Lebanon, Reform

Why Lebanon Needs a Senate

lcs-smallI’d like to introduce a project that I’m involved in, called “The Lebanese Campaign for a Senate”. The campaign’s website serves as a hub for relevant policy news on the subject of bicameralism, as well as a discussion forum on the merits and challenges of establishing a Lebanese senate. Content is being added to the site on a daily basis, so please feel free to visit regularly and explore the various resources.

Why a Senate?

Most Lebanese agree that the current political framework in Lebanon — with its confessional quotas in parliament, gerrymandered districts, and archaic electoral law —  is in urgent need of reform. The call to eradicate political sectarianism is an oft-heard refrain in the rhetoric of Lebanon’s political elite, yet few concrete steps have been taken in the service of this goal since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.

The establishment of a senate in Lebanon would represent an important step towards dismantling the structures of political sectarianism. This, in and of itself, is hardly a radical idea. Both the Lebanese Constitution and the Ta’if Agreement (which ended the civil war) call for the establishment of a senate. Article 22 of the Constitution stipulates:

“With the election of the first Parliament on a national, non-confessional basis, a Senate is established in which all the religious communities are represented. Its authority is limited to major national issues.”

What the Constitution envisages is a legislature with two chambers, as is found in the vast majority of countries in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia. The parliament would be elected on a non-confessional basis (i.e. with no predetermined quotas for the representation of different sects), while the senate would serve as the representative body for Lebanon’s eighteen confessional communities. The goal of parliament, therefore, would be to express the will of the majority, while the role of the senate would be to protect the rights of the minority. By decoupling sectarian representation from the parliament and transferring it to the senate, so the theory goes, a space would be opened up for the vital expression of a politically-defined majority.

From Theory to Practice

While the notion of a senate has been kicking around for a long time, there has never been a full-fledged government- or civil society-sponsored initiative to explore the idea in depth… until now. In recent weeks, President Michel Suleiman has called for the creation of a National Commission to Abolish Political Sectarianism, and one of the principal strategies under discussion would be the creation of a senate.

One of the goals of this campaign is to help put this issue on the map, and to encourage a public conversation on the subject. Spread the word!
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Discussion

49 thoughts on “Why Lebanon Needs a Senate

  1. There is no reason why any specific form of government would be more or less successful than any other. having a senate doesn’t mean that the minority is protected, and it officially institutionalizes confessionalism. Any ordinary law could protect minorities if people followed it.

    In government, there are usually two issues. 1) the fairness of how the process works, 2) the actual systematic processes.

    It’s a fantasy to think that just changing the form of government can provide more adequate governance. For example, many people I know look to Israel as a model political system (parliamentary system, low barriers to entry, decent adherence on the rule of law, a generally developed system of “rights”…), but obviously the system itself only goes so far when you are dealing with a racist and colonial population. Likewise, the USA is often looked to (having a senate that is supposed to protect state’s rights). But any politically minded person can tell you that the American system leaves a lot to be desired.

    So, I always am left underwhelmed by arguments of systematic structural change in any political system. It can only provide so much guidance, and usually becomes a scapegoat for what are a completely different set of problems.

    Plus, in a place like lebanon, adding a branch to the political system is simply more likely to institutionalize corruption, nepotism, and stupidity. not the other way around.

    Assuming that Hizbullah and FPM actually work to break down confesionalism, and are not just talking out of their ass, they will do a thousand times more to actually end confessionalism than any additional branch of government will do.

    Posted by Joe M. | April 15, 2009, 12:57 am
  2. you should work on how fair the current process is, rather than try to build a new system.

    Posted by Joe M. | April 15, 2009, 12:58 am
  3. The idea of having a Senate in Lebanon has no relation whatsoever with making the system less sectarian. Rather it will make it even more since that position will be allotted to a Druze. I don’t think that there are many in their right minds who will accept that the leader of 85% of 5% or so of the people living in that country will accept that a Junblat look-alike be chosen as the Senate chairman. Sectarianism will remain a feature of the political landscape for two reasons, one internal and one external.

    In order to push for a big change inside Lebanon, we have to have a new political leadership with the ideas, the resources and the will to take on entrenched interests who do not wish to see any change to the current formula that bring them power and money. At the same time, we have to have a more helpful regional situation, i.e. meaningful and positive change in the Arab world.

    Finally, I find it odd that people put up websites to harness political change in Lebanon in a foreign language. No wonder that the proponents of such a change do find a voice in the virtual world rather than in the real one.

    Posted by Jihad | April 15, 2009, 2:05 am
  4. Before we can even think of this, a properly organized official government census of the population and its sectarian distribution must be conducted. We can no longer rely on the figures of the 1930s (I can’t remember the exact year; should have paid more attention in Tareekh classes).

    Also, as Jihad pointed out, an Arabic and probably a French website would be extremely beneficial to your cause.

    Posted by Jim Ramsey Khoury | April 15, 2009, 3:17 am
  5. I agree with the comments so far. The system itself is only part of the problem. We have witnessed in the past two decades what should be disillusionment with the idea that introducing a good quality flavour of democracy will magically make a country work.

    I don’t want to get into ‘What Lebanon’s problem really is,’ but here it is. It’s more about the people, their attitudes towards Lebanon, Laws, government & each other.

    We are now seeing what is probably the end of democracy (for now) in Thailand. In several cases I heard of the protesters &/or army officers were extremely distraught by the idea of Thais killing each other. It may be the case that no institution can maintain much popular support while taking part i more then a certain level of violence with soldiers going very soft & such. If that is the case (it is yet to be seen), it may be impossible to compromise Thailand to that extent.

    Which of Lebanon’s parties would lose power by choice of it’s leadership or by loss of support before piling up bodies?

    Beyond that, there are lots of reasonable models for democracy (Lebanon’s is not one of them). Any one can work. There may be a slight advantage to one or another, but discussing it is like almost like degreasing the engine when you don’t have wheels.

    The Abstract version of the senate question might be: “If Lebanon magically grew the perfect framework tomorrow, whatever that is, what would it change? How?”

    Consider that any major reform has the ability to fail. That failure is costly in itself. The potential cost is pretty big. What improvements are realistic to expect from such a reform to make this risk worthwhile?

    Posted by netsp | April 15, 2009, 6:49 am
  6. Wow, I wasn’t expecting this much negativity so early in the morning, and from some of my smarter readers! Ya shabab, come on…. you’re not being fair.

    Joe:

    Obviously we’re not JUST talking about adding a single branch of government. The point of the senate is to be able to free the Chamber of Deputies (parliament) from any confessional quotas. This is a big deal. The senate itself would have far more limited powers… it would consult only on certain matters, and eventually could function only ceremonially like the many “upper houses” in the world, e.g. the British House of Lords, at which point it may be abolished completely. But that is several decades down the road, of course.

    If the U.S. system leaves a lot to be desired, in your mind, what would you hold up as the best system instead?

    Jihad,

    You said:

    The idea of having a Senate in Lebanon has no relation whatsoever with making the system less sectarian. Rather it will make it even more since that position will be allotted to a Druze.

    There is no reason that the position will be “given to a Druze”. I’ve heard that theory before, and it’s basically an old wives tale. Maybe some have talked in those terms, but a proper senate would not function as yet another institutional fiefdom, but rather as a democratically elected second legislative body.

    As for Arabic, you’re completely right. We are planning to add Arabic and French as we go along, but because this is all being done on a BLOG (which simplifies things in some way), providing multilingual support of every page is a little tricky. Still trying to iron that out.

    Jim,

    A census is necessary, but that is the point. People are scared to death to conduct a census because of what it might show. Creating a senate, in certain ways, would make the question moot because the real power in the government would be held by a chamber that has no confessional quotas.

    Netsp,

    All the big parties stand to lose from this initiative, to varying degrees. The creation of a senate would probably go hand in hand with the establishment of a new electoral law that was based on proportionality and one national district. This would open up competition to a lot of other “independent” political parties.

    As for magically growint the perfect framework… I would personally choose a bicameral system. It makes a lot of sense for Lebanon, given the confessional diversity of its population. And, as is stated on the site, it is found in a majority of countries around the world.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 15, 2009, 7:58 am
  7. Rereading my last post, it is so unclear that it reminds me why it is important to edit the posts rather than just immediately post after you finish writing. anyway…

    QN,

    I don’t think the particular structure of government is the primary issue. For example, the revolutionaries that wrote the American constitution envisioned it to have a very weak administrator (president) because they hated the idea that the USA would become a kingdom like Europe. But over the course of time (and mostly after the 1930s), congress became increasingly weak and the president is now almost an all-powerful monarch (in relation to the rest of the federal government). Also in the USA, the role of the supreme court was unclear until 100 years had passed. So, I mean, the exact formation (or intended formation) of the government is much less important than the way it is used.

    If I were a Lebanese democracy activist, I would be more concerned with getting good people in important positions within the institutions you currently have, than to seek fundamental systematic reform. Reform will backfire if it is considered an end in itself (ie. if you seek a new branch of government because the current gov. doesn’t work, it is most likely that your new branch will just get infected with the problems of the current system because they will be born of the current problems).

    For example, the constitution that Noah Feldman wrote for Iraq might theoretically be an excellent document that provides a perfect system of government (though this is not my view), but it has the value of toilet paper considering that Iraq is an occupied and destroyed country.

    Basically, I think if your primary goal in advocating a new senate in Lebanon is to try to break the confessionalism down, I would personally start by advocating a new census (as was mentioned above). These types of events start to create disconnect necessary for a paradigm shift (Thomas Kuhn would roll over in his grave is he heard me say that). And if you have groups like FPM and Hizbullah legitimately pushing for a meritocracy (even if there is a shadow of confessionalism still there), it will be more effective than trying to establish a new legislating chamber.

    Lastly, there is no reason why a bicameral system is any more successful than a unicameral system. There will always be cost/benefit decision to be made regarding these questions. I “bill of rights” that has been adopted by a strong popular love can be more effective protecting minority rights than some random senate full of crooks… It’s just a matter of preference. The value in these determinations is not their exact result, but the way you get there. If you have a popular movement, of informed people, who are demanding a bicameral system, that can make it a valuable institution. If you have some senate that is paid for by Hariri money and pushed on Lebanon by the security council, it will be shit.

    (And I understand you are trying to do a campaign, but be careful what you wish for. the struggle is often more important than the result.) (And again, this should give you some insight as to why I am so impressed with Hizbullah)

    Posted by Joe M. | April 15, 2009, 10:06 am
  8. Joe,

    As usual, we disagree en route to agreeing.

    The points you are making are all well taken and I’m glad that you’ve raised them. I will tackle them one by one.

    If I were a Lebanese democracy activist, I would be more concerned with getting good people in important positions within the institutions you currently have, than to seek fundamental systematic reform.

    Absolutely. The question is: how? It’s easier said than done, given that we have an electoral law that encourages sectarian scare-mongering, vote-buying, non-ideological politics (e.g. electoral alliances between bitter foes), and the perpetuation of a neo-feudal stranglehold on historic “districts”. How do you propose to do it? We had a great draft law put together by the Boutros Commission and nobody went for it, not even the FPM or Hizbullah.

    Attempting gradual reforms of the existing system is a nice, fine, noble, but vague idea; you have to propose concrete steps. After all, people have been talking about reforming the system since the 1950’s. There’s been no real change since then.

    Reform will backfire if it is considered an end in itself (ie. if you seek a new branch of government because the current gov. doesn’t work, it is most likely that your new branch will just get infected with the problems of the current system because they will be born of the current problems).

    This is absolutely correct. That’s why I want to make the following point perfectly clear: The creation of a senate would be a means to an end.

    The principal goal is to reform the primary legislative and executive institutions (i.e. the Chamber of Deputies, the cabinet, and the executive “troika”), such that they are not subject to confessional restrictions, and such that election to either of these bodies is carried out in as free, fair, open, and meritocratic a process as possible.

    This is the primary goal, and if we could achieve it by merely reforming the existing system, I’d say forget the senate. Unfortunately, I just don’t see a clear path to reforming the current system without creating a senate.

    Basically, I think if your primary goal in advocating a new senate in Lebanon is to try to break the confessionalism down, I would personally start by advocating a new census (as was mentioned above).

    I agree with the need to have a census, but I suspect that we have different reasons. What is yours? Do you think that we need a census to tell us to adjust the existing quotas in parliament? By doing that, you would be merely enfranchising the confessional system, just swapping MP’s from one sect to another. In my opinion, this is not a true reform.

    If you have a popular movement, of informed people, who are demanding a bicameral system, that can make it a valuable institution. If you have some senate that is paid for by Hariri money and pushed on Lebanon by the security council, it will be shit.

    Let me be clear again: We are not interested in bicameralism for bicameralism’s sake. Look at it this way: instead of creating a NEW legislative chamber alongside the existing one, what we’re proposing is performing surgery on the existing one, splitting into two, and re-engineering each half such that they are responsible for completely different things. As a Hizbullah ex-MP said to me recently: “The concept of a senate is basically to take everything that is undesirable in the political system — sectarianism, entrenched interests, cronyism, neo-feudalism, etc. — out of the parliament and the executive branch, and stick it in one place: the senate. That way, it is easier to get rid of eventually.”

    Creating a senate with drastically limited powers is a means to an end: it is supposed to facilitate the adoption of a national, non-confessional electoral law for the parliament, and the dissolution of all confessional restrictions on civil service posts. This is the idea.

    But I’m glad you’ve made all of these points. Would you be interested in writing a critical essay on the whole concept of a senate, which I will publish on the senate site?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 15, 2009, 12:49 pm
  9. PS: On the Hizbullah minister’s analogy: I don’t mean to suggest that the senate is destined to be an asylum for crooks. What I’m saying is that it would serve a completely different function than the parliament.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 15, 2009, 12:55 pm
  10. I can’t say that I’m surprised at all the negative comments, although I am a bit disappointed. So before I say anything else: y3tik el-3fieh, ya habibi — you’re going to need it.

    Otherwise, the comment about the English site is a sound one, and you’re right, a blog platform doesn’t lend itself to multilingualism. So maybe you guys should just bite the bullet and buy some server space.

    As for the senate itself, I completely agree with you. But much in Joe’s suggestion to fix the current system, I’m not really sure how a senate would be created if most of the current political actors stand to lose by creating it. It’s kind of like Security Council reform — the only way to expand the council or strip the permanent members of their vetos would be to get them to agree to limit their own power.

    Do you have any concrete strategies for how to get the Dons to exile themselves into a senate?

    Posted by sean | April 15, 2009, 1:53 pm
  11. Sean,

    So what you’re advocating is bilingualism before bicameralism? We’re working on it… Probably have a lo-tech solution before creating two mirrored sites (one English, one Arabic). The problem is less about server space than design. Any web developers out there? (Preferably north of Ghajar, thank you.)

    The question you raise is the logical one, but it’s always going to come up no matter what kind of substantive reform is proposed. The beauty of the senate proposal is that there’s something there for everybody.

    I’ll explain this in a more detailed post at some stage.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 15, 2009, 2:52 pm
  12. QN, Two points:

    1 – A weak upper house is an issue. It is a potential deadlock to passing legislation.

    2 – The ‘Reform could backfire’ issue is a big deal. Failed reform of this kind, is potentially acid.

    Posted by netsp | April 15, 2009, 3:05 pm
  13. “Preferably north of Ghajar.”
    Not good ones.

    Posted by netsp | April 15, 2009, 3:16 pm
  14. The reason I advocate a new census is that I think it would scare the shit out of most of the people who currently benefit from maintaining the confessional system. And I think Hizbullah (who would be the largest beneficiary of a new census) wouldn’t care too much about an “official” increase in their representation. So after a few years of uproar and scare politics, a new census would fundamentally change the debate in Lebanon. Those who are clearly in power disproportionatly would have no choice but to give some of their power over, and those who would be most likely to gain would not abuse that new power… and it would likely lead to a legitimate attempt to deconfessionalize. Christians would rather try to get elected on the basis of their programs than forced to accept a manditory 15% upper limit to their representation. Hizbullah knows it’s the most popular, so it can deal with that too….

    I may be willing to write something formally later, but I am quite busy now. My natural tendecy is not to write, because i prefer to comment rather than to propose my ideas directly. Also, I don’t have a hard position on the particular benefits of any specific forms of government (because i think it is secondary to the way the system is used). In fact, I think that a focus on a systematic approach usually obscures the more important elements of real democracy. As a general matter, I do not believe that having a fair system insures a fair outcome. And I often believe that having an unfair system benefits society, because the marginalized are forced to rise above it (again, witness Hizbullah’s ability to organize). People like Francis Fukuyama always piss me off because they seem to think that systematic structures are more democratic than genuinely active involvement (Ie. I think Hizbullah is more genuinely democratic than the american democratic party, or american “democratically” elected representatives). Ideally, a fair system would be complimented by an informed and active population. But the informed and active population is the more important condition.

    Posted by Joe M. | April 15, 2009, 8:15 pm
  15. Joe:

    The reason I advocate a new census is that I think it would scare the shit out of most of the people who currently benefit from maintaining the confessional system.

    Nobody really has any illusions about what the real numbers look like. There have been plenty of demographic studies done (by the U.N. and others), and so it’s not exactly a secret that the quotas are a complete fantasy. And yet, this has not “scared the shit out of” anyone.

    When I’ve mentioned these figures to many of my Christian acquaintances (mostly Aounists), they almost immediately like to point out that there is a large Lebanese Christian diaspora, which should be taken into account. When I say that there are large numbers of Sunnis and (especially) Shi`a in the diaspora, they insist on the point that there are more Christians out of Lebanon than non-Christians.

    The point is that I don’t think an actual census will really make the kind of difference you think it will. There will be plenty of filibustering and deal-making, the net result of which would look more like an adjustment of the quotas (to one third each for Christians/Sunna/Shi`a) than deconfessionalizing.

    What is needed is a direct deconfessionalist strategy, with no bullshit or indirect scare tactics. The senate has a role to play in this strategy, I believe.

    I may be willing to write something formally later, but I am quite busy now. My natural tendecy is not to write, because i prefer to comment rather than to propose my ideas directly.

    I don’t blame you. Critique and commentary is much easier than going out on a limb. 😉

    Yalla, write something.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 15, 2009, 8:27 pm
  16. …those who would be most likely to gain would not abuse that new power… and it would likely lead to a legitimate attempt to deconfessionalize.

    Hahahah. Somebody get Nabih Berri on the phone, because he’s got a bridge to sell you.

    Posted by sean | April 15, 2009, 10:21 pm
  17. Any web developers out there?

    http://codex.wordpress.org/Multilingual_WordPress

    Haven’t explored it, but apparently you can host multiple languages on wordpress.

    Worst case scenario, you can just have a link that goes to an arabic version. You’d still have to write up the content 😉 but you can basically use the same design (i.e. next to the Subscribe tab you’d have languages)

    Posted by M. | April 16, 2009, 12:04 am
  18. Hi M.

    I’d seen that plugin before, but it’s for a WordPress.org blog, not WordPress.com

    I’ve already begun implementing the worst case scenario that you describe. Hopefully it will be online within a week or so.

    Thanks

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 16, 2009, 12:10 am
  19. QN,
    then why do you support a new census?

    Posted by Joe M. | April 16, 2009, 2:22 am
  20. Joe, if a senate is formed, a census may be necessary to figure out how to divide up the seats among the sects within it. But beyond the sectarian issue, a census is an essential tool that provides governments with detailed statistics about the populations that they are supposed to serve.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 16, 2009, 9:15 am
  21. QN,
    A senate in Lebanon is theoretically a good idea, but as you know, most good ideas backfire in the middle-east. In this case the senate would just make the life of Syria much easier because it will have to convince (euphemism for threaten) just a few people to stop any legislation or policies it would not like. You want to create the perfect bottle-neck for the Syrians (or any other outside force) to manipulate. What you need is a system that will lower the influence of outside forces, not make influencing Lebanon from the outside easier.

    Posted by AIG | April 16, 2009, 6:03 pm
  22. AIG,

    This would be true only if the senate had the ability to block all legislation. In fact, this is not a given at all. Everything is up for grabs. There are hundreds of potential scenarios and models for how to set up the senate, and what powers to give it, etc. It does not need to be like the U.S. system where all bills needs to pass both the House and the Senate before going to the President.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 16, 2009, 9:45 pm
  23. QN,
    If the senate cannot block legislation, how can it protect minorities? And if it can’t protect minorities, what is it needed for?

    Posted by AIG | April 16, 2009, 11:13 pm
  24. Again, there are a variety of potential models. One model would give the senate a legislative role only on matters pertaining to things like personal status laws, church/mosque and state relations, etc. but not on broad social/economic/foreign policy.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 16, 2009, 11:25 pm
  25. you know QN, considering the census. The point, which we both agree on, is that the current official confessional balance does not represent the actual balance. So a census can’t help but address that claim. I think it’s pretty clear that an official census would be harder to deal with than an unofficial one. Where the Lebanese government says that it’s improperly representing it’s own people…. My guess is that they would lead to some changes, because the unofficial view would be admitted by the system itself.

    Posted by Joe M. | April 17, 2009, 3:16 am
  26. QN,

    I’m with you on the creation of the Senate. I see it as a last vestige of the confessional system (just to satisfy or ease some concerns on the part of Za3ims), but I think it has to be conditioned on having or working toward the other branches going secular first along with the civil service quotas. That’s the easy part in my view to convert to a secular system, as all you need is the buy in of the current Pols’ elites of the major sects.

    The bigger issue is how to re-mold the ordinary citizens’ minds and changing their innate preconceived/fed misconceptions/inherited views etc. Thinkings and positions that are so ingrained beneath the surface. I personally have few ideas and I’m sure others do, and there’s no denying that it would be a huge national undertaking that the majority of citizens will have to pitch in and sacrifice for this worthy cause of conversion. Not an easy task to say the least. I’ve been away since ’75, so I don’t know if the younger generation is up to this gigantic task. I hope they are for their benefit and future, but they should be under no illusion that it would be as easy as just changing few laws. Lots of ground work is required that the prior generations were not able to accomplish or failed.

    Joe M.

    As QN mentioned, a census is a usefull tool for the government to enable it to allocate resources to better serve the populace etc.

    In my opinion, most sects in Lebanon have a fair idea where the numbers are today, more or less.

    However, if the objective is to change representation/allocation based on sects, then it is a mute point if the goal is to move to a secular system. The conversion goal is to get away from the current devisive system that has brought nothing but miserable, hurtfull and mediocre results. Lebanon desrerves better. Inshalla kheir.

    Ciao

    Posted by Ras Beirut | April 17, 2009, 5:54 am
  27. “One model would give the senate a legislative role only on matters pertaining to things like personal status laws, church/mosque and state relations, etc. but not on broad social/economic/foreign policy.”

    Any existing models to be used as a reference point?

    Posted by netsp | April 17, 2009, 6:29 am
  28. Ras Beirut,
    I don’t think we need to “re-mould the ordinary citizens’ minds” as you say. People’s choices will change when you make the structural changes. I believe its a fallacy perpetuated by the political class that the population is just sectarian by nature and should be sent to re-education camp in order to fix the country.

    You don’t need to eliminate prejudice in order to get people to co-exist in peace. Prejudice is a human condition that will always exist. You need to create an environment were this prejudice is not useful and so becomes irrelevant.

    Right now our winner-take-all election system, the sectarian quotas, the fact that you vote in your place of ‘origin’ as opposed to residency, combine to create a system where sectarianism becomes a rational political choice.

    The Za’ims also pitch in by distributing favours along sectarian lines, and rallying their base by agitating against ‘the other’. Our current system gives them an incentive to do so. Change the system and they’ll stop, or, better yet, be eliminated by a different political animal that is better adapted to the new system.

    Posted by RedLeb | April 17, 2009, 12:42 pm
  29. I agree with RedLeb. Actually, studies have shown that Lebanese are about as sectarian as other Arabs… at least one third of Lebanese do not value membership in their sect over their national identity. This is comparable to the same ratio among Egyptians, Jordanians, Moroccans, etc.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 17, 2009, 12:59 pm
  30. Yeah, I second RedLeb’s comment. Identities are quite malleable. There was an empirical study by someone called Deeb (I believe in the 60’s) that focused on how the sectarian identity was quite rapidly replaced by one that had nothing to do with sects.

    Posted by M. | April 17, 2009, 7:09 pm
  31. I once asked a friend, when I first came to Lebanon, the reason of the attachement to a political system that seemed so aberrant. I didn’t understand, I told him, how could you people leave your personal status matters in the hands of religious authorities (I remember the debate was raging about Hrawi’s civil marriage project). “If there was not religious quota”, he answered, “one community would have taken the power, and Lebanon would not be different from any of its neighbors”. Watching events in Iraq since the invasion have made me think about his remarks often.

    Posted by mj | April 17, 2009, 7:56 pm
  32. I agree on making the site also in French, as two or three other comments have suggested.

    As for the Senate… Lets give our age-old politicians at least one term (2005 doesn’t count) and see how they have planned to run the government.

    Posted by Jester theFool | April 18, 2009, 1:37 am
  33. RedLeb & QN,

    I respectfully disagree with both of your assessments. I do not easily buy the idea that if we just get rid of these Za3ims and their olive oil cans a nirvanick equalitarian democracy will just blossom in Lebanon. I think that a good percentage of the voters are not in that economical destitute position that a can of oil will influence their vote, let alone if they ask for it. If they do get it, I think they consider it as a freebee as they were gonna vote for their sect’s candidate anyway under the current set up.

    QN,

    You say that according to studies that 1/3 of Lebanese do not value their membership to their sect as to their national attachment, etc. and is about the same as Egypt, Jordan & Morocco.

    Well, 1/3 is not a majority to start out with. Second, these countries you mentioned have a much different Sects mixtures that do not lend themselves to the inter-sects occasional or historical clashes. A better comparison would be Iraq. I could care less about “Studies”, just watch TV and you’ll see what Sunni & Shiia are doing to each other in Iraq. This is saddenning, and it breaks my heart. No reason for it at all. Even further, look at what is happening to the Christians in Iraq, all are chasing them including the kurd minority. Is this right?

    My point is that regardless of Za3ims and political structure, there is this misstrust among sects in the ME, that should be broken through education and information.

    Just changing how people vote is not gonna change anything in my view.

    Even if you have all of Lebanon as one voting district, I think folks will still vote for their sect’s candidate regardless of olive oil or zift. The challenge is to change this mentality and compell the electorate to vote based on qualification and benefit for the Country.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | April 18, 2009, 6:07 am
  34. I think the answer is something between the views of Ras Beirut on one side and QN/RedLeb on the other. I tend to think that confessionalism is a major part of the problem, but it is not the cause of the problem. The cause of the problem is a disconnect the population feels from the politics. This disconnect reduces people to the lowest common denominator. For example, in the USA, as the political class is seen by the vast majority of the population as inaccessable and distant, the population tends to mobilize around one or two “critical” issues, like abortion or gay marriage… If the average person had more of an opportunity to actually address the political class, and to actually effect their lives through politics, and if there was a deeper democracy in the USA, the potency of the critical issues would diminish.

    The same is true of confessionalism in Lebanon. Confessionalism, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. But the reason is because people feel isolated from politics, and distant from the political class, and people can identify with these blunt categories to focus their frustration. If you want to defeat this phenomenal, the way is not to create an added chamber of the legislature, but to invite participation in the system. If people feel the ability to participate directly, they will stop addressing politics through confessional categories, and will increasingly address politics in terms of their direct needs and political views…

    There is a problem, of course, that many people actually believe in the supremacy of their confessional identity. But this can not be reduced by act of government, and will naturally be reduced by general interaction and the building of respect between communities. In this respect, if Hizbullah can continue to show humility towards the other sects, and continue to advocate a program of societal betterment, rather than one of only shia empowerment, they will do more to break down the confessional system than any Senate could ever do. This is especially so as they represent the largest sect, and are the most organized and most powerful organization (including the government) in the country. Their alliance with FPM was a major step in the right direction. And I think their cold alliance with the leftists is also a significant endeavor.

    Creating a Senate can only be as useful as the confessional system will allow it. If the environment is deeply polluted, a new structure will not clean the pollution, but simply will become polluted itself. It is too much to ask for a savior to drop from the sky and clean all the air at once… But a more general goal, of giving people actual political empowerment will almost always tend to break down the traditional stereotypes…

    (of course, it is possible that people feel most empowered politically by their identification with their sect, but I don’t think that can last in the face of serious political engagement. At some point people will be confronted with the challenge of advocating their direct interests or advocating their indirect interests. I think the direct interests will tend to win. And, of course, this is a very complex issue, and I am only addressing a small part of it. Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities is a good place to start for a deeper analysis.)

    Posted by Joe M. | April 18, 2009, 11:15 am
  35. Yes, as I said before, look at Iraq. Different times, different sh.., same stink? It is curious that the ideological lense that most adamantly refuses to buy the argument that “the lebanese war was imposed by others” -see Remarkz’s last post- see something different in today’s Irak, where “everything is the fault of the occupation”. I find the absence of an honest, non-partisan analysis of Irak in the current political analysis among arabs -all ideologies included- suspect -and unhelpfull-. Am I exaggerating the parallelism between the two?

    Posted by mj | April 18, 2009, 11:52 am
  36. Again, look at Iraq. Different times, different sh.., same stink? It is curious that the ideological lense that most refuses to buy the argument that “the lebanese war was imposed by others” -see Remarkz’s last post- see something different in today’s Irak, where “everything is the fault of the occupation”. I find the absence of an honest, non-partisan analysis of Irak in the current political analysis among arabs -all ideologies included- suspect -and unhelpfull-. Am I exaggerating the parallelism between the two?

    Posted by mj | April 18, 2009, 11:55 am
  37. I find too many ifs in Joe M.’s analysis. Whatever Benedict Anderson’s says, all communities are imagined, like everything man thinks of, and acts from. There are better ways than others to deal with identity conflicts. Denying them is not one of the best.

    Posted by mj | April 18, 2009, 12:09 pm
  38. Joe,

    The core of your point is this statement:

    If you want to defeat this phenomenon [sectarianism], the way is not to create an added chamber of the legislature, but to invite participation in the system.

    That’s a perfectly good theoretical point, but how does one invite participation in the system?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 18, 2009, 3:54 pm
  39. I think you could do it many ways. For example, open government “empowerment” offices all around the country so that people can speak directly to government workers about how to make their lives better (assuming the complaint offices followed up and reported back to people about progress). Essentially, that is what Hizbullah has done for the Shia. Or, political parties could more actively interact with the populations they don’t serve (maybe have LF MPs open offices in Hizbullah neighborhoods). Another possibility is stop rigging elections before hand and actually have campaigns to win votes. It would be a start if, in general, the government were more effective. But too, it could make explicit efforts to confessionalize the country, like institute affirmative action programs where they set up schools requiring children from all the sects. As you know, Hizbullah brags day and night that even Christians attend their schools and fight side by side with them in the resistance (and it is just a hand full of people). These efforts are important, but the government could make similar efforts on a broader scale.

    Posted by Joe M. | April 18, 2009, 7:51 pm
  40. I think you could do it many ways. For example, open government “empowerment” offices all around the country so that people can speak directly to government workers about how to make their lives better

    They already exist; they’re called “parliamentarians’ living rooms.” Everytime I go visit a politician, I’m ushered in by a modern-day chamberlain past a delegation of constituents who’ve traveled from some remote corner of the MP’s district, dressed in their Sunday best and bearing bushels of apples and wild thyme. I’m then ushered out exactly 30 minutes later, past another one of those delegations.

    The problem isn’t really access.

    Another possibility is stop rigging elections before hand and actually have campaigns to win votes.

    How are they rigging them beforehand right now? And assuming they are, who is going to stop them from doing so?

    It would be a start if, in general, the government were more effective.

    Yes that would be great. How?

    🙂

    Sorry to keep putting you on the spot, Joe, but I feel like you are not providing enough alternatives. Your criticisms are on point, but criticizing is the easy part.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 18, 2009, 8:01 pm
  41. QN,
    I think Hizbullah is doing a good job in all of these respects, honestly. So my view of how to make government more effective is that Hizbullah will shame other parties into becoming more effective in government (because Hizbullah is effective, though, in a limited sense when it comes to governing). But they are doing so because they are the most engaged party, and their followers are largely connected from head to toe with the population.

    Also right now I can meet my legislators if I am so inclined, but there is a fundamental difference between an official government office that takes complaints and follow up with progress, rather than a legislator’s living room (for example, even just in terms of the atmosphere of going to a bureaucrat’s office or to a fancy home). I think such a project is necessarily an executive branch endeavor, because the executive is the ones that implements decisions. So, in Lebanon, directed through the office of the Prime Minister.

    And access is always a problem, even if it isn’t the bottleneck itself. Because political cynicism produces the same effects as actual access problems. And I think that is an important starting point.

    Again, when the USA wanted to desegregate its public schools, the courts mandated thousands of ideas, like inter-school busing programs, redistricting so that different populations were within the geographic lines, they appointed black teachers to teach in white schools and vice versa… The USA didn’t do a very good job desegregating populations in fact, but the process itself was very significant in changing people’s minds about segregation.

    Also, just to go back to your Senate idea. Why create another body, when you can just assign an independent veto power to representatives in the parliament? it would hardly be different functionally. If there was a committee on confessional harmony that had the last word on certain matters in Parliament, you would not have to create an entirely new branch of government.

    Oh, and an idea that the critical theorists propose is that you use a lottery to pick people for positions of political power. it is argued that this is more democratic and does more to deconfessionalize than any other means.

    Did you ever read Scott Page’s book, “the difference”? It is more interesting than black swan. and I prefer Thomas Kuhn paradigm shift idea (though he meant it to apply only to science) to the weird black swan thing. the idea that “almost all consequential events in history come from the unexpected” is clearly stupid and wrong.

    Posted by Joe M. | April 18, 2009, 9:28 pm
  42. QN,
    out of curiosity, as i have not been following it, how is the Egypt/Hizbullah feud playing out within M14? Does it have any resonance?

    Posted by Joe M. | April 18, 2009, 10:02 pm
  43. Joe,

    I’ll try to address your other points tomorrow, as I’m a bit exhausted right now: just got home from a four hour discussion (well, argument) about whether or not Classical Arabic is a dead language and the colloquials are corrupt, bastard tongues that are necessarily inferior to MSA.

    But I agree with you about The Black Swan. I just can’t get my head around a central contradiction in his work. He says that these black swans (high impact, completely unpredictable, retrospectively rationalized events) are so important, and that we should focus on them rather than the rest of the bell curve, if we want to really understand how the world works. But if black swans are — by definition — unpredictable, how the hell are we supposed to study them?!

    As for Egypt and Hizbullah, M14 has been remarkably silent, apart from a few statements here and there. This, to me, is about the smartest thing they’ve done in a while, from a PR perspective. They’re letting Egypt do their dirty work for them, just like they’re letting the drug rings in the Bekaa do the same. They don’t need to comment… and so they don’t.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 19, 2009, 2:38 am
  44. Since the Black Swan type topics are more in my area of expertise than the Lebanese Senate, I will butt in for a second.

    There actually isn’t a contradiction. You don’t need to focus on what the Black Swan actually looks like; just that it may exist. For example (and this is an incomplete example), take a Bell curve, and add a spike 10 sigma out. It will drastically change the types of decisions you make.

    But if black swans are — by definition — unpredictable, how the hell are we supposed to study them?

    Randomness can still be studied. For example, just because we have seen the sun rise every day of our lives, doesn’t mean it will rise tomorrow with 100% certainty. That is a black swan.

    Posted by M. | April 19, 2009, 2:50 am
  45. M.

    Could you elaborate? This is not my area of expertise, and it is getting in the way of my enjoying this book.

    Once we agree that large, unpredictable events have had huge effects on civilization… where do you go from there. I just can’t help feeling like Taleb found a way to spin some kind of nihilist parlor trick into a book deal, which he then capitalized on big time when the markets crashed.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 19, 2009, 8:26 am
  46. Hi QN – if you guys need money to buy server space, shoot me an e-mail. I may be able to help.

    Posted by ED | April 28, 2009, 4:29 pm
  47. guys be lebanese
    lets all togather Write-off of sectarian restriction of the personal registration,just be lebanese !!!

    Posted by rasha | May 18, 2009, 11:55 pm

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