The media reaction to the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati last week has been puzzling, from my perspective. CNN says that the resignation “throws Lebanon’s politics in turmoil” while The Economist warns the Lebanese to “be careful,” as “Lebanon’s delicate sectarian system is in danger of falling apart.”
Not to second-guess the propensity of the Lebanese for self-sabotage, but I fail to see how a prime minister’s decision to resign signals anything more than the usual variety of political dysfunction.
Jean Aziz’s excellent (if slightly one-sided) analysis for Al-Monitor provides the proper context in which to read Mikati’s resignation, which has as much to do with short-term electoral politics and long-term systemic failures. According to his reading, Mikati’s decision to resign must be seen in the light of his own electoral calculations for the upcoming (but now delayed) parliamentary elections, as he weighs the possibility of running in his home town of Tripoli, which is strongly supportive of the Syrian revolution. Ashraf Rifi, the police chief whose rebuffed tenure extension lay at the heart of Mikati’s resignation is apparently also from Tripoli, and one could imagine a scenario whereby the Future Movement would run him in Tripoli against Mikati. Rather than risk being painted as Hizbullah’s Sunni lapdog (which Future has already tried to do), Mikati decided to cut his losses in the Serail and start worrying about his political future.
So much for short-term calculations. My personal view is that the real danger of Mikati’s resignation is that it places Lebanon on a familiar precipice, where the mandates of its political authorities will soon expire without any mechanism in place for their renewal. Crudely speaking, without a prime minister, there can be no cabinet. And without a cabinet, there can be no electoral law. And without an electoral law, there can be no parliamentary elections held this summer when the current parliament’s term ends. And without a new parliament, there can be no appointment of top governmental positions, foremost among them the new president, whose term will begin in May 2014. And without a new president… well, maybe that’s not such a big deal. But you get the point.
What’s fascinating to me is that certain political parties are trying to push the process along as though Mikati’s resignation never happened. We read that Michel Aoun favors holding a legislative session in order to vote on the Orthodox Law, effectively setting in motion the 2013 parliamentary election season. I personally have no idea whether this is constitutionally viable. Nor do I know what powers the caretaker cabinet has. Can it extend the term of Lebanon’s parliament? Can it propose a new electoral law? And even if it could, what role will the less formal but no less influential dimensions of custom and precedent play on the process that develops? When the Saniora cabinet tried to push through legislation on a majoritarian basis in 2007-08, all hell broke loose. And nothing was resolved until the international community stepped in.
This is a theme I’ve been returning to regularly since 2009, but there’s a good reason. The source of Lebanon’s current kerfuffle is not “Sunni rage” or “Shiite militarism” or “Christian division” but the fluidity and ambiguity of its political institutions and protocols. Under normal circumstances, it should not be that big a deal for a prime minister to resign when faced with the intransigence of the political coalition that put him in office. What is a big deal, however, is that there is no automatic set of procedures that must be followed when a governmental breakdown occurs. Take a look at this excerpt from the Daily Star this morning:
Political sources said that at this stage, the priorities of various political groups differ, even within coalitions. Aoun’s bloc favors convening the legislature to vote on the Orthodox proposal, which would be followed by forming a Cabinet. Key Muslim parties, meanwhile, favor extending Parliament’s term and forming a Cabinet before putting an electoral law to vote…
Meanwhile, sources close to Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblatt said he supported forming a national unity government under Mikati…
Other parliamentary sources said Jumblatt opposes extending Parliament’s term and favors increasing the retirement age of senior security officials, an issue that was seized on by Mikati in announcing his resignation…
MPs who met with the speaker at his Ain al-Tineh residence quoted Berri as saying that he has yet to decide whether to convene a Parliament session, as he continues to study the various demands made by political blocs…
Later, a delegation of March 14 MPs handed Berri a petition demanding he convene the legislature before the end of the month in order to pass a draft law to raise the retirement age of soon-to-retire security officials. “In principle, [Berri] supports increasing the retirement age; however, he decides when to call for the session,” Tripoli MP Samir Jisr said after meeting.
Apparently, it seems that all options are open. The government can either produce a new cabinet, or it can enact a new electoral law, or extend the term of parliament, or raise the age of senior civil servants… doesn’t seem to matter which order this happens.
Can you smell the democracy?
Crudely speaking, without a prime minister, there can be no cabinet. And without a cabinet, there can be no electoral law. And without an electoral law, there can be no parliamentary elections held this summer when the current parliament’s term ends. And without a new parliament, there can be no appointment of top governmental positions, foremost among them the new president, whose term will begin in May 2014. And without a new president…
In short. You’re saying there is no state.
Nothing new there. In fact, the entire point of your article here is exactly that: There really is no such thing as a Lebanese state.
A state is defined by its institutions. By a set of rules on how it is to be governed, etc.
In the case of Lebanon, there is no such thing. Oh, people will claim that yes, we have rules and laws and a constitution and some (albeit dysfunctional) institutions.
But the bottom line is, all these alleged rules and laws and institutions are broken continuously, by whoever feels it appropriate.
Mandates are extended when convenient. Laws are enforced when suitable, but ignored when the need arises. The constitution, what constitution? is pretty much ignored routinely in just about every decision made.
It’s chaos, anarchy and failure at every level. And I’m not even talking about the security situation.
The system itself is best defined by saying “There is no system. Everything goes.”
Lebanon has been and continues to be a FAILED state. Everything else is pretty much irrelevant at this point.
It’s quite common for multiparty parliamentary systems to take a long time to form governments. For recent examples, look at Israel or Italy. And this has been an historic problem for Italy, or in France under the 4th Republic. In France even the majority-compelling system for electing the president does not obviate subsequent parliamentary problems. And the reason that British-style systems work efficiently in terms of producing successors is the stability of the party system. (It’s not the electoral system: Britain and India both have first-past-the-post electoral systems, but Britain has two major parties, and India many.) Only systems with clear succession rules avoid this problem entirely (e.g. the US) but the fashion for these is decidedly on the wane. And the cdertainties of succession inj the US do not mean gridlock is avoided, as is so painfully evident these days.
Bad Vilbel is getting worse, even though this type of (balad ma biyirkab) self flagellation is almost typical and could be healthy in times of crisis. It is sometimes called the ‘Syria Envy’ syndrome that many Lebanese have.
I would start to really worry about Lebanon when a prime minister does not resign or a president manages to stay for life or a system is imposed (like in Doha) where parliament becomes irrelevant and hence also elections.
Lebanon’s state institutions have proved to be the most viable in the region. Whether in 1952, 58, 69, 73, 75 …. state institutions managed to remain and the constitutional process was maintained. In the rest of the region there are only two choices: either nothing happens, no crisis, so change and the same regime stays under a state of emergency where the constitution and all due process are either suspended or turned into a charade; or you have a coup and all falls down. Rigid systems that cannot bend will only break-down, it is an illusion of stability and solidity. We almost got there several times but always managed to revert.
This was my first thought when the crisis started in Egypt on the 25th of January 2011 where post-Saddam Iraq proved to be more stable than Egypt or Tunis or Libya or Syria and where only once month before people believed that Iraq was risky and Egypt was safe. The Arab Spring forces us to review these concepts of risk and stability. http://www.chathamhouse.org/media/comment/view/163021
The press treated the resignation of Moaz al Khatib in the same manner as it did Miqati’s; and the cliche became ‘Syrian opposition in disarray’. Whereas three days later it became obvious that Moaz al Khatib had played his cards right, resisted all kinds of pressures, acted independently, and showed he could manipulate international politics. He ended sitting in the seat reserved for Bashar-(ila al abad)-el-Assad in the Doha Arab summit and being the star of the meeting.
The international press is sometimes nostalgic for the ‘stability’ that dictatorships represent and considered it a success whereas Lebanon is a ‘failure’ because it can go through crises and paralysis and whereas all attempts in the 20th century to turn it into a Syria, Iraq or Egypt have failed. That failure may have been at great expense at the time, but now that we are seeing the price of ‘success’, the cost was probably worth it.
Before we congratulate ourselves too much I will leave you with this thought: the fact that Lebanon’s constitution is one of the oldest in the world, probably after the US, is both a sign of stability or ‘resillience’ (I hate that word) BUT it could also be a sign of rigidity and resistance toeform and change and this could lead to total breakdown.
I was hoping you would comment on this post.
I agree with you, up to a point. I’m against the “sky-is-falling” school of commentary, as I say above. And I think that the resignation is actually a sign of flexibility, health, etc. But surely you would agree that there is such a thing as too much “flexibility” in a political system. What I am against is making up the rules as we go along, which is precisely what invites the meddling of foreign powers and the imposition of comprehensive settlements like Doha. There needs to be some kind of a rulebook. It’s unsustainable, in my view, for “National Dialogue” to be the only mechanism that can resolve these tough legislative issues. So I think that BV has a point, though I think he goes too far.
Looking forward to a good debate, ya shabab.
The day Hizballah lay down their arms, is the day we might stand on a podium and officially call the Lebanon war over with a straight face and discuss Lebanese ideas. That may be the day the world as will change for me as I know it.
As far as I am converned, its business as usual.
That may be the day the world will change for me as I know it.
As far as I am concerned, its business as usual.
Nadim and QN,
My comment was really not a “sky is falling”. I do not believe that to be the case. Quite the contrary, I believe this is “Business as usual” / “More of the same” / “Same **** different day”.
However, I have to say, just because the Lebanese constitution is old, just because we have a so-called parliamentary system, doesn’t mean diddly squat. Stability? I don’t call the state of affairs in Lebanon “stability”.
Lebanon has been a failed state almost since its inception. That is the truth of it. All these constitutions and parliaments and systemic “stabilities” are just window dressing. There is no state. There hasn’t been one in a long time. The fact that you put meaningless words and labels on various buildings like “Parliament” and “Elections” and whathaveyou means absolutely nothing.
What’s the point of our constitution being “one of the oldest in the world” if it is routinely ignored?
What meaning does this constitution have when it bars level 1 civil servants from being president, yet our president was “elected” right out of his level 1 civil job?
What meaning does this constitution have when it never allocated sectarian seats (in its original pre-taef form), yet the unconstitutional “national pact” was in place for half a century without being questioned?
What is the meaning of this constitution that calls for a 6 year presidential term, when each president ends up extending their term?
What is the meaning of this constitution that, post-taef, calls for deconfessionalizing the system, creating a senate, etc…which remains unimplemented in 20 years…
I could go on. These are just the top-level examples off the top of my head…
I fail the point of trumpeting a “one of the oldest constitutions in the world” if it’s ignored routinely?
The important adjective in this phrasing should really be “one of the oldest FUNCTIONING constitutions in the world”…Then it’d mean something.
Stability is measured by longevity AND functionality.
A patient that’s been on life support for 50 years, experiencing weekly “seizures” and “episodes” while several malignant cancers slowly grow through his body is not what i would call “stable”.
Just because this patient is still alive doesn’t make him stable.
Just because the seizures happen consistently, in a routine, predictable, weekly fashion, doesn’t make him “stable”.
Predictability does not equal, in my opinion, Stability.
BV it all depends on what your definition of a ‘functioning state’ is – were Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tunis, Yemen etc.. functioning states? The Lebanese constitution still function true, and it is manipulated, the two presidential extensions during the period of what is euphemistically called Syrian ‘tutelage’ were certainly manipulations of the constitution and of the parliamentary system. There was a regional trend which Lebanon resisted and never joined – for a long time this was considered a failure. I think that from a post 2011 perspective, that failure was a success. Lebanon is ahead of the game in the region. How would you define success in such an environment?
First, claiming that the Lebanese constitution is among the oldest in the world is kind of like the first triplet to be born bragging about being the oldest child. The US is kind of an outlier, and then there are some 19th century, mostly European, constitutions, followed by everyone else, Lebanon included, in the 20th century.
Second, the choice that Nadim is setting up seems to be one of either dysfunctional institutions or authoritarian rule. Surely those are not Lebanon’s only options. A country where large segments of the population were essentially cut out of governance for decades followed by a 15-year long civil war over governing arrangements can hardly be called a success in my book.
–The sky is not falling, it’s fallen a long time ago (civil war, mass emigration, advent and rise of the yahoo, the corrupt and the ignoranus (no typo there)….
–Mikati out, who cares? His resignation was overdue, too little too late (Lebanon’s motto). So, as usual he saddled the country with a longer period of lousy decisions: unchecked number of refugees, Tripoli out of control, Mansour clowning around, Bassil hogging the stage…etc.
Saying Lebanon is a failed state does not mean favoring a Saddam/Assad regime for crying out loud, Nadim.
What depresses me is, as a people, we have yet have to recognize and diagnose the problems (BV talks about). No group of people or institutions or significant NGOs is saying ENOUGH, let’s look at it and fix it.
Instead, people “philosophize” about the “regional situation”, “conspiracies, “our politicians suck”. No WE US OURSELVES suck. And if self-flagellation is the first step to building a future, so be it, damn it!.
(Though I do not believe we’ll see even step-one in any of our lifetimes)
*applause for OldHand*
I agree 100% with you Old Hand. That’s precisely what I’m trying to say.
1) Why does success or failure need to be measured in relation to the neighborhood? Just because Lebanon hasn’t had Saddam or Ghaddafi does not make it a success. That’s idiotic logic if I ever saw one (no personal offense intended here). Since when is success or failure measured that way? Did you pass/fail your classes in school using this approach? “Well I got 3/20 on my math quiz, but I’m a success, cause the 2 guys sitting next to me got lower grades!” (No matter that somewhere else, in the front of the class, people got 20/20, or that it’s a math quiz, where correct answers aren’t subjective).
I refuse to accept that kind of relativistic thinking. in the kingdom of the blind the one eyed are kings, eh? Well guess what…there’s 2 eyed people a few 100 kms away (in Europe)…And they’re probably laughing their asses off at this one-eyed Lebanon, stumbling around, bumping into stuff, and claiming to be so much better than the blind around him.
2) It does not all “depend on my definition of a functional state”. See, again, no offense, I don’t know what you do for a living, but you almost sound like a politician (“It all depends on how you define the word “it”…remember that?)
Playing with semantics and all that only serves to obfuscate the situation.
My definition of “functional” is the same as everyone else’s. It’s the same definition that’s in the Oxford dictionary and any other officially recognized metrics of the english language. Dictionary.com shows 2 definitions that seem relevant:
– capable of operating or functioning: When will the ventilating system be functional again?
– having or serving a utilitarian purpose; capable of serving the purpose for which it was designed: functional architecture; a chair that is functional as well as decorative.
I think the key here is “serving the purpose for which it was designed”.
Let’s answer the following questions:
What is the purpose for which the Lebanese constitution and the Lebanese state were designed?
Are they capable of serving that purpose?
If your answer is:
The state and constitution were designed to enrich the corrupt while offering almost no safety, security and predictability to the citizens, then yes, Lebanon has been a success.
If, like most, your answer is that a state and constitution are designed for the purpose of providing protection, safety (be it economic or personal), justice, etc. for all its citizens, that I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could take that “definition” and claim Lebanon was a success.
Quite the contrary, put in such clear and concise dictionary language, it becomes even more clear to me that Lebanon and its constitution have been complete and utter failures in every possible way!
But surely after all these failures one after another, there still stands a country, or a somewhat semblance of one, that it hasn’t gone the way of Yugoslavia, even during the peak of it’s fragmentation. If you do take into account the region, which you must, the age old conflicts, the wars, the spill overs, the power plays of world politics and the sectarian nature of the system, then having survived alone, all the fracas is a feat of accomplishment itself and that is success because Success should be measured relatively.
Let’s see. Last time I checked, the countries of the former Yugoslavia are currently (most of them) members of the EU, have stable economies, lower unemployment than Lebanon. They have functioning institutions. No militias dictating where you can or can’t go. No daily kidnappings. Croatia and Slovenia have pretty solid tourist economies and beautiful locales.
I’m not entirely sure why we’re better off “not having gone the way of Yugoslavia”.
If by that you mean “gone through a decade of turbulent times, to emerge somewhat civilized” then no, we have not. We’ve instead gone over 6 decades of turbulent times and have yet to emerge into civilization in any shape or form.
Or I’m missing your point entirely.
I meant Lebanon has kept it together in spite of all the turbulence, it hasn’t dissipated like Yugoslavia. It went through a massive reconstruction phase similar to Berlin, and not so long ago enjoyed over a million tourists a year, why would so many flock to the country if it is a failed state? Yes, there is dysfunctionality at every turn but somehow it just keeps striving for progress. tis’ ailing but not failing…..
Thanks for your comment. QED
You don’t ask for much do you? Where’s the problem? Or are we so low on the people’s scale that we are doing the best we can? (Evidence points to “yes”)
As to the million tourists, if that is a criterion, might I remind you they come one year, and stay away the next. Plus half of those are ex-pats stuck with having to visit family and aging parents.
Who is to say that Yugoslavia was not a precursor to what lies in place for Lebanon and Syria?
Croats, Bosnians and Serbians.
I think we have similar labels to that in our part of the world.
Let’s not pretend we’re any different.
I guess the best we can pretend is that Hariri was to Lebanon what Tito was to Yugoslavia.
Were not any different, this is not a superiority complex, I’m just saying, Lebanon seemed to recover from what was much longer than the Yugoslav civil war and it’s fragmentation and then came back to life with an ambitious reconstruction. It brought a little fresh breeze and even though the wheels are clogged, they are still moving. Yugoslavia is a “failed’ state because it is no more. Lebanon is still alive albeit barely.
Progress can be achievable on all fronts, from the economy ( Gas extraction, tourism, financial hub, enterprise), Energy ( For a country that has 300 sunny days a year, that means it is ripe for solar,- building dams, harnessing the wind), Civil ( civil marriage, de-confessionalise Government, civil movements for equality laws etc) Infrastructure investment including fast internet, ferry transport, better roads… so on and so on. These are not impossible to achieve, in fact they are within hands reach as long as there are responsible figures in positions of power and as long as civil movements keep pushing these agendas. It’s been an excruciating last few years, but slight changes can go along way. After all that he has been through, the patient is not dead yet and he can be treated, that’s all I’m saying.
I think you are still missing my point. When you say “…as long as there are responsible figures in positions of power ….”that is precisely what I am talking about. Where are these figures and why do we accept the garbage that rules us today? Why are we never asking these questions?
Why do we have to wait 10 years for something that should have happened 10 years ago (e.g. electricity and internet), are we this stupid? (Don’t answer that.)
Anyone know if Hezbollah returned fire on the Syrian jets in Lebanon’s airspace?
I see what you’re saying, but I think you and I entirely disagree on perspective here.
You are considering Yugoslavia a failed state, because it ceased to exist.
I am considering the former Yugoslavia to have come further along than Lebanon, even if it no longer exists in the legal sense. It EVOLVED into something more stable, more prosperous and more secure.
Evolution, in my opinion, does not equal failure. Yes, there is no longer a legal entity called Yugoslavia, but that isn’t the spirit of what we’re discussing here when we talk about failure vs. success.
The people of Yugoslavia did not cease to exist. They came out of their war, for the most part (some exceptions remain) in much better shape.
I don’t frankly care if it takes some kind of partition for the Lebanese to evolve to a more stable, prosperous and secure society, to be honest.
From my point of view, Lebanon is a much bigger failure. Yugoslavia, not so much.
Following up on BV & Old Hand…
…In that thread there’s no state called Czechoslovakia. Everyone knows how the Czechs and the Slovaks have moved on swimmingly. I still don’t get your point. Lebanon is comparable to Somalia…The difference being; Lebanese are more sophisticated in their killing and the warlords in Lebanon are more cultured ala Mafia style.
Yugoslavia was “glued” together by Tito. It was artificial and incompatible.
I’m glad this site was worth coming along and worth following.
Czechosolovakia was indeed a good example Danny. Hadn’t thought of that.
No civil war. Peaceful evolution into a different “legal name”. But all in all, hard to call that a failure. Which is why I don’t agree with Maverick’s point.
You guys are arguing that after the break up of Czech and Yugoslavia the lot of the people are much better off therefore it is not a failed “state” in that sense. Maybe a definition of State is warranted here. I was referring to a failed State as an absolute termination of a former country/nation/state, I.e The examples mentioned above. Yugoslavia as a state that encompassed the many sects and groupings has fragmented into Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia Herzigovina. These people’s might be better off in many aspects but that does not mean Yugoslavia is not a failed state. Yugoslavia as Yugoslavia, a State and an idea encompassing the many sects of its make up, is no longer….therefore it failed. The same applies to the former Czechoslovakia and others.
In this regard, Lebanon as a State and an “idea” has not yet failed despite the odds stacked against it.
It has been long time since I commented on this blog, though I do keep track always of what is written on it. Lebanon is just like a cat no matter how you drop it, it lands on its feet. Unless you drop a stone right after it that will hit its head and send it into a coma. So every few years the neighbors and the western countries they do that. And after they drop the rock on the heads they run with the poor country to the Drs. To save it. seems as if when ever the big corporations want to solve one of the middle east crises they find the fertile ground of Lebanon to do their biddings and payments in it. you see Lebanese ben traders all their lives they like to play the market sell, buy, exchange any thing. They can trade with others over the safety of their own country.
On a religious note: did Mohamed have foot problems that he thought the rest of us need to wash our feet 5 times a day before walking into a religious shrine?
It does make a mess in most pubic toilets in the region. Can’t American corporations market the same hand gels they do, for religious foot use in the Middle East?
Thank you for cooperating, America.
Looking forwards to Dubai having the first intelligent foot wash stations available near every prayer station, without making a total mess through the side water hoses available in every toilet there, originally intended as a place for human defecation … and purification at the same time?
Guess your doomsday predictions were a bit out of hand.
Hope life is treating you well on campus.
Keep up the good work.
I did get your point. You’re applying the adjective “Failed” in a legalistic sense, not in a “Was the final outcome good or bad for its people” kind of way.
That’s fine. But it’s kind of meaningless in the context of this discussion.
By your definition, the Roman Empire was a failed state, so was the Chinese Empire, the Kingdom of France, the British Empire, and so on and so forth.
While technically true, that means nothing to anybody. Failed states? So what? France, Germany, China and the UK are all thriving countries today with prosperous and secure people (within the acceptable standards). The fact that these countries had at some point in time a system or regime that “Failed” is irrelevant. It’s in the past, and it’s now a technicality for the purposes of our conversation.
Lebanon, on the other hand, is more in line with places like Somalia, Afghanistan, and various other insecure, violent, lawless parts of the world, than it is with Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, or China.
That’s the point that matters.
Great analysis everyone. I am more Brad V that Nadeem but not buy much. Anyway, what can be done to resolve this conundrum? Federation a la Switzerland, friendly spin off like Tcheckoslovakia or a break up like Yugolsavia. The current state of affairs is unsustainable.
Also, how are we defining failed state? To me it is a state where governance is impossible. we are pretty close wouldn’t you say?