Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Anti-Confessionalism: a state ideology

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/08/2009

Music4massesThis 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.

2 Responses to “Anti-Confessionalism: a state ideology”

  1. As it is so painfully obvious, the Lebanese state was not based on an idea. At best it was a temporary accomodation to preserve the status quo. But that is precisely what is wrong with the Lebanese system, it has never been ablke to justify its existense and so we move from one accomodation to another, all based on the silly notion of “La Ghaleb walla Maghloob”. No one has had the courage to take a stand for Lebanon the state. All are interested in perpetuating their personal and inherited status, their role as feudal lords. Sectarianism as a political system came about by default, no one had the ability or the courage to say that it is not democratic since democracy is alien to the Arab world.
    WL, if you will permit me t point out the obvious, often parties to a dialogue use the same words but each uses the words to mean something different and as a result a disagreement appears when in essence the parties are discussing two different things. This was the case in the Cambridge Controversy in Economics. It took decades for the parties to realize that they were not dialoguing with each other but were is essence not listening to what the other is saying.I believe that this is so in this current discussion. My view, my paradigm if you will, of what is a secular society is not in total agreement with yours and so we are not talking with each other but each is expressing what is on his/her mind without paying enough attentiuon to what the other is saying.
    (BTW, secularism is not traced back only to the early twentieth century it very clearly goes back to Ibn Rushd (averoes) of eight hundred years ago.)

    • You are probably right GK,
      but I wouldn’t call the “”La Ghaleb walla Maghloob” notion silly. In Lebanon, it is criminal because it invariably leads to pardoning politicians for killing their countrymen. In the contemporary Lebanese political discourse, it was introduced by Saeb Salam who alongside Kamal Joumblatt, Rachid Karame, Pierre Gemayel and the SSNP killed about 2000 people in 1958. And to think that many people still consider them heroes.

      p.s. For me, it’s not about semantics, it is about choosing words that are the least ideologically driven and that offer the possibility for better understanding the dynamics of the system. Confessionalism, for instance, obscures a very strong element in the Lebanese system, and that is jacobinism (borrowed from the French). Sectarianism is even worse because it is derogatory and seems to conflate religiousness and communalism.

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