Lebanese Constitution no Model for the Arab World

Article Summary
The Lebanese pride themselves on their civil state and their constitution, which distributes government posts based on confession. But according to Sarkis Naoum, this pride is rooted in a shallow understanding of the Lebanese system, and employing it as a model for other Arab states could have disastrous consequences.

In hearing the Lebanese people, leaders, chieftains and political and religious authorities talk about the "Lebanese experience," one might think that Lebanon before the war was Plato's Republic, or perhaps something even better. [One could imagine that] Lebanon before the war was a democratic parliamentary republican system, with a civil government free of religious divisions or sectarianism. [One might surmise that] the constitution was free of any reference to those two ailments. According to the constitution, Article 95 - which distributes government positions and jobs on the basis of religion and sect - should have been temporary. But, as with everything else in Lebanon, practice made it permanent. In spite of this, the Lebanese have prided themselves on their constitution, and thus on their civil state. But in so doing, they were lying to themselves, to their Arab neighbors and to the world. How often have we heard legal and political "geniuses" audaciously and confidently praise [the Lebanese constitution and the Lebanese civil state] in front of the diplomats of major countries, even though they knew - or perhaps they didn’t - that [these diplomats] were already knowledgeable about Lebanon and would not be fooled by their rhetoric?

In hearing the Lebanese talk about Lebanon during the wars they endured between 1975 and 1990, one would think that the Lebanese were angels and that they only experienced these disasters either due to an externally-imposed "curse"; Arab or foreign envy; the greed of outsiders; or Israel's desire to annihilate the exemplary [Lebanese model] of democratic pluralistic coexistence, which runs contrary to its own racist and intolerant model. [The Lebanese civil war has also been blamed on] the Palestinian refugees' desire to establish an alternative homeland; the international community's wish to give Lebanon to [those refugees]; or [Jordan’s] pushing of [the Palestinians] towards Lebanon out of fear that it [Jordan] would be faced with a similar scenario. In making [these excuses], the Lebanese have been lying to themselves and to others. The wars in Lebanon were only partially "other peoples’ wars." For the most part, they were rather the Lebanese peoples' wars against each other. The foreign interventions were to a certain extent a response to the requests for help voiced by each [of the Lebanese factions]. [This is not to say that the foreign interventions were also not partially motivated by] the protection of outside interests and strategies. [These outside powers] have considered Lebanon and its peoples as, at best, the battleground and means by which to fight wars against their enemies. At worst, [these states see Lebanon as] their rightful property, and under their direct or indirect control.

In hearing the Lebanese talk - since the end of the war in 1990 - about the current precarious times, one realizes that they have learned nothing and that they will once again be in danger, if they are not in it already. Their political leaders are praising Lebanese pluralism, democracy and respect for human rights. What’s more, their diverse religious leaders are ascribing Lebanon qualities that have nothing to do with reality. [Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Ra’i] called Lebanon the country of "partnership and love." Partnership does not build a country, although it can build a commercial enterprise capable of dissolving at any moment as a result of greed. And - with all due respect to the one who [uttered these words] - to say that the Lebanese love each other is a big lie. [The “love”] among the people depends on interests, ambitions, desires and foreign and domestic agendas.

Why am I raising that issue today? It is not to "insult" the eternal, secular, free and democratic country I belong to or its "peoples." [My words are] meant to come as a warning - although this warning may have already made its way through the mire of propaganda - to the Arab countries similar to Lebanon in terms of their [sectarian] divisions, in which each [sect] considers itself a nation. [I am raising this issue] to warn the "peoples" of every Arab state against falling into the trap of convincing themselves that "Lebanon is a [positive] model." Because [were they to do so], they would be condemning their nations to constant [instability] and conflict. Applying that model to Iraq will revive its civil war, and employing it in Syria will [result in disaster]. The same applies to Yemen, and even to Egypt. Dividing up the Arab countries' authorities, governments, institutions, and high and low state positions [according to sect] could fracture those countries. This is what Israel wants. Is it what the incorrigible Arabs want?

Found in: sectarianism, lebanese civil war

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