Anti-Confessionalism: a state ideology
Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/08/2009
This is not a joke. Anti-confessionalism is a state ideology. It might sound shocking to many ears, but I believe it is actually indisputable. Will this sketchy demonstration you are about to read convince you? I hope so. This blog is certainly not the place for a meticulous study of this surprising and counterintuitive feature. But it will allow me to point out quite broadly a couple of arguments that are usually overlooked by most analysts. And then you’ll do the math.
First, I’d like to remind the reader that the Lebanese political system was not founded on a single pre-existing ideology or political theory that one could call “confessionalism”. This is usually the case with state ideologies. Let’s take the example of the United State (where federalism and democracy were theorised before they were implemented), France (where the basic elements of republicanism were theorised before the overthrow of the Monarchy), the Soviet Union (with communism) and closer to us, Syria (where Baasism was theorised before the establishment of the Baasist regime) and Israel (where Zionism was theorised half a century before the establishment of the State). In all these cases, we find thinkers, intellectuals or theorists who pondered over a regime before its establishment. This is not the case of Lebanon. No thinker, intellectual or theorist reflected on the country’s communal reality and how it could be translated politically before the establishment of the political system or regime (the Constitution of 1926). Michel Chiha, for instance, was no Michel Aflaq, Karl Marx or Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Edmond Rabbat was no Theodor Herzl, Otto Bauer or Thomas Jefferson. They are not the intellectual fathers of the Lebanese political system. They tried their best to theorise it after its establishment. Their approach is ex post and seeks to justify what already exists. Interestingly enough, their views on “confessionalism” are extremely ambiguous. They never fully embrace it and usually justify it as a temporary measure or an expedient adopted for lack of a better alternative (with proponents like these, who needs critics). They didn’t actually come up with this ambiguous approach. They’re simply reflecting the ambivalence that is found in the Constitution.
If one wants to grasp the state ideology, one has to look into the values expressed by the constitution, and those professed by officials. The values expressed by the Lebanese constitution have remained staunchly republican withstanding the major amendments it has undergone (1943, 1990). The State that this constitution establishes is a jacobine state (centralised, secular, suspicious of “intermediaries” between the citizen and ), and all rights are granted to individuals (article 7: كل اللبنانيين سواء لدى القانون, article 8: الحرية الشخصية مصونة, , article 9: حرية الاعتقاد مطلقة, article 12: لكل لبناني الحق في تولي الوظائف العامة لا ميزة لأحد على الآخر إلا من حيث الاستحقاق والجدارة, article 27: عضو مجلس النواب يمثل الأمة جمعاء) with only two exceptions: article 9 and article 95 (expanded and specified since 1990 through the amendments of articles 19, 22 and 24). To sum things up, the Constitution is essentially Jacobine or Republican (as understood by French constitutional theory), and only residually “confessional”:
- “Political confessionalism” (article 95, later fleshed out in article 22 and 24) stands out as an anomaly and a temporary measure.
- while “judicial confessionalism” (Personal Status laws, article 9, later expanded through article 19) has been threatened on several occasions either of contraction (which has actually occurred to Lebanon’s Christian and Jewish communities), competition (with a proposed “optional” civil legislation in family law) or abolition. So withstanding the fact that Personal law is recognised by the Constitution as a right guaranteed to all established communities, it is equally perceived as an anomaly that can be done away with.
Now that we’ve seen what the constitution said about the political system, let’s check out what the State officials have to say about it. The values expressed by Lebanese officials (Presidents, Prime Ministers, Speakers, Cabinet members, parliamentarians) have remained staunchly republican. Confessionalism has been continuously decried by state officials as the country’s greatest evil since the 1940s. Riad el Solh paved the way through his ministerial declaration following the National pact in which he announced that confessionalism should be extirpated from the minds, and not only from the texts.