of Lebanon with a cedar at the center, with the phrase "You love it, work for it" written below, was designed in 1970 during an expedition made by the Tanzim to the southern village of Kfarchouba, in order to assist the affected population in the reconstruction effort, following an Israeli air raid on the south of the Country. Kfar Chouba is a mainly Muslim village in South Lebanon and this act symbolized the Nationalist yet Secular ideals of the Tanzim.
The Tanzim was first formed in 1969 by a small group of young men who contested the Cairo agreement, which led them to break away from the Phalangist Party in the late 1960s in protest for the latter’s initial refusal to engage in nation-wide military training and arming of the Lebanese population in order to ‘defend Lebanon’ from the perceived ‘Palestinian threat’. Under the leadership of Obad Zouein, the breakaway group comprised Aziz Torbey, Samir Nassif, and Fawzi Mahfouz (also known as Abu Roy) – all were former militants of the Kataeb’s youth section and veterans of the 1958 Lebanon crisis – who decided therefore to create an underground paramilitary organization to support the Lebanese Army in the defense of the Country.
Shortly after its creation, the group moved to Beirut where they opened an office at the Christian quarter of Achrafieh, and began to recruit early on civilian members outside the Army – particularly individuals such as Milad Rizkallah, who joined the Tanzim in 1970 – mostly from the upper and professional middle-classes, including former members of the Maronite League. The civilian cadres proved instrumental in providing the new Movement with a political structure and program, embodied in 1970-71 with the creation of the Tanzim’s political wing, which began their activities under the covert title Movement of the Cedars – MoC (Arabic: Harakat al-Arz) or Mouvement des Cedres (MdC) in French.
Structure and organization
Since its inception, the Tanzim initially rejected the monocentric leadership structure typical of the traditional political parties in Lebanon by adopting a collegial decision-making board – the “Commanding Council” (Arabic: Al-Majlis Al-Kiyadi) – the first ever to emerge in Lebanon. Yet, such collective leadership system did not prevent the rise of preeminent figures who dominated the Movement's leadership like the physician Dr. Fuad Chemali in 1972, succeeded by the lawyer Georges Adwan in 1973. Involved since 1969 in the clandestine military training of Christian volunteers in secret camps such as Fatqa and later on Tabrieh (both located in the mountains of the Keserwan District) in collusion with the Kataeb Party, the MoC in the early 1970s began to quietly raise its own military wing, whose military headquarters was established in the Dekwaneh District of East Beirut. Although by 1977 more than 15,000 young men and women had trained at the above mentioned facilities (the majority of them joined the ranks of the other Christian militias), the Movement only proceeded to recruit very few out of this total, due to three main reasons:
1- The secret nature of such training, which rendered the selection process very delicate;
2- The limited financial resources available to the group, to a point that the volunteers had to cover their own training expenses by paying minimal fees.
3- The quality of men and women the Tanzim was looking for, and this reflected a lot on the clean reputation that the group maintained throughout the war, as well as having the lowest casualty rate, despite having its militia spearheading many difficult military engagements, mostly due to their mobility along the front.
Initially backed by the Lebanese Army, the MoC/Tanzim also received covert funding and weapons from Jordan and Israel, most of it being channelled via the Phalangists and the Maronite League. The movement enjoyed a close relationship with the Lebanese Army since the mid-1970s, which made some observers to believe that the Army’s predominantly Christian High Command was somewhat directly involved in the formation of the MoC.
At the outbreak of the 1975-76 civil war, the Tanzim forces were organized into autonomous mobile groups of several dozen fighters, with each being coded as "tanzim of the region x or y" (the organized group of region x or y). Deployed to different fronts and neighbourhoods, their mission was to be present wherever the fighting required them; hence the MoC/Tanzim was the only Christian militia that had attained such a degree of tactical mobility and discipline. Unlike the main Christian factions, the tanzim was one of the few ideologically-committed groups – other than the Guardians of the Cedars – that never tried to establish its own fiefdom or canton, nor appears to have been involved in illegal financing activities such as drug trafficking.
Since its membership included militants of any political background and affiliation (Kataeb, Ahrar Party, etc. ...) or none whatsoever, the MoC/Tanzim claimed that what united them was their integrity and their common belief in the liberty and sovereignty of Lebanon as a country for all Lebanese. In reality, they were a predominately Maronite and Phoenicianist-oriented organization, being violently anti-communist, staunchly pro-western, and very hostile towards Pan-Arabism, characteristics which reflected on its program and politics.
In the early 1970s the movement adhered to an extremist Lebanonist ideology akin to that of the Guardians of the Cedars (GoC), with whom they developed a close political partnership. Not only the Tanzim shared with the latter the same radical views regarding the Palestinian presence – and later Syria’s role – in Lebanon, but also went as far as adopting the “Lebanese language” written in the GoC’s Latin script for their own official documents.
The Tanzim in the 1975-76 Civil War
Tanzim militiamen made their first public appearance in May 1973 at Beirut during the Bourj el-Barajneh clashes, when the Lebanese Army command indirectly called them to assist regular troops in preventing PLO guerrillas from entering Army-controlled areas. It was not until the 1975-76 civil war however, that the MoC/Tanzim got the opportunity to plan and carry out its own military operations free from Army control, thus becoming a truly independent organization.
The discipline and organizational abilities displayed by the MoC at the opening months of the civil war allowed the Movement to engage actively in the foundation of the Lebanese Front. Conversely, its 200-strong Tanzim militia, led jointly by Fawzi Mahfouz and Obad Zouein, saw the heaviest street fighting ever in East Beirut, including the Battle of the Hotels and the Karantina and Tel al-Zaatar massacres. At the later battle they reportedly contributed with 200 militiamen, allegedly Army regulars in desguise.
Following the collapse of the Lebanese Army in January 1976, the Tanzim volunteered ostensibly to defend and protect more than half a dozen army barracks located in the Christian districts of East Beirut, including the Defense Ministry and Army HQ at Yarze. Moreover, the Movement saw this as an opportunity to expand its own military forces by incorporating defectors from the regular Army. Hence by March 1976 the Tanzim ranks swelled to 1,500 armed men and women backed by a small fleet of all-terrain vehicles or 'technicals' and some transport trucks (US M151 jeeps, Land-Rover series II-III, Dodge Power Wagon W200 and Toyota Land Cruiser (J40) pickups, plus US M35 2½-ton cargo trucks) fitted with heavy machine-guns, Anti-Aircraft autocannons, and recoilless rifles.
During that same month, they were heavily committed in the battles for the Mount Lebanon region against the Lebanese National Movement/Common Forces being frequently employed as a ‘fire brigade’ to fill gaps at the front, notably at Achrafieh, Tayyouneh-Lourdes, Kahale, Sin el Fil, and Ayoun es-Simane to name but a few, sustaining heavy casualties in the process.
Integrated into the Lebanese Forces in 1977, Tanzim’s militiamen later again played a key role in the eviction of the Syrian army out from the Christian-controlled East Beirut in February 1978, where they manned the Fayadieh-Yarze sector of the Green Line.
Reversals and re-organization: 1976-79
Syria’s military intervention in June 1976, and its tacit endorsement by Georges Adwan (who commulated the MoC's presidency with that of secretary-general of the Lebanese Front at the time), however, caused the Movement to factionalize, splitting into a pro-Syrian element headed by Adwan himself and a radical anti-Syrian majority gathered around Mahfouz and Zouein. An attempted coup orchestrated by Adwan, in which the latter tried to take over the "Tanzim" Dekwaneh's military HQ resulted in a deep rift within the organization. Both Mahfouz and Zouein, which opposed Adwan's position and behaviour, played a crucial role in preventing further internal bloodshed among the group member's (despite the fact that Adwan had murdered Tony Khater, a fellow "Tanzim" member) regaining control of the Movement, and ousting Adwan from the "MoC/Tanzim" leadership board in late that year.
Eventually, the movement’s representation in the Lebanese Forces' Command Council was subsequently bestowed by Bachir Gemayel upon Mahfouz, with Zouein being appointed the new Tanzim's secretary-general, and in 1977 the new leadership prudently allowed the Tanzim military wing to be absorbed into the Lebanese Forces. The MoC remained politically autonomous though, and in 1979 the Movement finally went on public as a political party by declaring its manifesto at the inauguration ceremony of the Tabrieh cedar memorial (Arabic: Ghabet el-Chahid) in honor of its 135 martyrs, presenting itself under the title Tanzim: Lebanese Resistance Movement – (T) LRM (Arabic: Tanzim: Harakat al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniyyah) or Tanzim: Mouvement de Resistance Libanais (T-MRL) in French.
The later years
With the political demise of the Lebanese Front in the late 1980s, the LRM began to take part in the foundation of the Bureau Central de Coordination Nationale – BCCN, an umbrella organization regrouping several small political groupings and associations that rallied in support for General Michel Aoun’s interim government, with members of the Tanzim’s Commanding Council Roger Azzam and Pierre Raffoul rising to the leadership of the new force. Their vocal opposition to the Syrian-sponsored Taif agreement led them to actively support Aoun’s ill-fated War of Liberation in 1989-90, which forced the movement to go underground for some time and threw most its leaders into exile.
Despite this, many former Tanzim members chose to remain in Lebanon and continued to carry out their militancy within the BCCN throughout the 1990s, later helping in the establishment of the Free Patriotic Movement – FPM, a wider anti-Syrian Christian political coalition led by the exiled Aoun. During the March 2005 Cedar Revolution, the BCCN-FPM alliance played once more an active part in the demonstrations that brought an end to the Syrian military presence in Lebanon.
Upon the return of Aoun from exile in April that year, the FPM was established as the official Aounist political party, an act that deprived the BCCN of its main raison d'être. Inevitably, the movement factionalized, and within a few months it announced publicly its own dissolution. Both the LRM – which virtually ceased its activities by the mid-1990s – and the At-Tanzim militia no longer exist.
The ‘Tanzim Party’
The ‘Tanzim Party’ (Arabic: Hizb al-Tanzim) or ‘Parti du Tanzim’ in French as its name implies, was a MoC/Tanzim splinter faction established by Georges Adwan shortly after been ousted from that organization’ presidency in late 1976. Backed by Syria, the group was about 100-200 men-strong, backed by a few gun-trucks equipped with HMGs and recoilless rifles, and operated from the Muslim-held sector of West Beirut. However, during the “Hundred Days War” in February 1978, most of the ‘Tanzim Party’ militiamen switched sides to rejoin their former party’ comrades of the MoC/Tanzim militia and fought ferociously against Syrian Army troops at the Fayadieh and Yarze districts of East Beirut. Thus deprived of their fighting force, the ‘Tanzim Party’ was gradually pushed to the sidelines and ceased its activities around the mid-1980s.
Adwan was able to survive politically though, and in 1989-1990 he even tried unsuccessfully to broker an agreement between General Michel Aoun’s Army and the Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea. After the war, he joined Geagea’s Lebanese Forces Party, which allowed him to be elected in 2005 to the Lebanese Parliament as that party’s deputy for the Shouf district. The ‘Tanzim Party’ is no longer active.
- Army of Free Lebanon
- Bachir Gemayel
- Guardians of the Cedars
- Lebanese Civil War
- Lebanese Forces
- Lebanese Front
- Tigers Militia
- Kataeb Regulatory Forces
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- Snider, The Lebanese Forces… (1984), pp. 6-7, footnote 4.
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- Rex Brynen, Sanctuary and Survival: the PLO in Lebanon, Boulder: Westview Press, 1990.
- Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War, London: Oxford University Press, (3rd ed. 2001). ISBN 0-19-280130-9
- Roger J. Azzam, Liban, L'instruction d'un crime - 30 ans de guerre, Cheminements, Paris 2005. ISBN 978-2-84478-368-4 (in French)
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- Samer Kassis, Véhicules Militaires au Liban/Military Vehicles in Lebanon 1975-1981, L’Echo des Cedres, Beirut 2011. ISBN 978-1-934293-06-5