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Archive for the ‘Intercommunal affairs’ Category

A brief history of the Christian/Muslim “parity rule” since Taef

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/02/2013

Instead of reinterpreting our State institutions (presenting an extremely centralised State as a federal one), or reworking all the communal aspects of our daily lives into a coherent and integrated system (which it’s not), I will try to limit myself to the “parity rule” as the basic legal/political challenge being discussed in parliament today. Justifying or disapproving it isn’t really relevant. It’s a basic principle in our constitution that takes precedent over deconfessionalisation (which is meant to annul it in the future). To understand this rule fully one should situate it at three different times: During the Taef conference (1989), during the Syrian mandate for Lebanon (1990-2005), and after Lebanon’s third independence (2005-).

    • The parity rule under Taef. This rule was established as a peacebuilding mechanism, a confidence building scheme to ensure that “communal interests” would be protected, and that there will be no “junior” or “senior” partner; no ghaleb or maghloub. The parity rule within parliament was meant to translate and to ensure the principle of “equal partnership” between Christians and Muslims, and to defuse any kind of “demographic threat”. It is meant to make the question of communal overrepresentation irrelevant. The wording of article 24 of the Lebanese constitution makes this extremely clear (equal numbers between Christian and Muslims, proportionality within each group).
    • The parity rule under the Syrian Mandate: As we well know, the Syrian authorities ruling over Lebanon modified the rules of the game. They actually upheld the principle of ghaleb and maghloub, and (rightly) saw in the Christian community a threat to their hold on Lebanon, sidelining its major political parties by all possible means (threats, criminal procedures and the manipulation of the electoral law that ensured that most Christian MPs could only enter the Parliament as junior partners of the Syrian-allied Muslim-based patronage networks). The principle of equal partnership between Christians and Muslims was thus undermined. The parity rule was not only stripped of its original meaning, but became a mechanism used to sideline Christian political aspirations. As a result: Four major muslim parties (three of which were headed by warlords) dominated the political landscape: Their control over Christian voices increased their share of parliamentary seats and governmental seats; thus increasing their share of the cake (i.e. State resources). And so grew their patronage networks within the State and their control of social, economical and cultural institutions. On the Christian side, the Syrian authorities supported three minor patronage networks: one headed by a Maronite in Northern Lebanon, one headed by a Greek-Orthodox in Central Mount-Lebanon and one headed by a Greek-Catholic in the Central Beqaa. The parity rule became a means of creating Senior and Junior partners in Lebanese politics, both of which were communally defined.
    • The parity rule after the third independence: In 2005, an informal mechanism was used by two of the major patronage networks (Mustaqbal & Ishtiraki) to limit the communal sidelining effects of the electoral law and “restore” a better participation of Christian parties. But this informal mechanism meant that these political parties were co-opted into the game by stronger allies, and given their lack of resources (they couldn’t count on sturdy patronage networks, or foreign financial aid or military support), they could only hope to become junior partners in parliament and government. This was confirmed in practice throughout the legislature.
      In 2009, the new electoral law allowed a substantial number of Christian MPs to enter parliament with little need of backing from the prominent muslim-based patronage networks. This was done through a formal mechanism, an alteration of the electoral law that saw the restoration of old constituencies: Zgharta, Batroun, Bcharré, Koura, Baabda, Jezzine, Achrafié. But this wasn’t enough to change the basic dynamics between Senior and Junior partners, as the practice of both the Hariri government and the Miqati government has shown. It’s only by taking into account the disparity between the promise of the “parity rule” and the way that it is practiced that one can understand the general consensus among Christian parties supporting the “Orthodox proposal”.

But is this reform enough to fulfil the promise of the Taef agreement of equal partnership between Christians and Muslims? Is there a better one? One thing is for sure, these questions cannot be answered by any kind of normative reasoning. But even before getting to the answers, these questions should be reformulated in order to take into account the dynamics of our political regime (and the way state institutions and official mechanisms have been “reinterpreted” by the political class):
– What does true representation of Muslims and Christians mean?
– Do the patronage networks truly represent the interests and aspirations of the respective communities they claim to serve?
– How do these patronage networks operate? How do they manage parliamentary elections? 
– How would the proposed electoral law affect them?


Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Patronage Networks, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Reform | Leave a Comment »

Gerrymandering parading as reform

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/02/2013

Lebanon_Parliament_Building_180Let’s face it, reforming an electoral law a couple of months before election date is just an advanced form of gerrymandering. You can’t expect a legislature less than six months before it disbands to vote for a new electoral law based on abstract principles and conviction. The parliamentarians that are reforming the law that will influence their reelection are doing it out of sheer interest. And when they’re doing it a couple of months before elections, you can bet that their eyes are riveted on election polls. The worst part of the deal is that by leaving an uncertainty surrounding the law (and we’re not talking minor details here; they’re still discussing the shape of constituencies), the outgoing parliamentarians are blatantly discriminating against their potential rivals by preventing them from organising their campaigns. How could potential candidates start their campaign, or even prepare for it when they don’t even know under what conditions they will be running!?
The story gets even more absurd when one looks at the way Lebanese civil society and its favourite parasites, the embassies, are dealing with the whole business. Some NGOs are actually still campaigning for electoral reform. Embassies are either publicly or privately voicing their preferences. Analysts are discussing the reforms suggested by parliamentarians as if they were siting in a philosophy class: they speak of general principles while they should be looking into electoral costs for incoming and outgoing candidates.
I had vowed a couple of weeks ago not to let myself get dragged into this whole business, not to enter any debate surrounding electoral reform, not to play into their game. Any discussion surrounding electoral reform at this time of the year endorses one way or another gerrymandering. Two days ago I broke that vow. I gave in. I sanctioned on my very small level, among my virtual community (of readers) the blatant misconduct of our parliamentarians aimed at manipulating the results of this summer’s parliamentary elections. The crooks in Séħit el Nıjmé won again.

Now that I’ve conceded defeat, I might as well indulge in a bit of analysis. When the damage is done, it’s a pity not to wander through the ruins. But no worries, I won’t repeat what I’ve been saying in French. You’re in for something new, I hope.

probabilityArticle 2: A communal solution to a communal problem?
Quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quem ad modum, quibus adminiculis
Well, basically, we have a bunch of MPs belonging to different political factions who had at an earlier date pushed for very different electoral systems (majority system with medium size constituencies or smaller constituencies, or dual slates with proportional representation) drop their previous proposals and coalesce to push for another system that was earlier disparaged by all. At a closer look, we discover that all these MPs belong to Christian political parties, some are represented in government and the others are part of the opposition. Now what’s their problem? and how did it happen that they suddenly agreed on that point.
The communal story (انتقام المنبوز). To make a long story short, the political parties that supported the “orthodox proposal” in the mixed commissions had been excluded from the political game under the Syrian mandate for Lebanon (1990-2005). After the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon, they pushed their way back into the political game, first in Parliament then in Government. Their integration back into Lebanese politics was largely determined by their alliances with four political forces (patronage networks/communal based parties speaking in the name of the three principle muslim communities): the Shiite Amal and Hezbollah parties, the Sunni Moustaqbal movement and the Druze Progressive Socialist Party. Up to 2007 they formed the “quadripartite alliance” (الحلف الرباعي), but since this alliance split up, I’ll refer to them as the BIG FOUR.
What was true before 2005 is still true today. And the reason largely lies in the electoral system in which a great deal of Christian MPs get into Parliament through votes given to them by Muslim voters who follow their communal leaders. This dependence on Muslim communal leaders was reduced in 2009’s parliamentary election through the restoration of past constituencies with a numerically strong christian electorate. But even then, the Christian parties could only become junior partners. The first reason to that was their number (over 9 political formations: Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, Marada, Tashnag, Ramgavar, National Liberal Party, Popular Bloc, National Bloc, Kornet Chehwan Gathering). They had to be co-opted by the four dominating muslim-based patronage networks in many constituencies, and into government. The Big Four could choose (the most compliant) amongst them, or they could count on rival Christian MPs who were directly dependent on them. The latter could be used to stack government seats so they could serve the interests of these patronage networks (in exchange of some spoils that these Christian MPs or ministers could distribute to their popular base). Moreover, these Christian political parties could only count on very small and fragile patronage networks, and hardly any foreign financial aid (or military aid… let’s not forget that politicians in our neck of the woods are ready to do all that it takes). So basically, electoral reform is the only way in which Christian political party can assert their autonomy and claim the right to be equal partners in parliament and government. They pushed for the 2009, but they soon discovered its limits, and now they seek to reclaim a true parity in political representation of Christian and Muslims in Parliament which only the “Orthodox proposal” (or one similar to it) can ensure.

imagesCommunal electoral colleges: A leap into the unknown?
The chances of  “article 2” becoming law are not very high. Hezbollah and Amal are not too keen about it and Mustaqbal (Future movement) and Ishtiraki  (PSP) are openly hostile to it and are ready to do all that it takes to bloc it (and for good reason, it could diminish their political weight in parliament by half). Could it be because the Big Four are shocked by its “sectarian” nature? I very much doubt that. The two former parties have nothing to gain from it, and the two latter have a lot to lose from it. So basically the Christian MPs have to come up with a particularly clever strategy to convince the Big Four or at least two of the Big Four to go on with this reform. Then they should cross their fingers that the Constitutional court won’t strike it down (The President or 10 MPs are very likely to refer it to the Constitutional Court if it becomes law): article 2 not only breaks away from our electoral tradition but it contradicts the interpretation give to at least two articles in our constitution (article 27 et article 95), and the “spirit” of the Preamble. So the most likely effect “article 2” can have on our next elections is extending the discussion period within parliament (which effects the fairness of the elections because it advantages outgoing MPs), which could very possibly result in the postponement of the elections (which seems to benefit all our parliamentarians). But let’s forget all that and imagine for a moment that article 2 became law and the elections proceeded according to it. So we’ll ask ourselves who this law could hurt and what it probable outcomes will be.
Who does the communal electoral colleges hurt? It certainly is very frustrating for many of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen to have their choice restricted to people belonging to their own community. But does it actually harm them? Not really. The political parties that they support could find apt candidates in all communities to run in the different electoral colleges. The “orthodox proposal” doesn’t prevent the Green party or the Democratic Renewal, the Baath, the Syrian National Social Party, the Democratic Left, the Communist Party or any other cross-communal formation from running in several or all electoral colleges. And the proportional system will increase their chances of having more candidates. On the other hand, “the orthodox proposal” will certainly hurt two members of the Big Four: The Mustaqbal and the Ishtiraki. Both parties assemble vast cross-communal parliamentary blocs (Lebanon First and Democratic Gathering) around them by gathering a large number of Christian MPs (many of which are clients in the same way their Muslim MPs are). These blocs allow them to increase their share of the cake in allocation of government portfolios, administrative positions and resources. The “orthodox proposal” will undoubtedly render their Christian allies more autonomous which could result in the break up of these blocs… and the shrinking of their share. Moreover, on a symbolic level, this law will also reduce the way their power is projected on a certain territory. This is particularly true for Mustaqbal in Beirut, and for the PSP in southern Mount Lebanon that it has relabelled “The Mountain”. But it also holds for Hezbollah and Amal. Communal electoral colleges instead of territorial constituencies reduces the symbolic hold on a territory that the PSP, Amal, Hezbollah, but also Marada and the Kataeb  had conquered militarily during the 1980s. 
What are the expected results of communal electoral colleges?
The dominant view is that this reform will increase “sectarianism”. I won’t waste too much time on this snowclone that is used disparagingly to qualify the worst qualities one finds in others, but never in oneself. In electoral terms, if by that we mean increasing the dominance of communal parties in parliament, well, I really don’t see how that would be possible for the muslim communities who have been hijacked by the Big Four. As for the Christians, their parties supported this “orthodox proposal” to start with!
What other effect could this reform have? Actually plenty. For one, no party in parliament could ever boast after that to be more representative than another in terms of communal backing. The fact that each community votes for its own certainly would show in terms of votes who is its “biggest” spokesman, but it shakes up the hold that spokesman (or spokeswoman, let’s be optimistic) has on other MPs belonging to his parliamentary group. The “orthodox proposal” actually threatens the cross-communal elite supposed to foster cross-communal harmony by changing the way cross-communal alliances are done. Instead of taking place between two members of the elite (belonging to different communities) before the election, it will take place after the elections, in Parliament. So it shifts the responsibility of inter-communal harmony from the elite to the voter. Is that such a dangerous move?
Another expected result would be the diversification of political parties within parliament. The Christians MPs would no longer be the only ones divided into different groups (that are paradoxically rather hard to distinguish from one another on ideological grounds). Others communities would see the same result due to proportional representation. Salafis would be able to enter the Parliament, displacing their grievances from the streets to the Chamber of deputies. The Muslim brotherhood will no longer need the Mustaqbal to enter government. The Mustaqbal won’t be able to crush the Ahbash in Beirut any longer… The same applies to the Druze and the Shiites. The mahdalé that Joumblatt set up in Southern Mount Lebanon and the one that Amal & Hezbollah operate in the South won’t operate anymore. Talal Arslan won’t be humiliated every time, and who knows, the Yazbakis might even choose to follow another leader. Sheikh Mohammad al Hajj Hassan will probably enter parliament, and so will Ahmad al-Assad…

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Patronage Networks, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform, Speculation | Leave a Comment »

Les collèges électoraux confessionnels… au-delà du تفو (tfou) et du نيعئ (nya32)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/02/2013

Et si pour un petit moment on oubliait toutes les considérations normatives. Si pour un bref instant on laissait de côté les “on doit” et les “ça devrait” pour réfléchir à partir de “ce qui est”, de la réalité politique du Liban actuel. C’est seulement à partir de ce moment que l’on pourra mesurer les effets que la réforme électorale pourrait avoir. Observons notre paysage politique dans toutes ses composantes: les partis politiques, les citoyens/électeurs, le discours politique, le fonctionnement des institutions politiques… Que trouvons nous alors?

  • Des partis à étiquette communautaire qui fonctionnent comme structure clientéliste. Vous avez dit Tashnag pour les Arméniens? Parti Socialiste Progressiste pour les Druzes? Amal et Hezbollah pour les Chiites? Mustaqbal pour les Sunnites? Courant Patriotique Libre, Forces Libanaises, Kataeb, Marada, Parti National Libéral, Bloc National pour divers chrétiens? Ces partis dominent notre chambre des députés et le paysage politique libanais.
  • Un discours politique hyper-confessionnel. La question de la représentation/représentativité confessionnelle est un thème récurrent. D’abord l’apanage des partis chrétiens (exclu du jeu politique par l’occupant Syriens et ses alliés ou réduit à la portion congrue par leurs alliés de l’Alliance quadripartite), elle est aujourd’hui partagée par les partis et mouvances sunnites (Moustaqbal, “indépendants” et mouvances islamistes). Du côté Druze et Chiite, l’exercice monopolistique du pouvoir par des formations clientélistes/confessionnelles rend inutile tout discours sur la représentation/représentativité. Mais la défense des “intérêts communautaires” reste un enjeu principal et un thème récurrent.
  • Des citoyens obsédés par des considérations propres à leur groupe confessionnel. Les discussions politiques s’articulent surtout autour de la peur de l’Autre, et des dynamiques ou chamailleries intra-communautaire… Les Chrétiens sont obsédés par la rivalité entre Geagea et Aoun et ils ne parlent que du danger Iranien ou Séoudien (mot de code pour Sunnite et Chiite). Les Druzes se mobilisent derrière un seul homme pour exorciser leur peur de minoritaires dans “leurs” régions. La guerre civile syrienne traverse les Chiites et les Sunnites… Partout on brandit des figures du passé et on réchauffe leurs discours (Kamal, Bachir, Rachid, Camille, Pierre, Suleiman, Mousa, Rafik et compagnie)…
  • Des institutions politiques traversées, articulées ou paralysées par des réseaux clientélistes à étiquette communautaire…

N’en déplaise aux anti-confessionalistes de base, nos institutions politiques ne sont pas responsables de cet état de fait. En réalité, tous les mécanismes légaux et politiques prévus par notre système politique ont été neutralisés par les structures clientélistes à base confessionnelle et le régime politique contra-legem qu’elles ont établi avec l’aide des armes (qui leur ont permis de territorialiser leur pouvoir d’abord en 1958 puis à partir de 1975) et le “mandat” syrien (qui a permis à certains d’entre eux de traduire institutionnellement leurs “acquis” militaires)… sans compter sur l’imagination de notre classe politique qui dans son ensemble continue à s’inspirer de la pratique baasiste du pouvoir en privilégiant les méthodes informelles aux méthodes formelles du pouvoir (basé sur des institutions spécialisées et hiérarchisées): Le Président de la Chambre choisit le recteur de l’Université Libanaise, un Premier Ministre développe un nouvel appareil sécuritaire (qui lui obéit qu’il soit au pouvoir ou pas), le Président de la République préside une “Table du dialogue national”…
Face à ce paysage politique désolant, quel effet pourrait avoir cet article 2 approuvé par les commissions parlementaires? Pour essayer de le mesurer, il est important de l’aborder dans son intégralité: établissant à la fois des collèges électoraux confessionnels et un mode de scrutin proportionnel.

Si l’article 2 devenait loi…
Pour tenter d’imaginer les effets que l’article 2 pourrait avoir sur l’opération électorale, nous ne nous intéresserons qu’à deux moments: Celui du vote et celui qui suit le décompte des voix. Nous les aborderons de manière différente. Pour le vote, nous nous intéresserons qu’à quatre électeurs, que nous essayerons d’inscrire sociologiquement, même si c’est d’une manière sommaire. Pour la période qui suit le décompte, nous nous intéresserons au paysage politique que nous imaginerons suite à l’annonce des résultats.
Prenons d’abord quatre électeurs: Joseph du Metn, Nadine de Baabda, Khaled de Tripoli et Ghinwa de Nabatieh. Les quatre résident à Beyrouth mais votent normalement dans d’autres circonscriptions (en raison de la gestion patriarcale des registres électoraux), comme c’est le cas pour près de la moitié des électeurs libanais.

  • Joseph s’était abstenu de voter au Metn en 2009. Issu d’une famille chrétienne mixte, la circonscription dans lequel il votait (mais ne résidait pas) lui convenait bien. Sa mixité tant au niveau du collège électoral que de la distribution communautaire des sièges (4 maronites, 2 grec-orthodoxes, 1 grec-catholiques, 1 armenien-orthodoxe) reflétait en quelque sorte la propre mixité de sa famille. L’article 2 le frustre, l’enferme dans une case confessionnelle et limite son choix aux membres d’une seule communauté. Mais à malheur quelque chose est bon: il peut biffer le nom de l’ensemble des chefs de guerre et de leur descendants qui appartiennent à cette communauté. Il peut voter pour de nouvelles têtes, de nouveaux noms et des gens qui proposent un vrai programme, qu’ils soient originaires de Jezzine, de Beyrouth, de Zahlé ou du Akkar. Le choix n’est pas particulièrement alléchant, mais bon…
  • Nadine avait voté à Baabda en 2009. Bien que de parents chiites, ni elle ne se définit ni elle ne se reconnaît dans sa communauté. Elle abhorre le système politique libanais et vouent une haine féroce pour le 14 Mars et à leur base politique. Elle méprise son cousin qui est dans Amal mais n’a pas peur du Hezbollah qu’elle qualifie de mouvement de résistance (même si elle n’adhère pas à son programme religieux). L’article 2 la choque profondément. Elle refuse de voir son choix limité à sa propre communauté. La circonscription dans laquelle elle votait dans le passé lui convenait mieux. Elle était mixte aussi bien au niveau des électeurs que des élus: 3 maronites, 2 chiites, 1 druze. Elle a décidé de boycotter ces élections.
  • Khaled vote à Tripoli. De classe moyenne, il en veut aux notables de Tripoli qui ont échoué à dynamiser l’économie de sa ville. Très concerné par la situation sécuritaire dans sa région, il ne comprend pas comment le Premier ministre pourtant originaire de cette ville n’a su rien faire, et ne propose rien de concret pour répondre à ce problème. Et c’est sans parler de la crise syrienne qui secoue sa ville à partir de Jabal Mohsen. Son choix est fait. Il vote la conscience tranquille contre les notables, contre les pro-syriens, contre les salafistes… en composant sa propre liste groupant autant de personnes de la Jamaa Islamya que du Moustaqbal.
  • Ghinwa est inscrite à Nabatieh, région qu’elle ne visite qu’à l’occasion des mariages, des décès et des fêtes. Son coeur bat à gauche et il suffit de mentionner Amal et Hezbollah pour la mettre dans tout ses états. Après avoir décidé de boycotter ses élections, elle avance vers le bureau  le coeur serré mais résolue à voter pour quatre candidats qui militent au sein de divers partis vert et de gauche.


Finalement, moins d’un million et demi de Libanais ont voté. Le taux de participation est parmi les plus faibles de l’histoire libanaise. Les personnalités qui ont appelé au boycotte se félicitent du résultat, mais des experts estiment que la mobilisation des électeurs était moindre en raison du caractère strictement intra-confessionnel des élections. Les dépenses électorales n’ont jamais été aussi faibles alors même que les collèges électoraux avaient une dimension nationale. Les conséquences les plus notables sont:

  • L’entrée au parlement de nouveaux partis. Pour la première fois de son histoire, le Liban voit se regrouper à l’intérieur du parlement des élus salafistes. Plusieurs autres partis islamistes prennent également place à la Chambre: les Ahbash et la Jamaa islamiya. Ils ne sont pas très nombreux mais leur voix se fait entendre à l’intérieur des instituions de l’État. Le Bloc National refait son entrée au parlement. Et pour la surprise générale, les Gardiens du Cèdre obtiennent deux sièges.
  • L’affaissement des “grands partis”: Le courant du Future et le PSP perdent un certaine nombre de sièges, de même que les Forces Libanaises et le Courant Patriotique Libre.
  • L’éclatement des blocs parlementaires. Les alliances entre forces appartenant aux mêmes blocs parlementaires se sont déliées durant les élections, surtout dans les blocs mixtes sur le plan communautaire mais dominés par une force politique communautaire. Ainsi Moustaqbal n’arrive qu’avec beaucoup de mal à former une coalition autour de lui, de même que le Parti Socialiste Progressiste. Leurs blocs rétrécissent et se fragilisent. Le Courant Patriotique Libre perd également des alliés, même s’il a tenté de concourir dans plusieurs collèges électoraux.
  • L’explosion du nombre d’indépendants au sein du parlement est impressionnant, surtout du côté chrétien et chiite. Ils mettent du temps pour se regrouper. La plus grande surprise est la multiplication des petites formations anti-confessionnelles en dépit de l’adoption de collèges confessionnels.
  • Les élus non-maronites s’affirment de manière plus forte au sein des formations chrétiennes. Et parmi les indépendants, ce sont ceux-là qui investissent le plus d’énergie à rapprocher les uns des autres pour former des petits blocs parlementaires, embryons de nouveaux partis politiques.
  • Des partis longtemps alliés se distancient un peu les uns des autres. La Mahdalé Hezbollah-Amal n’a pas aussi bien fonctionné que d’habitude. Des rivalités se sont faites sentir entre les deux formations. De même le Courant du Future n’arrive plus à contrôler la Jamaa Islamiya dont l’alliance le fragilise (approfondissant les divisions entre son aile conservatrice et son aile libérale). L’alliance Kataeb et Forces Libanaises est une chose du passée.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »

Three impulsive reactions to arguments “supporting” civil marriage legislation in Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/02/2013

pepe2For the past two weeks a rather large group of activists has been trying to take advantage of the new battle within the sunni community for the religious and political leadership of the community. This community is undoubtedly the most affected of all Lebanese communities by the recent changes and dynamics in the region: War in Syria, Brotherhood gains in North Africa, Surge of salafism as a local political force and a cross-national military force… All this adds and complicates the national dynamics: between localists, patriotic and transnational views, and differing ideologies (traditionalist, conservative, radical islamic, secularist, and liberal). Without these elements in mind, one cannot really understand the statement made by Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the Mufti of the Republic (interesting title, don’t you think?), against the civil marriage proposal. Neither can one situate Saad Hariri’s “electoral promise” to support a civil marriage legislation (not actually put in so many words).
Choosing to blissfully ignore these dynamics, and trying to use the present conflict to further their “anti-confessional” program, the one infused by our educational system and nurtured by the dominant political and academic discourse, a great number of active members of our civil society have been digging out all kinds of arguments to support their aims. Here are a couple of arguments that I’ve come across on Facebook, and my epidermic reaction to them.

The classical argument!
“From the cradle to the grave”, the Lebanese citizens are locked in their communities. Gaby Nasr reformulates this argument when he says “From his birth record to his death certificate”.
Reaction 1: A sentence that fits pre-revolutionary France where vital records (état civil) were managed by the catholic church… In Lebanon, vital records are managed by the Ministry of Interior, and except for the conversion procedure, the religious authorities have no say in what is written in them (even if these records contradict their laws).

The economical argument!
“Had they all married in Lebanon, how much money would they have saved? How much money the Lebanese treasury would’ve made?”
Reaction 2: We could also vote a law banning honeymoons abroad. This would also save newlyweds a lot of money and provide the Lebanese treasury with more funds.

The “liberal” argument!
“And for those who are against civil mariage, let them limit their choices to themselves and their families [and not impose them on others]. ومن كان ضد الزواج المدني، فليحصر خياره بنفسه وبعائلته
Reaction 3: This argument presupposes that a new civil marriage legislation would not affect Lebanese citizens who chose or choose another marriage legislation (be it religious or civil). And this argument in itself is grounded in the assumption that there is no lebanese legislation on civil marriage. But in fact we do have a civil marriage legislation, one that introduces the first (and actually only) opt out mechanism in our personal law regime.
– It recognises all civil marriages contracted abroad by all Lebanese nationals.
– It provides that foreign civil marriage legislation will be applied to these marriages provided that at least one of the spouses does not belong to a muslim community. This is not a discriminatory  provision but a kind of “protective clause” that was added in response to a vast political mobilisation within the muslim community against civil marriage. This provision/exclusion was NEVER challenged in parliament or even within civil society, not even by the “progressive” groups.
To cut a long story short, a new civil legislation will have two major affects on marriages between lebanese
1. Not only will it affect (on the medium or the long term) religious marriages (because it will be setting a standard against which a judge could eventually  “measure” religious marriages… this is a worldwide tendency  of which I know no exception).
2. But it will also modify the legal situation of Lebanese married under civil law abroad. The foreign civil marriage legislation will no longer be applicable in Lebanon, so all Lebanese married abroad will be subjected to the Lebanese legislation that will undoubtedly be more conservative than many foreign legislations. This is quite obvious from the past proposals, from the Lebanese parliament’s records on personal issues and even from the worldview of many of the the proponents of a new civil law legislation on marriage.
This new legislation will be annulling the only true “opt out” mechanism concerning religious law in our legal system (the one introduced by Ziyad Baroud allowing the removal of the communal affiliation from state registries actually only masquerades as one. It actually hands religious authorities a new “tutelage” mechanism and deprives the citizen of some rights that are provided by our system).
It will be substituting a liberal mechanism with a republican mechanism in a period where anti-liberals are flowering on the muslim political sphere and the christian religious sphere.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Reform, Secularism | 5 Comments »

Le “mariage civil”: un pari risqué et fortement idéologisé

Posted by worriedlebanese on 01/02/2013

a17bLes mujahidin du mariage civil au Liban s’enflamment sur cette question, réchauffent des arguments qui datent des années 1930 et la traitent en méprisant les enseignements d’expériences similaires conduites dans des pays qui nous ressemblent. Je pense à la Bosnie, à l’Égypte, à la Syrie et à l’Iraq. Pire, ils n’essayent même pas de profiter de nos propres expériences en la matière. Ils restent abstraits et nous balancent leur crédo. Sous l’étiquette “progressiste”, les partisans du “mariage civil au Liban” se rapprochent plutôt des détracteurs du “Mariage pour tous” en France surtout sur le plan de la méthode.
Je ne traiterai que brièvement deux des présupposés brandis par nos mujahidin.

– La Bosnie a expérimenté pendant un demi siècle avec un mariage civil exclusif… mais aussi avec l’économie d’État, le parti unique et plein de techniques de brassage et d’uniformisation musclés… Dans les années 1990, plus d’un tiers des bosniens était issu d’un mariage mixte. Est-ce que cela a empêché l’éclatement de la plus sanguinaire des guerres yougoslaves et l’exécution de stratégies de nettoyage ethnique?
– L’Égypte, la Syrie et l’Iraq ont dans les années 1960 et 1970 expérimenté chacune à sa manière avec la laïcisation… Suppression des tribunaux religieux ici, promulgation d’un code civil là… Sont-ils pour autant plus “libre” ou “déconfessionnalisé” que nous? Leur histoire récente tend à montrer le contraire.

– Qui d’entre vous a lu le projet de mariage civil d’Elias Hraoui? Savez-vous que ce projet extrêmement conservateur aurait compliqué la vie de ceux qui se sont mariés (ou se marieront) à l’étranger? J’appartiens à une famille où deux générations se sont mariées civilement. En cas de promulgation du mariage civil au Liban, un des mariages sera plus compliqué à défaire et l’autre sera dissous. Est-ce que ça augmente nos libertés ou est-ce que ça les réduit?
– En 1959, le Liban a expérimenté avec la première “laïcisation” en matière de statut personnel: celle du droit successoral. Face à la protestation des autorités religieuses et la pression de l’ordre des avocats (en ce temps majoritairement chrétien), la loi fut adoptée… mais réservée aux seuls “non-mahométans”. Depuis cette date, la législation catholique en matière successorale a évolué (ceci concerne 6 des 13 communautés soumises à la législation civile)… mais pas le droit civil libanais, rendant la législation catholique plus libérale que la législation laïque en matière de succession des enfants… plus libérale mais non valide au Liban… laïcisation du droit successoral oblige…

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Secularism, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

“When the party is over”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/10/2012

They say it’s an ill wind that blows no good. But this worried lebanese finds many reasons to be worried. Yesterday was undoubtedly action-packed, rife with unbridled emotions and wide-ranging misconducts. It’s actually extremely hard to sum up in a couple of words because of the multitude of arenas in which these actions unfolded and the mass of images they conjured up. Even the media was having trouble dealing with this profusion. The Lebanese TV channels that I followed in between calls had suspended their programs for the day and were struggling to cover and broadcast the day’s events. You  can’t expect them to be ubiquitous; drama was unfolding in most parts of the country: roads being blocked, neighbourhoods being claimed, rival party headquarters being attacked and even gunfire being exchanged. And there’s a limit to how much a television station can multiplex. At a certain point, the LBC screen looked like a CCTV surveillance monitor.

Three squares for one funeral: Between geography and iconography
As early as saturday, three important squares in Beirut were called to become the centre of the opposition’s protestations: The site of the explosion, the victim’s final resting place and the foot of the Prime Minister’s office & residence. As the funeral was increasingly presented as a political rally, the greatest challenge for its organisers was to smoothly link the three squares withstanding their conflicting meanings and the differing emotional impacts Friday’s car bomb had.
1. Sassine Square: A couple of steps north of the explosion’s epicentre. It’s the proscenium of Friday’s drama where you get a full view of the (physical) destruction. Sassine square is the heart of former “East Beirut”, the political centre of what became during the Civil war the capital’s Christian quarter (and Christian only neighbourhood). In this square sits a large portrait of President-elect Bachir Gemayel (prominent Christian warlord, founder of the Lebanese Forces and arguably the most popular of all politicians among Lebanese Christians, past and present), assassinated in 1982 two blocks south from where Wissam al Hassan was killed.
2. Martyr’s Square/Liberty Square: It stands right across Wissam al Hassan and his driver Ahmad Sahyuni’s final resting place. They were buried in the same precinct as Rafic Hariri, former Prime-Minister and founder of the Future Movement, killed by a massive explosion in February 2005, next to Beirut’s largest (Sunni) Mosque. The political significance of this square was resurrected in 2005 when the Lebanese opposition to Syrian occupation camped on this site and organised massive rallies in it. It is the symbolic centre and the main iconography of the March 14 coalition, its most physical incarnation.
3. Ryad al-Solh Square: This is where the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces (amongst others) called for a sit-in to pressure Prime-Minister Nagib Miqati into resigning. This square sits east of the Grand Serail, the Premiership’s offices. It became politically significant in 2005 where pro-Syrian parties rallied to counter the anti-Syrian protests. And it was given in 2006 another meaning when the most prominent shiite parties, Hezbollah and Amal left the government and occupied the square with their allies in order to pressure Prime-Minister Fuad Siniora into resigning. 

Rerun, Sequel or Cover ?
Nobody quite knew what to expect from Wissam al-Hassan’s funeral. The Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces had made it quite clear that they intended to turn this funeral into a massive political rally. The preparations had actually begun on saturday afternoon in Martyr’s Square. Instead of a “consensual” funeral similar to the ones that were given to two other members of the security apparatus killed in the line of duty (François Al-Hajj in 2007 and Wissam Eid in 2008), Wissam al-Hassan’s funeral would be similar to that of a March 14 politician. Indeed, the funeral bore a lot of resemblance to Walid Eido’s. However, many different elements signalled  that this political rally would be more than a rerun of a March 14 funeral (March 14 had been the victim of 7 targeted assassinations and 3 failed attempts between 2004 and 2007). The political speeches that were heard on saturday and sunday were similar to those made in january 2011, surrounding the Sunni “day of anger”. But the most political and distinguishing feature of this funeral was the sit-in that was scheduled to follow it. On that issue, the Future Movement’s speeches were closer to the ones heard at the March 8th anti-governement sit-in back in 2006 than to those made on the day Omar Karame resigned in 2005.

A day of unbridled anger
During that long day, I personally didn’t venture out of Beirut’s central district. So most of the news I got about events happening outside this area was through biased television coverage. As expected, the Media played its usual political role, that of a resonance chamber. Reporters ditched reporting, and instead actively participated in the events through reframing and communicating faulty information. Switching from Al-Jadeed to LBC and back, you could count the contradictions in the their reporting by the minute. On the streets, emotions were obviously running high, and the most salient one was undoubtedly anger. The media concentrated its efforts on what was happening in Beirut’s central district, failing to analyse and comprehend that the most important dynamic was unravelling elsewhere, in Tripoli and on the major communication routes linking the three largest predominantly shiite areas in Lebanon.

Politicians obviously were not able to manage the anger they had provoked or nurtured.  They proved yet another time how irresponsible they are, by either adding fuel to fire or by failing to respond adequately to the situation. This is equally true for those politicians belonging to the “governing” parties than for those belonging to the “opposition” parties (both terms do not always reflect the reality of their involvement in politics). Sectarian politics being what they are in our republic of many farms, Sunni politicians and political groups were expected to manage the “sunni wrath”. But they proved to be completely incapable of doing it. Fuad Siniora missed the irony of his position, Saad Hariri failed to show up, Nagib Miqati decided to go on a pilgrimage… and Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani spoke knowing no one was listening… and when Nadim Qtaich, a journalist belonging to the Future Movement, called mourners to storm the Grand Serail, he became the official scapegoat of yesterday’s most photogenic event…
And while the political class failed to contain the Syrian crisis, and respond adequately to the many challenges our country faces, a new generation of street thugs, abadayeet, entered the political arena by forcibly claiming “their” territory. Their identity remains unknown, but they are filling up the political void left by the country’s ailing leadership.

Posted in Communication, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Violence | Leave a Comment »

A qui confier la direction générale de la Sûreté générale?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/07/2011

Suite au décès de Wafic Jezzini, le poste de Directeur de la Sûreté Générale est vacant. En cela il n’a rien d’extraordinaire. Il ne fait que rejoindre la centaine de postes vacants qui attendent que le Conseil des ministres procède aux nominations nécessaires pour les remplir… Et cela fait de nombreuses années que le Conseil des Ministres remet cette question en raison de la complexité des négociations qui entourent cette question. En effet, non seulement il faut respecter les quotas confessionnels (ce qui en fait devrait faciliter les nominations), mais il faut prendre en compte les allocations de parts entre les réseaux clientélistes et les forces politiques.

La particularité de la vacance du poste de Directeur de la Sûreté Générale tient au fait que les politiciens se disputent aujourd’hui son attribution confessionnelle. Jusqu’en 1998, cette fonction revenait à un maronite qui était généralement nommé par le Président de la République. En 1998, Emile Lahoud a soutenu la candidature de Jamil Sayed à ce poste, alors même qu’il était chiite.

Notons que l’accord de Taef a aboli les quotas confessionnels à l’intérieur de l’ensemble de l’administration publique excepté les fonctions de première catégorie. Toutefois, les règles en cette matière ne sont pas claires. Faut-il suivre le système du partage proportionnel ou celui de la parité? Par ailleurs, aucune disposition ne prévoit des sièges réservés. Et il a même été question de procéder à un système de rotation confessionnelle des sièges. Toutefois, ceci complique les négociations et peut perturber l’action des réseaux clientélistes. D’ailleurs, à ma connaissance, le principe de la rotation n’a été appliqué qu’une seule fois : au début des années 1990 un recteur chiite pour l’Université Libanaise, après une série de recteurs maronites (et un recteur Grec Catholique). Mais la rotation s’est arrêtée-là, et ce poste revient désormais à un Chiite proche de la mouvance Amal. Cela dit, ce qui est intéressant dans le cas de Jamil Sayed est qu’il n’était appuyé par aucun patron libanais, d’ailleurs il entretenait de mauvais rapports avec Rafik Hariri et Nabih Berry, et mêmes ses relations avec Emile Lahoud n’étaient pas toujours au beau fixe en raison de son autonomie et de son pouvoir.

Dans le cas qui nous intéresse, les rumeurs veulent que le Président de la République et le Patriarche Maronite réclament aujourd’hui le retour de ce poste aux “maronites”. Michel Aoun a quant-à-lui déclaré mardi qu’on lui “réclame de récupérer le poste” mais que cela devait être débattu avec “ses” amis, c’est-à-dire ses alliés Chiites, et plus spécialement Nabih Berry qu’il a d’ailleurs nommé. Par ailleurs, le Vice-Président de la Chambre, Farid Makari, et le Vice-Président du Conseil des ministres, Samir Moqbel, semblent tous les deux appuyer l’attribution de ce poste à un Orthodoxe. Alors que d’après le quotidien Al-Liwa’, le Hezbollah proposent à ce poste le Brigadier Général Abbas Ibrahim (numéro 2 du deuxième bureau), proposition que rejette Nabih Berry. Pour compliquer encore plus les choses, le quotidien Daily Star rapporte que Nabih Berryaccepte d’attribuer ce poste à un maronite, à condition que le chef de l’armée soit attribué à un Chiite. Al-Liwa’ nous dit que le raisonnement de Nabih Berry était qu’il existe trois positions sécuritaires importante au Liban: celle de chef de l’armée, de directeur des Forces de Sécurité Intérieur (FSI) et de directeur de la Sûreté Générale. Et qu’il était donc normal que la distribution se fasse entre les trois premières communautés. L’approche “sectorielle” de la répartition communautaire est intéressante. Elle ressemble à celle qui a lieu à l’intérieur de l’Université Libanaise et à l’intérieur du corps diplomatique. A la seule différence que dans ces derniers cas, on est en présence d’un même “corps”, alors que les services de sécurité libanais sont complètement éclatés et sont soumis à des hiérarchies distinctes. Par ailleurs, le raisonnement du Président de la Chambre ne tient pas compte de trois autres postes sécuritaires: chef du deuxième bureau, directeur du service de renseignement des des FSI et le Directeur des Forces de Sécurité de l’Etat. Ceci ramène les postes sécuritaires sensibles à 6…

Posted in Discourse, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

The metamorphoses of the Jumblatt bloc

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/07/2011

A couple of weeks ago, Walid Jumblatt announced the dismantling of the “Democratic Gathering”, a parliamentary bloc that he’s been heading for over a decade. He also revealed the creation of a new parliamentary bloc called  the “National Struggle” grouping the 7 MPs belonging to the Democratic Gathering who nominated Nagib Miqati to the premiership: Walid Jumblatt, Ghazi Aridi, Akram Chehayeb, Wael Bou Faour, Alaeddine Terro, Nehme Tohme and Elie Aoun. Three of these MPs were later to become minister in the Second Miqati government: Wael Bou Faour (minister of Social Affairs), Ghazi Aridi (minister of Public Works) and Alaeddine Terro (minister of the Displaced). Although his parliamentary bloc shrank by more than a third, Walid Jumblatt not only secured the same number of seats in the new government, but also received an extra portfolio (while retaining the two portfolios he had). In fact, his bloc represent today a little more than 5% of the Parliament, but it also makes up 10% of the ruling coalition’s parliamentary weight. So being awarded 10% of the council of ministers (3 out of 30 ministers) is arithmetically pretty fair.

Looking into Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc can actually tell us a lot about lebanese politics and how formal and non-formal politics interplay.

Territories: political conversion of military conquests 

At the beginning of the millennium, Walid Jumblat’s parliamentarians hailed from four administrative districts: Baabda, Aley, the Chouf (Shuf) and Beirut. The first three districts roughly constitute the territory that Jumblat’s militia had militarily conquered in the 1983 in Southern Mount-Lebanon. As for Beirut, Jumblat had actually conquered part of it but lost that territory in 1985 during the “flag war” (حرب العلم). The fact that his “electoral territory” matched the territories he had conquered militarily in the 1980s invites us to look into the political dynamics that converted military conquest to political gain. Let’s look into the electoral process. Up to 2005, the whole electoral process was managed by the Syrian occupation forces. First, they set the formal rules by adapting the electoral law to their needs. This meant systematic gerrymandering to favour their local allies. Moreover, they also intervened in the process through pressure on candidates, on political alliances and through various techniques of electoral fraud (meddling with voter registration, intimidation at polls, improper vote counting, and pressure on judges surveying the elections). In other words, the Syrian occupation forces set the rules of the electoral game through formal and non-formal methods. Much has been said about the way they interfered through formal methods, that is legal rules. Less has been written about the informal rules that they had set: the way they encouraged “traditional” families and “traditional dynamics” in some regions, and fought against them in others… the way they allowed some allies to dominate one constituency, and refused them access to other regions…

Figure a. The Evolution of the Jumblatt Bloc

In Jumblat’s case, the Syrian allowed him to keep the territory he had conquered during the “war of the mountain” (حرب الجبل), but refused him any expansion in the historical heartland of the Druze, Wadi al-Taym (divided into two constituencies, Rashaya and Hasbaya in which the Druze are a minority but are awarded two MPs). They allowed him to control all public services given to that region (water, education, electricity, permits), gave him full control on the returnees process through which he managed the return of the christian population that he had expelled, allotted him most of the Christian MPs in “his” constituency but forcing him to “share” it with one rival within his community, one that he had a say in choosing, a cousin of his Talal Arslan.
If we look into the makeup of his bloc, we notice that some members are actually part of other political parties or forces: Bassem Sabaa, Antoine Andraos and Mohammad Hajjar are actually part of the Future Movement network, and Antoine Ghanem is a member of the Kataeb Party. This actually shows how MPs are negoticated between communal leaders. It also shows the importance of symbolics. By keeping these MPs in his bloc, Jumblatt reinforces symbolically the territorial dimension of his power. It also shows that “size matters” in parliament, not for voting purposes, but as a reflection of the importance of the leader, his political weight.
As for the communal demographics, we notice that his bloc in 2000 was in majority Christian. Walid Jumblatt actually benefitted one one hand from three features of our electoral law: “communal representation” that allots specific seats to specific communities, Christian MP distribution in constituencies with a Muslim majority, and voter registration according to “origin” instead of residency. And on the other hand, he benefitted from the Syrian occupation forces policy of silencing the Christian opposition, which translated into supporting local christian patrons in Christian constituencies, and distributing Christian MPs between its allied Muslim patrons in mixed constituencies.
In 2005, the Syrian regime were no longer here to enforce its informal rules. So we find Walid Jumblatt conquering a new constituency, Western Beqaa-Rashaya, not militarily but electorally, through his alliance with the Future Movement, who also benefited from Syria’s withdrawal by expanding to new constituencies through communal hyper-mobilisation. This alliances awarded him two new seats, one Druze and one Christian, in exchange for the Christian seats he had to cede to his Christian allies, the Kataeb party and the Lebanese Forces.

In 2009, Walid Jumblatt looses for the first time a constituency, that of Baabda due to changes in the electoral law and the collapse of the Quadripartite alliance. He owes three other constituencies to his alliances with the Future Movement. In Beirut, the communal configuration and the dominance of the Future Movement over the Sunni community is so important that it leaves Walid Jumblatt with very little weight in determining the fate in these elections. As for the Chouf (Registered voters in 2009: 68 561 various Christians, 58 057 Druze,  51 417 Sunni) and Western-Beqaa (Registered voters:  57 751 Sunni, 17 949 Druze, 16 997 Shiite, 29 789 various Christians), neither party would have made it without the support of the other, as the electoral results have shown.

What future for this shrinking and fragile bloc?

The “National Struggle” bloc is by far the most fragile bloc in parliament. As we have see in the two figures, in the past 7 years, it lost over half of its MPs, shrinking from 16 to 7. Moreover, 2 out of its 7 MPs owe their election to the Future Movement, and any opposition from the Future Movement would endanger 4 other seats, including that of Walid Jumblatt (that an alliance with Aoun’s FPM could in that case save).

Figure b. Jumblatt Bloc by Electoral/Administrative district

Now let’s look into Walid Jumblatt’s strong points. He is the undisputed communal leader of the Druze Community. The other two contenders, Talal Arslan and Wi’am Wahab, are no serious rivals. He controls his community’s communal institutions. He has established strong relations with Syrian and Israeli Druze, making him an international communal leader. He also inherited his father’s international network, that he has nurtured even though he has no longer any leftist credential. Walid Jumblatt heads a patronage network that enjoys complete authority on all public services in “his” districts (the ones he had conquered militarily back in the 1980s, I wonder if he has been working on extending them in the Wady al-Taym districts), and he has dominated the Druze employment in the Public Service for over 30 years. So basically, it is in the interest of a Druze voter to vote for Walid Jumblatt’s bloc, because this choice will offer him the greatest advantages. Since his ethnic cleansing of southern Mount Lebanon, he he has positioned himself as the sole defender of Druze interests. Through his leadership, he has given the community a sense of autonomy and security. Because of the absence of a prominent Druze figure within the state institutions, Walid Jumblatt somewhat embodies druze interests.
Moreover, with the current hyper-mobilisation of the Sunni and the Shiite communities, and the communal expansion of both communities into Druze areas, the new communal fears of Druze are not directed toward Christians like they were for the past two centuries, but towards the two major Muslim communities. These elements reinforce Druze communal mobilisation, and the backing of Walid Jumblatt even if his political base disagrees with his political positioning.
So basically, Walid Jumblatt has nothing to fear from within his community. Like many other communal patrons, he has managed to neutralise the institutional norms meant to encourage internal competition within each community. However, his support of the Miqati government is unsustainable. In two years, he will be facing elections and he has very little chances of keeping his seats or constituencies without the support of the Future Movement. This is where the division of his former parliamentary bloc might come in handy. Reuniting the two parts will allow him to reclaim his place as an ally of the Future Movement while maintaining his ties with at least one Shiite party.

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Speculation | 1 Comment »

Talal Arslan’s resignation remembered

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/06/2011

A friend of mine under another post asked me to comment on Talal Arslan’s resignation. Here are my thoughts on that issue, ones I have actually already expressed on facebook:

Minutes after the announcement of the new government, Talal Arslan resigned from the government. This resignation highlights a lot questions surrounding the whole formation process. Who negotiated with whom and on what. Very little “information” was “leaked” to the media during those 5 months that separated the designation of the PM and the announcement of the government. There was a lot of bickering and accusations, but very little information. So one can legitimately wonder why Talal Arslan waited till the announcement of the government to announce his resignation. The timing actually begs many questions. We will look into them before analysing the arguments he used to justify his move.

1. Didn’t Arslan know he was allotted a “state ministry” before the announcement of the government? A state ministry is Lebanon is one that carries no portfolio. In other words, the Minister of State has no ministry working for him/her. Some ministry of states can actually have a “specialized office” that functions as a small ministry (that’s the case of OMSAR, the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform). The only thing this position entitles the designated minister is a vote in the Council of Ministry. Politically, this is quite meaningful because the Council of Ministers is, constitutionally, the official executive power in Lebanon. However, the reality of the executive power lies elsewhere (since Rafic Hariri expanded the Prime Minister’s position, and the Speaker plays a key role within the state administration). So, effectively, the position of a Minister of State carries very little leverage on the practical level (that is for access to state resources and state employment). I personally doubt that Arlsan wasn’t informed of the fact that he wasn’t given a portfolio. The political class has always been disdainful toward the weak, but I don’t think the Prime Minister or Arslan’s allies didn’t inform him of the result of their negotiation. But then, who know…
2. Even if he did know, was there any other way for him to reject this allocation? Arslan heads one of the smallest blocs in parliament, one that he owes entirely to his rival within his community (Jumblatt) and to his allies from other communities (FPM & Amal). This puts him in no position to negotiate with his allies or rival.
3. Why was he allocated a ministry without a portfolio? His political weight doesn’t entitle him to more. This allocation actually reflects his standing within his community and within the Lebanese political class. Unfortunately for him, this position doesn’t offer him any perspective to change his situation and reinforce himself politically.
4. What does the resignation offer him? It “safeguards his honor”. As the heir of the Arslan house, granting him a ministry of state was in a way demeaning. To put things into perspective, we have to remind ourselves that the “Arslan house” is the supposed “traditional” rival of the Jumblatt house, and that Kamal Jumblatt actually neutralized its power base during the 1958 civil war. Let’s also keep in mind that Talal Arslan’s mother is a Jumblatt and Walid Jumblatt’s mother is an Arslan.  .

Saving Face in the most inelegant of ways
Now, let’s first look into how he justified his move. Here’s what Talal Arslan declared upon resigning:

” آسف للتعاطي غير اللائق بما يسمى بوزارات سيادية وغير سيادية وبالتمييز العنصري فلا يمكن ان اوافق بان يُعامل الدروز او الكاثوليك او العلويين او الاقليات بهذا الشكل.”

“I’m sorry about the inappropriate way of dealing with the so-called top ministries and other ministries, and about the ethnic discrimination. I cannot condone the way the Greek-Catholics, the Druzes, the Alawites or the minorities have been treated”.

His argument doesn’t hold. In the allocation of portfolios, Nagib Miqati has actually treated these communities in the exact way Saad Hariri had in 2009, with Fattoush replacing Pharaon, Manjian replacing Ogassapian, Arslan replacing Abou Faour… In both governments, minorities (i.e. Latin and/or Protestants) were not represented, and Alawites have never been represented in any government in Lebanon.
Talal Arslan actually points out a real problem (and challenge) in Lebanese politics, but his real problem with Miqati is that he didn’t give him a portfolio.

Last week, Miqati and Arslan agreed that the seat that Arslan relinquished would remain in the hands of Arslan’s party. Al-Liwa’ reported that the position will probably be filled by Arslan’s brother-in-law, Marwan Kheireddine… This solution is quite an interesting one. It shows the lack of political imagination (and innovation) within our political class. A possible solution would have been to split one the ministries and hand a part of it to Arslan. He could have been awarded the Ministry of Municipalities and Decentralization (that could have FINALLY been detached from the Ministry of Interior), or the Ministry of Emigrants (post that Talal Arslan already had in 1998 and that could have been detached from the ministry of Foreign Affairs, though I doubt that Nabih Berri would have agreed to that). It also confirms the extent to which family ties have become the most secure relationship in contemporary lebanese politics.

Posted in Discourse Analysis, Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Patronage Networks | Leave a Comment »

Habemus Majlisan!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/06/2011

Cinq mois de gestation – “autant qu’une chèvre”, comme l’a remarqué une amie – pour que le Liban accouche d’un gouvernement. On s’attendait à un changement notable, à un gouvernement tourné vers l’avenir. C’est peut-être ce que nous réservait la formule initiale de Nagib Miqati. Mais c’est finalement Nabih Berri qui a fait accoucher un gouvernement de 30 membres: un gouvernement résolument ancré dans la réalité la plus proche, la plus immédiate, celle du petit jeu politicien où le seul horizon est la prochaine échéance électorale (dont les contours commencent à se dessiner). Exit les ministres femmes. Aucune formation membre de la coalition gouvernementale (qui regroupe pas moins de 8 partis politiques et onze notables “indépendants”) n’a daigné proposer UNE ministre! Exit le seul “représentant de la société civile”, c’est-à-dire Ziad Baroud, qui a sans doute déçu plus d’un, mais qui jusqu’au bout a incarné par son style de communication et les valeurs qu’il représente le type de ministre auquel une majorité de libanais aspire. Exit l’espoir de l’inclusion des minorités. On avait parlé de la nomination d’un ministre Aléouite et de la réapparition d’un Ministre Protestant (à l’instar de B. Flayhan) ou Latin (à l’instar de N. de Freige)… espoirs déçus.

Avant d’examiner successivement les nouvelles dynamiques que reflète le gouvernement, commençons par une description sommaire.

Le second gouvernement Miqati comprend 8 partis politiques: CPL (6 ministres dont un d’État), PSP (3 ministres avec portefeuilles), Tashnag (2 ministres dont un d’État), Marada (2 ministres dont un d’État), Amal (2 ministres), Hezbollah (2 ministres dont un d’État), PSNS (1 ministre d’État), Parti Démocratique (1 ministre d’État). Les 11 autres ministres sont des “indépendants”.

Sur les 30 Ministres que comprend ce gouvernement, 8 sont hérités du gouvernement Saad Hariri (dont cinq gardent leur portefeuille ministériel) et 6 autres ont déjà participé à un gouvernement. Sur les 16 nouveaux ministres, 3 sont députés (S. Karam, A. Karamé, A. Terro), 5 ont été des candidats malheureux ou sacrifiés aux législatives de 2009 (Ch. Cortbawi, F. Ghosn, N. Khoury, V. Saboundjian, N. Sahnaoui) et 2 sont issus de la fonction publique (M. Charbel, P. Manjian).

Les éléments insolites du gouvernement

1. Migration communautaire des notables “indépendants”. Cette catégorie d’indépendants regroupe généralement des notables dont le capital politique n’est pas suffisamment important pour qu’ils constituent des partis politiques ou des réseaux clientélistes plus ou moins autonomes au sein de l’appareil public (étatique ou municipal). En réalité, la marge de manoeuvre politique des indépendants est extrêmement réduite, et ils doivent généralement s’appuyer sur un réseau clientéliste au sein de l’Etat, ce qui les rend très peu “indépendants”…

En raison de l’exclusion musclée de la majorité des forces politiques chrétiennes du jeu politique (de 1992 à 2005), le Liban s’est habitué d’une part à une sur-représentation de ministres chrétiens dit “indépendants” et d’autres part à une importante répartition de ministres chrétiens entre réseaux clientélistes musulmans (Chiites, Sunnites et Druzes). Cette tendance a été revue à la baisse depuis 2005 et la réintégration des principales forces politiques chrétiennes au jeu politique (grâce à la bipolarisation politique et la division des chrétiens… comme quoi la division peut faire la force). Aujourd’hui, on ne trouve que 4 ministres chrétiens “indépendants” (contre 11 ministres chrétiens affiliés à des forces politiques et des réseaux clientélistes chrétiens) : deux relèvent de la part présidentielle, un est le résultat d’un compromis entre deux personnalités maronites, et le quatrième relève du Premier Ministre sunnite).

En revanche, on retrouve ce phénomène des “indépendants” au sein d’une communauté musulmane: la communauté sunnite avec 6 “indépendants” sur les 7 ministres qui lui ont été attribués (le septième relève du réseau clientéliste Druze). Ceci a eu lieu suite à l’exclusion musclée du Courant du Future – le réseau clientéliste essentiellement sunnite appartenant à la famille Haririqu’elle a constitué depuis 1992 et graduellement transformé en un des piliers du pouvoir au Liban qui est devenu depuis 2005 la formation hégémonique sunnite.

2. Déséquilibre communautaire. Pour pallier aux défauts dans la représentativité des ministres sunnites, on a accordé aux sunnites un ministère (d’État) en plus et aux chiites un ministère (d’État) en moins… Pour la première fois depuis des décennies, on a dérogé à la règle du partage égale entre Maronites, Chiites et Sunnites. Le second gouvernement Miqati comporte 7 ministres Sunnites, 6 ministres Maronites et 5 ministres Chiites. Et on a continué dans la politique d’exclusion des petites communautés, notamment Arméniennes-Catholiques, Protestantes, Latines et Aléouites qui sont représentées au parlement mais pas au gouvernement.

3. Un régime dissocié. Le pouvoir quadripartite perd une de ses roues. Une des forces principales qui participe à la gouvernance du pays ne participera pas au gouvernement: Le Courant du Future. Son exclusion du gouvernement ne signifie pas pour autant son exclusion de la gouvernance pour trois raison:

  • Depuis les années 1980, ce réseau peut compter sur de solides relations internationales établies par la famille Hariri avec le pouvoir Séoudien, Emirati, et Kuwaitien, sans compter sur les relations avec les gouvernements et les milieux d’affaires occidentaux (et notamment Français et Américains).
  • Depuis 1992, ce réseau a infiltré l’appareil étatique à travers une politique de nomination, de protection, et de captation d’autres réseaux. Aujourd’hui, il a la particularité de pouvoir s’appuyer à la fois sur des agents et des réseaux étatiques et extra-étatiques (un grand nombre de sociétés privées dans le domaine de la construction, de la banque, des médias, de la communication…). Depuis 1998, ce réseau  a montré à plusieurs reprises que son exclusion d’un ministère ne signifiait pas l’arrêt de son influence.
  • Enfin, depuis 2005, ce réseau peut compter sur une forte mobilisation de la communauté sunnite à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur de l’Etat.

Depuis 1992, la gouvernance au Liban est constitué autour de quatre principaux groupes politiques: le Courant du Future, le Parti Socialiste Progressiste, Amal et Hezbollah. Chaque groupe politique s’appuie sur un réseau clientéliste dont trois phagocytent: le réseau clientéliste chiite de Nabih Berri, le réseau clientéliste sunnite de Rafic Hariri et le réseau clientéliste druze de Walid Joumblatt.

Jusqu’en 2005, la structuration clientéliste du pouvoir connaissait deux “anomalies”:

  • L’anomalie du Hezb. Un des piliers du pouvoir possédait un réseau clientéliste qui ne s’appuyait pas sur l’Etat, ni pour défendre ses intérêts, ni pour y puiser ses ressources. Effectivement, pour défendre ses intérêts, le Hezbollah comptait sur la Syrie, et pour ses ressources il s’appuyait sur l’Iran et la diaspora.
  • L’anomalie chrétienne. Dans la configuration quadripartite bâtie par la Syrie, les chrétiens n’avaient que deux choix: soit intégrer les petits réseaux clientélistes chrétiens de Frangieh, de Murr et des familles de Zahlé à faible rendement politique, soit intégrer les sous-réseaux clientélistes chrétiens qui relèvent des grands réseaux de Zaïm musulmans (principalement Jumblatt pour le Mont Liban méridional, Hariri pour Beyrouth et Berry pour le Sud).
Avec le gouvernement Miqati, trois nouvelles “anomalies” se sont rajoutés:
  • L’anomalie CPL: la principale force politique au gouvernement, le CPL avec ses 6 ministres, ne s’appuie pas sur un réseau clientéliste (le CPL ne semble pas avoir bâti durant ses trois années de participation au pouvoir un réseau clientéliste peut-être en raison du peu de nomination, à la différence des Forces Libanaises qui ont su être beaucoup plus efficace au sein des FSI, par exemple).
  • L’anomalie Sunnite: la principale force politique au parlement, et une des principales forces clientélistes au sein de l’appareil étatique est exclue du gouvernement. Elle est remplacée par des notables “indépendants” qui s’en rapprochent sur le fond (surtout par rapport à la politique économique et les relations internationales) mais qui ne peuvent pas remplir les mêmes fonctions symboliques et clientélistes. Ceci va créer une nouvelle dynamique qui va sans doute compliquer et alourdir le travail gouvernemental, mais peut-être profiter au Courant du Future (mais pas à ses alliés chrétiens).
  • Vers la résorption de l’anomalie Hezb? Le Hezb peut de moins en moins compter sur un appui étranger et se voit contraint de s’appuyer sur l’Etat libanais. Ceci l’a conduit à faire chuter un gouvernement et à écarter le premier ministre qui n’était pas prêt à lui accorder la couverture dont il a besoin…
Le développement des réseaux clientélistes et la manière dont ils ont phagocyté l’Etat Libanais ont conduit au développement d’un mode de gouvernance qui repose sur des règles informelles apportées par les différents acteurs afin de protéger leurs intérêts. Même si ces règles informelles contredisaient les principes formels de gouvernement (comme le pouvoir hiérarchique au sein de l’administration, la centralisation du pouvoir et la séparation des pouvoirs), le gouvernement reflétait en quelque sorte le système de partage des ressources et de répartition du pouvoir au sein de l’appareil étatique. Avec les nouvelles anomalies qui se sont rajoutées au système suite à la formation du deuxième gouvernement Miqati, nous entrons dans une nouvelle phase où le gouvernement ne reflète plus le système de gouvernance (ni la répartition des forces au sein de la société)… Cette nouvelle tension entre le pouvoir “réel” et le pouvoir “formel” ne peut perdurer sans influer sur les règles formelles ou informelles du pouvoir… La manière dont ceci se fera n’est pas encore clair.

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Reform, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »

The great awakening of Syrian sectarianism

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/06/2011

A syrian blogger's idealised vision of the Syrian revolt

As I listened to the news today from Syria, I had a strange feeling of having heard that story before. The people interviewed were giving their version of the events in Jisr al-Shughur… but the stories they told were exactly like the ones I heard about Dar’a a couple of weeks back:
– Massacres of Sunnis, especially sunni soldiers who were not willing to shoot at other sunnis.
– Alawite paramilitaries helped by Iranians and Hezbollah (“other Shiites”)
There were only two ways to explain the similarity between the two narratives: either the events they were describing were being repeated or a sectarian rhetoric had crystallized into a solid narrative that is circulating within some circles of Syrian society.

Four weeks ago, I spend an evening with a Syrian family from Dar’a discussing the situation in their hometown. It wasn’t really a discussion. I sat for almost two hour listening to them, and only asked a couple of general questions to encourage them to talk about their personal experience. As expected, they were very emotional about what was going on: They had after all fled their town because of governmental violence, and they seemed to know some protesters who were killed. It was actually quite hard to get any “hard” information from them. Sure they described some events, gave a couple of names (of people and locations) and even threw in a couple of figures. But most of what they said was based on hearsay and they constantly shifted between a “victimisation narrative” and a “heroic narrative”. In both cases, the arguments were selected and adapted in a way to suit the narrative’s objective.
What struck me at the time was the sectarian lens through which they perceived all the events that they described. Sectarian discourse had long been taboo in Syria, and one could only hear it in closed circles and in veiled language. Syrians usually mocked Lebanese for their sectarian discourse and sectarian system, and prided themselves for being “non-sectarian”. Now things seemed to have radically shifted. Syrians were resorting openly and unashamedly sectarian analysis and were using an extremely violent sectarian discourse.
Here I was talking to a sunni family that proudly mentioned during our conversation its communal belonging, and even mine (on one occasion when they spoke of the rights of the majority – ie Sunnis – and felt that they had too reassure me by telling me that they bore no ill feelings toward non-alawite minority groups).

Fact or Fantasy?
The current dynamic within Syria is certainly sectarian. The bloody Dar’a repression quickly transformed a mostly cross-sectarian economical revolt into a sectarian political/economical revolt. And this was extremely clear in Lattakié where alawites withdrew from the protestations and sunnis joined them in greater numbers… and syrian troops left Alawite villages and neighbourhoods while they took control of sunni villages and neighbourhoods. Needless to days Bachar Assad broke the “social contract”, following Qaddafi’s footsteps. In the Libyan case this social contract was tribal in nature (and violations started a couple of years ago), in Syria it was communal in nature. The break in the Libyan case was complete, and the country is today completely divided on tribal lines. In the Syrian case, the situation seems more complicated. Symbolically, the tacit social contract is between two communities: the alawite minority and the sunni majority. But as communities are not organized political bodies but a complex blend of institutions, networks and mental representations, the real “covenant” is between the elites within both communities… and this covenant has up to now survived what can be interpreted as sectarian violence: the victims of the repression are mostly sunnis (especially among the killed), and the alawite community is today mobilized behind the Baasist regime that is now widely perceived as being “alawite” and as supporting alawite interests. One has to speak of “perception” here because the “objective” reality is quite possibly very different from what is subjectively perceived, and in any case, it doesn’t really matter. Perceptions and discourse can over-ride reality and symbolic elements can have a larger impact than deeper structural realities.

The sectarian lens goes regional
As we have seen, there is an obvious sectarian dimension to the revolt/repression. But what is even more obvious is the sectarian lens has become prevalent in the political discourse and in political analysis: both sides interpret the political situation in Syria in exclusive sectarian terms. The Syrian regime insists on the sectarian dimension of the revolt and dubs it “salafism” (i.e. a version of sunni religious extremism). While opposition groups and their supporters insist on the sectarian dimension of the repression/regime (and calls it Alawite or Shiite). And both parties claim to be non-sectarian and accuse the other of playing sectarian politics. Actually, one of the main traits of the sectarian lens is that it refuses to acknowledge that it is sectarian in its nature (much more than the communal reality it is supposed to be “neutrally” observing).
The situation in Syria is actually quite similar to what happened in Lebanon when the sectarian lens became prevalent in political analysis and political discourse.
What is new today in Syria is that the lens has taken an important “regional” scope. The sectarian geopolitical approach (that can be considered as a prevalent bias in today’s geopolitical analysis) has fed the national sectarian narrative. The alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah which actually benefits the interests of the three parties is seen as being a sectarian one. It’s true that Iran and Hezbollah share a strong shiite religious identity… But extending it to the Alawites is stretching it a bit too far and giving too much credit to the Alawite’s discourse.
The claim that Iran and Hezbollah are participating in the repression has not been supported by any fact. It resembles the claim that Hezbollah participated in the iranian crackdown against the Green revolution.
Such accusations are made quite lightly and no serious investigation is done to verify the claim. If they were proven to be true, this would have serious implications to Syrian politics, but also Lebanese politics.

  • For Syrian politics. The big difference between Syria and Lebanon is that the Syrian political class has always objected to foreign meddling in its affairs (while the Lebanese political class actively welcomed it before 1943 and after 1958). If Hezbollahi and Iranian direct intervention were proven to be true, that would mean that the Baasist/Assad regime has changed the nature of the syrian political game.
  • For Lebanese politics. Hezbollah has already a first hand experience in political repression (May 6, 2008). But that was a very short one. Any implication in the Syrian repression would mean that it would be furthering its experience in scale and scope. And it would be the first Lebanese actor to have meddled in another state’s affairs.

Posted in Civil Society, Conspiracy, Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Semantics, Syria | Leave a Comment »

Nadim Shehade’s interesting take on “Sectarianism”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/04/2011

Nadim Shehade, made an extremely interesting contribution last week to a discussion launched by Elias Muhanna on his blog Qifa Nabki. I was at first struck by the way he introduced the subject. It reminded me of the clumsy attempt I had made a couple of years back to respond to Nawaf Salam’s take on Lebanese sectarianism when I told him that it is of no surprise to “observe” sectarianism when one is looking through sectarian tainted glasses. By that I introduce my approach of distinguishing between different dynamics (regionalism, factionalism, ideology, economical interests, clientelism…), and not blurring the differences by putting them under the same heading.  
Please read carefully this text by the former director of Oxford’s Centre for Lebanese Studies and present researcher at Chatham House. He pinpoints all the methodological errors and assumptions most of us make when looking into countries with deep or significant communal divisions. 

Sectarianism, like beauty, is more often than not in the eye of the beholder. One can interpret a situation as ‘sectarian’ and there may be some elements in it that are related to tension between sects; but the underlying causes and drivers may be totally secular.

There are three ways of looking at it:

  1. As a perspective related to the observer who sees sectarianism everywhere.
  2. As a reality on the ground – where tensions are real and incidents have sectarian dimensions
  3. In relation to the political system and how it deals with divisions and whether it increases or decreases sectarian tensions.

There are so many myths that would fall just by distinguishing between these three points.

In Syria for example: Is the regime really Alawi? Is the system ‘secular’?
Similar questions for Lebanon and for Iraq.

Analysts on Iraq emphasised sectarian divisions, whereas intra-sectarian divisions were as important. In the end are these not legitimate political divisions in which sect plays a part?

In Lebanon, the system is ‘confessional’ or sectarian. But the reality on the ground is a division which is deeply political between two very legitimate world views which divide every ‘sect’, every community and even every family. It is the beholder who chooses to give it a label of sectarian, that March 8 are ‘Shiaa’ or Shiaa means Hizballah. The Christians are ‘divided’? who said they have to be united in the first place? because they are Christian they have to be united, so the sectarian glasses do not fit with reality and we conclude that they are divided.
When politicians play with the electoral law to gerrymander the result, is that sectarian?
Is power-sharing sectarian? maybe such a system has allowed for political divisions to become more significant.

Going back to Syria – There is a network that dominates which has an interest in perpetuating the system. It is too simple to say that this is a Alawite dominance, there is hegemony by a network of a family that happens to be Allawite and has coopted many people from all other sects – Sunnis, Christians, Ismailis, Druze, etc.. etc..

The tautology of the argument is the following: A society that is composed to many sects cannot have democracy because of the sectarian divisions – a ‘secular’dictatorship would put the lid on it. But the other side of that coin is that this same society would not contain all these sects in the fist place had they not been able to coexist all that time.

[In Turkey] The Turkish model of secularism is also that Attaturk, in order to have a secular and cohesive society, had to get rid of the Armenians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Arabs and the Kurds.

I want to suggest that the present ‘secular’ regime in Syria is likely to exacerbate sectarian tensions whereas a democratic power-sharing arrangement, similar to the ones in Lebanon and the one evolving in Iraq, would decrease such tensions.

Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Iraq, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Secularism, Semantics, Syria, Turkey | 2 Comments »

Should the President be entitled to a share in government?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/04/2011

There has been a lot of discussions lately revolving around the presidential share in government. And most opinions can be divided into three categories according to the analysts political preferences:

                  • there are those who are hostile to Michel Aoun (and they tend to somewhat favour Michel Suleiman but only in ways that can frustrate Michel Aoun),
                  • there are those who favour to Michel Aoun (and they tend to deprive the president of all rights and powers regarding the formation of the government),
                  • and their are those who favour the Prime Minister.

Let’s quickly look into the basic political dynamics behind these arguments (how personal rivalries have transformed the relation between the two former generals into a zero sum game), and then see what the constitution has to say about it. Only then we could try to imagine some possible solutions to the problem.

Personal issues: Rivalry and grievances 

Since 2008, March XIV® has consistently worked on pitting the two former Generals against each other. And this strategy has worked perfectly! Michel Aoun considers that Michel Suleiman – by accepting the presidency in 2008 – has foiled his presidential ambitions. And during the parliamentarian elections of 2009, Michel Suleiman was encouraged to form a “centrist bloc” in the electoral districts that Michel Aoun’s FPM had won in 2005. By holding on to these districts the FPM thwarted  the President’s political ambitions and prevented Michel Suleiman from building a parliamentary bloc. During both elections, the two former generals were engaged  in a zero sum game. For the presidential elections, one’s gain was obviously the other one’s loss, and frankly, they couldn’t have been able to modify that game. But for the parliamentary elections, things were quite different. Michel Suleiman could have transformed the game had he a wider political perspective and larger ambitions. He could have withdrawn from the start from the electoral battle or, on the contrary, could have negotiated with the large parliamentary bloc to have his candidates on their lists throughout the territory. Instead of that, he focused on a couple of christian candidates and kept an eye on his own electoral district, which obviously put him at loggerheads with Michel Aoun. I can only see two reasons behind Michel Suleiman’s (loosing) strategy: lack of political imagination, and/or a personal grudge against Michel Aoun who obstructed in 2008 the passing of a constitutional amendement to article 49-3 that would have conformed the election of Michel Suleiman (to the presidency of the Republic) to the Lebanese Constitution (that explicitly forbade it).

Constitutional considerations
The Taef agreement’s main drive was to deprive the President of his/her former powers. And it surely achieved its goals. In order to prevent him/her from choosing a Prime Minister, it described a meticulous procedure that deprives him/her of any discretionary authority (article 53-2’s principle of binding parliamentary consultations). However, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about how the shares in government are to be allocated. Article 95 only mentions communal shares when it states that “the confessional groups are to be represented in a just and equitable fashion in the formation of the Cabinet”. The wording is extremely vague, what can be considered as “just” or “equitable”? These terms are generally interpreted as refering to the requirements of article 24-1 that sets the rules of representation in parliament (parity between Christian and Muslims, proportionality within each group and equitable representation of regions). I personally believe that the reason why the President is deprived from voting within the Council of ministers when (s)he presides over it (article 53-1), is because that would upset the quota system (let’s not forget that the Premiership is counted within the sunni quota).

As for the appointment of ministers, the constitution remains totally silent. All it states is that the President “issues, in agreement with the Prime Minister, the decree appointing the Cabinet and the decrees accepting the resignation of Ministers” (article 53-4). Article 64-2 states that the Prime Minister “conducts the parliamentary consultations involved in forming a Cabinet. He signs, with the President, the Decree forming the Cabinet”. So basically, the constitution mentions three sides in the cabinet formation process: the President, the Prime Minister and the Parliament. And they all have to agree to a specific lineup if the cabinet is to be formed. The only mechanism that it mentions are the “parliamentary consultations” made by the the Prime Minister… all the rest is left for negotiation.
Now let’s look into the way the constitution has been practiced following the Taef Agreement.
Since 1992, the Prime Minister has negotiate alone (well, theoretically, from 1992 to 2005 Syrian authorities were the chief arbitrators between the different political sides) with the different parliamentary blocs. In return, the Prime Minister granted the President a small share in government. This specific way in which article 53-4 has been practiced can be explained by two factors: the President’s political weakness and the Prime minister’s strength. Indeed, no President since 1992 could count on a “faithful” parliamentary bloc (they had at most two or three MPs he could count on, and they were mostly relatives). On the other hand, the Prime Minister could count on one of the main parliamentary blocs, his impressive wealth and solid international connections. With the nomination of Nagib Miqati to the premiership, we somewhat go back to the 1998-2000 configuration in which neither the President nor the Prime Minister could count on an important parliamentary bloc. Nagib Miqati and Michel Suleiman have a big interest in working together. Unfortunately, they haven’t explored this possibility yet. And frankly, they both need it because of their weak political positioning within their communities and in the political game. For that, they need to choose the kind of role they want to play both in the formation process and the governing process. There is obviously a whole range of roles that they can play by either sharing functions and roles or distributing them. I’ll just mention the function that the President is expected to play, then look into the functions that he could play. Most analysts see in the presidential function, an arbitration role. However, that’s a role the President cannot play because he lacks the necessary constitutional tools to play it. Nevertheless, he has two options to choose from:

  • either he can learn to manoeuvre in a way to convince the different sides in the conflict to consider him as a mediator. He has tried to do that when he re-established the “National dialogue table”. This role comes with a defining condition: the mediator has to remain above the fray, shouldn’t take sides or scramble for the same things as the other players (a share in government)
  • or he can reaffirm his political position as a consensualist figure (non-partisan) who came to power through a wide intercommunal agreement. This should encourage him to negotiate with the other blocs to agree on giving him a significant share in government. However, this share can’t be a christian one. If he wants to remain the symbol of an intercommunal agreement, his share should be cross-communal (and not strictly or even in majority christian).

Communal considerations

The basic issue at stake today is actually the last step in the political re-integration of the christian community after its postwar marginalisation. For the first time since the 1970s, the christian member of the ruling coalition has the largest parliamentary support within the coalition. And for the first time since 2000, the President isn’t completely dwarfed by the Prime Minister. Hence, the christian community has been awarded a rare chance to act as an equal partner withstanding “its” weaknesses. And instead of using this opportunity and rising to the occasion, the two players that have the most to win from the occasion (and to loose if they miss the opportunity) are squandering time, energy and ressources in a useless battle that can only weaken them, and their community.

Michel Suleiman and his supporters (mostly self-appointed) are actively preventing the FPM from becoming the main partner in the coalition by downplaying its parliamentary size and requesting a share in government (and portfolios) that it is hankering for.

Michel Aoun and his supporters (c.f. Ziad Asswad’s interpretation of article 53-1) are actively working on depriving Michel Suleiman (and through this the Presidency) of any kind of power and weight within the system.

Posted in Constitution, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Pluralism, Political behaviour | 1 Comment »

Les duettistes chrétiens confirment leur mépris de l’électorat

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/04/2011

L’Orient-Le Jour illustre bien comment il est possible de couvrir une élection au sein d’un ordre professionnel en ignorant totalement la dimension professionnelle de ces élections! Et en donnant la voix exclusivement à des politiciens (qui ne participent pas au scrutin) pour une analyse 100% politicienne de l’élection. Bon, il est vrai que le scrutin était politicé… mais est-ce une raison suffisante pour ignorer totalement son caractère professionnel… et ses acteurs les plus directs? c’est à dire les candidats et les électeurs. Bon. Jettons un coup d’oeil sur ce que disent nos deux duettistes chrétiens (pour qui tout évènement est une occasion pour une partie à deux voix)…

Samir Geagea: « Mais ce qui est plus important que les résultats globaux, c’est que le nouveau président de l’ordre, Élie Bsaibès, a été élu par plus de 95 % des voix chiites, représentées par Amal et le Hezbollah, près de 25 % des sunnites, plus de 90 % des suffrages du PSP et moins de 40 % des voix chrétiennes. Donc, en dépit du résultat, nous considérons que nous avons été forts là où il le fallait et nous avons obtenu un chiffre meilleur que celui de l’année dernière au niveau de l’opinion chrétienne », a précisé le leader des FL, avant d’ajouter, non sans sarcasme : « D’où la nécessité de féliciter à la fois le nouveau président et le Hezbollah. »

L’électeur disparaît de l’analyse de Samir Geagea. A travers une analyse qui réduit les électeurs à des pourcentages confessionnels eux même attribués (ou assimilés) à des partis politiques. Cette lecture rend “normal” et évidente une mobilisation confessionnelle qui n’a rien de spontané ou d’évident. Elle est la conséquence d’une mobilisation communautaire nourris par la classe politique et les médias qu’elle contrôle. Suivant quelle dynamique et par quelle mécanique est-ce que des ingénieurs Chiites et Druzes votent aussi massivement pour les candidats appuyés par les Zu’ama qui parlent en leurs noms… C’est la question centrale que le commentaire de Geagea efface tout en nous donnant un élément de réponse par son assimilation de la victoire du nouveau président de l’ordre, Élie Bsaibès, à celle du Hezbollah.

Michel Aoun: « L’un de vos collègues a commenté cette victoire, pour plaisanter, en disant que la différence obtenue équivaut à un avion qui n’est pas arrivé à temps. Qu’ils rangent donc leurs dollars et cessent de les dépenser pour tenter d’acheter les consciences », a-t-il lancé. « Si Dieu le veut, nous espérons que ceux qui restent encore avec eux changeront d’avis à leur tour, parce que je m’étonne qu’ils aient encore autant de voix ».
Et pourtant “ils” ont réussi à récolter beaucoup de voix… alors pourquoi s’en étonner et prétendre que la seule explication résiderait dans l’achat de voix. D’abord, il est normal que les gens votent selon leur intérêt, alors pourquoi ne pas aller plus loin et se demander si et comment leurs intérêts seraient liés à ceux des politiciens du 14 mars. Et puis, les gens votent d’ordinaire selon leurs convictions… Alors on peut vraisemblablement croire qu’une majorité d’ingénieurs a voté par conviction pour le candidat appuyé par la coalition du 14 mars (qui comprend les quatre plus anciennes formations chrétiennes, et le plus puissant (financièrement) réseau clientéliste du pays). Au lieu de s’étonner du relatif succès électoral du 14 mars, il devrait plutôt essayer de le comprendre. Et il devrait aussi se demander pourquoi le candidat qu’il appuie n’a pas réussi à convaincre une majorité d’ingénieurs chrétiens. Est-ce que c’est un échec (relatif) de ce candidat, ou un échec (relatif) du CPL ou de Michel Aoun?

Posted in Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Politics, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Islamic extremism & Christian immigration from the ME

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/12/2010

I noticed an article on my facebook page by Abderrehman al-Rashid that summed up the doxa concerning the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Middle East: “Arab Christians and their flight from extremism” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia).
Here are the two central arguments:
1. “يعتبرون [المسيحيون العرب] أنهم يواجهون، بشكل خاص، تمييزا وحصارا من قبل الجماعات المتطرفة الإسلامية المؤدلجة والمسلحة”. [Arab Christians] consider that they face, specifically, discrimination and besiegement by ideological and armed groups of extremist islamists.
2.”والحقيقة أن حجم الاستهداف ضد المسيحيين سواء في العراق أو مصر أو السودان محدود، سواء في خطاب الجماعات المتطرفة أو في ممارساتها” “In fact, whether in Iraq, Egypt or Sudan, the targeting of Christians is rather limited in scope, be it in speech or practice”.
3. “مشكلة المواطن المسيحي العربي هي المشكلة نفسها للمواطن الآخر في حقوقه الفردية ومستقبله المجهول.. حالة عامة ليست خاصة بطائفة أو فئة،” Arab Christians face the same problems as their non-Christian compatriots, with regards to their individual rights and their unknown future. It’s a general condition that is not specific to one group or community.

The problem with this argument is that it misses the main point. It doesn’t explain why the number of christians is dwindling in the Middle East, in places to almost near extinction. It discredits one “objective” reason (specific targeting by extremist islamists), and doesn’t look into other “objective reasons” or subjective ones.

I would like to list a few reasons that I find relevant. These reasons could be divided into two categories: individual and collective. These two dimensions actually interplay with each other, and to understand the phenomenon of mass emigration, one has to look into this complex intertwining of individual and collective elements.
– Economical reason: This reason certainly hits everyone, regardless of his/her religion. But on the whole Christians are more likely to emigrate to countries in which they can integrate with a certain ease (Western Europe, the Americas, Australia), while Muslims are more likely to go to countries that don’t allow a complete integration (Africa & the Golf).
– Cultural/religious reason: Christian, on a whole, have less difficulty identifying with the west and integrating its values and cultural system. Even though there are many cultural conflicts between contemporary western values and traditional middle-eastern values that are mostly shared by Muslims and Christians alike, Christians do not perceive them necessarily as conflicting, and when they do, they don’t perceive them as necessarily “foreign”. So Christians would more likely integrate these cultural differences or the changes that they call for as “natural” or “progressive”. Moreover, Muslim Arabs can easily express their cultural difference in a globalised world. Christians Arabs have not been able to do that. Their cultural production is limited in its scope and its expression.
– National/political reason: With the end of the “age of ideologies”, the Arabist project faded off and Arab countries have reaffirmed their muslim character. This leaves Christians in an uncomfortable situation in which they cannot easily project a collective destiny (as christians) within a hybrid secular/muslim state.
– Structural reason: Individual can count on a strong diaspora that could help him/her travel, find a job abroad, and regularise his/her situation.

Posted in Discourse Analysis, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Middle East | 2 Comments »