Lebanon, Reform

Abolishing Political Sectarianism in Lebanon

The topic de jour these days in Beirut, in case you haven’t heard, is abolishing political sectarianism. The Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, has lent his full-throated support to President Sleiman’s call to establish a commission to study the ways and means to do away with Lebanon’s dysfunctional system, and various other politicians have chimed in as well.

Understandably, the reaction among Lebanon’s Christian leaders has ranged from outright rejection to cautious acceptance or backpedalling. Meanwhile, leftists are skeptical that anything meaningful can be accomplished when Lebanon’s neo-feudal leaders are the ones championing the cause.

Given that this issue was voted the top priority on the Lebanese National Agenda poll that we held here a few weeks ago, I think that the time is ripe to launch another 183-comment debate, wouldn’t you say? Here are the main issues, as I see them.

First of all, it’s important to appreciate the complexity of this issue. After all, it’s not simply a matter of getting rid of parliamentary quotas or holding a census. Rather, it’s a question of how to build a completely different political system, practically from the ground up.

Where does one begin? I would propose to begin at the end. In other words, one should start by asking: What kind of a political system do we want to end up with? Should it have one legislative chamber or two? Should it be a presidential or prime ministerial system, or some kind of combination? How should powers be separated between the various branches of government? What kinds of protections should religious minorities enjoy, if any? What kind of electoral law should be adopted? Will expatriate Lebanese be allowed to vote? What kind of role will administrative decentralization play? The list goes on and on.

Answering these questions requires, in part, being able to identify what is so odious about the current system. On the one hand, it is easy to see how the mixture of religion and politics is anathema to democracy activists. However, would an ostensibly non-sectarian system populated entirely by sectarian political parties really be any better than what we already have?

There is much more to say, but I’d like to open the floor for discussion. We’ll surely revisit this issue again in the days and weeks ahead.
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44 thoughts on “Abolishing Political Sectarianism in Lebanon

  1. Don’t you first have to decide which issues the Lebanese “state” is responsible for and which Hizballah? For example, it is clear that Hizballah decides when Lebanon goes to war. It also decides in many areas of Lebanon what the building regulations are. Which issues are Hizballah allowed to veto? Obviously all issues related to land communications networks. What else? Will these Hizballah rights be granted by the constitution?

    Any system needs sound foundations. Even the best system will fail if the foundations are not there.

    Posted by AIG | December 1, 2009, 4:08 pm
  2. I dearly wish, and I know this is an endeavor that would span several generations, that religion could be separated from public life in the minds of the people first. They need to stop thinking of themselves as members of a religious tribe and start integrating the notion of belonging to a political nation. We need a balance whereby what people hold dear is not threatened, but is firmly kept away from matters of the state. I wonder if political parties would be able to remain sectarian if their supporting segments of the population didn’t buy into that system. Also, how do you make all these groups step away from their religious associations simultaneously? It’s like nuclear disarmament, except THAT’s quantifiable.

    Posted by Joumana Medlej | December 1, 2009, 4:29 pm
  3. Why not have a two chamber legislature – one with a sectarian quota and one without? I mean, what are the arguments against it?

    In addition, you can use the idea of a rotating presidency/prime minister/speaker for awhile.

    These would be baby steps, of course, but one must start somewhere, right?

    Posted by Cathie | December 1, 2009, 4:32 pm
  4. QN,
    as usual, you are too obsessed with political structures. Political structures do not change the nature of politics. If a society is steeped with corruption, their politics will also be corrupt.

    To get rid of sectarianism, there needs to be an emphasis on meritocracy and a different nationalism than the nationalism of personhood or sect. it doesn’t matter whether it is a presidential, parliamentary, two-chamber, fascist dictatorship…

    it is my opinion that Hizbullah will do more to end sectarianism in Lebanon than any political system can. Hizbullah forces the other parties to meet its challenge of efficiency and good works.

    The question of the weapons is just a distraction used to divert attention from how corrupt and sectarian the other parties are. But actually, given Hizbullah’s monopoly of power in Lebanon, it could be the most important factor in actually eliminating sectarianism in the longer-term. Since Hizbullah is so strong (both militarily and politically), it establishes the rules of the game. Everyone else has to play by their rules. And since they seem to have anti-sectarian rules, it works in teh best interest of Lebanon.

    Posted by Joe M. | December 1, 2009, 4:43 pm
  5. On many occasions on this Blog and on other formats I have been a constant vocal critic of the Lebanese body politic especially its political sectarianism/confessionalism. I will disagree vociferously with the misguided logic that the issue can be put one more time on the back burners since it is complicated and difficult. But isssues need to be dealt with precisely because they are complex and because if they are not faced head on then the inevitable disaster cannot be blamed on anyone else but our lack of resolve to grow up. I am again reminded of the popular saying by Murray Bookchin “If we do not do the impossible then the unthinkable will prevail”.
    I am not going to repeat any of the arguments but allow me to point you to three different columns that I have on rationalrepublic.glogspot.com and on Yalibnan.com. They are

    Sept 2007 Why Should Personal Faith Be A Qualification For The presidency?

    Sep 27 2009 Sectarianism Revisited

    Nov 27 2009 Elimination of Sectarianism
    : If Not Now, When?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 1, 2009, 5:05 pm
  6. What about an 18 state solution? HAHAHAHA.

    I’m sure by now everyone here has seen the Lebanese Laique Pride march scheduled for April 25th, right? Nearly 4000 have said they will be attending. (http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/event.php?eid=200480171135&ref=ts)

    From an outsider’s point of view, it seems to me there is a real political will towards abolishing sectarianism, and as we all know, that’s the most important ingredient to change.

    I was impressed by the number of university students who volunteered for election observation in June.

    The reality is that it doesn’t matter what political dinosaurs do. What matters is the new blood, and that only comes with citizen involvement in political affairs, whether it be running for a local campaign or volunteering for a election observation or advocating policy changes. That’s why civil society is so important.

    Posted by Cathie | December 1, 2009, 5:27 pm
  7. laqad saqata’l qina3!! qifa nabki 3ala lubnan

    Posted by V | December 1, 2009, 5:41 pm
  8. Cathie,

    Arguments for and against bicameralism can be found here.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 1, 2009, 6:56 pm
  9. QN,

    Any system has to have clarity…Not pick and chose like Nassrallah wants! He wants to keep his weapons and yet change the system to suit his daily need! I guess he is influenced by the Syrian regime!

    Posted by danny | December 1, 2009, 6:56 pm
  10. Joe M. said:“QN, as usual, you are too obsessed with political structures. Political structures do not change the nature of politics. If a society is steeped with corruption, their politics will also be corrupt.”

    Joe, we’ve had this discussion several times already, and I disagree with you now as much as I ever did. 🙂

    I simply don’t understand how you can say that political structures do not change the nature of politics. Entire academic sub-disciplines have arisen precisely to study the effects that political structures have on governance (not that this constitutes a proof in and of itself).

    Do you actually believe that even something as simple as introducing an official pre-printed ballot would not have a massive effect on the ways in which power is wielded? What about instituting a system of proportional representation? I can guarantee you that the effects would be highly significant. Just go and do the simple arithmetic based on the electoral returns and you’ll see for yourself.

    “To get rid of sectarianism, there needs to be an emphasis on meritocracy and a different nationalism than the nationalism of personhood or sect.”

    Could you be any more vague than this? What does it mean to emphasize meritocracy? Are you saying that Lebanese parents should be reading their kids different bedtime stories?

    One concrete way to encourage meritocracy and nationalist feeling is precisely through institution building, which involves, I hate to tell you, structural change.

    “It is my opinion that Hizbullah will do more to end sectarianism in Lebanon than any political system can…Since Hizbullah is so strong (both militarily and politically), it establishes the rules of the game. Everyone else has to play by their rules. And since they seem to have anti-sectarian rules, it works in teh best interest of Lebanon.”

    How exactly does Hizbullah have “anti-sectarian rules”? Do you watch al-Manar? Do you not see the enormous amount of religious propaganda that is broadcast on that channel?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 1, 2009, 7:46 pm
  11. The only way sectarian structured politics will be removed from Lebanon Is to allow Lebanese abroad to vote; which would bring the sectarian balance back to a notional balanced proportion.

    Posted by Moustafa | December 1, 2009, 8:06 pm
  12. Elementary, Mr. Watson!

    Quit confessionalism cold turkey.
    That’s the only way.
    Let the chips fall where they may.
    Even if the result is smokey.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | December 1, 2009, 8:43 pm
  13. What does it mean when someone states that people are sectarian by nature and that as a result sectarianism can never be eliminated? That borders on being an infantile circular argument.
    No one can eliminate how people think or feel but what we have to do is make certain practices illegal and unacceptable. To eliminate political sectarianism is simply the first volley in a lengthy war of educating citizens and asking them to leave their religious prejudices at home when they are in the public square. Elected posts and civil servant positions simply will not , must not, shoul not be allocated on religious affiliations. Doing that is not any different that allocating such posts based on any other personal criteria such as height, weight or colour of hair. Society has an obligation not to encourage or promote such behaviour. We simply have no choice but to declare it illegal, unacceptable and pernicious.
    To use the argument that the people are not ready or that they will never be able to think this way is as silly as refusing to install traffic lights because someone believes that the citizens will not obey such regulations when what we should do, and what we actually do the world over, is install the traffic lights and enforce the regulations. With time people get used to the idea and are educated enough to realize that it is good for the common wealth.
    Another totally unacceptable argument that I have heard repeated often is that but eliminating political sectarianism will benefit A and hurt B. So what. When one eliminates sectarianism the whole idea is to move people away from identifying with their tribe and to stop looking at politics through a narrow prism of religion.
    If we choose not to deal with eliminating political sectarianism then we do so at our own peril. The road will not be smooth neither will it be short. It is a lengthy and bumpy journey but it is a journey that we must undertake nonetheless.

    Posted by ghassan karam | December 1, 2009, 8:56 pm
  14. An interesting post and some interesting comments, too.
    I am of the opinion that the political system and political culture naturally feed each other. One needs to remember, though, that politicians in a democracy represent sectors. In order to move away from sectarianism, Lebanon’s party system must lose its current structure. Does Lebanon have the right people at the helm for this?

    Posted by Yonatan | December 1, 2009, 9:54 pm
  15. QN,

    You are reading Joe M.’s argument too literally. What he is saying is that there must be a willingness to play by the rules of the game. For example, let’s say Lebanon adopted an Israel style proportional system. Hizballah would be the largest party and quite likely could assemble a majority coalition with the Syria supporting parties. What guarantee do you have that after 4 years they will actually call for free elections? What guarantee do you have that they would respect freedom of speech? How do you know it will not be the typical one man-one vote-one time scenario?

    I am just giving Hizballah as an example. It could be any element that gets to power. There has to be some minimum commitment to liberal democracy and a willingness to be accountable and relinquish power. Otherwise, whatever system you put in place will not work. That is Joe M.’s point, and I think he is right. I have not seen any willingness to be accountable by any Lebanese party.

    Posted by AIG | December 1, 2009, 10:36 pm
  16. AIG

    I don’t want to speak for Joe, but if you are portraying his position accurately, then I still don’t see how it is an indictment of structural reform per se.

    It is not acceptable, in my view, to say: “Well, the mere possibility that someone could launch a coup and replace democracy with authoritarianism means that why bother trying to improve the system?”

    There are certain ways in which incremental reforms can be introduced which, over time, can have an outsized effect on the practice of governance.

    The 2009 election, for all of its flaws, was still the best election held in Lebanon in decades. For once, we actually did not know the results in advance, at least in certain districts. In fact, the results were even a surprise to many, including myself. This was a positive step forward, made possible, in part, by certain measures taken by Ziad Baroud’s Ministry of the Interior.

    There is a strong political will in Lebanon for doing away with our sectarian system and replacing it with a liberal democracy. At some point, some party is going to figure out how to take advantage of it.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 1, 2009, 10:49 pm
  17. Ghassan,

    Along the lines of your argument against “people are sectarian by nature”, the late lebanese intellectual Mahdi Amel argues in his book “Fi Ad-dawla At-ta’ifiya” that the concept of sectarianism as known in Lebanon is a creation of the ruling elite in order to preserve its interests and its power structures. Furthermore, he says that the idea that sectarianism has always been there and cannot be changed is an easy way out for the ruling class to avoid any real discussion of the problem.

    Posted by haytham | December 1, 2009, 10:49 pm
  18. Haytham,
    I thank you for pointing that out. Although I have not read the book I have heard many good things about it.
    I do not want to seem to be digressing but ultimately the status quo serves the interests of the ruling feudal lords best . That includes feudalism, confessionalism, corruption, lack of accountability etc… That is why it is an absolute folly to expect the “rulers” to advocate upsetting the apple cart. Actually they will do whatever they can in order to coopt popular movements that will threaten their cherished cozy power relationships. The real meaningful change if it is to come will not come from Jumblat, Geagea, Salam, Beri et al. They will have to be forced to accept the change and they will twist themselves pretzel like to justify their power and pretend that they are the initiators of change when they are its biggest obstacle.

    Posted by ghassan karam | December 1, 2009, 11:02 pm
  19. QN,

    It is not indictment of structural reform. But it raises the important question whether structural reform at this point in time matters. The 2009 election proves Joe M.’s point as the government and its ability to govern does not reflect the results of the elections. It is a reform that proved to be irrelevant because the opposition refused to accept norms of majority coalition rule.

    I do not believe there is a strong majority will to apply liberal democracy in Lebanon. I just don’t see anything that would attest to this.

    Posted by AIG | December 1, 2009, 11:04 pm
  20. QN,
    I don’t have a chance to write a full response now. but my point is that political change happens from the ground up, not the top down. Hizbullah is successful because it is a mobilization of the general will of the people it represents. it reflects that will in a more generalized way, with more representation, and more directly at stake, than the other parties in Lebanon. it is the difference between amal and hizbullah that is the difference between successful/unsuccessful political change.

    I didn’t mean to imply that Hizbullah was not a sectarian party, but that their organizational methods successful in representing a wide-based attempt to serve the people. It just so happens that they represent the Shia, but any party that was as organized, efficient, generally honest… as hizbullah would have the same political effects that lead to the type of structural change you are looking for.

    also, Ziad Baroud might have made some important changes in the election process, but they are ephemeral. that is because they require his being in office to occur and reoccur. i do not consider that political change. similarly, in the USA, despite all the fanfare, Brown v. Board of Education did not end segregated schools. i wonder why?

    Now, so, let’s say there is a large majority in lebanon who want fundamental political change, fine. but is there a mobilized, politically astute, organized majority that can challenge decisions they dislike? regardless of the libraries of literature on the subject (and most recently that cass sunstein book), it’s not significant unless there is more behind it. saying you want chance is not change, and even change without a mass movement to defend it is not change.

    that’s what i meant. i am quite busy these days, so i might not have a chance to respond.

    Posted by Joe M. | December 2, 2009, 12:55 am
  21. since it was not clear, i mean, hizbullah is a sectarian party without a substantially sectarian agenda and application of that agenda.

    Posted by Joe M. | December 2, 2009, 12:59 am
  22. QN,

    If you look at what Berri and Sleiman call for they talk about getting rid of sectarianism but maintaining the essence of the national pact. This means that sectarianism will still be at the heart of the system. But this could still be a positive aspect. It is too radical to suggest that Lebanon could go from the current system to a liberal democracy in one fail swoop, or that a liberal democracy is the right system for Lebanon.

    What I am suggesting is that maybe Lebanon needs reforming on the foundations of the current system instead of a structural political revolution.

    It’s clear to all, sectarianism in its current form is not workable but also that getting rid of it entirely is unachievable and maybe not desirable. Sectarianism does have some worthy aspects to it. If they debate could change from the radical position of getting rid of sectarianism to reforming and reducing? Does not have the same ring to it does it? But just a suggestion.

    p.s. Joe M. I cannot comprehend what you are saying! Hezbollah do a pretty amazing job of being by the Shia, for the Shia and with the Shia of Lebanon.

    Posted by Deen Sharp | December 2, 2009, 2:56 am
  23. Deen Sharp,
    just to be clear, i think hizbullah is the greatest, most successful, political movement in the world today. I am proud of what they have done for the shia, for lebanon, and for the arabs.

    Even the Zionist fanatics like AIG know this, and that is why they are so threatened by Hizbullah. They know that killing Nasrallah will not kill Hizbullah. on the other hand, Nasser’s death killed pan-arabism.

    That’s my point QN. when you call for these changes in political structures, it feels like a Nasserism redux to me. Nasser tried to change the structures by sheer force of his will and personality. and, he was ultimately unsuccessful because he thought he could impose his ideas (as sympathetic to them as i am) from the top down. Hizbullah is changing the people first, from the ground up. Hizbullah is the people. Nasrallah talks about perseverance, steadfastness, humility, patience… I think this ethos is penetrating the people. And the political changes made by Hizbullah will be for the long-term as a result.

    Posted by Joe M. | December 2, 2009, 4:09 am
  24. Wait, what’s the question again? I’m only half joking 🙂

    What kind of a political system do we want to end up with?

    That is a good question, but I wonder if we can have an answer. Political systems are works in progress. IMO anyways.

    The gist of it is: if we could erase the current political institutions, while taking into consideration humans (in this case Lebanese) and their traits (for better or for worse), how would we build a system? What elements would we want? If we could have one sentence that could then be used to derive laws / governments / institutions, what would it be?

    On the one hand, it is easy to see how the mixture of religion and politics is anathema to democracy activists.

    I somewhat disagree with this. It is easy to see this with secular democracy activists. A democracy activist would allow people to vote – however you define this vote – on whether religion should be mixed with politics.

    But, I’m just being theoretical here.

    The current confessional system has failed. A non-confessional system may also fail. But there is only one way to find out.

    Posted by M. | December 2, 2009, 4:46 am
  25. I know that its a cliche but there is a uniqueness to Lebanon. I cannot for the life of me think of any country in the world that is in our situation. We have a massive secterian mix. No one sect can claim dominance. No one sect has over arching powers and each one brings something vital to the table. Add to that a large part of the population that is very religious and has a strong secterian identity.

    I don’t think any country in the world has that combination.

    If and when the system become a case of one man, one vote for one party the problem I envisage is that if you have changed the system but not the thinking of the parties you will still be left with the same parties, representing the same people(and for people read sects).

    And instead of multiconfessional lists we have now, we may end up with some scenarios that could spell trouble. Imagine a Hizballah-Future alliance in this scenario and what that would mean.

    What I suppose I am trying to say is that even if you change the rules of the game, the players are unlikely to change; So you may have to change the rules for the players aswell.

    Maybe one way to make a reasonable comparison is to use the rules European countries apply to political parties in terms of race representation (which forced the ultra right wing BNP in the UK to open its membership to non-white members).

    Posted by mo | December 2, 2009, 8:31 am
  26. I didn’t mean to imply that Hizbullah was not a sectarian party, but that their organizational methods successful in representing a wide-based attempt to serve the people. It just so happens that they represent the Shia…

    since it was not clear, i mean, hizbullah is a sectarian party without a substantially sectarian agenda and application of that agenda.

    Hilarious! My sides still ache from laughing.

    Joe, you’re a natural born comedian.

    Posted by Ed | December 2, 2009, 10:24 am
  27. Joe

    When you say:

    It just so happens that they represent the Shia, but any party that was as organized, efficient, generally honest… as hizbullah would have the same political effects that lead to the type of structural change you are looking for.

    …You are essentially making the same argument that I am, namely that structures can lead to changes in the practice of politics. Hizbullah’s effectiveness has a lot to do with the way that it is structured, and the security that it has provided to its community. The reason people like to say that the Hizb is a state within a state is not just because of the weapons: HA operates a huge network of social services, they are tremendously organized, they employ thousands and attract thousands more volunteers. This is not just the result of some airy-fairy morality teachings. It’s a matter of organization, adapting to realities on the ground, etc. all of which require effective political structures.

    Obviously, the point that you and Mo are making about changes needing to come from the ground up is correct, but the problem is that you’re not offering any concrete methods besides saying: maybe Hizbullah will convince everyone to become more democratic.

    Finally, your point about Baroud and Nasser being a one-man-show… I think you underestimate the degree to which Hizbullah’s success in promoting a culture of steadfastness, etc. is due to the brilliance of Hasan Nasrallah. There is no one else in Hizbullah (or in the entire Middle East, in my opinion) who is as gifted, rhetorically speaking, as Nasrallah. He’s one of a kind, which is not to say that Hizbullah is a one man show. But I can’t see anyone else filling his shoes in the same way.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 2, 2009, 11:32 am
  28. I believe I did mention one way.

    But then again I did not mean that at all. What I meant was that there has to be a change in all participants attitudes not just the system, and not just those at ground level.

    Ghassan makes a good point that perhaps our problem is not so much secterian as it is feudal. And if feudalism is the greater problem, then the same leaders will simply adapt to the new laws to keep the status quo.

    Therefore laws will be needed to guarantee diversity of party members as well as govt. members – In fact writing this makes me realise that what I am advocating is laws that force parties to be multi-confessional and more specifically it would move the “secterian guarantees” from Parliament to Parties.

    How likely is this and how likely would it be that for example a Shia would join the Lebanese Forces is the question…

    Posted by mo | December 2, 2009, 12:43 pm
  29. Ultimately nothing meaningful takes place unless it is from the grass roots. This is a given that any attempt to impose a top down change will ultimately fail. This issue of creating a truly secular society based on merit is no different.
    But we are not at that stage yet. Currently the Lebanese citizen is stifled in the elected posts that she can aim for and the civil service jobs that she can apply for by her religious affiliation. This circumstance also reflects on the freedom of choice of the citizen. I have no choice but to vote for a Maronite in my district when I would like to vote for a Marsian. The Lebanese government has to respect my right to vote for whoever I want based on whatever criteria I want but what they do not have the right to do is limit my choice or even prevent it based on totally capricious and arbitrary grounds.
    The first step that the government should undertake is to eliminate with a strike of a pen the requirement that the president is to be a Maronite, the PM a Sunni and so on.
    The elimination of this confessional barrier to the freedom of choice should also be accompanied by an equitable and honest electoral system based either on proportionality with the whole country as one district or a winner take all individual districts a la US. Give the citizens the right to choose to express themselves. They can choose to be enlightened or they may choose to be bigotted. That is up to them. The government though has the duty to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to seek an office or support whoever they want.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 2, 2009, 12:49 pm
  30. I completely disagree with the notion that you need to ‘change the people’ before you can change the system. The people adapt to the system they belong in. Our blessed political parties are products for our sectarian system, not the other way round.

    The millet system instilled by the Ottomans carved up the populace into sectarian communities ruled by an Ottoman recognized local strongman. The strongman kept the people docile while maintaining community solidarity to eke out more privileges (at the expense of other communities) from the Ottomans. This became a family business.

    The system is designed to be ruled from abroad (divide and conquer). The French showed up and loved it, and adapted it to parliamentary politics. The current system is maintained by the local strongmen (each with his own requisite ‘party’), but has diversified into many outside sponsors.

    If you change the system, these sectarian leaders WILL adapt to the new system, or be replaced by people who can.

    Posted by RedLeb | December 2, 2009, 4:00 pm
  31. RedLeb is here. I’m very pleased. 😉

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 2, 2009, 4:03 pm
  32. With the history lesson out of the way, lets get down to business 🙂

    I think the first step in abolishing political sectarianism should be limiting the power of the executive. The cabinet is currently too powerful, which is why everyone wants to be in it. This creates paranoia among the different communities, who feel that if the ‘other’ sect takes over the executive, they will be oppressed / enslaved / sold to Martians.

    Creating an independent judiciary that can actually curb the executive is an important first step. Let the judiciary appoint judges, and place the police under its jurisdiction. There has to be a period where people can see an politicians tried and convicted so they feel confident in the law.

    Electoral reform is also a starting point. We have to get to the point of one-man-one-vote. I’m more in favour of single candidate districts, than making Lebanon one large constituency. The latter promotes big party politics, while the former promotes more independent politicians. That will mean taking a census so as to create electoral districts with equal number of voters. And voting should be based on residency, not some mythical ‘place of origin’.

    Expats should be allowed to vote, but there should be some residency requirements. For example, only voters who have resided in Lebanon in the past 5 years may vote. If that seems harsh, you could allow immediate family extend residency status (so if your mother still lives here, legally, you do to). Basically, I want to avoid living with the consequences of a 4th generation Leb’s vote who only showed up here for one summer.

    I prefer presidential systems to prime ministerial ones. Let parliament be elected by purely local factors. Having a president directly elected by the people allows the nation to speak as a whole. Having a cabinet appointed by the president ensures efficiency. Plus it limits collusion between the executive and the legislative.

    The road to non-sectarianism is fraught with paranoia, and steps would have to be taken to make communities feel they will not be left unprotected.

    Initially, you could make the presidency rotate between sects (of course, I would hate to imagine the battle over which sects those are, what the sequence is, who goes on first). Or before the presidential system, you could have rotation of the sectarian troika.

    Or better yet, have a national election to vote in a sectarian troika that has to run on the same ticket. (Isn’t it incredible that neither the President, Prime Minister, or Speaker of Parliament is elected by a direct national vote? This is NOT a coincidence.)

    Over time, I believe political parties will adapt and become non-sectarian in nature. But initially, it would help to force them to open up by imposing limits on single-sect domination within the party. For instance, they cannot have more than half of their electoral candidates from a single sect.

    A sectarian senate would also help build confidence. Give it the power to veto, but not create, legislation or even executive decisions. I have misgivings about this, because it can easily become a House of Lords and a permanent fixture of the political landscape, and not the temporary crutch I would like it to be.

    And of course, you would have to deal with Hezballah. I am a supporter of the resistance, but I also recognize that getting any sect to give up its privileges while the Shia have all the guns will not engender confidence. And while it might be enough for some, ‘Trust Hassan’ is not an option.

    This could be done by getting Hezballah to stop being a purely Shiite party and include other sects in its ranks and in the executive council. Or by institutionalising Hezballah within the Lebanese state and bring over it some state authority.

    And finally, I don’t think anyone in the political class truly wants to end political sectarianism. It is what made them and keeps them in power. I doubt even Berri wants it because, whatever numerical superiority fantasies he may have, he would be superfluous in a non-sectarian regime.

    Hezballah may be the odd man out on this score, and the importance given to political sectarianism in their new open paper actually surprised me. But they themselves would have to change if they wanted a (peaceful) change to the system. And I don’t know if they are willing to do that yet.

    Posted by RedLeb | December 2, 2009, 4:56 pm
  33. QN,
    Here and back with a vengeance! 🙂

    Been too busy to post, but couldn’t pass this topic up.

    Posted by RedLeb | December 2, 2009, 4:58 pm
  34. Self-identity is for a large part — if not the largest part — built upon what you could call anti-identity, i.e. you define the self by what you are not. You look for any kind of difference, examples are too numerous to list, but some examples: racism, sexism, etc. Religious differences are easily used to make people feel different to others, and to make them feel comfortable and part of a community. This is normal and is the case everywhere. There are 2 complicating factors for Lebanon, as I see it:

    1- So many sects in a small country;
    2- Lack of a strong national identity to trump sectarian ones.

    From a cynical perspective, both national and sectarian identities are human constructs, the bad news for Lebanon is that the former has not been made stronger than the latter. Plus apparently there is a strong fertile ground for creating sectarian identities… but frankly I don’t see much difference between myself and people from others sects in Lebanon, that is, not until I find out what sect they’re from!!

    And Ghassan is completely right: ‘our’ (feudal) leaders have a lot to gain from this system. It is sort of like a social form of gerrymandering.

    Posted by PB | December 2, 2009, 5:55 pm
  35. Aren’t there lessons in history about abolishing confessionalism?

    How did the French do it?
    How did separation of church and state become an implicit pillar of the US government system?
    How did the Swiss do it?
    Are there successful examples?

    Posted by Honest Patriot | December 2, 2009, 6:53 pm
  36. Joe M., if you so admire HA, why not quit your present location and position and go live in the Dahieh and contribute your intellect to the further success of the Party of God?

    Posted by Honest Patriot | December 2, 2009, 6:54 pm
  37. I interviewed Walid J a few months ago and he said: “what Lebanon need is a revolution.” Yet on the nauseating bus ride down through the Chouf I realized that just about every leader in Lebanon wants some kind of “revolution.” They want THEIR revolution.

    We can sit around and debate the S and S factor (Saudi/Syria) all day. The truth is that Lebanon IS neo-feudal. That is how people see themselves. That is how people talk about themselves. That is how stuff gets done in the country.

    That being said, I’m not sure that changing the political system is going to mean anything unless it could trigger a difference in self-identification. (And if you argue that the flashy LAU/AUB profs are of a multi background, pan Lebanese mindset, I say that they too are another one of these Lebanese tribes: over educated, under paid and powerless to all amusement.)

    Lets ask not worry about structure. Not about the nature of politics. Not corruption. Let us ask:

    “What reforms–if any–could be made so that all the Lebanese start to view themselves in a diffrent light? A Lebanese light.”

    And I say: Does anyone remember the good old days when the Maronite-Sunni monopoly on power gave way to sub-prime, yet slow growth stable government? Economy/and or hating Israels collective punishment might be the most plausible catalyst for this so called neo-nationalism.

    Abu G

    Posted by Abu Guerrilla | December 3, 2009, 1:41 am
  38. Sorry to interrupt your discussions all,
    but while you are commenting this article I noted that in the photo the red hand is becoming more and more a menace to the “لا” and most probably it will end up by devoring it…

    Palermo December 2009

    Posted by georges salameh | December 3, 2009, 4:53 am
  39. Dear Qifa,

    Can you please put a link somewhere to the new Bayen el Wizari. I can’t find it :s

    As for abolishing sectarianism, I think starting from the end is counter-productive. A step by step process may work better. To this end we already have a good start with the striking off sectarian belonging from personal status records. I think you have to see if people want to abolish sectarianism and this sect removal thing is a good measure of whether a new system is needed or if people just pay lip service to non-sectarianism but actually are comfortable in the system as it is.

    Posted by Luke | December 3, 2009, 5:16 am
  40. Hi Luke

    I’ll try to find the final version.

    As for your point, when I said that we should start at the end, I meant that this should be the first step of a step-by-step process. In other words, it’s hard to know what steps to take if you don’t know which direction you want to head in.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 3, 2009, 10:17 am
  41. it’s hopeless. don’t mean to sound too pessimistic but it’s the truth. i personally see no way for the current government or the next one to implement.

    if anything, it should be done by ethical secular persons, and to the source of it, kids in kindergarten

    Posted by Liliane | December 3, 2009, 6:07 pm
  42. I am still having a hard time making sense of the position advanced by those who claim that political sectarianism/confessionalism should be eliminated but yet are totally opposed to the Berri plan.
    The majority of the Lebanese have been complaining for 15 years that the taef accords have not been implemented and when someone suggests that it is time to form a committee to study the necessary steps for implementation so many oppose the plan. Are we to understand that these protestations are serious and rational? How can they oppose the recommendations of a committee that has not been formed yet? Isn’t it more appropriate to wait and find out what are the recommendations of the committee going to be before they oppose the?
    The answer to all the above questions is very clear. The parties who are are opposed to the idea of forming a committee to study the issue have no interest in the suggested reform. They have lent this notion their approval over the past fifteen years as long as the idea was moribund. As soon as someone breathed some life into the idea they scampered around trying to find an honourable way out of the obvious contradictions that they have placed themselves in. There is no way out for those that are disingenuous and who have been pretending all along to support what they actually abhor. Mr. Berri should not give these obfuscationists a break and should proceed with his plan to set up a committee to study the matter and make recommendations.
    But then we should not be surprised. Those that are the primary beneficiaries of the current unjust, immoral and unethical system are expected to fight any reform effort. This is another illustration of the futility of reform from within when the system is full of anomalies.

    Posted by ghassan karam | December 6, 2009, 2:10 pm


  1. Pingback: Political Reform: The RedLeb Plan « Qifa Nabki - December 6, 2009

  2. Pingback: Lebanon To March for Secularism « Qifa Nabki | A Lebanese Political Blog - April 21, 2010

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