Democratic Left Movement (Lebanon)

Democratic Left Movement
Leader Elias Atallah
Founder Numerous (Samir Kassir, Giselle Khoury, Ziad Majed, others)
Founded September 2004
Split from Lebanese Communist Party
Headquarters Beirut
Ideology Democratic socialism,
Social democracy
Political position Centre-left
Religion Secular
Parliament of Lebanon
1 / 128
Politics of Lebanon
Political parties

The Democratic Left Movement (DLM, Arabic: حركة اليسار الديمقراطيĥarakatu-l-yasāri-d-dimuqrātī, Arabic acronym HYD) is the first leftist political party in the Lebanese Parliament.[1] It was founded in September 2004 by left-wing intellectuals and activists who previously split from the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP). The DLM affirms a European-style social democracy—but is open to all forms of leftism—and encourages the development of a secular state. The party operates under a decentralized framework that emphasizes diversity of thought. It participated in the 2005 Cedar Revolution, a wave of demonstrations against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and calls for correcting imbalanced relations with Syria.

The DLM won its first parliamentary seat in Lebanon's 2005 elections representing the Tripoli district. On June 2, 2005, amid election rounds, Samir Kassir, a founder of the movement, was assassinated in a car bombing. Less than one month later, George Hawi, a former secretary general of the Lebanese Communist Party and an ally of the DLM, was killed in a similar car bombing in Beirut. In the 2009 elections, the party again won a single seat, instead representing the West Bekaa district. It is a member of the March 14 Alliance parliamentary coalition.



Background and foundation

 A flag with three bands, from left to right: A red band, containing a hammer and sickle, and a white middle band with a cedar tree, which together comprise half the flag; the remaining half is a band of red.
The Democratic Left Movement was founded by activists and intellectuals who split from the Lebanese Communist Party,[2] whose flag is shown above.

The rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the failure of the LCP to assume a more democratic socialist platform ushered in an era of political decline for the party. This, coupled with perceived Syrian domination of its leadership, led to increasing frustration among rank-and-file communists against the upper echelons of the party.[3]

On September 13, 2000, a group calling itself "the reform and democracy forces in the Lebanese Communist Party" wrote an open letter demanding the resignation of party leadership. Led by Elias Atallah, a former guerrilla,[n 1] the dissidents accused LCP leaders of subservience to Syria and called for full democratization of the party and abandonment of the Stalinist line. Atallah was expelled from the party on September 26 of that year.[3]

These activists who split from the LCP, leftist student groups, and assorted intellectuals formed the Democratic Left Movement.[2][4] An initial "temporary preparatory committee" for the movement emerged, which issued statements critical of Syrian intervention in Lebanon and called for the birth of a new left.[5] In September 2004, the Democratic Left Movement was officially established.[2] On October 17, at a ceremony commemorating its foundation attended by figures across the political spectrum,[6] Elias Atallah declared that the movement was founded on three principles: "[First], we are preachers of real social and cultural change on the bases of democracy, national independence and reconciliation with the Arab nation and Arab nationalism. Second we are preachers of cultural and ideological renaissance for the sake of secularism and political and religious reforms in the Arab east... Thirdly we believe in fighting for freedom and against tyranny and oppression."[6]

Shortly after foundation, the DLM, Qornet Shehwan Gathering, Democratic Renewal, and Democratic Gathering formed a "multi-party opposition" to oppose the constitutional amendment that extended the presidential term of Emile Lahoud.[7] The informal coalition, which sought to defend the constitution and republic, appealed for free elections based on an equitable electoral law, curtailing corruption, fostering an independent judiciary, and reforming public administration. It was divided on the Syrian military presence in the country and on the use of arms to resolve the Shebaa farms dispute.[7] Later, in December 2004 and again in February 2005, the movement was among an agglomeration of opposition parties to gather at Beirut's Bristol Hotel and demand a "total withdrawal" of Syrian troops.[8][9]

Cedar Revolution

The DLM actively participated in the 2005 Cedar Revolution,[10] a so-called colour revolution in which hundreds of thousands rallied against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and its supporters in the Lebanese government.[11] As the only leftist, nonsectarian element in the demonstrations, the DLM proved important for the opposition's public relations.[12] Following the resignation of pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami in a wave of demonstrations, DLM leader Elias Atallah is quoted as saying, "Today the government fell. Tomorrow, it's the one huddled in Anjar," in reference to the Syrian chief of intelligence based in that city.[13] The New York Times credited Samir Kassir, a founder of the movement, with orchestrating the protests.[14] On March 14, 2005, Atallah addressed the demonstrators, articulating the need for a free, sovereign, and united Lebanon.[15] The DLM called on the protesters to press on to Baabda Palace, residence of the president, hoping to use the momentum to compel Emile Lahoud to resign. However, resistance by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir prevented this, resulting in a temporary fallout between the DLM and opposition.[12]

The movement remains critical of perceived Syrian interference in Lebanon, citing its participation in the March 14 Alliance parliamentary bloc as "defending Lebanese independence against the Syrian regime’s attacks and against Hezbollah and its allies’ attempts to impose their views and choices".[16] It lists "attaining full independence of the country" as a political goal.[17]

 A poster displaying the face of Samir Kassir and containing Arabic text, the DLM logo, and some sharpie scribbles
This poster commemorates Samir Kassir and reads "Martyr of the Independence Uprising; Democratic Left."

Kassir and Hawi assassinations

On June 2, 2005, Samir Kassir, a founder and leader of the movement, a prominent Lebanese journalist, and an outspoken critic of Syria[18] was assassinated in a car bombing.[19] DLM activists marched to the presidential palace in the Beirut suburb of Baabda to lay a wreath representing guilt for Kassir's death. Elias Atallah, head of the DLM, explained that the wreath would "place the blame at the head of the joint Lebanese-Syrian security regime".[18] Emile Lahoud, then president, condemned the killing and told reporters, "My conscience is clear".[18] After Kassir's death, membership in the DLM surged to a few thousand.[12]

Less than one month later, on June 21, 2005, George Hawi, a former secretary general of the LCP, was killed in a similar car bombing in Beirut.[20] Hawi, an outspoken critic of Syria in recent years, actively campaigned for DLM leader Elias Atallah's candidacy in Lebanon's 2005 Elections.[21] Atallah and other allies of Hawi blamed the bombing on pro-Syrian forces in the Lebanese-security apparatus.[22] In an interview with NOW Lebanon, former DLM Vice President Ziad Majed explained, "Georges Hawi ... was trying to bring the communist party, or at least part of it, to join efforts with us [the DLM]."[16]

In Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, Elias Atallah called for broadening the planned inquiries into Rakfik Harri's assassination to include the Kassir and Hawi bombings. He demanded Lahoud's resignation, saying the president was "incapable of protecting leadership figures in Lebanon."[23]

Structure and composition

The DLM operates under a decentralized framework in which internal movements are encouraged and represented in a national body.[24] The party's constituency elects a National Assembly, the principal decision-making body, through proportional representation, where every internal movement forms a list. Composed of 51 to 101 members, determined proportionately by the size of the constituency, it maintains political priorities, alliances, and rhetoric, and elects an Executive Committee of 9 to 15 members for daily organizational activities. Other organizational bodies include the Legal Committee and Financial Committee, and internal elections occur every three years.[24]

In October 2004, a 77-member constituent assembly elected a 15-member Executive Committee in the movement's first session of internal elections. Those elected included Elias Atallah as General Secretary[16] (and leader),[1] Nadim Abdel Samad as president, and Hikmat Eid, Anju Rihan, Ziad Majed and Ziad Saab as members.[6] In April 2007, another internal election occurred.[17] Two lists competed, one supported by Atallah and representing the leadership's rhetoric and the other an all-youth movement named Keep Left.[16] While Atallah was reelected,[1] Keep Left attained 30% of votes in Lebanon and 58% of votes abroad in an online poll, enabling the entire list to be elected.[16] Ziad Majed, previously vice president of the DLM, and Elias Khoury, a prominent and founding member, chose not to participate for personal and political reasons.[16]

Headquartered in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, branches are permitted in any region of Lebanon or abroad. Provincial and district associations are largely autonomous.[24] Youth members comprise a substantial portion of the movement; Elias Atallah stated that half of the party's members was 26 or younger.[25]

The next General Assembly is set for 2010, three years after the 2007 General Assembly, as per the movement's bylaws.

Political stances


The DLM backs a European-style social democracy to promote equality without hampering personal liberty or economic productivity.[2] In an interview with NOW Lebanon, DLM Former Vice President Ziad Majed classified the movement as center-left economically.[16] However, he went on to say that the party adopted a decentralized model when founded to enable the coexistence of divergent views in which internal movements are encouraged.[16] Its political manifesto identifies the movement as "beyond the requirement of singularity of thought"[n 2] and open to leftists of all denominations.[26] This emphasis on pluralism distinguishes the DLM from other leftist groups in Lebanon.[12]

Marxists, socialists, social democrats, all believe in the same basic program - social justice, secularism, a non-police state ... democracy.

—Ziad Majed, in an interview with The Daily Star[12]

Domestic policy

The DLM is one of a few parties to propose secularization of the Lebanese state.[2] This includes abolishing sectarian appropriation of public jobs,[17] replacing the confessional parliamentary system with a representative system,[2][17] and permitting the execution of civil marriage on Lebanese soil.[27] The Economist magazine described the party as the "most avowedly secular component" of the March 14 Alliance.[28]

The DLM appeals for administrative reform in the public sector through a decentralization, modernization, and mechanization plan.[17] It defends human rights and calls for the respect of public freedoms and rule of law. Listed within its platform is support for the marginalized and the abandonment of divisive particularism. The movement supports prohibiting the discrimination of the disabled.[17]

Foreign policy

On foreign policy, the DLM platform is more uniform.[12] The party calls for a diverse, unified, and democratic Arab society. It opposes foreign interference in Lebanese politics and supports correcting imbalanced relations with Syria.[17] In the Shebba farms dispute, the movement advocates resolving the identity of the territory through diplomacy. If the farms are determined Lebanese, the cabinet should authorize their "liberation" either diplomatically or militarily but through state institutions alone[1] to allow the state to fulfill its role there.[17] On the broader Arab-Israeli Conflict, the DLM appeals for the creation of a regional defense strategy which protects Lebanese sovereignty from Israeli aggression while promoting the interests of the region.[17] It opposes American intervention in Iraq and elsewhere while also rejecting authoritarian regimes like the Baath. The party advocates democracy in Syria and associates with its democratic opposition, particularly the Syrian Democratic People's Party.[12]

Electoral results

In the legislative elections of May and June 2005, the DLM won one seat[29] to become the first leftist political party in the Lebanese Parliament.[1] Holding the Maronite seat[n 3] of Tripoli, Elias Atallah represented the district as part of the March 14 Alliance,[1] a pro-Western political coalition and parliamentary majority.[30] Atallah received 89,890 votes to defeat rival Fayez Wajih Karam by 14,482 votes.[31]

In the 2009 elections, Atallah could not seek reelection because March 14 selected Samer Saadeh, a Kataeb Party candidate, to run on the coalition's list in the Tripoli district.[32] Meanwhile, Amin Wehbi, another DLM candidate,[33] won a Shiite parliamentary seat in West Bekaa on the March 14 coalition's list.[34] Accruing 34,424 votes, 53% of ballots cast, Wehbi unseated incumbent Nasser Nasrallah of the Amal Movement, who obtained 25,457 votes.[35]

The influence of the DLM, however, stems not from its limited electoral successes but from "its articulation of anti-Syrian positions from a left[ist] perspective."[36]


Criticism of the DLM arises from both inside and outside the party. Internally, Ziad Majed, a former DLM vice president, admonished its current leadership for failing to act independently of the March 14 Alliance or develop and lobby for alternatives to the status quo. He also accused it of oversimplifying the issue of secularization and of lacking clarity and consistency in its positions.[16] Externally, Socialist Worker, a socialist newspaper in the United Kingdom, charged the movement of complicity for civilian deaths in Lebanon's 2007 Nahr al-Bared Conflict.[37] A Brooklyn Rail editorial lamented that while the movement had been "a meeting ground between different factions" it has since become "sidelined with the resurgence in sectarianism".[38] An article in the London Review of Books, a literary and political magazine, labeled the DLM "stalled in disagreements and distractions" and chastised "a single seat in parliament and an ascendant Islamic resistance in the south are all the movement has to show for opposing many of Hariri’s policies, on the one hand, and campaigning against Syrian hegemony on the other".[4]


  1. ^ Atallah helped lead the LCP in the 18-year resistance against Israeli forces in Lebanon. See South Lebanon conflict (1982–2000)
  2. ^ Arabic: تتجاوز وحدانية الفكر
  3. ^ Each religious community in Lebanon has an allotted number of seats in the Parliament. They do not represent only their co-religionists, however; all candidates in a particular constituency, regardless of religious affiliation, must receive a plurality of the total vote, which includes followers of all confessions, and represent them equally. See Confessionalism (politics)


  1. ^ a b c d e f El Cheikh, Christine (2009-06-26). "Talking To: Democratic Left Movement leader Elias Atallah". NOW Lebanon. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Arab Political Systems: Baseline Information and Reforms – Lebanon, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,, retrieved 2009-07-04 
  3. ^ a b Nassif, Daniel (2000-11). "Dissidents in Communist Party Revolt against Damascus". Middle East Intelligence Bulletin 2 (10). Archived from the original on 2008-06-04. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  4. ^ a b Harding, Jeremy (2006-11-16). "Jeremy Harding goes to Beirut to meet the novelist Elias Khoury". London Review of Books (London: London Review Bookshop) 28 (22): 501. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  5. ^ "temporary preparatory committee" of the Movement for a Democratic Left (2004-02-04). "Movement for a Democratic Left". Movement for a Democratic Left. Beirut: Daily Star. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  6. ^ a b c "Officially launched DLM rejects current state of Syrian-Lebanese relations". 2004-10-18. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  7. ^ a b "New front boosts opposition to Syria in Lebanon". 2004-10-16. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  8. ^ Ottaway, Marina; Choucair-Vizoso Julia (2008). "Lebanon: The Challenge of Reform in a Weak State". Beyond the Façade: Political Reform in the Arab World. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. pp. 120. ISBN 978-0-87003-239-4. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  9. ^ Rabil, Robert (2005-02-18). "Syria and the Polarization of Lebanese Politics". The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  10. ^ Sakr, Naomi (2007-04-03). "Idioms of Contention: Star Academy in Lebanon and Kuwait". Arab Media and Political Renewal: Community, Legitimacy and Public Life. Library of Modern Middle East Studies Series. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 51. ISBN 978-1845113278.,+legitimacy+...%22+&q=. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  11. ^ MacFarquer, Neil (2005-03-14). "Hundreds of Thousands Jam Beirut in Rally Against Syria". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Quilty, Jim (2005-07-19). "The changing face of the Lebanese Left: Democratic Left Movement Vice President Ziad Majed on Lebanon's smallest high-profile party". Daily Star (Middle East Transparent). Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  13. ^ Saida, Lena (2005-03-01). "Jubilation in Beirut after pro-Syrian government resigns". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  14. ^ Fattah, Hassan (2005-06-05). "A Lebanese Critic of Syria Is Mourned". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  15. ^ "Lebanese TV broadcasts opposition speeches at Beirut rally.". Asia Africa Intelligence Wire (BBC Monitoring). 2005-03-14. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hankir, Zahra (2008-01-01). Talking To: Ziad Majed. Now Lebanon. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i UNDP (2007-12-15). "Arab Parliaments: Arab Political Parties Database: Lebanon". Arab parliaments. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  18. ^ a b c Stack, Megan; Rania Abouzeid (2005-06-04). "Lebanese Pay Tribute to Slain Anti-Syria Writer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  19. ^ The Daily Star (2009-06-17). "Performing arts festival reflects on Samir Kassir's life and work". The Daily Star. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  20. ^ Stack, Megan; Rania Abouzeid (2005-06-22). "Foe of Syria Assassinated in Beirut". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  21. ^ (2005-06-21). "Bomb kills anti-Syria politician". Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  22. ^ The Associated Press; Reuters (2005-06-21). "Beirut blast kills anti-Syrian politician". MSNBC. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  23. ^ "Lebanese press highlights 23 Jun 05.". Asia Africa Intelligence Wire (BBC Monitoring). 2005-06-24. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  24. ^ a b c "Rules of Procedure of the Democratic Left Movement in Lebanon" (in Arabic). Democratic Left Movement. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 
  25. ^ Razzouk, Nayla (2005-04-12). "Lebanon's youths fuel "uprising for independence"". Retrieved 2009-08-06. 
  26. ^ "The draft political document of the Democratic Left Movement" (in Arabic). Democratic Left Movement. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  27. ^ "Lebanese say pretend “I do’s” in Valentine civil weddings". NOW Lebanon. 2009-02-14. Retrieved 2009-07-09. 
  28. ^ "Lebanon's government: So who's running the show?". The Economist (Beirut). 2006-06-27. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  29. ^ Research Directorate of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (2007). "Issue Papers, Extended Responses and Country Fact Sheets__ Country Fact Sheet LEBANON November 2007" (Governmental). Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  30. ^ Nerguizian, Aram; Schbley (2009-06-10). "Lebanon vote tilts to the West". Washington Times. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  31. ^ "Electoral lists - North Lebanon Region". The Daily Star. 2005-06-19. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  32. ^ (2009-05-07). "North's Electoral List Undergoes Changes". Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  33. ^ "Democratic Left nominates Amin Wehbe for seat in West Bekaa-Rachaya". NOW Lebanon. 2009-04-08. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  34. ^ "Parliament". Now Lebanon. 2009-06-08. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  35. ^ Chambers, Richard (2009-06-09), Lebanon’s 7 June _Elections: The Results, International Foundation for Electoral Systems,, retrieved 2009-07-05 
  36. ^ Jones, Jeremy (2007-01-15). "Syria and Lebanon: Party Problems". Negotiating Change: The New Politics of the Middle East. Library of Modern Middle East Studies Series. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 112. ISBN 978-1845112707. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  37. ^ Makarem, Ghassen (2007-05-29). "Lebanon crisis: Refugees attacked as right wing militias stalk the streets". Socialist Workers (London) (2053). Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  38. ^ Bayoumi, Moustafa (2006-02). "Inside Lebanon: A Cold Civil War". The Brooklyn Rail (Greenpoint, Brooklyn.: Phong Bui) (39). Retrieved 2009-08-05. 

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