How much of the current fight about administrative appointments is about sectarian politics, and how much of it is just about politics?
When one hears reports about how so-and-so is demanding that such-and-such position is given to this or that sect, it’s tempting to get up on the soapbox and proclaim that confessionalism is rearing its ugly head again. In a non-confessional system — so the secular activist’s complaint goes — there would be no impediments to finding “the right person for the job.”
In my view, this way of looking at the issue is problematic. At any given time there are probably several people, from several different sects, who could fill an administrative position and do a very good job. The problem, in most cases, is not that the ideal candidate is prevented from getting the job because of his/her sect, but because they are not part of the relevant patronage network.
Take, for example, the current quarrel about the directorship of General Security. Supposedly, Aoun wants the position to go to “a Maronite” and Berri wants it to go to “a Shiite”. But surely it’s not as simple as that. Aoun wants the position to go to a Maronite who is loyal to the FPM, and Berri wants a Shiite loyal to AMAL. I would venture to say that Aoun would rather have a Shiite loyal to the FPM in the spot rather than a Maronite loyal to AMAL.
In other words, the real obstacle to getting qualified people in the right jobs is cronyism, not confessionalism. If we got rid of the system of confessional quotas in administrative appointments, it would not suddenly throw open the gates to a legion of qualified bureaucrats who had been prevented from getting the right jobs because they came from the wrong sect.
The real role that confessionalism plays in all of this is that of a smokescreen. By pretending that they are the defenders of Maronite and Shiite interests, Aoun and Berri provide sectarian cover for their mundane political squabbles, just as Hariri does for the Sunnis, and Jumblatt does for the Druzes, etc.
I think that this has broader implications for the anti-confessionalism debate in parliament as well. Simply put, it’s not enough to just advocate for the abolishment of confessionalism. You have to identify what kind of a system you want to replace it with, and how you are going to counter-act the effects of patronage, cronyism, corruption, etc.