Lebanese Confessional-Republicanism 101
Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/07/2009
The Lebanese political system is quite muddling. Most people who discuss it either ignore some of its basic rules and principles, or oversimplify and distort them beyond recognition. Political discussion is marred by ideology. So it’s always useful to state our political system’s basic rules and principles. Once this is done, it becomes quite clear how hybrid it is with its mix of “communal” principles and “republican” principles. Most analysts only see the first set of principles and ignore the second set. We need to look into Lebanon’s “confessional” rules and principles so as to untangle these two set of principles and see how they intertwine.
A glimpse at our constitution rules and principles.
- The principle of “confessional representation” تمثيل طائفي (Article 95) is a misnomer, the principle is actually a set of rules for multiconfessional participation قوقعد للاشتراك المتعدد طائفيآ . It introduces quotas to the public sphere. By law, it has three implications: in Parliament, in government and in the public administration. Most analysts see it as a collective right, but in fact it’s not. The rights are not given to communities, but to individuals who belong to certain communities.
- The principle of multiconfessional participation in government. This rule is formulated as the principle of “fair” or “equitable” representation of communities in government تمثل الطوائف بصورة عادلة في تشكيل الوزارة (article 95). The principle of “fairness” is the oldest rule formulated in Lebanon relative to confessionalism. It is traditionally understood as a proportional distribution of seats between Lebanon’s 7 largest communities (Maronite, Sunni, Shiite, Greek-Orthodox, Armenian, Druze, Greek-Catholic) to their demographic weight.
- The principle of multiconfessional participation in parliament, known as the rules of communal distribution of parliamentary seats قواعد توزيع [الطائفي ل] المقاعد النيابية (article 24). The legislative branch is Lebanon’s oldest area in which the principle of multiconfessional participation was expressed. It was devised in the 19th century and was reflected in the composition of the Representative Council of Mount Lebanon. At first, the distributive rule was based on “fair representation” understood as being based on the proportional demographic weight of each community (based on the country’s only census). Taef introduced the principle of parity, regardless of demographic consideration, between Christian and Muslims and proportionality within these two religious groups.
- The rules for multiconfessional participation in public administrations. It’s in public administrations that the parity rule was introduced to the Lebanese system (it has since been abolished). And this was done under the Presidency of Fuad Chehab. Its avowed aim was social justice and political equality between Muslim and Christians. The rule was seen as a temporary instrument for affirmative action.
- The principle of national representation “عضو البرلمان يمثل الأمة جمعاء” (article 27). This principle is a firmly established one. The national pact that reserved the presidency of the Republic to a Christian Maronite and the prime ministership to a Muslim Sunni clearly stated that those who fill these seats represent the nation, not their communities. So they needn’t be the most popular politicians within their community. If one looks at the Presidents of the Republic Lebanon had, most were actually less popular within their community than their unsuccessful rivals.
The same thing could be said about Parliament. Greek-Catholics do not choose their MPs, neither do Shiites in separate bodies of voters. All voters, regardless of their communal belonging, vote to fill the same seats that are not necessarily attributed to candidates that belong to their community: Maronites and Greek-Catholics in Tyre, for instance, can only vote for a Shiite candidate. Maronites, Sunnis and Shiites in Koura can only choose between Greek-Orthodox candidates… In the years preceding the war, there was the famous case of Najah Wakim. He was a young pro-Nasser, secular arab nationalist politician who was born into the Greek-Orthodox community. He ran in a mixed constituency and won his seat in parliament thanks to sunni votes, while an overwhelming majority of his coreligionists had voted for another candidate. There was great discontent within the Greek-Orthodox community, but nothing could be done to invalidate his election: an MP doesn’t represent his religious community but the Lebanese nation.
- The legitimacy rule: all authority that contradicts the ‘pact of communal coexistence’ is considered illegitimate لا شرعية لأي سلطة تناقض ميثاق العيش المشترك· (preamble). This rule has been interpreted in the last decade as meaning that the “true” political representatives of the different Lebanese communities should be represented in government.
Beyond political slogans. How do these rules translate in the formation of governments?
According to our constitutional rules, there is no such thing as representatives of communities ممثلين ظوائف.
However, this idea gained ground after Taef when Nabih Berri, Walid Joumblatt and Rafik Hariri fought to secure their dominant position within their communities. While most Christian leaders were marginalised because of their opposition to the Syrian Mandate, they also helped , and when the Christian opposition to Syria (Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, National Liberal Party & National Bloc) claimed to be the true “representative of Christians”.
This being said, shares are allocated to members of communities and not to communities (الحصص معطاة لابناء طائفة، وليس للطائفة). So the FPM could in principle have a Shiite minister (and he doesn’t have to be a parliamentarian, it could be for instance Ramzi Kanj), just like the Kataeb could have a Druze minister (highly improbable), or Jumblatt can have one or two Christian ministers (a well established practice since 1992, I believe)… This doesn’t diminish the communal shares, and some political parties are willing to go into such arrangements.
In the second Siniora Government, March VIII accepted to relinquish its share of Christian ministers so as to give it to Aoun’s FPM (Berri stopped having his Christian minister, & Suleiman Frangieh wasn’t represented). Likewise, Joumblat relinquished his Christian Minister (for the first time since 1992 I believe) for an “independent” close to Future Movement… Lastly, Amal and Hezbollah accepted to concede a Shiite seat to an “independent” backed by the Future Movement (Ibrahim Chamseddine) so as to give the FPM’s bloc an extra seat within the numerical arrangement.