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Peak Sectarianism: The Lebanese Regime Devours Itself

Peak Sectarianism: The Lebanese Regime Devours Itself

Thursday, 2 July, 2020 - 11:00

On the eve of the collapse Lebanon is currently undergoing, the Lebanese political system's sectarianism was peaking, was at its most extreme; the political system that was assumed viable and likely to flourish in a country with deep tensions and a region in flux by those who had called it for and those who have been working to entrench it.

“Peak sectarianism” began to emerge with the end of the Syrian tutelage era, which was able, through pressure, intimidation, and coercion, to manage the differences between the Lebanese sects and to keep them within the bounds of the regime run by Damascus, which decided the limits sectarian tensions were permitted to reach. In fact, the Syrian apparatuses would fuel disagreements and divergences among their allies to ensure their control over all the sectarian-political forces under the Syrian influence between 1990 and 2005, the year the civil war ended and the year the Syrians withdrew their army from Lebanon in the wake of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s assassination.

The climate created by the 2005 legislative elections, in which Michel Aoun and his party’s "tsunami" in Christian areas solidified their position, and then the campaign launched by Hezbollah against Fouad Siniora’s government weeks after the July 2006 war, ensured that the war would shift the political balance of power which had been swinging against Hezbollah and had been established after Hariri’s assassination and the Syrians’ subsequent withdrawal. This shift in the balance of power manifested itself in the invasion of western Beirut on May 7, 2008 by Hezbollah and the militias allied to it that forced the various parties to accept the Doha Agreement, which, in practice, made unwritten amendments to the Taef Agreement, and opened the door wide for Christians’ re-entry, with the support of the Shiite duo, to positions of power in the state.

The Free Patriotic Movement, Aoun's party, turned the slogan of "restoring Christians' rights" into a headline for correcting the real inadequacy of Christian representation during the previous era of Syrian tutelage. However, it took those demands for these rights to an extreme that undermined the constitution and the Taef Agreement. While it is true that Christians were underrepresented and their share of power had been undermined during the period in which the Taef's stipulations were being implemented by Syrians, the party's insistence on generalizing sectarian quotas to all public sector jobs and the taking jobs that had been occupied by employees of other sects tainted the rightful Christian demand with maliciousness and vengefulness.

In the constitution, which entrenched an old custom, sectarian quotas are limited to the Council of Ministers, the Parliament and the First Grade public sector jobs, in addition to sectarian representation being taken into account in security and military services appointments in such a way that the positions are divided equally between Christians and Muslims.

But the Aounists' inflated influence, as a result of Hezbollah's support, encouraged them to extend the sphere of sectarian quotas, going as far as taking illegal measures, such as suspending the results of the Civil Service Council exam that must be taken to those seeking work in the public sector.

Indeed, even low-risk job appointments, like those of the guards of Horsh Bierut (the largest park in Beirut) were objected to because Aoun loyalists made up less than half of the appointees after Christian representation in the public sector had become controlled by Aounists in the context of the struggle for Christian leadership.

In any case, the other political-sectarian groups were no more concerned with the health of the public sector; they crammed thousands of unnecessary employees into these institutions, burdening the treasury, to say nothing expressing their loyalty to the “guardians” of their sects rather than the state. Ultimately, every government institution was tainted with the color of the sect most represented in it. The telecom operator Ogero is for Sunnis, the state-run tobacco monopoly "Regie" for the Shiite... and so on.

On the eve of the currently unfolding crisis, the sects had divided all, or almost all, public positions, down to the lowest grades, amongst themselves following the sectarian- quotas that allowed them to share the spoils and reward loyalists. The room maneuver and the ability to replace employees according to merit had been nullified, and the entire state was trapped in an impenetrable fortress that could not be reformed without the entire structure being demolished on the heads of those inside it. As a result, the state’s framework revolved around sectarian sharing, eradicating all forms of accountability and checks and balances within institutions or from outside of them, which is legislative councils’ duty.

This state of affairs, in addition to costing the treasury massive and unjustified amounts, turned it into sectarian political forces' primary source of funding, given the scarcity of political funds flowing from abroad for reasons that are now well-known. The state turned into a piggy-bank for the movements and parties and the distribution and import mafias linked to them, whether through infrastructure projects, public services, or employees of all types.

When we add the public sector’s pervasive corruption to the limited collection of revenue and "engineering" of public funds at the service of sectors that were on the brink of bankruptcy, like the banking sector, it becomes clear that the political forces’ agreement with on another, which they described with terms like "the presidential settlement", "the national interest", and "the rights of the sect", was to plunder the state and perpetuate the dominance of groups’ leaders.

It goes without saying, this framework is not very different from that of a Ponzi Scheme, which can be summarized as a process through which those at the bottom give those above and ends in total bankruptcy, as is well known. Taking sectarian power-sharing to its extreme showed everyone who can see that proceeding with this type of partnership that is founded on plunder, open and well-documented, is not viable. In other words, “peak sectarianism” ate itself up by ignoring the basic logic of managing meager resources and diverse society, the necessity of at least minimally taking into account social justice and rationality when distributing the now evaporated national wealth. The Lebanese are now beginning to discover that they were robbed with their eyes wide open.

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