Lifting Lebanon from its stumbling blocks:
What is the possibility of a realistic alternative to the sectarian quota system?
Abdul Rahman Atef Abu Zaid
Lebanon has witnessed a long history of conflict and political instability, in addition to recording a high rate of inequality in the distribution of wealth in the world. It also faces several challenges related to high rates of unemployment, poverty, poor public services and corruption. Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Lebanon has been facing more challenges, for which the poorest are paying the price. The regions that used to face the highest rate of inequality in public services and infrastructure development are the same regions that now receive the largest proportion of Syrian refugees: 67% of the disadvantaged Lebanese and 87% of the total refugees from Syria are concentrated in 251 regions, and in total 10% of the Lebanese and 52% of the Syrian refugees suffer from extreme poverty.
And it ended with the collapse of the general structure of the state, despite the survival of its two basic elements, which are the people and the land. The task that posed the main challenge after that day is to rebuild the state and restore its political and economic stability again. In general, there are major issues or problems that must be seriously resolved. And appropriate political leadership for the next stage.
Here, a question arises related to the prospects for the survival of the old political system based on sectarian quotas and consensual democracy, as events in recent years have demonstrated the inability of the political system to achieve real stability for the country, and therefore the reality imposes consideration of realistic alternatives on offer.
First – Dimensions of the problem of instability inside Lebanon:
A- The failure of the sectarian quota system in Lebanon:
The National Pact that was adopted with the independence of Lebanon in 1943 stipulated that the President of the Republic be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shiite Muslim. And he later put an end to the war on the abolition of political sectarianism, but many of the settlements included in it, in addition to the actual practice, consolidated the influence of sectarian leaders, and the agreement stipulated the establishment of a council of elders that would represent the sects, but this council had not yet seen the light, and the implementation of the Taif Agreement, which stipulated parity in the parliament between Christians and Muslims, in practice deepened sectarianism in the distribution of positions and became applied to all jobs in the state. It is no longer possible to appoint any employee to a high position or to make any decision that does not receive the approval of representatives of the main sectarian components, and the consensual formula led to the paralysis of the state. And every presidential election or the formation of a government has become a source of a new political crisis, due to the need to agree on a name among all the political forces representing the sects in the fragile political settlements that the country is accustomed to.
Consensual democracy depends on building large coalitions that guarantee the basic components opportunities for representation and participation in decision-making from the top of the pyramid to the bottom without submitting to the authority of the majority. As the minority reserves the right to veto or object, which makes its ability to confront the majority and avoid its dominance available and possible in practice, which is not permitted by representative democracy; However, the application of "consensual democracy" is not necessary to consider its application in Lebanon as a criterion for its success or failure for several reasons, including the absence of a party law, and a clear political vision for political movements or individuals, and it is very different from Western countries in application on the ground.
Consequently, the continuation of these quotas in everything, including appointments, will keep Lebanon in a fragile and paralyzed situation politically, economically, and security, and will keep institutions in Lebanon hostage to sectarian and partisan loyalties and quotas. Therefore, the next government must prove that it adheres to scientific standards in appointments, in isolation from political affiliations, and that it prevails over the logic of competence over everything else, which entails with it the reorganization of the Lebanese state on new bases, eliminating all Its political and social dictionary is sectarian quotas in the sharing of power and influence, through the implementation of the constitutional clause that provides for the formation of the National Commission for the Abolition of sectarianism, and from it the starting point is towards setting a phased program, to overcome the state of sectarianism, and restore democracy to the right track.
B- Political corruption:
The most important cause of instability in Lebanon is the corrupt system of government, as post-civil war Lebanon is governed by a sectarian system that aims to balance the political power distributed among the religious sects within the country, i.e. Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Maronite Christians, Orthodox Christians, and Greeks. The aim of the Taif Agreement of 1989 was to achieve consensus between the different sects. However, the system of institutionalizing sectarianism and promoting nepotism is reflected in the political instability in Lebanon today.
Despite forming alliances and working together to run the country, the political elite from each sect sustains its existence and continuity through sectarian militancy, because no single sect constitutes the majority within Lebanon, and because the memory of the civil war is still fresh among many Lebanese citizens, the political elites are able to motivate fears of votes and attract support. held in bank accounts in US dollars, and where the corrupt government proved unable to deal with forest fires, and where efforts to address economic irregularities took the form of taxes on the WhatsApp service, so all these repercussions were sufficient reason to shake faith in the sectarian system and to raise the level of the political crisis even more.
The Beirut port explosion overthrew the political and moral legitimacy of the Lebanese elites, and placed the social and political system in front of an unprecedented challenge, after revealing its fragility and dependence on political sectarianism fueled by the alliances of the Sunni, Shiite, Druze and Christian leaders with regional powers that see the continuation of the Lebanese situation as it is in order to protect their various interests. How much to it, and he has nothing left to offer the Lebanese other than ruin, chaos and instability. More than that, there was a feeling in Lebanon that continuing to reproduce it is a crime against the Lebanese people, who are looking forward to real change.
The economic crisis is, in essence, a crisis of governance emanating from a sectarian system that suffers from a structural defect, which prevented the making of rational policies, and allowed the spread of a culture of corruption and waste. The country, foremost among them the public sector, lived with capabilities that exceeded its potential, and after decades of adopting this model, the result was a highly indebted economy, and a bloated and fragile banking sector; The huge annual financing needs also made the country vulnerable to external and regional shocks, and as external financial flows into Lebanon slowed, the Banque du Liban was forced to make desperate and very expensive efforts to attract them, and ultimately, this fiscal policy proved unsustainable.
Thus, the sectarian princes have failed the test of national integration, due to their dependence on foreign agendas, which have turned Lebanon into an arena for proxy wars and settling regional and international scores. They have been unable to build a comprehensive national identity that accommodates the sectarian and sectarian identities that have exhausted Lebanon and depleted its cultural and civilizational assets. The horrific incident also revealed the extent of endemic corruption in the various state institutions.
C- Conflicting interests of foreign powers inside Lebanon:
Over the decades, the Lebanese ruling elites have been politically and economically linked to many international and regional powers. Disagreements often arise due to the conflicting interests of those powers, which often negatively affects the progress of the political and economic process in Lebanon. Among these powers are the United States of America and France, as follows:
1- The United States of America:
The current US policy towards Lebanon revolves around confirming the stability of the borders between Lebanon and Israel, not necessarily through a peace agreement, but rather a stability similar to the border stability that Assad granted to Israel over the past four decades. Secondly, Washington believes that "Hezbollah" participates in attacks around the world, as happened in Bulgaria, and in military battles outside Lebanon, such as Iraq or Yemen, which means that Lebanon hosts an organization whose violence transcends the Lebanese borders, and it is important for Washington to stop this matter, mostly through dialogue with a party capable of controlling the party; In the past, Washington used to charge Assad with that, and during the time of former President Barack Obama, America dealt with Iran to control Hezbollah and with Hezbollah through Lebanese security mediators. Today, in light of the deterioration of the American relationship with Iran and the weakness of Assad, the only candidate to control Hezbollah is the state of Lebanon and its army, which pushes Washington to support the army financially and morally, and to stick to the state of Lebanon and try to strengthen its sovereignty as much as possible.
Washington stresses the necessity of securing chemical weapons stores in Syria, as this issue is of importance to Lebanese security because these weapons can be diverted to Hezbollah in Lebanon. It could also fall into the hands of militants in Syria, where the danger lies in the fact that these militants will transfer it to travelers in Lebanon who share the same ideology, and this comes from America's concern that this could ignite the dangers of chaos in Lebanon and lead to another escalation with Israel.
France has a long history of diplomatic, political, economic, cultural, and even military intervention in Lebanon, and it has long declared its desire to resolve the instability resulting from deep sectarian divisions in Lebanon. Paris generally presents its intense diplomatic engagement in Lebanon as stemming mainly from the emotional and historical attachment that France has with Lebanon and its people. France has also confirmed its interest in Lebanon as part of its broader geopolitical perceptions of the Middle East, as it believes that instability in the region affects French security; France has repeatedly declared that its goals in Lebanon are to establish and maintain stability, support its sovereignty, and prevent external interference in its internal work.
France pursued a conciliatory policy towards Hezbollah. For example, after the discovery of six terrorist attack tunnels built by Hezbollah in December 2018 and January 2019 that reached deep into Israel's northern territory, Israel lodged a complaint with the United Nations Security Council. France denounced the tunneling, but maintained its traditional position as a "neutral mediator"; In September 2019, Macron demanded, during a phone conversation with Netanyahu, that Israel restrain itself in its response to Hezbollah's attacks so as not to undermine Lebanon's stability; France's policy of appeasement, as evidenced by its diplomatic involvement in the UN Security Council, has had the consequence of encouraging rather than discouraging Hezbollah to pursue terrorist activities against Israel, and this undermines any chance of stabilization in Lebanon; Another central problem in France's policy towards Hezbollah is its continued opposition to designating the political wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. France has blocked attempts by the European Union to do so and impose sanctions accordingly, as the European Union previously did with the military wing of Hezbollah.
Second - Ways to address the political system in Lebanon:
A- Internal processing:
Since the complications that accompanied the formation of the resigned Lebanese government, as all previous governments, since all indications indicate that the main dilemma in brotherly Lebanon is Lebanese-Lebanese, meaning that the dilemma and the great and difficult challenge facing Lebanon is mainly from within due to the fragmentation of political forces and sects and their frantic race towards leadership and sectarian or religious leadership in particular.
It was clear the collapse of the foundations of the civil state in Lebanon and the erosion of the values of political and religious pluralism, which is the price that this country is paying today, the people and the nation. This means that it is necessary to realize that Lebanon needs political relief from within and with international and regional support. And as a continuation of the bold decision to relinquish the authority of leadership as a first step for Lebanon to regain its breath and gather its senses in order to get out of the eroding situation of the country, and thus pave the way for the return of the civil state in Lebanese hands, away from the conflicts of government and presidential seats.
It is important to clarify that the issue of maintaining social peace by focusing on social justice requires distributing losses in a manner that is focused as much as possible on avoiding small depositors and placing its burden on the shoulders of the richest people in society. In this regard, external financing would contribute to alleviating the burden of the required adjustments, and a safety net must be established to combat poverty and support health and education services, in addition to the need to help workers move from flabby sectors to those that benefit from the decline in the exchange rate.
This desire for reform became clear, as a response to the protests in Lebanon 2020, when the government met in "Baabda" during the month of June. At the end of the meeting, a statement was issued confirming that security stability is the basis and prerequisite for political, economic, social and financial stability. As for confronting sedition, sectarian and sectarian charges, in preparation for chaos, it is a collective responsibility shared by all elements of society and its political components. The meeting called for stopping all kinds of incitement campaigns that would stir up discord, threaten civil peace and destabilize security, which was achieved due to the awareness of those responsible for the country's capabilities and the efforts of the military and security forces, and their proactive and field response to terrorism.
B- External treatment:
Proceeding from the fact that Lebanon is a strategic region and a region of intersection of interests for many major powers, headed by France, America, Iran and other regional powers, ensuring stability inside Lebanon depends on the non-opposition of the concerned external powers, and based on the fact that international interests are relative and it is difficult to converge in one axis, each country has its own interests, it is in the interest of everyone to reach compromises and sit at the negotiating table alongside international and regional organizations, led by the United Nations and the League of Arab States.
Consequently, it is the responsibility of members of the international community, including states, international organizations and financial institutions, to play a major role in reducing the macroeconomic pressures that have afflicted the Lebanese interior, and the economic problem lies in its solution mainly and as a first step in achieving political stability. High-level conferences with the aim of converging views on the need to ensure the stability of the country, especially in light of the large presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon; As any destabilization in Lebanon may push refugees to flock in large numbers towards the borders of other countries in the world.
Many actors in the international community seem to support this. For example, during the current month of September, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, "Zhang Jun", called for international efforts to help Lebanon achieve progress in the fields of politics, economy and security. He said that efforts must be made to create favorable conditions for the political process in Lebanon, and for the international community to create a good atmosphere for comprehensive dialogue, respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence, with the support group adopting a neutral and balanced stance.
And since Lebanon is a country that is poor in resources and relies mainly on foreign investments and aid, it is difficult for it to isolate and be self-sufficient on itself, away from major countries and external international and regional powers. Therefore, the international community must take this into consideration, and that Lebanon's stability will only be achieved through international cooperation and an attempt to exclude personal interests as much as possible.
C- Restructuring the political system:
Protesters in Lebanon have previously demanded radical change and the overthrow of the sectarian state. It seems that everyone agrees to get rid of sectarian quotas as an entry point for comprehensive reform of the state and the reform of the civil national state, in pursuit of the public interest, knowing that the term public affairs is not clear or specific and can only be defined in the light of the political and legislative engineering of Lebanese society.
And since the abuse of power is the main reason for the spread of political corruption, where in the presence of multiple societies there is no homogeneity in addition to the conflict in the interests of regional and international countries in balance, which necessitates the existence of "consensual democracy", especially with the presence in each sect of rich elite and poor groups, and those elites whose interests are linked to the support of external forces, which in turn achieve their interests through that elite rule.
We agree with the opinion of the political expert, Muhammad Abd al-Hadi Qafshi, that the Lebanese system should be restructured with a regional and international agreement, in addition to easing the regional pressures surrounding the Lebanese borders, such as reducing the threat of the Zionist entity. It is also important to have a strong will to combat rampant corruption within the Lebanese political interior during the political reform phase.
Thus, consensual democracy can be replaced by representative democracy, with international oversight that could be included through a United Nations mission, to ensure that the law is applied equally to everyone, and that guarantees the rights of minorities and all sects.
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