As part of the official demobilisation effort, on 5 May 1991 the government offered to ‘rehabilitate’ 20,000 militia fighters – divided between Christians and Muslims – in administrative and military state institutions. Law 88 (June 1991) allowed the integration of 6,000 militia fighters (5,000 Muslims) into the army and interior security forces. An estimated 2,000 were recruited into the civil administration, but no further phases of demobilisation followed.
Syrian stewardship of post-Taif Lebanon was an important factor in dealing with the different militias. The primary ‘winners’ in the rehabilitation process were Syrian allies and clients, including the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, Shia Amal, the Frangieh’s Marada, followers of Elias Hobeika – former commander of the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia turned Syrian ally in 1986, the Sunni Popular Nasserist Organisation, and the secular Baath and Syrian Social Nationalist Parties. Former militia warlords, now cemented as sectarian leaders, were able to place their supporters at all levels of national institutions. Insertion and amnesty gave peacetime legitimacy to militia fighters. Along with the persistence of ‘gun culture’ and predatory behaviour in society, militia fighters were able to pervade the administration, instead of becoming ‘civilianised’.
The leaders of the defeated LF found themselves in a weaker position to negotiate the integration of their fighters. Their incorporation into the army failed and emigration was facilitated for hundreds of undesirable LF elements. Only a few who had the required credentials and were backed by post-war political Muslim elites were able to join the public sector.
The government’s neglect of sustained reintegration is attributable amongst other things to its fear from intensifying ex-combatants’ self-perceptions as a distinctive social group capable of challenging sectarian leaders’ authority. With no comprehensive strategy for insertion, the civilian administration was encumbered with a surplus of recruits and a depleted budget. Rafiq al-Hariri’s governments (1992–98) granted his Sunni, Shia and Druze allies ministries, administrative positions and funds, but abandoned further plans to insert militia fighters. Hariri feared he could not control them, since he had no militia of his own while ex-militia leaders ran the core of the administration.
Many ex-militia fighters who successfully enrolled in the army were posted to their hometowns, which effectively legitimised their wartime causes and allowed for bonds to be created between the sectarian population and the military. In some cases, ex-militia fighters moved from secular militias to religious armed groups: jihadist networks for Sunnis and Hezbollah for Shia. Many ex-combatants of all factions turned to religion more generally, which often played a major role in their recovery. Some concentrated on theological studies to better understand the religion in whose name they fought; others became monks or sheikhs.
It is common for ex-fighters (including those living abroad) to have maintained strong group identities and kept ties with their former leaders. When militias were ‘civilianised’ in the 1990s, morphing into political parties, ex-fighters were encouraged to rejoin the newly reconditioned structures. Some even got elected to parliament; others as members of local municipalities.