Guardians of Cedars (Lebanese, Hiras Al-Arz,)

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GUARDIANS OF CEDARS (Lebanese, Hiras al-Arz,)

An extreme right-wing Lebanese Maronite nationalist militia founded in 1975 by Etienne Saqr (Abu Arz, b. 1937), a former Lebanese government security officer. Saqr was influenced by the work of the Lebanese poet Saʿid Aql, who promoted a nationalist ideology called Lebanonism, which claimed direct Lebanese descent from the Phoenicians with little input from Muslim or Arab cultural sources, going so far as to devise a Latin alphabet for what he called the Lebanese language. During the civil war of 1975 to 1990, Saqr allied the Guardians (estimated to number about 500) with other Maronite political militias, especially the Phalange, and with Israel, against both Lebanese Muslim groups and the Palestinians. A number of Guardians also joined the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army in 1978. After the civil war ended, the Guardians disarmed, but unlike a number of other such groups declined to transform themselves into a more conventional political party, remaining a very small, highly ideological movement with close ties to the Israelis. In 2000, after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Saqr was forced to flee into Israel, having been sentenced to death by a Lebanese court on charges relating to his Israeli connections. He was condemned to death a second time in 2001 on new, related charges. The Guardians' stated purposes include to rid the country of Syrians, Palestinians, and "uncivilized" Iranians who "seek the destruction of Lebanon's cultural identity"; to forbid foreigners to own property; to ban political parties "that imported their ideologies . . . from outside Lebanon"; to sign a peace treaty with Israel; to withdraw Lebanon from the Arab League and "eliminate the quality that designates Lebanon an Arab country"; to replace the Arabic with the Lebanese alphabet devised by Saʿid Aql; and to liberate it from the "defacement that was caused by the Arabic."

SEE ALSO South Lebanon Army.