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The Lebanese and Cyprus Civil Wars Research Paper



Lack of unity and harmony in any country plays a pivotal role in the fueling conflicts and wars. Historically, many nations have fallen victims of civil wars due to the failure of the governing bodies to resolve internal conflicts. Research has shown that political conflicts are among the leading causes of wars in the world. Other types of conflicts that have proven detrimental to the well-being of a nation are religious conflicts, which have been the major cause of war in most of the nations in the Middle East. The Lebanon and Cyprus civil wars were caused, among other issues, by political differences as well as some religious aspects of the different groups in the nations. This paper gives a comparison of the Lebanese and Cyprus civil wars.


The political parties in both cases were willing to go to the furthest extend to achieve their political goals. The leaders of the nations seemed to be an obstacle to political changes in the nation. Owing to this, the opposition groups planned to overthrow the national leaders and assassinate those who were opposing the changes in governance. For instance in Cyprus, when the coup de etat did not succeed, the Cypriot president, Makarios, was put to death in attempts to change the governance system of the nation. However, it was not the ultimate solution of their problems as far as governance is concerned since in both nations, war intensified after the assassinations.

The composition of the cabinet ministers was a crucial factor as far as maintaining political balance is concerned as portrayed by the rival parties in both nations. Towards the end of 1963, Archbishop Makarios proposed embarked on preventing the action of the London-Zurich Accords. He released the “Thirteen Points” which would be his stool against the accord (Camp 134) and the British influence on his leadership. The ultimate result of his act was the ethnic. Consequently, the republic came to a political deadlock. The accords sought to increase the representation of the Turkish Cypriots in several public institutions. They included the army and police forces, cabinet and the House of Representatives among others. Additionally, the Accord stipulated that the vice presidency would be the top seat of the Turkish Cypriot or rather it would be occupied by one of the Turkish Cypriots. Makarios’ move to challenge the details of the Accord caused political conflicts between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. It is noteworthy that the Turkish Cypriots never supported Makarios’ “Thirteen Points”.

On the other hand, during the Lebanese war, the president dissolved the existing cabinet and announced that a military cabinet would lead the nation. This increased the level of instability in the nation an aspect that made the president to do away with the military cabinet. It did not take long before the president led the formation of a cabinet that favored most of the sects i.e. each of the religious sects had a representative in the newly formed cabinet. The latter was in line with the people’s preference, which led to a remarkable decrease in the intensity of the war.

The efforts of political leaders to remain in power in both nations fueled most of the crisis during the wars. The first president of Cyprus, Makarios, did everything in his power to maintain not only his political stature but also the leadership of the nation. For instance, he wrote a letter about the Junta movement to Britain exposing all the issues that he believed would make the British act in his favor. On the contrary, the letter fueled the start of the war since Britain interpreted it as an illustration of Makarios’ dictatorship. Consequently, Britain supported groups that sought to remove Makarios from power.

On the other hand, the greed and efforts of the Lebanese politicians to remain in power played a pivotal role in fueling the Lebanese crises. The political leaders supported the militia groups, which in turn fueled more crises in the nation. Instead of helping the communities solve their differences amicably, the politicians used the communities’ weaknesses to gain political power or rather to lure the people to vote for them. Feudal, sectarian and religious ill feeling was the ever-present negative tendency. Politicians had an easy task convincing their voters to keep supporting them. It is noteworthy that in Lebanon sectarian and feudal influence is so strong that people can tell who will be representing them in parliament for the next hundred years. At any given time, the Lebanese could tell which minister would be staying and which would be leaving.

The fear of being defeated by another group/sect became a key factor in policymaking. This made the two nations a fertile soil for overseas intervention. Foreign intervention seemed an accepted practice for the politicians in both nations. Lebanese politicians saw no shame in reaching out to the Egyptians, Turks, English, and French to support them against each other. Other countries such as America, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya also seemed to take sides as far as the rival groups were concerned. A politician or a sect/group would align themselves with one of these powers to sustain their position in the government. The PLO indirectly received support from other nations. For instance, the Libyan government under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi promised to use all its available military and economic resources to support the Palestinians in winning the war against the Lebanese. Regional changes always had a ripple effect on Lebanon. Additionally, the Lebanese embraced the non-Lebanese phenomenon with open arms e.g. the emergence of Nasser in Egypt (Soubra 12). In April 1976, Syrian forces entered Lebanon in support of the government and its political allies and clashed with the opposing PLO/Lebanese coalition. The objective of the intervention was to contain the expanding military, and by extension political, dominance of the PLO and their Lebanese allies.

As far as the pre-war period is concerned, both nations failed to address issues of their political regimes. Despite the sectarian nature, the pre-civil-war Lebanese political system exhibited features that are normally identified with modern western political systems. Such features include the freedom of expression, a variety of political parties and groupings, openness to the outside world and support of the private sector, along with the historical political traditions associated with sectarianism and clientism. The latter features dominated the governmental power structure. While the Lebanese political system continued to function, it began to show signs of increasing strains in the early 1970s. Since the elements of political instability were not properly addressed, they gained momentum over time (Ghosn, and Khoury 390). They included political calls to readjust the formula of power sharing between the Christians and Muslims, uneven development among the various regions with great disparities in income distribution and rural migration to the urban centers. These were accompanied by unchecked and rapid growth of the poor suburbs that surrounded the major cities, Beirut in particular.

Difficulties had risen over the large number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as well as the presence of Palestinian guerillas, mirroring the internal Lebanese sectarian identity struggles. The already existing Muslim-Christian political, social and economic differences grew more intense in 1973. The Palestinian problem fitted leftist, pan-Arab, mostly Muslims against right wing, Western oriented, mostly Christians.

In the same way the Lebanese government was reluctant to address issues that had the potential of having a negative impact of the nation, the Cypriot government under the leadership of President Makarios did not solve the political disparities in the nation. For instance, the government had taken no measures in solving the nationality issues between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots (Loizides 393). This led to the buildup of pressure between the two groups an aspect that played a pivotal role in the fueling of the Cyprus civil war.

Both Cyprus and Lebanon faced political pressures not only internally but also from several external forces. Lebanon witnessed military power of resident Palestinian organizations particularly after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. While their activity was ostensibly directed at keeping the Palestinian cause alive and continuing the struggle to reclaim Palestine, their presence in Lebanon was inevitably linked to the Lebanese domestic affairs. In consequence, the domestic and regional political agendas could hardly be separated. The prevailing weaknesses of the political system were exploited to enhance the status of the Palestinian of the Palestinian organizations. Alliances were forged with disenchanted Lebanese sectarian and the non-sectarian political parties and groups. They were supposed to form the Lebanese authorities that would bring about political reforms in the country. In the case of Cyprus, the geopolitical cold war environment in general and the cold war politics in particular had a profound effect on the internal sociopolitical development of both Greece and Turkey as well as the on their foreign policies and strategies (Anastasiou 18). In this context, governments in both countries were deeply rooted in the tradition of right wing politics and corresponding types of nationalism.

The rights of the people of Cyprus certainly seem to have been subordinated to the strategic interests of strong powers and to the vagaries of international and regional politics. One important factor is that Cyprus was and still is a victim of the problems of the Graeco-Turkish relations, particularly as regards Turkey’s claims to some Greek Aegean islands. This has been the cause of the expulsion of almost the entire Greek-speaking population of Turkey in 1964 and 1965 (Mallison 5). The Lebanese case was also similar to this in that the government was under pressure to meet international demands from other nations such as Palestine and Israel. The Lebanese government wanted the relocation of the PLO from their major cities as well as from their camps in the outskirts of Beirut, which was contrary to the demands of the Palestine. The Palestinian government argued that the removal of the PLO from Lebanon would mean that Israel, among other countries, would take advantage of the resources in the region that they were so much interested in e.g. the oil. This made Lebanon a victim of the rivalry of other nations.

There was significant influence of the politics from the motherlands of the rivalry groups in both cases. No conflict analysis of the Cyprus problem can arrive at a complete picture of the conflict pattern of relationships without taking into account the political influence of Greece and Turkey as well as their active intervention in the internal affairs of Cyprus. Interestingly, the route by which the policies and actions of the motherlands influenced the Cyprus problem, particularly during the 1960-74 period of repeated violence, followed a striking similar path (Newman 257). The warring parties in Lebanon certainly attempted to secure assistance from their respective communities abroad. This support took the form of political lobbying and/or propaganda as well as financial assistance. No estimates of the inflow of the financial resources are available, but it is known, for example, that Palestinians working in Kuwait were subject to a tax on their earnings earmarked for the PLO (Makdisi 42).

The absence of fundamental reforms in public institutions would not necessarily imply a change in the nature of the Lebanese state or in national political behavior. However, this should not obscure the fact that some of the actors involved in the conflict, both individuals and political groups, were motivated by non-sectarian ideologies and genuinely embraced a secular viewpoint. If anything, the sectarian nature of the political behavior became more accentuated in the post-war era. The case of Cyprus had a similar phenomenon.

The polarization between the nationalist view of the sate on the part of the state-controlling ethnic group and a nationalist quest for the self-determination on the part of the sub-state ethnic group decisively conditioned public opinion in the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities respectively for more than half a century. It shaped the underlying assumptions in how each side conducted itself during the endless cycles of formal negotiations. The interethnic dynamics generated by the antimony and irreconcilability between the nationalist approach to the state sovereignty and nationalist approach to state self determination, usually hidden beneath the formal agendas put forward at the negotiation table constituted the key factors of the political impasse which produced and animated the entire Cyprus problem. The irreconcilability between the state sovereignty and the self-determination that competing nationalisms always create and sustain the underlying cause of intractability of the Cyprus problem.

Both nations exhibited lack of co-operation between the key members of the government. This was portrayed by the resignation of key people from their government posts. The Lebanese Prime minister as well as the Cypriot premier gave up their official duties in the government. Most of the people in both nations were not satisfied by the actions of the presidents in the respective nations. Such posts were so crucial in the operation of the nation even during the crisis. Owing to this, they were replaced in the course of the wars.

Foreign powers manipulated the actions of the different groups in the countries in question. Palestine and Israel supported different political parties/groups in the case of Lebanon. The ethnic disparities in Cyprus were fueled by the foreign powers, among which were the U.S and Britain. Greece and Turkey also played a major role in escalating the differences between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. As far as Greece is concerned, it manipulated the two groups between 1967 and 1974-the period when it was under the military Junta. The other nations were the United States of American and Turkey. Additionally, Britain was the most influential in manipulating the political regimes in Cyprus during that period. Russia held a strategic position in Cyprus especially by influencing the nation to choose Makarios as the first president of the nation.

In both cases, the primary cause of war was political grievances from different groups. In Cyprus, the opposition argued that the president was biased. They claimed that he did not fully represent the interests of the people as far as nationalism is concerned. The primary causes of the war in Lebanon were political grievance arising from unequal power sharing among three of the major religious communities in conjunction with the political/military stance of the PLO, which clashed interests with the state. Irrespective of the relative importance of each factor in causing the outbreak of war, the mutual interaction of the sectarian and Palestinian factors finally led to the explosion of 1975. The PLO supported the Lebanese parties (comprising of the Islamic and nationalist forces) that opposed Maronite political hegemony and demanded a change in the political set up in favor of more equitable power-sharing (Makdisi 39).


The Lebanese communal society consists of several society layers that, while existing side by side, often in harmony, remain void of a basic central value system and widespread acculturation. Lebanese communities not only live next to each other but also interact with one another economically. However, this level of interaction was not strong and intense enough to integrate the various communities into one social system. Gerges asserts that the “war was born of the communal contradictions inherent in this communal structure and exacerbated by the external contingent factors” (538). The political life in Lebanon as well s political institutions had been affected by sectarianism and factionalism because of the communal structure-segmented and splintered. The Cypriot community was comprised of immigrants who sought their nationalism. The main perpetrators of the civil war in Cyprus were the people who had Greek and Turkish roots.

The differences in religious views were one of the main factors that led to the war in Lebanon. Besides having to religions in Lebanon, the sects in the Muslim religion were concerned about their ‘visibility’ as far as making national decisions is concerned. This fueled the conflicts not only in the broad sense of the Lebanese religious spectrum but also within the Muslim community. It was evident in the instance where the Muslim sects opposed the cabinet that was formed after the majority had disregarded the military cabinet. They argued that each of the sects should be represented in the cabinet. This shows the direct impact of the different sects not only in the governance of the nation but also in politics.

As far as the Cyprus civil war is concerned, the clash between TC and GC nationalism did not center on the fact that one community was traditionally Muslim and the other Christian. Whereas Turkish nationalism had historically evolved as a statist and secular type of nationalism, Greek nationalism historically emerged as a populist, cultural type in the tradition of European Romanticism. In the mental edifice of the mainstream Turkish nationalism, religion was reduced to a nonpublic, apolitical element. In the case of Greek nationalism, religion was a vital element of public ethnical identity and culture. The difference between the Turkish statist secular nationalism and Greek cultural religious nationalism was more central to the Cyprus conflict than the clash between religions. The perspective of TC and Turkish nationalists was centered on the fact that the TCs preferred secular politics and a secular state, in contrast to the GCs who intended to mix politics and religion.


Political conflicts among the different groups of people were the major cause of the civil wars. Political leaders in both countries were willing to go to any extend to protect their political prowess as well as their positions in the government. They overlooked the interests of the people to retain their position in their country. Foreign intervention also played a pivotal role in fueling the wars. Additionally, the intervention of the mother countries of the rivalry groups increased the crises in the nation. The composition of the cabinet ministers or rather the holders of key government positions was a significant factor as far as the cause of the wars were concerned. The difference of the two civil wars lies within the religious composition of the nations. Although both nations have Islam and Christianity as the major religions, the sects in the Muslim community caused many conflicts in their attempts to seek attention from the government. On the other hand, the differences of the rivalry groups in Cyprus arose from their opinions as far as nationalism is concerned.

Works Cited

Anastasiou, Harry. Broken Olive Branch. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011. Print.

Camp, Glend. “The Cyprus Problem: A Cold War Legacy.” Global Dialogue 3.4 (2001): 133-143. Print.

Gerges, Fawaz. “The Lebanese Conflict: Looking Inward.” Political Science Quarterly 114.3 (1999): 537-539. Print.

Ghosn, Faten, and Khoury, Amal. “Lebanon after the Civil War: Peace or the Illusion of Peace?” Middle East Journal 65.3 (2011): 381-397. Print.

Loizides, Neophytos. “Contested Migration and Settler Politics in Cyprus.” Political Geography 30.7 (2011): 391-401. Print.

Makdisi, Samir. Lessons of Lebanon: The Economics of War and Development. London, GBR: I.B. Tauris, 2004. Print.

Mallinson, William. Cyprus: A Modern History. London, GBR: I.B Tauris, 2005. Print.

Newman, Edward. “Conflict Research and the Decline of Civil War.” Civil Wars 11.3 (2009): 255-278. Print.

Soubra, Hani. Letters to Dalia: Reflections on Lebanon and the Middle East. Westport, CT: Easton Studio Press, 2010. Print.

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