- Karl Sharro made a lot of the same points I did in my last post, except he made them a week ago.
- Mustapha at Beirut Spring weighs in on the debate about the Orthodox Gathering proposal.
- Jihad al-Zein discusses the historical background of political Christianity in Lebanon.
Most interesting, though, is this piece by my friend JP Katrib over at NOW Lebanon. JP is immensely learned about Lebanese politics, and I respect his opinion a good deal, even if we disagree about this particular issue. In the piece for NOW, he takes on the difficult task of defending the law, and offers some historical context about its emergence. I’d like to push back on the following point:
Since the end of the war in 1990, electoral laws have practically resulted in misrepresentation among the confessions. While the constitution divided parliamentary seats equally between Christians and Muslims, in practical terms, Christians were underrepresented and Muslims were overrepresented, taking into account the Christian MPs beholden to Muslim constituencies. While misrepresentation affected Muslim and Christian seats alike, its impact on the latter was more profound than on the former. Short of a constitutional amendment that would revisit the 5:5 ratio, it is not an “isolationist” measure for Christians to claim what is rightfully theirs.
I have to admit that I’ve never understood the notion that Christians are under-represented in the Lebanese government. There are currently fewer than two Christian voters for every three Muslim voters, and the coming years will bring that ratio closer to 1:3.
If we insist on keeping the Parliamentary quotas stable at 50% Christian – 50% Muslim, then we have two choices:
- We can either allow some Christian MPs to be elected by Muslim constituents;
- Or we can create a system — either through creative districting or confessional lists — that gives 38% of the population the right to elect 50% of the Parliament.
JP is arguing (like many proponents of the Orthodox proposal) that the first option represents a form of “Christian under-representation” but in fact it simply produces a state of affairs in which Christians have representation in Parliament according to their own real demographic weight — and that assumes that people only vote according to sectarian calculations, which is not evident to me.
Meanwhile, the second option truly leads to under-representation through the simple fact of unequal suffrage. When Sunni and Shiite votes are worth half the weight of some Christian votes… what are we supposed to call this if not under-representation?
I hope that JP will join the discussion and explain his position at greater length. Stay tuned while I try to convince him.
As`ad Abu-Khalil has this to say about my last post, where I wonder whether the Orthodox Law would provide an unexpected boon to liberals:
I should state that it would be unfair to call that electoral law “Greek Orthodox” especially that the community has hosted loud secular voices in the last century. But I wish to comment on the post by Elias in his blog here. I disagree because this lousy sectarian law is an intense sectarian training school that would in fact–far from galvanizing and mobilizing seculars–reduce the ranks and weaken secular people in the country. It would have the opposite effect, I am afraid. But then again: this lousy outcome is the destiny of that sectarian entity.
JP Katrib responds to my argument above with the following statement:
Thanks Elias for refocusing the debate even more and for offering me the space to clarify my point. It’s more of a clarification as such, not a rebuttal. Ultimately, I am not in disagreement with you concerning the paragraph you highlighted from my NOW piece.
If anything, I revoke the current 5:5 ratio and find it incompatible with the realities of Lebanese pluralism. Let me be very clear on this. How can a Christian community that is not 50% of the population garner 50% of seats!? Today, the result of that: Christians are under-represented and Muslims are over-represented, taking in account Christian seats beholden to Muslim voters.
In human rights philosophical terms, this is against “human dignity” and is based more on the pre-Enlightenment notion of “tolerance” than on “equality.” In 30 years, Christians will be 25% of the population, will it be appropriate then to still hold 50% of seats!? My take is that on the long run, our Muslim compatriots will not accept it.
What I initially meant to say, and I re-quote myself here, “Short of a constitutional amendment that would revisit the 5:5 ratio, it is not an “isolationist” measure for Christians to claim what is rightfully theirs.” Meaning, absent political will to revisit the constitution in this regard, and as long as we’re still in a system were sociologically speaking, the socio-political unit is the confession, then it is not out of line for Christians to claim what is constitutionally theirs.
Ideally, and you know my opinion here Elias, composite societies like ours need composite constitutional structures like federalism or political decentralization coupled with a neutrality of sorts. Otherwise, we will continue to alternate between paralysis and bloody internal confrontation every decade or so. Is that our failed state fate? I certainly hope not.
Finally, while I agree that the Orthodox Law proposal is no panacea to our chronic and inherent problems (pretty much like any other electoral law), I still believe that it addresses a reality (that is gruesome to some) and attempts to positively channel it beyond romantic descriptions of Lebanon. At least that was the original intent of the initial founders of the proposal, certainly not former deputy speaker Ferzli. But how can we revisit the constitution along federal or decentralized lines, so long as Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and unwilling to negotiate? That is the problematic with which I ended my NOW piece. Thank you Elias.