Lebanon in Between Transitions by Anthony El Khoury
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Lebanon in Between Transitions by Anthony El Khoury

By Anthony El Khoury
In one of the most un-stable areas of the world, lies what is today known as the Republic of Lebanon. This Middle-Eastern country is home to 18 recognized sects; of which 4 are in a constant political and ideological fight. Back in the 1890s, Lebanon was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Mostly inhabited by Maronites and Druze, Lebanon was granted a certain level of autonomy by the Empire. A particular interest from the French was always considered to be a protective halo for the Maronites, amid interest from neighboring Muslim governors. 
Sykes-Picot Agreement - The Root Cause of All Troubles
After the end of World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Lebanon was under direct French mandate, in accordance with the Sykes-Picot agreement. During that period, the French expanded the borders of the Mount Lebanon Governorate to include more Muslims, in both the North (Sunnis) and the South (Shias). Conflict between local sects asking for independence led to the abolition of the French Mandate thanks to the tremendous efforts of Bechara El Khoury, Saeb Salam, Camille Chamoun, Riad El Solh and Emir Majid Arslan. By procuring independence, the latter had established the 1st Lebanese Government based on confessionalism, a system that divided the power between the major sects present on Lebanese territories: the President was to be Maronite, the Prime Minster Sunni and the Speaker of the Parliament Shiite. Parliamentary seats were divided in a way that assured ‘equal representation for all sects’. Lebanon grew under presidents Khoury, Chamoun, and Shihab, and was dubbed as the “Switzerland of the East”. Internally, the struggle had not disappeared, as every sect was after the biggest share of power, making tension grow exponentially. Furthermore, Lebanon was forced into the Palestinian crisis that started in 1948, and that saw the arrival of more than 100 000 Palestinian refugees onto its territories. The Palestinian Crisis had a huge effect on Lebanon’s stability, as the country was divided into 2 major camps: the Maronites, who were against any form of Palestinian militarization in support of the Arab Cause, and the Druze, Shias and Sunnies (known as the Leftists), who were for the intervention in the regional crisis by aiding and abiding the Palestinians. Pressure from Syria and Egypt (Then ruled by President Gamal Abdel Nasser) forced the Lebanese to sign the Cairo agreement that legitimized the presence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the South of Lebanon (United Nations). Based in the South, the PLO conducted military operations against the Israelis, making tensions grow stronger as Israel considered Lebanon to be home for terrorists. A sequence of events after that led to the eruption of the Lebanese Civil War on the 13th of April 1975, between the Kataeb Maronite Party and the PLO. The war expanded and included Sunnis and Druze, who fought alongside the Palestinians. The war was a huge blow for the Lebanese government, since it could not fight with either camp because all sects are represented in it. 

Anti Syrian Demonstration in Beirut, Lebanon
Intervention from the Syrian army that fought against the Maronite parties (Kataeb/Phalanges and the National Liberal Party), but then also against the Palestinians, saw Syrian control over the Lebanese government increase (Rasler, 1983), allowing it to exert pressure and control the course of action of the war. The conflict was now fueled by sectarian conflicts of interests, and fights were taking place all over the Lebanese territory. The government disintegrated, and rival governments claimed authority. Beirut, the capital, was divided into an Eastern area controlled by the Maronites and a Western area controlled by the Muslims and the Palestinians. The West interfered in the war: the US and Western Europeans deployed military personnel in Beirut, and an agreement that forced the Syrians, Palestinians and Israelis to pull out of the country was reached. However, a member of the Syrian National Party assassinated then president elect Bachir Gemayel in 1982, and the agreement was not implemented. Later on, the Palestinians were either deported or forced back to their camps, and the Israelis gradually retreated from Beirut; the Syrians however, continued their military occupation of Lebanon, making it impossible to stop the skirmishes scattered all over the country. Newly emerged militias like the Hizbollah and Amal movement also entered the war, through the support of Syria and Iran. Lebanon was in one of the worst phases of its recent history, and it wasn’t until 1990 that the war formally ended, thanks to the Taïf agreement signed by the leaders of all armed forces and political parties participating in the war (The United Nations, 1990). This agreement was seen as a fresh start by some, and as a mistake by others as its clauses bared radical changes in Lebanon’s laws and foreign relations. The agreement also stated that Syria must retreat its troops from Lebanon over a period of 2 years. The post Taïf era was a period of total Syrian domination, through Presidents Elias Hrawi (1989-1998) and Emile Lahoud (1998-2007). The country didn’t receive the freedom and sovereignty it was promised, and today, 20 years later, we are living in the aftermath of all the bad decisions made by the people who ruled the country since 1943. 
The Republic of Lebanon is in a state of chaos and total dismantlement, all because of the way the Republic was built. The time for a big reform has come; one that will re-structure the core of what Lebanon really is, a small parcel of land so diversified one could find 5 sects in one family. The idea of federalism and a federal state has been proposed in the past by the Lebanese Forces (Riachy, 2014), however, it wasn’t and still isn’t considered or even discussed. A federal Lebanese state may not be the best of options, however, we have to find a solution that combines the best of both the Republic and the Federal State, in order for us not to repeat the past cited above in the near future.
The Republic of Lebanon has failed. It has failed its people, and more importantly, it has failed the children who will one day rule, inhabit, and lead lives on its territories. The Republic itself is a problem: as a matter of fact, Lebanon is currently ranked as one of the worse countries in the Middle-East. Internationally, we have become a nobody. International negotiations and agreements no longer include Lebanon as a decision maker or even a mere opinion issuer. Sadly, the Lebanese government has lost all its credibility vis-à-vis its former allies such as France and the United States. The reason behind that is the internal struggle for power and overrule of the Republic as it is. We no longer are a country, in the formal definition of the term. We have become a group of individuals, subdivided into smaller groups, each wanting to force its own laws, its own foreign relations and its own way of life on the others. Lebanon scored a mere 27/100 on the Corruption Perception Index, raking it as 136th among 175 countries (Transparency [author as an organization], 2014). The reason behind this, is first of all, the reigning idea of confessionalism: the country has lost its sense of patriotism. We no longer identify ourselves as Lebanese, rather as members of a sect and its political party. We fight to defend our allies on the expenses of our unity and our sovereignty. This is what lead to the failure of our dear Republic. Governmental institutions are not functioning correctly, they’re all based in the capital, and with corruption, public debt, and being forced to only serve the area of which the institution’s administrator belongs to, we can’t fix a road in the North or expand the telephone network in the Bekaa. The government runs on the interests of those who are in it. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s actually a great thing, unless of course, the interests of those in it are not the development and the stability of the country. Section II of the Taïf agreement states that “Abolishing political sectarianism is a fundamental national objective” (The Taif Agreement, 1990). The agreement also calls for the abolition of the mention of the sect on identification cards. However, when I issued my new ID in 2013, it still had my sect on it. The joke that we had as a government 25 years ago wrote and signed an agreement it doesn’t want to ratify. The Taïf agreement falls in conflict with the interests of the different political parties that rule us, who in turn, are ruled by the foreign governments that finance them. Let us now explore another ungratified clause of the Taïf agreement: Section II, subsection A calls for “Administrative Decentralization” (The Taif Agreement, 1990). This clause promised local governance through municipal and regional councils, autonomy in the usage of funds and the expansion of governmental institutions, making them available to all citizens who need them. Although municipalities do exist and are up and running, they don’t have the authority to use the funds they collect. Funds have to be sent to the central government in Beirut before being redistributed among municipalities (Localiban, 2015). Public works have to be performed by national institutions that only exist in Beirut. That’s why we have no asphalt on our roads, no lighting on our highways and no water in our homes. The centralization of the government and of its agencies is favoring an unequal growth of the country. Thanks to the sky-high levels of corruption that we have, funds are being unequally distributed, in order for the local patrons and highly ranked officials to embezzle from them. The failure of our Republic is mostly owed to the tragic laws and regulations that we follow. Our government serves sects not a country. Individuals, not citizens.
One of the proposed ideas to the above issues was a blunt shift from Statehood to Federalism. Formerly introduced by the Phalanges and the Lebanese Forced in the 1975-1990 war, the idea still exists and is somewhat popular among Lebanese citizens. But first, let us identify a couple of countries that follow a Federal system. The Federal States of Micronesia are 4 states that divide an island in the Pacific. The division is based on the fact that Micronesians are divided into 4 ethnolinguistic groups: the Chuukeese, the Pahnpeians, the Kosraean and the Yapese (CIA World Factbook, Apri 2015). Another interesting confederation to look at is the Swiss Confederation. Divided into 27 cantons, Switzerland is home for 4 major ethnic groups: the French, the Germans, the Italians and the Romansh (CIA World Factbook, April 2015). The point behind these examples is to prove that for a country whose population is divided into several ethnic groups, there has to be some sort of internal division to minimize all conflicts of interests between these groups. Similarly, a Federal Lebanese State would ensure a bigger autonomy for different sects. While the Republican system ensures equality by applying the same rules to everyone, the Federal system ensures equality by allowing different groups to choose different rules to abide by, all to a certain extent of course. While voluntary homicide is illegal in all of the United States, gay marriage is only illegal in some states (ProCon, 2015) and that’s because it’s what the people want. And that’s what Lebanon needs: a bigger autonomy that can be granted by a federal system (Leroy Jr, nd). Furthermore, dividing Lebanon into smaller states does not give full autonomy in terms of changing constitutional laws and governmental policies. The beauty of Federalism is that unlike confederations, states are neither sovereign nor independent. They report to a Federal government based in the capital. And that’s what Lebanon needs: a way to diminish conflicts of interests in order to relieve the tensions that reign over us. Furthermore, the increase in local authority and autonomy insured by the shift to a Federal state will push local citizens to work more for their districts and states. This is because a person always works hard for something he sees himself in. But as I mentioned before, the sense of patriotism in Lebanon no longer exists. We are driven by our sense of belonging to a sect and an area. And when the decisions we make only affect our area, we will most certainly invest more time and effort in them, or even in choosing the people who make them. That’s the whole idea behind Federalism: giving the people more choices. Let us take Germany as an example: Europe’s leading economy is divided into 16 states each with its own state law: this freedom of choice pushed the Germans to revive their country even after it had undergone 2 world wars and a radical division during the Cold War. Lebanon’s 15 year internal war is nothing compared to the double destruction Germany faced, it is therefore not impossible for us to follow in their footsteps and build a country worthy of the history it has.
What the country needs isn’t a constitution that’s copied from another country. Ours is based on the constitution of the 5th French Republic, and although the French have amended theirs to fit the needs of the French, we have not implemented half of the amendments we made to ours. As I have stated before, changing Lebanon’s governance and political policy is a must if we are to move towards the developed country we all want. This raises a huge question in terms of what to do and how to do it. Although the idea of a Federal State seems very appealing, we need to sit and consider the barriers that might block such a project. For starters, let’s look at Lebanon’s demographic distribution: the Sunnis and the Shias compromise 27% each, the Christians 40.5% and the Druze 6.5% (CIA World Factbook, April 2015). The thing that prohibits a geographic division is the fact that not all members of the same sect live in the same area/governorate. Most of the Shias live in the South, however, many of them inhabit Mount Lebanon. Furthermore, Lebanon’s underdevelopment in the areas of technology (especially when it comes to putting technology in the hands of the government), and its misdistribution of its agricultural sites (agriculture is focused in the North and the planes of the Bekaa, and no 2 areas produce the same goods) also works as a barrier to the installment of a Federal State. If the country wishes to move forwards, we can’t make decisions that favor a very unequal development. Changing the constitution will be very tough and tricky, taking into account the barriers stated above. However, we can’t deem it impossible. Decentralization fits perfectly between moving forwards and overcoming barriers. Setting up a decentralized government is a long process and the shift away from our confessional system won’t be easy, but it has to be done. We need recent statistics about our population (the last one dates back to 2009 (Central Administration of Statistics, 2009)) in order to re-design the government’s hierarchy, the local councils, parliamentary representations and the distribution of the new subdivisions of governmental agencies, offices and organizations. We also need a non-governmental council to write and propose major amendments to the constitution. And since corruption and fraud are threats that can’t be eliminated, we need an NGO to monitor the whole process, in order to assure 99.99% transparency. Instating a Federal state might be impossible; however, taking the best out of Federalism, local freedom and autonomy, and adding it to the good side of the Republic, unity under the name of one country, really is a good path for us to follow.
All in all, we need to sit down and look at the Lebanon we see in the Future: where our economy is and what our foreign relations are. We need to set a constitution that equally respects the rights and beliefs of every person that holds a Lebanese passport. Doing so under the current reigning class is impossible but that’s exactly what we need in order for us to catalyze our development. We need to realize that we are not servants of political leaders and representatives; they serve us. They work for us, for our well being and for our safety. If we fail to see things from this perspective, we’ll fail to build the country we want. The Republic has failed, but we can save it by changing the rules we look up upon. Constitutional change towards a more open, more liberal and more respective Lebanon is what we need. I see Lebanon as a midpoint on the Republic – Federal State spectrum, and I hope to see it there one day.

  • The Taïf Accord, The United Nations, 1990,http://www.un.int/lebanon/sites/www.un.int/files/Lebanon/the_taif_agreement_english_version_.pdf;
  • Lebanon: Where Demography is the Core of Politics and Life, Aron Soffner, April 1986;
  • The World Factbook – Federal Stated of Micronesia, Central Intelligence Agency, April 2015;
  • The World Factbook – Switzerland, Central Intelligence Agency, April 2015;
  • The World Factbook – Lebanon, Central Intelligence Agency, April 2015;
  • Population Statistics, Presidency of the Council of Ministers – Central Administration of Statistics, 2009, cas.gov.lb ;
  • Revenues of the Independent Municipal Fund in 2006, localiban, March 2015,localiban.org ;
  • Gay Marriage in the US, ProCon, 2015, procon.org ;
  • Lebanese Federalism and Decentralization: Its Proponents and Discontents, Phillip Smyth, October 2009
  • Corruption Perception Index, Transparency, 2014, transparency.org ;
  • Constitutional Design and Change in Federal Systems: Issues and Questions, Richard Simeon, 2009;
  • From Statism to Federalism, Daniel J. Elazar, 1995