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Loopholes, gaps riddle Taif Agreement

The agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war still hasn't been implemented and remains as controversial as when it was penned.
Lebanese army soldiers patrol the Sunni Muslim Bab al-Tebbaneh neighbourhood after being deployed to tighten security, following clashes between Lebanese soldiers and Islamist gunmen, October 27, 2014. The Lebanese army took ground from Islamist gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli on Monday, security sources and a witness said, after weekend fighting in which 11 soldiers and eight civilians were killed. REUTERS/Stringer   (LEBANON - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) - RTR4BQ8R

Some 25 years have passed since the signing of the Taif Agreement that put an end to the Lebanese civil war. The agreement has had many column inches devoted to it. Some considered it a fundamental reform of the unbalanced system that was founded in 1920, since it allegedly concentrated state power in the hands of the Christians.

Others, namely the Christian groups who rallied around Gen. Michel Aoun in 1989, saw it as being dictated by international powers, which, as proved with time, paved the way for the Syrian tutelage of 1990-2005. Today, 25 years later, the gap between Christians and Muslims and between Muslim sects is deepening and the agreement has failed to bridge this gap. Worse, Shiite demands for a constituent assembly to be formed to make amendments to the agreement add to the inherited Christian frustration.

The pertinent question that remains on the mind of many Lebanese is whether this agreement truly serves as a sustainable solution for Lebanon. This question still holds today as the situation in Lebanon has been unstable since the signing of the agreement 25 years ago. There has been no sustainable peace, but rather a succession of crises.

What was dubbed the “National Reconciliation Accord” failed to foster understanding between the Lebanese. On the contrary, sectarian and religious tension have increased.

Where does the problem lie? Is it in the application of the agreement, the text itself, the principles on which the agreement was made or the circumstances surrounding it? According to Hussein el-Husseini, former speaker of parliament who fathered the agreement and who chaired the conference that produced it in Taif in Saudi Arabia, “Not one aspect of the Taif Agreement has been implemented.” Most political forces agree on this point, but disagree on the reasons behind the failure of this implementation.

A leading member of parliament in the March 14 bloc said to Al-Monitor, on condition of anonymity, “During the period from 1990 to 2005, we saw the Syrian version of this agreement, as it was implemented to serve Syrian interests. Syrians upheld the troika system but kept the reins of power in their hands. Today, the ‘Hezbollah version’ of the agreement is being implemented. With its surplus of power, Hezbollah abolished the agreement and set forth what it called the ‘pact’ to veto any government decision.”

A week ago, Aoun, one of the prominent Christian leaders and head of the Free Patriotic Movement, hinted to an amendment of the Taif Agreement as he said, “The ongoing violation of the agreement and its poor implementation will definitely lead to its demise.” This statement has provoked the ire of the Future Movement. In fact, this kind of debate raises another relevant question: Are these efforts launched against the agreement (calling for its amendment) or those that are defending it based on a constitutional logic, or do they fall in the context of political campaigns and a conflict of interest?

Speaking to Al-Monitor, an adviser to former President Michel Suleiman — who served from 2009 until 2014 following the end of the Syrian tutelage over Lebanon — said, “There is no doubt that the Taif Agreement left some constitutional gaps that have contributed to impeding the political system and disrupting the mechanisms of governance.”

The adviser pointed to Suleiman’s proposals to amending the Taif constitution, which he mentioned in his farewell speech on May 25, 2014. These proposals focused on promoting the president’s powers and reinstating some of the powers of the office held prior to the Taif agreement, such as the right to dissolve parliament when necessary or the right to restart parliament consultations to form a government. This would, he believes, help avoid deadlocks and constitutional crisis that have regularly affected Lebanon in recent years.

The proposals also included defining a clear constitutional deadline for the prime minister to sign decrees, as is the case with the deadlines required by the president, modify the majority needed in the council of ministers or parliament to reconsider any decision at the request of the president and grant the president the right to call the council of ministers to convene in exceptional cases.

The truth is that had it not been for these gaps, Lebanon would have been more resilient in the face of the external crises that swept through it, regardless of the difficult conditions experienced by the country. Perhaps Lebanon would have never reached this deadlock, this current institutional vacuum and a parliament that has extended its mandate for a second time.

Al-Monitor asked former member of parliament Samir Franjieh — who was among the group that formulated the Taif Agreement — about the reasons behind the failure of the agreement’s implementation.

“The difference between the Taif Agreement and the 1943 National Pact is the first version of the constitution. The pact was made and implemented by the same historical group of people; thus it reflected their understanding and they were able to implement it despite all the obstacles they faced during the founding of the republic.

“The Lebanese Cenacle followed up on the works of the pact and took it upon itself to explain its principles and definitions. This was not the case with the Taif Agreement, which was placed in the hands of leaders and warlords and who only sought to redistribute power,” he said.

The Taif Agreement was not accompanied by any cultural or media effort to define it and explain its principles. The main idea behind the Taif Agreement is the will to coexist. This is its essence.

Franjieh added, “Today, with the sectarian war raging in the Levant, the disintegration, violence and terrorism plaguing our region, the Lebanese have come to understand, even if it is too late, the importance of coexistence, which is the cornerstone of building a nation.”

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