Rebuilding Lebanese politics

The abolition of political sectarianism in Lebanon was identified as a national "priority" in the Taif agreement that ended the civil war 20 years ago. The agreement set no time-frame for abolishing it, and nothing was done.

Following the parliamentary elections last June (and five months of wrangling over the composition of the new government) the issue of constitutional reform has come to the fore again, though politicians still seem more interested in minor tinkering with the system – such as the creation of an upper house of parliament – than wholesale reform.

The Qifa Nabki blog, which has tackled this subject before, 
returns to the debate:

First of all, it’s important to appreciate the complexity of this issue. After all, it’s not simply a matter of getting rid of parliamentary quotas or holding a census. Rather, it’s a question of how to build a completely different political system, practically from the ground up.

Where does one begin? I would propose to begin at the end. In other words, one should start by asking: What kind of a political system do we want to end up with? Should it have one legislative chamber or two? Should it be a presidential or prime ministerial system, or some kind of combination? How should powers be separated between the various branches of government? What kinds of protections should religious minorities enjoy, if any? What kind of electoral law should be adopted? Will expatriate Lebanese be allowed to vote? What kind of role will administrative decentralisation play? The list goes on and on.

Answering these questions requires, in part, being able to identify what is so odious about the current system. On the one hand, it is easy to see how the mixture of religion and politics is anathema to democracy activists. However, would an ostensibly non-sectarian system populated entirely by sectarian political parties really be any better than what we already have?

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 2 December 2009.