Elimination of Sectarianism: If Not Now, When?


lebanese_unityBy Ghassan Karam, Special to Ya Libnan

The current Lebanese political structure is built on two irrational and undemocratic principles: (1) Rigid political sectarianism for allocating posts and (2) equal distribution of parliamentary seats along a Christian- Moslem axis. In a country where political identity does not arise from citizenship but from cosmopolitan, regional, racial or religious identification the above is a recipe for disaster. If tends to perpetuate the divisiveness instead of the healing and it will emphasize the attributes that divide us rather than those that we hold in common.  And the most egregious part of the above formula is that it treats some as being more equal than others by allocating to the Christians a proportionally higher level of representation than the raw numbers establish.  It is as if each 4 Christian votes count for five, a 25 % premium.

Since it would be very difficult to rationalize such an inequitable and unjust system one finds that the Lebanese have repeatedly lent their vocal support to the need to abolish sectarianism provided no one ever does.  This is precisely the reason for the maelstrom that has engulfed the Beri- Suleiman recent proposal to establish a committee that will recommend steps to be adopted in an effort to abolish “political sectarianism”.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle, especially those that belong to the March14 political grouping, have always advocated the enactment of the Taif accords which recommends a bi cameral Lebanese Parliament in addition to abolishing sectarianism in elections and civil service appointments .  Meritocracy is to become the only workable criteria both in elections and in appointments. It would not be far fetched to envisage such a meritocracy as being essentially secular.  Recent events have been very revealing and quite informative.  We now know that the support for a non sectarian system, especially that of the Maronites, was forthcoming but only with some strenuous  preconditions. Patriarch Sfeir, the Kataeb, the Lebanese Force, The Free Patriotic Movement among others have already stated very clearly their opposition to the plan by speaker Beri to form a committee as demanded by the Taif in order to abolish political sectarianism on the grounds that it is not the proper time for such a proposal.

So how can they be for it and yet against it at the same time?  All the parties mentioned above in addition to some independents such as Justice Minister Najjar and Labour Minister Harb claim that they are in principle for eliminating confessionalism but are opposed to the step at the moment because it might result in the underrepresentation of the Christians. Yes you heard it right. They are for eliminating confessionalism provided it does not diminish their privileged position. This logic demands a clear cut answer to two issues: (1) if the status quo is to be maintained then why bother and change the system in the first place?  And (2) isn’t the whole idea behind electing representatives on merit based on the principle that ones religious affiliation is not a factor in their identity?

Sectarian politics is the anathema to democracy, efficiency justice and equity.  One cannot support it provided it results in favourable outcomes to her group.  The benefits are to accrue to the common good and the results are known only after the fact, after the elections are held.  If we are to elect representatives based on their allegiance to the state and their commitment to its constitution then it shouldn’t matter whether we elect only females, only Shiites or only short men. What matters is that the representatives are Lebanese.

The accusations against Speaker Beri for daring to suggest that it is time to tackle this thorny issue of eliminating “political sectarianism”  ought to be dismissed as disingenuous protestations. The timing of the announcement by Mr. Beri might very well be intended to stifle the attempts of some to make an issue of the legitimacy of the arms of Hezbollah but that is not material. A serious and thorough national dialogue about how to de-sectarianize the political system in Lebanon is already 66 years overdue and must not be postponed again. Our future depends on it.

A Podcast of the above can be heard on: ramblings11.mypodcast.com

Comments: wp.karam@gmail.com



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