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Is Changing the Lebanese Political Structure a Leap Into the Unknown?

Is Changing the Lebanese Political Structure a Leap Into the Unknown?

Thursday, 17 September, 2020 - 11:00

Talks about radically changing the political structure in Lebanon is on the rise, with calls for restructuring it based on new foundations and considerations under the pretext that the current structure collapsed and did not achieve what is expected from it on the popular level, whether concerning the state-building project or granting citizens a bare minimum of their rights. The latter are undergoing the harshest economic and social crisis since Lebanon’s independence in 1943, because of the unprecedented accumulation of corruption and the persistent failure to find solutions to major issues, leading to a loss of faith in Lebanon’s political and organizational structure.

The Taef Accord is the agreement that regulates constitutional and political life in Lebanon. It was ratified in 1989, through the efforts of international and Arab states that were led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in coordination with the United States and Syria. The Taef introduced a series of foundational reforms to the nature of the Lebanese system and the distribution of power within constitutional institutions. Executive authority became vested in the cabinet, as a group, after the executive authority had been reserved for the president of the republic for the most part. “National unity governments”, as a concept, were enshrined through precedent after the agreement was approved, with the encouragement of the Syrian authorities, who oversaw Lebanese political affairs during this period. Through these expanded cabinets, they appointed their officials and accountants as ministers and promoted those who write reports to the high ministerial positions.

In support of this state of affairs, they argued that it was a post-war period, so involving the broadest possible participation of political forces in executive authority was necessary. However, this mantra was not carried out in practice, as was an expansive boycott, mostly by Christian factions, in addition to a few Islamic parties, of the first elections post-war held in 1992. So, the political directions represented a government that reflected an incomplete picture of society. The Syrians exploited this boycott, filling the void it created with loyalists.

In any case, the point is that the participation of all factions in the executive authority emptied the democratic process and meant that there was no government and opposition, as all political parties were represented in the government. Mechanisms for accountability and challenging the government were thereby undermined, and they are among the legislative body’s most prominent tasks and the most vital to organizing a democratic life and ensuring the system’s efficiency.

However, political misconduct was not limited to this aspect of constitutional life. The Constitutional Council, established in the early 1990s, was not granted the authority to interpret the constitution and laws; and, its powers were limited to adjudicating appeals concerning presidential and parliamentary elections and reviewing the constitutionality of laws. It does not even have the automatic authority to do this. Rather, doing so requisites the losing candidate to appeal the results in the relevant district. As for other reforms that were expected to bring about qualitative change to the national and political life, their implementation was postponed, or even suspended, to preserve the gains which the current political system granted for players, first and foremost the sectarian and confessional forces.

Every time a political faction proposes the cancellation of political sectarianism, another one confronts it with proposals of fully-fledged secularism, nullifying the initial suggestion and the other one. This is the aim in practice; maintaining the regime of sectarian and confessional spoils-sharing and the clientelism that prevents the development of citizenship and its basic concepts of affirming equality and not discriminating according to affiliations; thus, citizens remain forced to take their sects' path to reach the state.

For this reason, on the theoretical level, claims that the Taef is unsuitable for the establishment of the state that everyone hopes for, lack a reference to the fact that the agreement’s clauses were not fully implemented, especially those regarding reform and those that could rebuild the state on the foundations of justice and equality. Of course, this is not to blindly defend the agreement, as in the end, there are no sacred texts or arrangements in politics, because they are linked to the moment at which they were born and the conditions that come after it. As for setting a date for burying it, this is not determined by enumerating the clauses that were applied and those that were not, but by studying the balance of power that the agreement produced at the internal level, influential external forces’ roles in the internal arena and the latter’s objectives in successive periods.

The current asymmetry in the balance of power among Lebanese faction is not linked to the Taef Agreement or how it was implemented in as much as it is tied to transformations and certain players retreat in favor of the advancement of others. It is extremely regrettable that the assessment of the Lebanese internal situation is based mainly on external and regional criteria, but this has always been the case, not only for Lebanon but also for all weak states whose governments are burdened by fierce external interference. As for the most complicating factor, it is that these interventions are orchestrated through local vassals that are tied to external agendas that implement their policies without accounting for domestic conditions. Look at Iraq as well!

However, regardless of all the constitutional and theoretical components’ interpretations, the question remains: To what extent can Lebanon reliably manage to change the current political structure and thereby develop a new political and social contract that truly reflects the will of Lebanese society’s various components given the deficiencies in the domestic balance of power? Is the renewed and increasingly widespread demand for federalism and division not extremely worrying? Is it not a manifestation of a return to cantons, sectarian and confessional ghettos, and their final entrenchment? Is it not the case that the primary benefactors of such a proposal are the external forces that have always had a grudge against Lebanon, with its diversity, pluralism, and democracy (with its fragility)?

The consecutive calls for holding a new foundational conference, in light of the sharp internal divisions and more intense regional conflict, raise serious concerns about the plans for Lebanon in the next stage, after the project for dominating its political and economic power centers reached advanced stages. Where is Lebanon headed? Where is the region headed? Unfortunately, players from outside the area answer these questions, because the priorities of the players here are elsewhere!

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