A few weeks ago, I wrote under the title “Lebanon’s labour pains” about the Lebanese wrathful outburst that started in October 2019 against unstable, failing conditions in the country. The wrath boiled over following the devastating blast at Beirut port on 4 August 2020, driving the Lebanese people to reach out to France to rescue them from the detrimental economic and political woes engulfing the country. France swiftly responded by announcing it would sponsor a political restructuring of Lebanon, pledging to help the Lebanese realise their desire of a national, non-sectarian Lebanon. I wrote: “I imagine there is now an urgent need for the Lebanese people to sit together and write a new constitution based upon citizenship principles rather than sectarian quotas. A constitution that would hold all Lebanese equal in rights and duties regardless of tribal, clan, or sectarian affiliations; a constitution for a centralised State with one flag, one army, one identity and a single loyalty. A constitution that would finally put an end to all forms of affiliations and divisions, for the birth of a new, strong Lebanon.” But since then, what happened?
At the time, Lebanon was on the verge of a political void since the government had resigned and parliament disintegrated. One question begged a definitive answer: how would a balance be struck between the aspirations of the Lebanese people for a constitution that would assert citizenship principles, and the quota system? The first test was selection of a new prime minister. This, however, brought nothing new; the choice of Mustapha Adib meant that Lebanon was still on its old ground. Apart from Mr Adib’s merits and credentials, he fulfilled the main criterion of the quota system by being a Sunni Muslim. All the political blocs and former heads of government approved his nomination which was also blessed by the Free Patriotic Movement, the largest Christian bloc in Lebanon; the Sunni Sect; as well as Hezbollah and the Hope Movement, both of which represent the Shia Muslims.
Obviously, the pillars of the quota system remain the main players on Lebanon’s political arena. They are still in control of the fragmented Lebanese cake which has for decades brought on civil wars, the aim of all the parties being to redivide it and redistribute the shares in their favour. Lebanese aspirations of a State based on citizenship have remained on hold; when or how they may be realised no one knows.
On the eve Mr Adib was chosen Prime Minister, Lebanese President Michel Aoun declared it was time for change. He pledged to call for dialogue among “spiritual authorities and political leaders”, with the aim of reaching a consensual draft for constitutional amendments that would bring Lebanon to a civic State. President Aoun did not mention the Lebanese people, nor did he talk of discarding the quota system or setting aside the parties that covet the cake. Instead, he talked of inviting the “spiritual authorities and political leaders” who themselves dominate the political game that needs to be replaced in favour of the will of the Lebanese people.
President Aoun chose to use the loose term “spiritual authorities and political leaders”, in the face of those who criticise sectarian and clan divisions in Lebanon. But Lebanon appears to be trapped in a gruesome legacy it cannot escape. So how could it be saved, and how can change come about? A close look at the stringent divisions that weigh down on its chest exposes the huge divide between the current quota system and the citizenship the Lebanese aspire for. I would like to refer to an article printed in the daily State-owned al-Ahram on 16 August, by writer and politician Ali Eddin Hilal who wrote:
“The scourge is in the system of governance in Lebanon, which is based on a sectarian quota system, and in the way it is implemented. This system is based on dividing Sate posts on a sectarian basis; the president of the republic should be a Maronite Christian, the head of government a Sunni Muslim, and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim. The sectarian distribution extends to the ministers and military. The army commander should be Maronite and the military council, the highest authority in the army, should be formed of officers who represent the five sects: Sunna, Shiia, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Druze. Sectarian representation should be respected in the selection of students who apply to military colleges. The same applies to membership of the house of representatives the seats of which are distributed on a sectarian basis; Lebanese citizens can only nominate themselves in the constituencies assigned to the sect they belong to. The quota system extends to include judges, heads of governmental constituencies, Lebanese ambassadors, professors in Lebanese universities, and even low ranking employees working in the State’s administrative apparatus.”
This is how deep cancerous sectarianism runs in the body of the Lebanese State. Under such horrendous conditions, can salvation be entrusted to those who benefit from the sectarian quota system? As I pondered this predicament, I imagined a hypothetical situation where the name of a remarkable Lebanese personality would come up in the selection of Lebanon’s prime minister, but the name would not be that of a Sunni Muslim. Directly, I was struck by the realisation that this would be impossible. Absolutely impossible. Did I not say that Lebanon is still on its old ground?
11 September 2020