Elections, Lebanon, Reform

The Myth of Christian Under-Representation

churchmosque-1There’s a lot of great stuff to read about the ongoing electoral law debate in Lebanon. Some of the most relevant stuff is below:

Most interesting, though, is this piece by my friend JP Katrib over at NOW Lebanon. JP is immensely learned about Lebanese politics, and I respect his opinion a good deal, even if we disagree about this particular issue. In the piece for NOW, he takes on the difficult task of defending the law, and offers some historical context about its emergence. I’d like to push back on the following point:

Since the end of the war in 1990, electoral laws have practically resulted in misrepresentation among the confessions. While the constitution divided parliamentary seats equally between Christians and Muslims, in practical terms, Christians were underrepresented and Muslims were overrepresented, taking into account the Christian MPs beholden to Muslim constituencies. While misrepresentation affected Muslim and Christian seats alike, its impact on the latter was more profound than on the former. Short of a constitutional amendment that would revisit the 5:5 ratio, it is not an “isolationist” measure for Christians to claim what is rightfully theirs.

I have to admit that I’ve never understood the notion that Christians are under-represented in the Lebanese government. There are currently fewer than two Christian voters for every three Muslim voters, and the coming years will bring that ratio closer to 1:3.

If we insist on keeping the Parliamentary quotas stable at 50% Christian – 50% Muslim, then we have two choices:

  1. We can either allow some Christian MPs to be elected by Muslim constituents;
  2. Or we can create a system — either through creative districting or confessional lists — that gives 38% of the population the right to elect 50% of the Parliament.

JP is arguing (like many  proponents of the Orthodox proposal) that the first option represents a form of “Christian under-representation” but in fact it simply produces a state of affairs in which Christians have representation in Parliament according to their own real demographic weight — and that assumes that people only vote according to sectarian calculations, which is not evident to me.

Meanwhile, the second option truly leads to under-representation through the simple fact of unequal suffrage.  When Sunni and Shiite votes are worth half the weight of some Christian votes… what are we supposed to call this if not under-representation?

I hope that JP will join the discussion and explain his position at greater length. Stay tuned while I try to convince him.

Update 1:

As`ad Abu-Khalil has this to say about my last post, where I wonder whether the Orthodox Law would provide an unexpected boon to liberals:

I should state that it would be unfair to call that electoral law “Greek Orthodox” especially that the community has hosted loud secular voices in the last century. But I wish to comment on the post by Elias in his blog here. I disagree because this lousy sectarian law is an intense sectarian training school that would in fact–far from galvanizing and mobilizing seculars–reduce the ranks and weaken secular people in the country. It would have the opposite effect, I am afraid. But then again: this lousy outcome is the destiny of that sectarian entity.

Update 2:

JP Katrib responds to my argument above with the following statement:

Thanks Elias for refocusing the debate even more and for offering me the space to clarify my point. It’s more of a clarification as such, not a rebuttal. Ultimately, I am not in disagreement with you concerning the paragraph you highlighted from my NOW piece.

If anything, I revoke the current 5:5 ratio and find it incompatible with the realities of Lebanese pluralism. Let me be very clear on this. How can a Christian community that is not 50% of the population garner 50% of seats!? Today, the result of that: Christians are under-represented and Muslims are over-represented, taking in account Christian seats beholden to Muslim voters.

In human rights philosophical terms, this is against “human dignity” and is based more on the pre-Enlightenment notion of “tolerance” than on “equality.” In 30 years, Christians will be 25% of the population, will it be appropriate then to still hold 50% of seats!? My take is that on the long run, our Muslim compatriots will not accept it.

What I initially meant to say, and I re-quote myself here, “Short of a constitutional amendment that would revisit the 5:5 ratio, it is not an “isolationist” measure for Christians to claim what is rightfully theirs.” Meaning, absent political will to revisit the constitution in this regard, and as long as we’re still in a system were sociologically speaking, the socio-political unit is the confession, then it is not out of line for Christians to claim what is constitutionally theirs.

Ideally, and you know my opinion here Elias, composite societies like ours need composite constitutional structures like federalism or political decentralization coupled with a neutrality of sorts. Otherwise, we will continue to alternate between paralysis and bloody internal confrontation every decade or so. Is that our failed state fate? I certainly hope not.

Finally, while I agree that the Orthodox Law proposal is no panacea to our chronic and inherent problems (pretty much like any other electoral law), I still believe that it addresses a reality (that is gruesome to some) and attempts to positively channel it beyond romantic descriptions of Lebanon. At least that was the original intent of the initial founders of the proposal, certainly not former deputy speaker Ferzli. But how can we revisit the constitution along federal or decentralized lines, so long as Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and unwilling to negotiate? That is the problematic with which I ended my NOW piece. Thank you Elias.

Discussion

33 thoughts on “The Myth of Christian Under-Representation

  1. There is a simple solution : one man , one vote and no parliamentary quotas. It will be the end of sectarism in Lebanese politics and make the country a real democracy.

    Posted by Tim Jim | January 16, 2013, 11:47 am
  2. if you are keen on equal suffrage why aren’t you advocating proportional representation with a single electoral district. the current law allows the hariris to gerrymander the votes.

    Posted by erraticideas | January 16, 2013, 12:46 pm
  3. Hi,
    Nice post.
    To answer your question: “When Sunni and Shiite votes are worth half the weight of some Christian votes… what are we supposed to call this if not under-representation?”

    We call it federalism. The whole point of freezing the 50/50 ratio is to prevent demographic changes from affecting the Christian/Muslim partnership formula. Otherwise there’s no need for that ratio.
    Same thing in the USA: 30 million Californians get two senators. And so do the 1 million people in Montana. It’s federalism. In the USA it’s geographic. In Lebanon it’s sectarian. But same concept.

    Posted by Rani | January 16, 2013, 1:18 pm
  4. Erraticideas

    It’s not just Hariri who can be accused of gerrymandering. Last I checked, the 1960 law was mostly orchestrated by Michel Aoun as part of the Doha Accord.

    I’m not against PR within a single electoral district — I think that would be fine. What I’m against is the notion that people can only vote for members of their own sect.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 16, 2013, 1:24 pm
  5. Rani

    Lebanon is a unitary republic, not a federal one. In the US, the federal government has a bicameral legislature, where one of the legislative houses is elected on the basis of equal suffrage and the other one is meant to represent the states.

    If we establish a senate in Lebanon, I have no problem if we maintain the 50-50 ratio in it. But we can’t have such drastic disparities in people’s votes if there’s only one legislative house.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 16, 2013, 1:32 pm
  6. Check out electoral law propsal at

    http://lebanonstatebuilding.wordpress.com/

    Posted by Mishka Mourani | January 16, 2013, 6:03 pm
  7. As someone already stated, just go to one-man, one-vote. Anything less is essentially inequality for someone, somewhere and is, as JP phrased it “offensive to human dignity”.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | January 16, 2013, 8:10 pm
  8. Let’s just hope the reactions to the so-called Orthodox Law create a positive shock and lead politicians and various parties to adopt another one that endorses the creation of a senate, because otherwise things will go from bad to worse.

    Posted by Najib | January 17, 2013, 7:27 am
  9. “QN in re to “Rani: “Lebanon is a unitary republic, not a federal one”, lol. I cracked up reading that. i got to tell you, I have been to law schools in Lebanon and abroad undergrad and grad studies and most constitutional scholars agree, Lebanon is much more of a dysfunctional and incomplete federal state than a unitary republic. It is a “unitary” republic just like North Korea is a “Democratic People’s Republic”.

    Posted by EJ | January 17, 2013, 10:59 am
  10. QN,

    What are the calculations of FPM & LF in endorsing this archaic and ludicrous electoral law? Do you see either one group getting a leg up on the other?

    I am befuddled; unless there is a consensus on another variation of 2009 (1960) law in the works as a drop back position. What the hell happened to Taef when everyone votes for their sect only! If my MP should serve my area why should I vote for a dumb ass who has no business in forwarding my concerns?

    Posted by danny | January 17, 2013, 11:00 am
  11. EJ,

    Lebanon’s government is dysfunctional and weak, but it is a dysfunctional and weak unitary republic, not a federal one. Were it closer to a federal state than a unitary one, we would not hear the persistent drumbeat of calls for administrative decentralization and indeed federalism.

    Danny,

    My sense is that FPM and LF have different motivations. The FPM wants to have made a show of supporting “Christian rights” partly as a way of arguing that they were snowed over by the Sunnis if in fact Aoun loses Kesrwane in 2013 under the 1960 law. They may also be angling to get the Marwan Charbel law (endorsed by the Mikati cabinet) passed over objections by Mustaqbal and Jumblatt, by making it look like a concession instead of their original goal all along.

    LF is on board, in my view, because they don’t want to be accused by Aoun of being Hariri’s Christian puppets who are against giving the Christians their “true rights”.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 17, 2013, 11:08 am
  12. Thanks QN. However; the Charbel law is dead in the water as the PSP; LF & FM are against it (and that’s majority). Any spin by FPM would not yield any results…That’s why I was wondering if there would be fall back law that could be worked on in the background?

    Posted by danny | January 17, 2013, 2:48 pm
  13. QN,

    De jure Lebanon is not a federal republic but de facto it is not so clear cut. There are quite a few areas over which the government has very little control and they even have their own foreign policy. Over history, dysfunctional and weak governments meant that localities would grow in strength relative to the government and have much autonomy, or in other words, federalism or independence.

    Posted by AIG | January 17, 2013, 3:32 pm
  14. QN,
    Well, where do I begin? I do not want to do a topo on this here but, the mix of legal and de facto juxtapositions of powers is evident. Lebanese sects have constitutional jurisdiction on certain fields of competency, be it in:
    – Education (while all following general guidelines of the state, each sect has its own federation of schools, curriculum, books, practices, days off, etc.),
    – Personal civil rights and rights of the person (in no other place is the citizen subject to a personal right LEGISLATED by his or her sect and not the state),
    – Property rights (as to trusts, rights and mostly restriction as to accession to property), as well as wills and estates,
    – Religious sects run and operate their health system, hospitals, guidelines, procedures. Again, while under the rule of the central state they have much of their own jurisdiction to establish norms, procedures, funding, etc.
    – Marriage, divorce, parenthood (legal rights and obligations of parents, adoption, legal guardianship), culture (de facto control of certain geographical areas and imposing bans on sale of alcohol, allegiance to a certain way of living, etc.)
    The separation of powers between sects as well as the mandated allocation of seats in parliament, I argue, is there in order to enshrine a current state of incomplete federalism. What you called underrepresentation of Muslims and over representation of Christians is basically the constitution recognizing that Lebanon is now a federal state but cannot be called one officially for political reasons. The compromise was that until decentralization and deconfessionalization take place, all the securities that such system would have offered the different sects would be, since Taef, enshrined in the 50/50 split. Article 22 of the constitution is clear, the religious communities form the basic units of the senate, ie, they are the founding blocks of the nation and are to Lebanon what geographic entities (states, provinces) are to other federal states.
    Until such federalism is promulgated effectively (i.e. senate established), parliament, i.e. the supposed sole holder of legislative jurisdiction is itself split and guarantees equal representation of these building blocks.
    The judicial system is, as a result of the allocation of jurisdiction in legislative matters, also not a unitary system in that each order of government (or legislative branch) has established its own courts (judges and all).
    These may seem mundane, unimportant and natural to us but compare it for a second to Canada where despite the confederation’s initial intent in creating a decentralized federal system, it has become a rather centralized one. The federal government has usurped most of the powers and overlapping jurisdictions through its spending capabilities. Provinces in Canada have jurisdiction over, personal civil rights, rights ensuing from a divorce (although not divorce or marriage itself), rights relating to the person, health, parenthood, education, some and not all judicial matters and courts, and the upper chambers is a useless as our current Lebanese president speaking to decentralization!
    Like Canadian provinces, the Lebanese sects internally set up their own rules, mostly circumscribed by the “Federal” parliament who uses its spending prerogatives to ensure that provinces fall within general guidelines of the federal government (i.e. medicare, daycares, etc.).
    I understand the difficulty the general public faces to admitting this reality mostly since in every other federal state the unit is geographical but it is almost identical in Lebanon, only that the jurisdiction is not physical, it is a sect and it applies to the person. A maronite will be a maronite wherever he may be Lebanon, he cannot divorce legally until he changes sects. The laws imposed by an order of government, different than that which is in power as a result of parliament, and enshrined in the constitution apply to him. He must submit himself to the jurisdiction of a court which, is different from the courts of the federal state, which court has its own rules promulgated by the sect leaders, and whose judges are not named by the government or by the state, in order to nullify his wedding, obtain legal access to his children and or divorce his wife should he be non-Maronite. There is no other definition or explanation for it, through the constitution, jurisdiction over these matters has been given to a different order of government and that is a sect, and not the federal state.
    A maronite can go to a sunni school and vice versa, idem for hospitals but, in those sectors, that citizen (maronite or sunni or hatever their confession may be) are not considered Lebanese or under the sovereignty of the state, they will be, by virtue of our legal system, subject to the jurisdiction of the sect, the federal unit (just like when a resident of NY goes to Texas).
    I am not saying it is a perfect system, I am not even endorsing it, but when comparing it on a spectrum, it looks much more like a personal federated state with a strong federal government than a unitary state that is decentralized and in all honesty nothing at all like a unitary central state.
    In closing keep in mind, the federation is not geographical but personal, it is based on the confession of the person.

    As to election law, again the political class is a master magician. we are presented with the orthodox law and the real discussion is and has been taking place far from this proposal. do pple not ask themselves why and how GMA changed his mind about this law? What about the M14 Christians? Would m14 Christians appreciate an electoral law that has the approval of all other sects but to which they are opposed, whatever the reason may be? What is the difference between any of the proposed proportionality drafts if the initial flaw is that an entire sect (i.e. by extension geographical area) is controlled by the force of guns while democracy is up and running within the other sects? If that is the reason M14 rejected to government draft, how does the orthodox draft fix this problem? Christians and Sunnis will be divided while Shiites will be united under (let’s be honest) one flag and they will gain control over the next parliament and (let’s face it) the next president. What role will Jumblatt have, if any, should the balance of power skew heavily in favour of one party of the other with him loosing the balance?
    Keep up the great work QN.

    Posted by EJ | January 17, 2013, 3:40 pm
  15. Gotta agree with EJ on this one. He/She makes a very compelling case for why Lebanon is really (even if unofficially) a sect-based federated state, and has very little in common with a “unitary republic”.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | January 17, 2013, 7:42 pm
  16. I think everyone is getting quite worked up unnecessarily with details. “Representation”, “Christian”, etc.

    Everyone knows the “Shia” are under-represented in parliament, but they most certainly punch above their “weight” class in terms of parliamentary representation.

    And while all the various sects certainly boast a spectrum of characters with different political leaning, I think it is fair to say that by and large, the Sunnis and Shias have leaned predominantly in one grouping versus the other- certainly on a lot of the pertinent issues of the day.

    Whereas the “Christian” vote, in so much as one exists, and as I’ve argued in this space before, really has been split down the middle. It is not clear to me how this OMG law would change extant political dealings, and if it doesn’t, then I’m not so sure how a theoretically over represented Christian community practically can have much political sway, especially when they are so profoundly divided, and subject to the strong regional political currents.

    Finally, I think it’s high time we stop wearing “Rose colored glasses”. We come from a region that is endemically and profoundly sectarian. The majority of people will vote for their sect, whether or not such a voting pattern is mandated by law. Now I agree that this rather blatant and offensive institutionalization of the principle is problematic, but really, on the ground it makes little difference.

    I think people should get less worked up about the mechanics of the political system which everyone appears to constantly try to re-adjust, and more worked up about practical ways to achieve the same result. If the democratic will does not effectively “will” a secular, open, tolerant space, then OMG law or not, it doesn’t make much of a difference. If the democratic will, “wills” a secular, open, tolerant space, then it is quite possible that such a space emerges from the system.

    Posted by Gabriel | January 17, 2013, 10:27 pm
  17. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but why should I vote for someone in Akkar (for example) to represent me even though I am from Beirut? The only thing we share is the Sunni sect and that for me is irrelevant to why I would choose a politician.

    Posted by Ali Sleeq (@AliSleeq) | January 19, 2013, 6:38 am
  18. Thank you, EJ, for your intervention.

    I’ll try to respond later. It’s my last day in Beirut and I’m trying to milk it. :)

    Cheers
    Elias

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 19, 2013, 9:04 am
  19. QN,

    Why are we talking about “the myth of Christian under-representation”?

    The real question is Christian extinction.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 20, 2013, 9:00 pm
  20. Akbar Palace,

    The question of Christian extinction would only be valid if there existed a group, either affiliated with the state or not, that advocates a policy of Christian extinction and working clearly towards it. At this point in time, It is not quite obvious today that there exists such an ideology in mainstream Lebanese society. Perhaps Christian emigration has more to do with the socioeconomic factors rather than a blatant policy advocating the extinction of Christians in Lebanon.

    As for those comparing Lebanon to the US Senate, as Qifa Nabki explained, the US has a bicameral legislature in which the lower House, the House of Representatives, has seats dispersed among states on the basis of population, while the Senate allows 2 seats for all states in order to protect state equality. If Lebanese society is so insistent on preserving protection of sects, then potentially we could create such a bicameral legislature whereby only the Senate imposes sectarian quotas.

    Posted by GCB1 | January 21, 2013, 10:58 am
  21. The question of Christian extinction would only be valid if there existed a group, either affiliated with the state or not, that advocates a policy of Christian extinction and working clearly towards it.

    GCB1,

    I don’t think there is any group in the ME that “advocates a policy of Christian extinction”, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Christians are leaving the ME and Lebanon at an unusually high rate:

    Across the Arab world, Christians feel like a species facing extinction, threatened by Islamist fanatics, driven by a lack of opportunity at home to seek better lives abroad, and now fearful of the post-revolution order which in some countries has brought Islamists to power.

    Christians now make up about 5 percent of the Middle Eastern population, down from 20 percent a century ago. If current pressures and their low birth rates continue, some estimates say their 12 million total could be halved by 2020.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/14/us-pope-lebanon-christians-idUSBRE88D0BE20120914

    It’s not a public “policy”, but it seems to be the reality.

    So when we talk about Christians be under-represented (in elections), I think it sort of misses the “big picture”, which is worse.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 21, 2013, 1:14 pm
  22. @Akbar Palace,

    I agree with you that Christian emigration and threats against Christians in the MENA region has increased in the post-Cold War era. This tends to be concentrated mostly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, all to different extents and causes. Christian emigration in Iraq, for example, does not have much in common with Christian emigration in Lebanon. The socioeconomic conditions and the number of radical Islamists in Iraq are far different than in Lebanon and, unlike the countries I have named, Christians do have a governing role in Lebanon.

    Have the number of Lebanese Christians in Lebanon decreased? Perhaps so, but – again – this may be more due to socioeconomic conditions rather than being forced out of the country. An interesting topic of research is to discuss the causes of this emigration amongst Christians – that is, whether it is due to simply a higher birth rate among other sects (and why), or generally favorable financial conditions within Christians that put them in a relatively better position to afford such emigration.

    My main point then is to not confuse and mix the case of Christians in Lebanon with those in other countries. Lebanese Christians – and in fact all Lebanese – face very different conditions in social, economic, political and security terms. Such a confusion may lead one to exaggerate this so-called threat, and lead to flawed and divisive policies (e.g. OMG law) that do not reflect the realities and issues Lebanon faces.

    Posted by gcb1 | January 22, 2013, 1:19 pm
  23. GCB1:

    Reasons for emigration are not distinct boxes, where you can lump causes. Your efforts at doing so not-withstanding. Even emigration for socio-economic reasons (whether or not the emigres had the means or not) can itself be related to topics such as religious discrimination etc.

    Like Elias, you’re getting worked up in details.

    This line in particular is rather absurd:

    I agree with you that Christian emigration and threats against Christians in the MENA region has increased in the post-Cold War era. This tends to be concentrated mostly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt

    … given that there’s really not many other countries in “MENA” that have much of a Christian population to bully!

    Saudi Arabia = 0% Christian
    Turkey < 0.2 % Christian
    Iran < 2% Christian
    Morocco < 1% Christian
    Algeria < 1% Christian

    Need I go on?

    If Levantine/Mediteranean Christians are a species to be protected, I'd suggest a good place to start is to not note that areas where they are bullied are limited to several countries where there populations remained a little healthier than they were in neighboring regions!

    Ditto AP's point.

    And why there is something rather offensive about Elias's original post. "Myth" "Christian" "Under-Representation". The Middle Eastern Christian is a species nearing extinction. Frankly, as an atheist, I'd be a hypocrite to suggest that this would something I take exception to. However, if the "Region" did want to preserve "Christian" presence, it is rather clear that the region has to "socially engineer" itself to promote the presence of Christianity, and yes- that means "Over-Representation" of Christians/Christianity.

    Let's not get worked up about whether the system in Lebanon affords a Maruni/Rum 10000 votes per seat, while a Shia/Sunni gets 20000 votes per seat. Today, there is no question that the Sunnis and the Shias, not-withstanding the real risk they will butcher each other for years to come, will still be around in the area.

    For the Christians, it's a toss up.

    And by the time you finish analyzing whether the reason their numbers are dwindling is "economic", "socio-economic", "socio-political", "by-design". They'll probably be long-gone.

    Posted by Gabriel | January 22, 2013, 4:30 pm
  24. strange, I’ve never heard from a person of a Christian confession in Lebanon that they will be migrating abroad because of the Islamic threat.
    Me thinks, and no offense really, that the Christians of Lebanon are showing signs of a spoiled brat and they’re having a sulk. Obviously, it is the right wing voices who are fear mongering their constituency and not all Christians seem to agree.

    Posted by Maverick | January 22, 2013, 6:51 pm
  25. Maverick… Do I take that you don’t personally know any of those fear mongering right-wing nutjobs scaring their constituencies. “Never heard” is quite a strong word.

    You’ve “never” heard over in the Land of Oz (that is where you are is it not?) in strange congregations of Lebanese people who have already left that they are happy about the move as there is no real future for “Christians” in the Middle East? That’s not something that’s ever- and I mean ever- been said, even if it were a result of spoiled brat syndrome?

    Personally- and you’d rarely catch me in those gatherings in the first place- it is something I quite routinely hear. Either you’re quite socially disconnected, or you’ve successfully managed to create a circle of exclusively left-wing “Lebanese” friends in your adopted country!

    Posted by Gabriel | January 22, 2013, 7:28 pm
  26. Gabriel,

    I believe lack of employment opportunity, expensive tertiary education, Red hot living expenses, and the volatile security situation, not to mention the electricity and traffic etc , would prove a lot more scary than the Islamic peril to most Lebanese Christians. just sayin’

    Posted by Maverick | January 22, 2013, 10:59 pm
  27. Maverick,

    I didn’t ask you why you thought they emigrated. I took exception to your assertion that you’ve never heard Christians say they don’t see a long term future in the ME

    More later.

    Posted by Gabriel | January 23, 2013, 12:43 am
  28. Maverick

    There are many reasons to “emigrate”. And some reasons trump others. Income, Jobs, etc no doubt top the list. Otherwise you wouldn’t have Lebanese leave the motherland to live elsewhere- Africa, the Gulf. Even though some of these destinations aren’t exactly bastions of rights and liberties. Case in point: KSA, where many Christians have happily moved there to earn a buck or two, and put up with whatever constraints they had to.

    So yes. There are economic imperatives to migration, and in general, those probably do trump all other imperatives.

    So why is it, in the late 90s and early 21st century, that we still see rather large migration patterns of Lebanese from “Gulf countries” to places like Australia and Canada (to name 2 of the larger host countries).

    Is it really- as you suggest- because of “employment opportunity”.

    Do you know what the Lebanese who come here late in life do? Drive taxis, open restaurants and little corner stores.

    Most “emigres” that start off in the Gulf don’t actually stay in Canada (I’ll speak for the situation in Canada) precisely because there are no real employment opportunities, and besides they earn far more in places like the Gulf.

    So why emigrate at all?

    Many of the ones who have gone through the process still go back to Lebanon and spend considerable time there. The electricity situation or the traffic situation seems not to bother them much.

    So why emigrate at all?

    They don’t do it for the money, nor do they do it for the cost of “tertiary” education. Nor really because there is no electricity.

    They do it because it is an insurance policy.

    It is an insurance policy for their future and opening doors for their children- (which is also about their “future”).

    Every “reason” you list for emigration is actually applicable to all Lebanese “emigres”: Druze, Christian, Sunni, Shia, Alawi, and on and on and on.

    They all leave for jobs. They all leave for prospects for their kids.

    But I’ve never heard a Sunni emigre in Canada (and here it is appropriate to use the qualifier “Never”) say, in any sort of gathering or congregation of Lebanese people outside of Lebanon say that “there is no future for Sunnis in Lebanon or the Middle East).

    Posted by Gabriel | January 23, 2013, 2:16 am
  29. Did anyone solve the puzzle?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 23, 2013, 9:51 am
  30. Gabriel,

    I don’t see anything to disagree with in what you wrote.
    As to why Australia and Canada, I think it’s related to long term as opposed to short term gains via the Gulf hubs. The former are so called ‘the best countries in the world’ to live in and at least you achieve a citizenship. There is also the attraction of Government support from welfare to education and so on and so on.

    My point about Lebanese Christian attitudes was that they maybe emigrating because of a bleak outlook to their future, not because there is a direct threat from Islamic extremism like for instance Iraq/Syria? but because they view their gradual erosion of political power post-Taef as a sign of eventual extinction. It may seem to a Christian in Lebanon that they are losing some representation, political power and that they are ‘boxed in’, but would’nt that be attributed to internal bickering, lack of political leadership and vision etc as opposed to a conspiratorial ‘teaming up’ against them.
    Perhaps, the rest of the Lebanese see the loss of Christian political power as a normal and natural circumstance considering demographics and new found realities while the Christian groups see it as an existential threat and exaggerate the fears.
    Anyways, it’s a huge topic that needs a lot more explanation than a post or two.

    Posted by Maverick | January 24, 2013, 9:45 pm
  31. A lot of important things have been said in the comment section, EJ and Gabriel have made very interesting remarks, and have mentioned in one way or another the different points I would like to make. But I believe they must be reframed to make the compelling case they seek to present.
    Instead of reinterpreting our State institutions (presenting an extremely centralised State as a federal one), or reworking all the communal aspects of our daily lives into a coherent and integrated system (which it’s not), I will try to limit myself to the “parity rule” as the basic legal/political challenge being discussed in parliament today. Justifying or disapproving it isn’t really relevant. It’s a basic principle in our constitution that takes precedents over deconfessionalisation (which is meant to annul it in the future). To understand this rule fully one should situate it at three different times: During the Taef conference (1989), during the Syrian mandate for Lebanon (1990-2005), and after Lebanon’s third independence (2005-).

    The parity rule under Taef. This rule was established as a peacebuilding mechanism, a confidence building scheme to ensure that “communal interests” would be protected, and that there will be no “junior” or “senior” partner; no ghaleb or maghloub. The parity rule within parliament was meant to translate and to ensure the principle of “equal partnership” between Christians and Muslims, and to defuse any kind of “demographic threat”. It is meant to make the question of communal overrepresentation irrelevant. The wording of article 24 of the Lebanese constitution makes this extremely clear (equal numbers between Christian and Muslims, proportionality within each group).
    The parity rule under the Syrian Mandate: As we well know, the Syrian authorities ruling over Lebanon modified the rules of the game. They actually upheld the principle of ghaleb and maghloub, and (rightly) saw in the Christian community a threat to their hold on Lebanon, sidelining its major political parties by all possible means (threats, criminal procedures and the manipulation of the electoral law that ensured that most Christian MPs could only enter the Parliament as junior partners of the Syrian allied Muslim patronage networks). The principle of equal partnership between Christians and Muslims was thus undermined. The parity rule was not only stripped of its original meaning, but became a mechanism used to sideline Christian political aspirations. As a result: Four major muslim parties (three of which were headed by warlords) dominated the political landscape: Their control over Christian voices increased their share of parliamentary seats and governmental seats; thus increasing their share of the cake (i.e. State resources). And so grew their patronage networks within the State and their control of social, economical and cultural institutions. On the Christian side, the Syrian authorities supported three minor patronage networks: one headed by a Maronite in Northern Lebanon, one headed by a Greek-Orthodox in Central Mount-Lebanon and one headed by a Greek-Catholic in the Central Beqaa. The parity rule became a means of creating Senior and Junior partners in Lebanese politics, both of which were communally defined.
    The Parity rule after the third independence: In 2005, an informal mechanism was used by two of the major patronage networks (Mustaqbal & Ishtiraki) to limit the communal sidelining effects of the electoral law and “restore” a better participation of Christian parties. But this informal mechanism meant that these political parties were co-opted into the game by stronger allies, and given their lack of resources (through patronage networks, or foreign financial or military support), they could only hope to become junior partners in parliament and government. This was confirmed in practice throughout the legislature.
    In 2009, the new electoral law allowed a substantial number of Christian MPs to enter parliament with little need of backing from the prominent muslim-based patronage networks. This was done through a formal mechanism, an alteration of the electoral law that saw the restoration of old constituencies: Zgharta, Batroun, Bcharré, Koura, Baabda, Jezzine, Achrafié. But this wasn’t enough to change the basic dynamics between Senior and Junior partners, as the practice of both the Hariri government and the Miqati government has show. It’s only by taking into account the disparity between the promise of the “parity rule” and the way that it is practiced that one can understand the general consensus among Christian parties supporting the “Orthodox proposal”

    But will this reform enough to fulfil the promise of the Taef agreement of equal partnership between christians and muslims? Is there a better one? One thing is for sure, these questions cannot be answered by any kind of normative reasoning.

    Posted by worriedlebanese | February 22, 2013, 6:19 am

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  1. Pingback: Lebanon: Federal or Unitary Republic? « Qifa Nabki - January 21, 2013

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