Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14, Reform

The Orthodox-Maronite Gathering (OMG) Proposal: Proportional Representation Meets Sectarian Nomination

Graphic courtesy of Election Guerilla. Click to enlarge.

Much has already been said about the very peculiar electoral law proposed  by the Orthodox Gathering and endorsed by all of Lebanon’s Maronite  leaders. Civil society groups say that it further entrenches sectarianism. Michael Young writes that it deepens Christian isolation. Meanwhile, Ziyad Baroud is hedging his bets.

My biggest problem with the proposal is very simple: it leads to enormous inequalities of suffrage. What does this mean?

Imagine a country with a parliament divided into quotas based on colors of hair. For example, 20% of the seats are devoted to blond-haired MPs, 35% to redheads, 20% to brown-haired people, 15% to salt-and-pepper, etc.

Once upon a time, this proportional arrangement of seats matched the actual hair-color demographics in the country, but over time, the blonds (who, as a rule, tend to have more fun) multiplied more vigorously than the redheads, while an unfortunate epidemic of male-pattern balding eviscerated the once healthy ranks of the brown-haired.

The redheads, however, are insistent upon maintaining the old quotas, even though demographics have changed. What’s more, they insist that districts should be drawn in such a way as to guarantee that redheaded representatives are elected by majorities of redheads. Why? Because, they argue, a blond MP surely would not advocate for a redhead’s rights in the way that a fellow redhead would.

This is where the troubles begin. If you draw districts in such a way as to maintain “chromatically pure” majorities, then certain districts will inevitably have a much higher ratio of MPs to voters than other districts. For example, redheaded districts might have 1 MP per 10,000 voters, while blond districts could have 40,000 voters to each MP.

The only way around this problem would be to draw much larger districts composed of voting populations with all kinds of hair color, but then you’d have redheaded MPs being elected by blond voters, which is a big problem for the redheaded politicians.

So small districts remain, for the time being…until, one day, the redheaded and brown-haired leaders get together and decide that the current system is still problematic. Even in their well-coiffed enclaves, there are odd pockets of blond and gray-haired voters who can help swing an election the wrong way.

And so they propose a different approach, a law that is the apotheosis of the principle of hair-color representation, and it goes something like this:

“Let’s dispense with the hassles of gerrymandering and turn the entire country into a single district. Let’s institute a system of proportional representation whereby each citizen is only allowed to vote for a list of candidates who have the same color hair as their own. So, for example, if there are 22 seats in Parliament reserved for redheads, then each redhead in the country would cast a vote for one of several different lists of 22 redheaded political candidates, and the seats would be divided up between the lists according to a proportional formula.”

Under this proposed system, the problem of unequal suffrage that we witness in the current system with the small districts would become even more drastic, because there would be no little pockets of blonds and black-haired voters to “dilute” the redheaded and brown-haired votes. Under the new law, the ratio of MPs to voters is no longer dictated by districting, but rather by the cold hard facts of hair color demographics. A redheaded voter would have more voting power than a blond, purely because of the color of their hair, and not because of the district they live in.

Graphic courtesy of Election Guerilla. Click to enlarge

This is, in a nutshell, the Ferzli proposal. (For more reading on inequality of suffrage, check out this post I wrote last year on the subject).

Let me just conclude by pointing out the obvious, namely that nobody but Najib Mikati and President Suleiman are actually interested in implementing proportional representation. When I met with several of Hariri’s allies, advisors, and representatives last month, they all basically regurgitated the same set of talking points: “If we adopt PR, Hizbullah will be able to win 10 Sunni seats, while we’ll only be able to take one Shiite seat. We can’t have PR until there’s a level playing field, and our Shiite candidates are not intimidated or threatened by Hizbullah.”

Naturally Walid Jumblatt is completely opposed to PR, as is Nabih Berri. The Christians don’t like it because it will require having larger voting districts (12-14 rather than the current 28 or so), which means that many Christian MPs will be elected by Muslim majorities. (This is what makes it particularly nauseating to listen to Amin Gemayel and Michel Aoun going on about restoring “Christian rights” when the system they are championing is so ludicrously out of step with democratic principles and demographic realities. See the second graphic above for a clear proof of just how good the 2009 law is for Christian representation…)

Therefore, the current proposal from Elie Ferzli is probably being supported by the Christian leadership only to guarantee that the end result of the bargaining process over the electoral law will be the 2009 law, warts and all.

Arabic speakers can read an introduction to the actual law here. I’d also like to thank my good friend Election Guerilla for the very helpful graphics above. As he suggested to me in an email: “The proposed system simply flaunts the inequality of confessional representation (and it is perhaps unsurprising that the most over-represented Christian group under the proposal would be … the Greek Orthodox!”

More on this as the story develops…

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41 thoughts on “The Orthodox-Maronite Gathering (OMG) Proposal: Proportional Representation Meets Sectarian Nomination

  1. QN- This is one hairy analysis, thanks for putting things into perspective.

    I would say no matter how hair splitting the Lebanese gets over this issue, Lebanon will always end up having a bad hair day! 🙂

    Posted by Vulcan | December 22, 2011, 6:35 am
  2. How about all clean shaven guys QN? Do you get a vote? 😛

    Posted by danny | December 22, 2011, 8:53 am
  3. there is a mistake in first table, number of greek catholic in first table must be 158,000.

    Posted by Rudy Sassine | December 22, 2011, 10:18 am
  4. And there’s a mistake with the alawites. if the representation chart is correct they should eithere have two seats or half the number of voters.

    Posted by blon | December 22, 2011, 11:00 am
  5. I am not sure I understand. I thought all parties agree that the question is neither that of inequalities of suffrage nor over or under representation. Their proposal indicates that they are very much aware of this issue and don’t care much for it as confessional representation is the only focus.
    This proposal says to me: “if we are to stay under the Taef accord which promotes a 50%-50% split, then, irrespective of demographics, each “50%” needs to be able to bring its own representatives forward. Otherwise, you are not applying the Taef accord, in which case, let’s discuss the alternatives”.
    An inequality of suffrage seems to them to be inherent in the current confessional federal system where you only have one chamber.
    The way I see this is that the OMG backers seem to need a good pretext to engage in a dialogue with their Muslim allies without creating friction and they think they have found one in this proposal. This provides each of the M8 and M14 Christian parties the pretext to engage in this conversation and, they hope, the leverage to negotiate a better share of the nominations, irrespective of the legislative outcome. i.e. Both M14 Christians and GMA will want to use this proposal to obtain the right to nominate their candidates in mixed areas such as north, Beirut, Jezzine, Zhalé, etc.
    Moreover, coming from a Patriarch who is taking a very clear position on protecting the Middle Eastern Christian flock from Sunni domination, I would not be surprised that he would slightly pressure the M8 Christians into accepting this in order to grant the M14 Christians some additional leverage against the FM machine.

    Posted by EJ | December 22, 2011, 11:19 am
  6. We hear this debate every year or two before elections and everytime they go with the current electoral system and I think this time will be no different.

    Hariri will get majority again, Berri will be speaker, and general Kahwaji ‘consensus’ president.

    Posted by Wael | December 22, 2011, 11:41 am
  7. EJ,

    Excellent comment. Where have you been? Please stay and discuss!

    If your reading is an accurate characterization of the OMG framers’ opinion, then I still think it is problematic. The Ta’if Accord says nothing about each community bringing its own representative forward. To the contrary, it stipulates that:

    5. Until the Chamber of Deputies passes an election law free of secterian restriction, the parliamentary seats shall be divided according to the following bases:

    a. Equally between Christians and Muslims.
    b. Proportionately between the denominations of each sect.
    c. Proportionately between the districts.

    This means that we can’t have grossly different ratios of MPs to voters across districts, which is precisely what we have now. It is perfectly possible to maintain a confessional system with a 50-50% split without creating inequalities of suffrage; you just have to have large heterogeneous districts.

    You could be right about them needing a pretext to engage in a dialogue with the Muslim parties about electoral reform, but I think this gives them too much credit. Would be interesting and exciting if it were true, though.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 22, 2011, 12:11 pm
  8. Why not keep an open mind?

    Think of different Lebanese confessions as American states. Some like California are densely populated with tens of Millions of inhabitants, and some like wyoming are sparse.

    And yet each state gets exactly two senators. This leads to discrepancies like the ones you mentioned for Lebanon. The vote of each wyoming resident is as powerful as that of 68 californians’. The American constitutional explanation for that was pretty much in the same spirit of the arguments presented by the Maronite gathering in Lebanon today..

    Posted by Mustapha Hamoui | December 22, 2011, 12:16 pm
  9. Yes, Mustapha, but that’s the senate.

    If Lebanon were to create an upper chamber, the OMG proposal would be a legitimate electoral system for it. The US House of Representatives is the equivalent of our Chamber of Deputies (i.e. Parliament), and in it California has vastly more representatives than Wyoming (53 vs. 1).

    It’s just not reasonable to have a single legislative body that is composed in the method proposed by the Ferzli law.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 22, 2011, 12:55 pm
  10. Where to even begin!

    I commented about this in the previous thread…

    1) QN. “This is where the trouble begins” (4-5 paragraphs into your post) made me chuckle…Considering you did a great job with the hair-color analogy…I think the trouble begins the moment one discriminates based on hair color…Everything after that is already “knee deep in trouble”…

    2) The hair color analogy should make it pretty freaking obvious to even the most clueless reader how ridiculous this whole thing is.

    3) EJ: Interesting argument. But I think you’re trying to explain something that’s a lot easier to explain than that. It’s really more simple than that once you put your “Lebanese sectarian feudal leader” hat on. Everyone wants to preserve their position of power. Changing the current system to PR does not suit any of these guys. So they’re essentially against it. The rest is hot air and bullcrap.

    4) Mustapha: Comparing the Lebanese sects to US States is pretty laughable on many levels. As QN rightly pointed out, the US Senate is but one representative body. The house is elected based on a fairly representative district system (albeit one that has its flaws, as do most systems). The electoral college is also based on the population of each state (again, that has its flaws too). I don’t really see the parallel here to a Lebanon that’s discriminating based on sect.
    Let’s also not forget that in the case of the American system, there is no discrimination based on sect (or other similar racial/sexual/religious markers). It’s one thing to base representation on geographical population demographics, it’s another entirely to use sect as your defining marker. To me, the 2 things are completely different and drawing an analogy between the two sounds pretty ridiculous.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | December 22, 2011, 1:33 pm
  11. Mustapha,

    I think BV’s last point is worth re-stating (if I may)…

    Even if we accept the precedent of the US Senate as a prominent example of inequality of suffrage, there is still an important difference between the two systems:

    If you live in Wyoming, your voting power (in the senate) is greater than someone living in California. But if you pick up and move to California, your voting power changes with that move.

    Under the Ferzli law, voting power has nothing to do with where you live, but rather what religion you belong to.

    This is an important difference, and I believe it runs completely counter to the spirit of Ta’if, which is supposed to move us in the direction of dismantling confessionalism (as Michael Young pointed out today).

    The Ferzli proposal actually enshrines confessionalism to a degree that is unprecedented in Lebanon’s history, because it chops the country up into constituencies based entirely on sectarian identity, not geographical districts.

    Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing as long as there is some other mechanism in place that allows for the expression of a political majority rather than a constellation of sectarian minorities.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 22, 2011, 2:07 pm
  12. The first point that I would like to emphasize, just in case it is not clear to some, that the inequality of representation as the graphic shows and as it was shown on this blog during the last election is not due to the OMG proposal. The basic inequality in Lebanon is the sectarian system that is still being promoted by Bkirki with a new twist introduced by the Patriarch. He claims that the national covenant is sacred and it guarantees the equality of the Moslems and Christians. He is wrong, totally wrong on this issue. Equality between various members of a society simply means that each of them is guaranteed equal treatment before the law and freedom of speech, expression and the right to worship whoever they choose.
    The OMG proposal is essentially apartheid par excellence. Given sectarian allocation of seats to begin with and given that Lebanese MP do not represent a district butthe whole state then the overall number of candidates elected to office will not change but the centers of power would change. It would become theoretically possible in an election whereby the whole nation is one district to elect say all the Sunnis out of Beirut, all the shia from the south and all the Christians say from Kesrwan. Many districts could and would become disenfrangized.
    But another major problem arises, which very few have dealt with. Who is to decide who is a christian and who is a moslem. Is it the birth records? What happens to those that reject the religion that they were born into? What about those that refuse to be identified with any religion? Does this mean that atheists or born Christians who convert to Islam will be disenfranchised by the state? Is this the function of a democratic state ?
    The solution to all of these issues is simple. Declare overnight that sectarianism is a nightmare that will not be recognized any longer . There will be growing pains but eventually we will learn to judge a person on her ideas and not the way that she prays or whether she prays at all.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 22, 2011, 2:27 pm
  13. Mustapha/BV/QN
    I have hesitated about commenting on the issue of the US senate in order not to distract from the central issue at hand. But I feel that I must highlight a very common point of view among most political scientists and that is that the US senate is arguably one of the most undemocratic institutions. It was created and is still being tolerated only as a compromise.
    There might be a need for such a compromise in Lebanon, as undemocratic as it might be but only as a second chamber as called for by Taif. This second Chamber will then play the role of tempering the possibility of extremism in the power house.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 22, 2011, 2:35 pm
  14. Ghassan,

    You’re right that the US Senate is a bit of a distraction to the topic at hand. It’s not the best comparison for a number of reasons already outlined.
    The main point – what even baffles me, coming out of any grown-up’s mind – is this notion of representation based on sect period.
    Forget the minutiae of this argument vs. that. Or this system vs. that. What was meant by Taef or what wasn’t. All that is secondary. We shouldn’t even be TALKING about any of that.
    The mere fact that someone, in their right mind, is advocating ANY system that still uses sect as a marker should be condemned and viewed as completely abhorrent.
    The one word you used that hits the nail on the head is “Apartheid”.
    It is simply unconscionable that a human being be discriminated against because of a box on their birth certificate. No more than one should be discriminated based on the color of their hair (which is why I love QN’s analogy. It shows just how ridiculous this all is).
    I know this is a forum to discuss these matters. But in this case, I wanna stand up and scream “Why are we even talking about this?”
    It should be self-evident to all that this kind of scheme is abhorrent, without even bothering to look at whether it serves this or that group, or whether it impacts Taef or the Christians or my great uncle’s left nut.

    I’d also like to point out that with this kind of talk in the air. How can any Lebanese say a single word about Israel’s apartheid-like actions without being a complete hypocrite.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | December 22, 2011, 3:09 pm
  15. GK, and the rest.

    I think the bottom line is that “respect for differences” is not necessarily a natural byproduct of a “Democratic System”.

    Every “democratic” system comes with a system of checks and balances.

    Posted by Gabriel | December 22, 2011, 3:34 pm
  16. BV:

    Isn’t that ultimately the problem. I couldn’t agree with a statement more than the last statement you wrote!

    The point is that people are hypocrites. The Alawis in Syria resolved their minority complex by lording over the rest. The Sunnis in Iraq resolved their minority complex by lording over the rest. The Maronites in Lebanon resolved their minority complex by lording over the rest.

    The Jews of Israel resolved their minority complex by displacing a population and creating a “Jewish” state where they enjoyed a majority.

    Where I disagree is that you can resolve this problem by a change in political order. If at a fundamental level the people themselves have not unshackled themselves from the baggage, at the grass-roots. Then abolishing the sectarian system won’t create a less sectarian society.

    That’s my take on things.

    Posted by Gabriel | December 22, 2011, 3:44 pm
  17. The calculation doesn’t make a total of 64 deputies for each confession.
    I identified the mistakes as such:
    Tripoli: Muslim seats: 6 for Sunni instead of 5
    And West Bekaa and Rashaya?: it is 2 for Christian and 4 for Muslims and not the other way around,

    Posted by Rudy | December 22, 2011, 3:45 pm
  18. Gabriel,
    Those of us who have been “talking together” for years have already discussed this issue ad nauseum. None the less I will make a very brief response to your last post.
    Your position seems to be identical to that of Patriarch Sfeir.: remove sectariansim from the soul of the people before you remove it from the political system. That has a number of flaws in it, the most obvious being that if sectarianism did not exist in the soul of the people then it would not exist in the political system either.
    But what is more important in a non perfect world is the legal position versus an idea. When laws are passed against sexual discrimination that does not mean that all will become supporters of gay lifestyles. It simply means that it will not be acceptable to act on your personal prejudices. One hopes that with time most will start to accept different sexual norms aras legitimate. The same thing is true of racial discrimination and the same is obviously true of deconfessionalism. There ought to be a law that says that society will not tolerate any discrimination based on religion full stop. This will not make angels out of us but will make it clear that these differences must not be taken into consideration in hiring, rents, elections,… Citizens of a community by definition are equal and must be given the same chance to seek political as well as civilian positions. If the political, the most obvious, is based on discrimination then we should not be surprised if everything else is equally discriminatory. Government simply has a responsibility to set an example about what can be tolerated legally and what cannot.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 22, 2011, 4:21 pm
  19. Ghassan,

    I don’t disagree with the spirit of what you are saying… Just the substance.

    Tell the egyptians our the afghanis to enact laws that protect sexual minorities!

    Perhaps, a look at how african countries
    responded to aid limitations based on sexual rights!

    In these forums, we had people talking about the LAW. The religious one of course. The notion that laws and lawmakers themselves aren’t subject to democratic forces is simply

    Posted by Gabriel | December 22, 2011, 5:30 pm
  20. Message cut off..

    .. Not realistic

    Posted by Gabriel | December 22, 2011, 5:40 pm
  21. Appropriately labelled O M G…Yes Oh My God! Politicking at its lowest! One thing that will always pull the Lebanese back to the narrow and sick alley of racist, sectarian and inexplicable: The religious mafia! What on earth is this any business of theirs? I dare to say that the Nassrallah; Rai, Qabbani, Qabalan et al are the worst enemy of the Lebanese! It is a waste of time to even discuss this stupid proposal.
    Instead of opening up to the world; it seems they are happy to roll into their own psychedelic cocoon of infested dunk!

    Posted by danny | December 22, 2011, 7:21 pm
  22. I am not sure that I will make any converts by saying this but “Its the economy stupid” that ultimately counts.
    If I get a chance I intend to make a post out of this etonight but just in case I do not: Lebanon has lifted its minimum wage beyond all proportions all over the world. This is difficult for me to say since I think of myself as always on the side of the exploited and the down trodden but if the latest vote on the Lebanese minimum wage is to stand then this could be the death knell of many a Lebanese business. Any thoughts on this matter?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 22, 2011, 7:54 pm
  23. A 74% wage hike will cause ripple effects. You dont need to be an economist to work that out. There are other alternatives they could have agreed on to make life more affordable. I was hoping this blog or yourself Ghassan to expand on this topic as it appears to be that the economy is the only thing still standing albeit unconvincingly, in an otherwise farcical situation the Lebanese have gotten themselves into in recent times.

    Posted by Maverick | December 23, 2011, 2:02 am
  24. Maverick,
    I have just finished a post on the subject. I don’t like to go above 900 words and so some of the details were not dealt with.


    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 23, 2011, 2:16 am
  25. The US senate was created as the “Council of the Wise” that can tamper the free and diverse (but sometime uninformed) Congress of representatives–the democratic alternative to the House of Lords in the UK. Maybe something like the Senate could become the “second chamber” of Taeif, and that chamber could be in effect the counter balance for a truly proportional and non sectarian parliament. To satisfy those who want to hold on to the original framework of the “national covenant” of 50/50 Christian/Muslim representation, why not transitionally offer the assurance of a small and somewhat accountable Senate (second chamber) that is confessional, maybe even based on something like the OMG proposal, while transforming the parliament into a proportional and purely non sectarian chamber of representatives? With more time, constitutional amendments will take more powers from that Senate (similarly to how the power of the House of Lords progressively lost its potency).

    GK, isn’t the minimum wage linked to the rate of inflation, and in Lebanon’s situation, the wage increase voted upon quite concordant with the high rate of inflation (in real terms)? Just curious!

    Posted by Parrhesia | December 23, 2011, 6:35 am
  26. Parrhesia,
    You suggestion regarding the Senate/Second Chamber is probably the best solution for the current Lebanese crisis. If it is adopted and we learn fifty years hence that the Lebanese voter is acting responsibly by electing a truly diverse membership of the lower house without regard to religious affiliation then the country would have scored two victories; one in having alleviated the religious suspicions and another in having created a better citizen.

    A minimum wage is set in order to maintain a certain ability to purchase final goods and services. The need for such legislation is due to the erosion of the purchasing power and the inability of some workers to kep up with inflation. It is usually the case that those at the bottom of the pyramid are the least capable of increasing the value of their product in order to demand a higher wage. Concern about income distribution and poverty are never resolved adequately through adjustments in minimum wages only, they are much better dealt with through other macro economic tools combined with reasonable adjustments in the minimum wage.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 23, 2011, 7:10 am
  27. If it is adopted and we learn fifty years hence that the Lebanese voter is acting responsibly by electing a truly diverse membership of the lower house without regard to religious affiliation then the country would have scored two victories;

    I don’t know why inferences such as these are not already clear from the present day realities.

    The system may indeed be “Confessional”, but what is to stop the electorate from sending to office people of the “Right Sect” to office that support secular initiatives- for example, and let’s start with one: Civil Marriages?

    It is not at all clear that deferring the Sectarian question to a senate will resolve the issue at all. Just a re-juggling of where the political bottlenecks will end up.

    Posted by Gabriel | December 23, 2011, 3:09 pm
  28. Gabriel,
    A Senate could provide the sense of comfort that the rights of each party will be guaranteed since no matter what happens at the lower house no law is passed unless it has the endorsement of both houses.
    As you well know the idea of a Senate in the US was seminal for creating the union between the colonies/states by assuring each of them that no one will be able to ride roughshod over them. Actually those who follow the domestic deliberations of policy in the US can also see that yesterday the Senate was able to counterbalance the extremism of the House by bringing the discussions back to an acceptable mainstream solution. Hopefully this will not be the last time that the two houses will be forced to cooperate by ameliorating the extremist tendencies of each other.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 23, 2011, 5:25 pm
  29. Gabriel,

    My response is simple. I don’t think you can remove the sectarianism from the soul of people first. In fact, I believe the ONLY way to do so is by imposing secularism on them from the top, in the system.

    This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. But I am personally convinced that people won’t “naturally evolve” on their own when it comes to sectarianism. The hold that religion has on people does not go away by itself. Not while the church/mosque/synagogue continue to actively exist and preach their way into people’s minds.
    I do not speak only of Lebanon. It is in the nature of human beings, and of organized religion. Organized religion evangelizes, makes promises (that often can only be fulfilled in the after-life, thus cannot be disproved) and invoke a certain innate fear and mysticism in human beings.
    That will NOT go away by itself.

    You have to impose secularism and separation of state and church in the system. And maybe THEN, this separation will eventually imbibe the people’s consciousness over time.

    Sfeir’s notion, as alluded to by Ghassan, is complete hokum. Look at the USA. Even with the existence of a strong separation of state and church for 200 years, devout Americans continue to exhibit strong “sectarianism”. But at least, there are checks and balances in their legal system.

    Hoping that such way of thinking goes away through natural evolution is a pipe dream.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | December 24, 2011, 2:18 pm
  30. Merry Christmas to all! Let’s wish that the people of our ancestral lands are left alone and free to chose the life they desire…

    Now drown your sorrows or enjoy your healthy life with a shot of OBAN. 😀

    Posted by danny | December 24, 2011, 3:21 pm
  31. Bv, I hardly think that imposing things top down qualifies as democratic!

    Anyways, I don’t necessarily disagree with the end point out even the path that you and ghassan propose. All I say is I am not convinced that the assurances of a conventionalized senate

    Posted by Gabriel | December 24, 2011, 8:23 pm
  32. Confessionalized senate will really reduce minority concerns.

    Also, I don’t think that you can or should discount grassroots movements. Even in the west, the charterocratic movements, that impose values require democratic grassroots movements (eg prop 8).
    I think rights have evolved in the west over many years, and we can’t look at the deficiencies of the concepts of rights in the east through the prism of valued in the west.

    Merry xmas and happy holidays to all.

    Posted by Gabriel | December 24, 2011, 8:30 pm
  33. Allow me one “rant” before we play the game of disengaging from the sad reality of the world and go celebrate as if everything is Ok with the world. I know that the world has always had a problem or another at all times but it is especially distressing when the “events” are taking place to those that are in your backyard and in an area that you are familiar with.
    How can the Lebanese government, the Jordanian government, the Iraqi government… justify not being more forceful abut the bloody events in Syria. The dictatorial killing machine has to be stopped or at least we are obliged to offer moral support to the downtrodden
    en and exploited. As Eli Wiesel has popularized in his trilogy, the worst thing is not to do anything and just be a bystander and an onlooker; a voyageur. Shame on the Lebanese government for its current stand.
    A domestic army is not meant to shell and bombard its own civilians because they dissent. there must be a different way. Bashar and the Syrian Bath have so much blood on their hands that they have to stand trial for all these atrocities against humanity. What a n unforgettable Christmas for the people of Homs and the dozens shot in cold blood for daring question whether the emperor has any cloths. And the killing goes on as Mikati and SHN score political points instead of having the courage of condemning the brutality.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | December 24, 2011, 8:53 pm
  34. Gabriel,

    Not that definition of “democratic” again!! Please!
    Democracy does NOT mean everyone gets to do what they want. That’s called anarchy.
    Enforcing rules on people can be and often is very democratic.
    The separation of church and state is ENFORCED on the people of the USA. It is not by choice. I suspect if a referendum was taken on the matter today, the American people would abolish said separation in a heartbeat.
    That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

    Some things do need to be IMPOSED and ENFORCED on a society for the greater good of said society. And that includes the very basics of democratic principles. A good example is protection of minorities. That in and of itself guarantees the democratic nature of a system. So does separation of church and state.

    So please do not give me the old and ERRONEOUS definition of “Imposing stuff on people is not democratic”.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | December 27, 2011, 6:05 pm
  35. Thank you QN and all for a very enlightening discussion of an utterly bewildering proposal…

    The whole chicken and egg issue is one I’ve tussled with myself, but it seems to me that there is a third element to all of this, and one which is very clearly present in the proposal, and in QN’s post: the parties themselves.

    Whether or not the electoral law itself is modified one way or another, Lebanon’s political parties are all clearly confessional in character, and will most likely remain so regardless of any reform. The few cross-confessional partisan alignments that existed before the war – Shi’a in the Hizb al-Ishtiraki or (in far smaller numbers) the Ahrar, say – are largely a thing of the past.

    It would be easy to say that a more enlightened citizenry, freed of the pernicious hold of sectarianism, would shirk the old order, and found new parties more representative of its new spirit in a theoretically secular Lebanon – note the theoretically. But I see little evidence of such political dynamism, or indeed of a surge towards secularism from anyone…

    I guess what I’m saying is that I see a difference between governing methods, means of representations, and political culture – with the last being perhaps the most refractory to change…

    Posted by Andrew Bey | December 28, 2011, 11:50 am
  36. Ya BV.

    Yes that topic. Again!

    I think most of us “Secularized” folk are all up-in-arms about the value of Charters and whatever it is the Americans have. They work. They work nicely. But it is not sufficient to just blow the Charter horn willy nilly without paving a workable way of introducing such charters to countries and nations that don’t have those in place.

    As before, I still believe your belief that there is a separation of church and state exists in the US is a little over the top. The US may be better than a lot of places but these lines of distinction are not as clear as you suggest them to be.

    Abortion and gay rights are still “contentious” issues open to a consistent barrage of Legal challenges, and referenda. Yes, the “Democratic” question still govern those issues, whether or not you or I believe they ought not to be. So to think that sometimes, issues concerning rights need no further massaging or co-opting is simply unrealistic.

    As for your statement:

    — Democracy does NOT mean everyone gets to do what they want. That’s called anarchy.

    That is not at all what I suggested Democracy was. But as I stated to Ghassan before, the rule of Law or System of governance itself is subject to democratic forces. Call it what you want, this Tyranny of the Majority. Anarchy it is not.

    Ghassan’s solution to the “sectarianised” legislature is to move this “undemocratic” element to a balancing “Senate”. You have not yet tabled a mechanism. Perhaps importing some Western charter or another wholesale? And imposing it on a local population?

    That doesn’t work, and hasn’t worked in any country thusfar.

    I remain unconvinced.

    Posted by Gabriel | December 30, 2011, 4:06 am
  37. QN: Truly interesting arguments you have introduced in your post. To begin with, let me tell you that just like you, I also see the endorsement of Maronites for the Orthodox Gathering law a maneuver from the top to ensure the return to a law similar to 2009 and pressure the Future Movement and Hezbollah to give up on some Christian seats in the south and north Lebanon.

    I hope I am wrong, but the Orthodox Gathering law would not be adopted because Maronite-dominated parties would no longer be able to assign the Greek Orthodox MPs in some areas and the Sunni-dominated Future Movement would no longer be able to assign who the Armenian Orthodox MPs would be in Beirut for instance.

    Let me put some names here, MP Oqab Saqr can no longer be elected in Zahle if that law is adopted. Serge Torsarkissian won’t be elected in Beirut if that law is elected.
    (Maronite)Emile Rahme won’t be elected in Baalbek Hermel by more than 100,000 votes if the Orthodox law is adopted.

    Muslims are not the only ones that elect other sects’ MPs, Maronites and Druze also elect other sects’ MPs too although Geagea and Aoun have voiced their support for the Orthodox Gathering proposal.

    President Sleiman and Prime Minister Mikati have rushed to criticize the law because both of them were not elected and do not have representation.

    Mikati was assigned in Hariri’s bloc in Tripoli and Sleiman was assigned president under the threat of arms.

    I so wish like you all guys that Lebanon was similar to the U.S. and I would like to compare it more with the U.S., but what can I do? I spend my time on the streets of this country.

    Ghassan: Take 2009 elections which today’s “seculars” like Future Movement and Jumblat are defending and for a moment look at north Lebanon’s districts.
    Akkar and Tripoli as a district are not a Sunni “apartheid”?
    Batroun is not a Maronite “Apartheid” ?

    Posted by VV | January 9, 2013, 7:40 am
  38. I have a question: Under the OMG proposal, what happens to the people who chose not to record their religious confession or delete the reference to it in their civil status form? Do they continue to linger in a vacuum, so to speak? Are there any statistics about their numbers? Do they carry any weight in the OMG equation, or any equation for that matter?

    Posted by Joelle | January 14, 2013, 4:09 pm
  39. Joelle

    I think they’ll get lumped under “other minorities”. But I’m not sure.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 15, 2013, 4:53 am


  1. Pingback: Waiting for the Electoral Law-The Orthodox Gathering’s Law And The Road To The Federal State | Moulahazat - May 20, 2012

  2. Pingback: Red Egg Review » The Non-Sectarian Sect - March 29, 2013

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