Establishing a Lebanese Senate: Bicameralism and the Third Republic

My working paper for Stanford University’s Program on Arab Reform and Democracy has just been published. Those who have been following this blog for a while know that bicameralism is a longstanding interest of mine, and I’m grateful to Lina Khatib for giving me the opportunity to spend some time fleshing out my ideas in this little study.

You can download the paper in English here, or in Arabic.

As you’ll see, I’m considerably less bullish on the idea of a senate as I’ve been in the past, and that has to do with extensive conversations with many people in Lebanon, as well as conversations we’ve had here on the blog (see here, here, and here). Still, I think this is a discussion worth having if only because it offers a useful pathway into the larger de-confessionalism debate.

On another note, let me apologize for neglecting the blog over the past couple weeks when so much has been happening in Lebanon. I’m in the process of moving house and changing jobs; hopefully I’ll be back in the saddle before too long.



34 thoughts on “Establishing a Lebanese Senate: Bicameralism and the Third Republic

  1. Hey Elias, where are you moving to if I may ask?

    Anyway, I did a little search on your name and I found out (for the first time) what you and dear “Alex” look like:


    The first minute of your discussion was focused on some speech Obama made that seemed to disappoint Arabs because it lacked the usual “even-handedness” with respect to Israel.

    As if Israel is America’s (and the Arab world’s) biggest headache right now.

    But I think you’re on the right track, more so than Professor Alex. Get that “Bicameralism” (or something similar) working in Lebanon, and then we can take this “even-handedness” discussion more seriously.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 23, 2012, 12:32 pm
  2. AP, I’m moving to Providence, RI.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | August 23, 2012, 1:46 pm
  3. Elias,

    Good luck with your new job. Will you still be affiliated with Brown University?

    Anyway, just MHO, but debating with pro-Baathists like Alex could harm what otherwise may be a promising academic career. Just ask Professor Josh;)

    All in jest Elias.;)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 23, 2012, 2:02 pm
  4. A Palace?

    How has debating w/Alex hurt the academic career of “Professor Josh”?

    Posted by lally | August 23, 2012, 5:10 pm
  5. Lally…

    Elias may find himself in the No-No list of campus watch. He should be mindful of where he treads.

    Posted by Gabriel | August 23, 2012, 5:16 pm
  6. Ya AP, you should be a bit more studious and read/follow links in the basic posts. That link would have given you the answers to all the questions you posed here.
    I mention this because you don’t want us to assume that you are as superficial in forming your opinions and posting about them as you were in missing the obvious information at your fingertips here.
    Yalla, you are better than that 😉

    Posted by Honest Patriot | August 23, 2012, 7:03 pm
  7. Lally,

    I am not a dean of any american university, but if I was, I would take note of Professor Josh’s (and his sidekick Alex)
    unfettered support of the most undemocratic, oppressive, and murderous regime in the ME and ask him to seek employment elsewhere.

    Gabriel, as a smug American and supporter of freedom, I support any “Watch” that exposes anything that may be of interest to the public. That includes, Jew Watch, Neocon Watch, Jihad Watch or Campus Watch. Laws concerning libel and defamation are all part of the game.


    I could get all my questions answered if I spent the time googling or reading the text books available. But it’s more fun learning from you guys.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 23, 2012, 8:36 pm
  8. ?A Palace?

    Your latest fantasy scenario aside, you quite clearly implied that Landis has already paid an academic price due to his associations…..

    I realize that Landis was marginalized among certain influential circles within punditorylandia, but wasn’t aware of any repercussions to his academic career.

    Posted by lally | August 23, 2012, 8:53 pm
  9. Lally,

    You can bow-down to the “pro-resistance” professor all you want. I doubt the average Syrian will be as kind as you are.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 23, 2012, 9:10 pm
  10. A Palace.

    The discussion is about your claim that JL’s academic standing has been damaged by his associations. Please back it up.

    Posted by lally | August 23, 2012, 10:21 pm
  11. Lally,

    What kind of proof are you looking for? Did you want something tangible like the firing of Norman Finkelstein from the university that used to employee him? Or is backing another autocratic, two-bit despot for a decade enough for you?

    For example, I thought Fareed Zakaria’s about face from support of the war in Iraq to him being against it “discredited” him. No surprise to find him using other people’s work in his articles. Same with Hillary Clinton, who was once a vocal supporter for the Iraq war footing.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 23, 2012, 10:59 pm
  12. Tangible specific proof would be good, A Palace.

    Your rabbi Daniel Pipe’s “Campus Watch” hosts a dossier of Joshua Landis themed cites (42) that serve as a trove of source material. Are there also a stealthy efforts underway to “do a Finkelstein” on Professor Landis @ the University of Oklahoma?

    Posted by lally | August 24, 2012, 12:25 am
  13. Tangible specific proof would be good, A Palace.


    In short, it is only my opinion that Professor Josh is discredited, due to his decade-long support for murderous, Arab, tin-pot dictators. Of course, there are strange people (academics included) out there like yourself who consider that to be a proud badge of honor, so all I can say is “vivre la diference”.

    What are you referring to in terms of “stealthy efforts … to “do a Finkelstein”? Everything in academia is vetted publically and in the open, and most professors, I believe, have to earn their keep.

    “Campus Watch” (like MEMRI) merely holds a mirror to the comments and writings of many in academia who hold views the American public should know more about. I don’t think Elias has anything to worry about, since our esteemed commentator isn’t only critical of Israel (for example).

    As they say on their website:

    CAMPUS WATCH, a project of the Middle East Forum, reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds.

    Near as I can tell, Finkelstein’s tenure was denied mostly due to the hard work of Alan Dershowitz and Fineklstein’s shitty work. Writing books like “The Holocaust Industry” may make you and Ahmadinejad have wet-dreams, but for most normal people, it’s insensitive crap. The only “Holocaust Industry” most people are familiar with were the gas chambers and crematoria of eastern Europe. Teaching, writing and making some films about the Holocaust is not an “industry” per my definition.

    Assad is trying this tatic with his beloved people, but he has a long way to go to reach the levels of what we’ve know about Rwanda, Turkey, Vietnam, China, Russia and Germany just within this past century.

    Most “industries” I’m familiar with, don’t give away all their profits:

    Spielberg: “It is blood money. Let’s call it what it is. I didn’t take a single dollar from the profits I received from ‘Schindler’s List’ because I did consider it blood money. When I first decided to make ‘Schindler’s List” I said, if this movie makes any profit, it can’t go to me or my family, it has to go out into the world and that’s what we try to do here at the Shoah Foundation. We try to teach the facts of the past to prevent another Holocaust in the future.”

    The Shoah Foundation, now funded by donations from individuals around the world, collected testimonies from 52,000 survivors — their memories of their lives before, during and after those darkest times.



    I hope this answers your question. Now I have a question for you, and let’s see if you can formulate a cogent answer:

    Why do you suppose haters of Israel like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Jonathan Cook have nothing critical to say about Syria’s Bashar Assad and the general lack of freedom in the Arab world?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 24, 2012, 7:52 am
  14. AP

    Why can’t you for once stick to topic?

    Posted by Gabriel | August 24, 2012, 12:32 pm
  15. Gabriel,

    What did you want to talk about?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 24, 2012, 1:40 pm
  16. Bicameralism and the Third Republic

    Or is anal probes, the holocaust industry, etc more fun?

    Posted by Gabriel | August 24, 2012, 2:02 pm
  17. Gabriel,

    One reason I appreciate Elias, is because he is interested in democracy. That is why he participates in Standford University’s “Program on Arab Reform and Democracy”.

    Near as I can tell, the vast majority of Arabs have no interest in democracy, so I applaud Elias for trying.

    There is a loooong way to go, because there are too many Arabs out there who worship Arab despots like Assad.

    So I don’t think there is “bicameralism” in Lebanon at this time, and there is no unified Lebanese defense force, as Hezbollah acts on its own.


    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 24, 2012, 2:14 pm
  18. AP.

    If there are “too many Arabs” who “worship Assad”…. why are so many Syrians fighting to get rid of him? Or are you saying that you agree with Assad… he’s under assault from a minority of extremists?

    Posted by Gabriel | August 24, 2012, 2:28 pm
  19. Gabriel,

    If I answer your question, I may get accused of being off topic;)

    Clearly, the Arab world is split between those that want democracy and those that don’t. I don’t know if the split is 20-80 or 80-20 or 50-50, but if the numbers of those who “worship Assad” were really insignifcant, Syria would have thrown out Assad months ago. Moreover, my experience with Syria Comment shows the split is about 50-50.

    If you have any info showing something different, I’d be willing to check it out.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 24, 2012, 2:35 pm
  20. LALLY,


    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 24, 2012, 2:39 pm
  21. You did partially answer the question. With that I agree.

    But now that I’ve posed the question, you seem to be taking a similar view on Syria that Alex has been promoting… that there is a significant support base for Assad (and I believe that is JLandis’s position as well).

    Which really has done nothing for my state of confusion on your position.

    Posted by Gabriel | August 24, 2012, 4:09 pm
  22. Guys,

    Let’s try to stay on topic. If anyone is interested in offering feedback on the senate paper, I’d be grateful. Otherwise, maybe we can just open the thread up to a discussion of what’s happening in Lebanon at the moment.

    Wa shukran.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | August 24, 2012, 5:05 pm
  23. Congrats on the new job. Hope you’re able to get back in that saddle sooner than later.

    Posted by masoud | August 24, 2012, 9:12 pm
  24. Elias,

    What’s happening in Lebanon at the moment? Let me guess, more Arabs killing arabs with Hezbollah vowing to protect Lebanon from the evil Zionists?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | August 24, 2012, 10:13 pm
  25. QN, Great work
    On the parity model (A), it’s too undemocratic, and the Shias, Sunnis and Maronites won’t give away everything they have politically aquired only to get an equal representation with 9 religious groups that never had anything, so the simple fact of Model A being democratic won’t change the reality that the model won’t pass. Concerning model (B), it’s bad because in the table, the protestants and armenian orthodox won’t have a Sheik representing them, so they will be forbidden to vote, which leads to an undemocratic system again. Model (C) is hors-sujet, the aim of the senate (according to Taef) is to represent religious entities. Same goes for model (D) that will make things even more complicated. Concerning the district sizes, If you have distinct districts, you’re just creating another Chamber of deputies that will obviously have the same problems the parliament has now because it will be elected in the same manner. You’re only transferring the problems from the lower to the upper chamber without even making sure that they will disappear from the lower one. And if Lebanon is made one single constituency, then Lebanon’s biggest problem will emerge. Let’s suppose A will be the first sunni winner, B the first Maronite winner, and C the first Shia winner. When a parliament will have to choose a President, a prime minister, or everything else, A and B will claim the positions, or at least ask to name someone related to them. And if they get ditched by the parliament, you will see the same scenario of 2008: “there is no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the Pact of Communal Coexistence”. Only this time the struggle will be more acute: They do represent their sects. And the quote of Abbe de Siyes“if a second chamber dissents from the first it is mischievous; if it agrees, it is superfluous” you mentoned is the key. The upper house will only complicate the Lebanese political system. The bicameral system didn’t work under the French mandate, and will hardly work now.
    But if one day these politicians are serious about this issue, they should use that paper to start their discussion :p.

    Posted by MT | August 25, 2012, 2:34 am
  26. Good news guys,

    AK’s back apparently, (and NO I am not AK).

    Posted by OldHand | August 25, 2012, 2:57 am
  27. armenian catholic*

    Posted by MT | August 25, 2012, 2:57 am
  28. Thanks MT.

    I’m off to a triathlon this morning. Will respond when I have a chance.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | August 25, 2012, 5:12 am
  29. Good news oldhand…Are you sure you are not AK?

    Posted by danny | August 25, 2012, 7:01 am
  30. Yes Danny, I am sure,

    And now you can see both us, at the same time, on the same blog. 😉

    Posted by OldHand | August 25, 2012, 9:05 am
  31. proportional representation with a preferencing vote as per the Australian Senate has a lot of pluses going for it. The system of electing Australian senators has its quirks and oddities, where the last elected senator for each state is almost a lottery, but by and large it gives a fairly reasonable approximation of the level of support for most parties bar the ultra small ones and independent non-aligned individuals (who may just sneak into that last place per state. Personally I think a nationside electorate rather than a sub-divided one would be more relevant to Lebanon.

    Compulsory voting in Australia is an important part of electing non-extremists. If it is within every voter’s power to vote against a bloc or candidate (as under preferential voting) then divisive politicians will not thrive beyond their core constituency. On the other hand politicians and blocs that have a program and track-history that build bridges between communities/interest groups tend to thrive. Voters may find over time a greater community of interest with people of other sects who share ideology or class interests, rather than a power-broker from within their own sect. There may be some-flow through to the other house as blocs try to find party platforms that appeal to a wider electorate in the senate.

    I think that the confessional issue would fade over time.

    I expect that any far reaching reform will run into a mass of opposition from all the established power-brokers.

    Posted by harleymc | August 26, 2012, 5:29 am
  32. Brilliant paper Elias! I just summarized its key takeaways and provided my opinion in a blog post here: http://www.georgessassine.com/should-lebanon-have-a-senate/

    Great paper and very well written!!

    Posted by Georges Sassine | August 31, 2012, 2:02 pm
  33. Weynak dude? I don’t know what to think about what is going on around me anymore. 🙂

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | September 25, 2012, 5:26 am
  34. That is a good idea, the devil in the details, though.

    Posted by Norman | September 25, 2012, 8:51 pm

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