Constitutional Civil Rights In Lebanon


By Ghassan Karam

Although the idea of personal liberty and freedom has preoccupied humans for millennia the notion as we presently know it was best clarified by the work of John Stuart Mill and later on Isaiah Berlin.  What was initially stressed by JS Mill was the important concept that liberty carries within it two essential meanings; the liberty to act when one wills and the conditions whereby one is free from coercion. Berlin however took these two ideas and elaborated on them as to show that liberty has two components; positive liberty and negative liberty. These two ideas are not the same. It is possible to have one without the other.

Positive liberty is when individuals are offered the right and the ability to commit an act such as the opportunity to apply for a job vacancy. This kind of liberty is essential and very much appreciated but not as much as its negative counterpart whereby individuals will be protected from the arbitrary exercise of authority, it is our safety valve against tyranny.

A vibrant responsible democracy is structured so as to offer its citizens protection against abuse by discriminate application of the law. Civil society cannot thrive without a total respect for the rule of law and an unconditional rejection of the rule of men. Unless we are all equal and accountable to the same sets of rules under a perfectly transparent judicial system then none of us is free.

It is paradoxical that the most vocal critics of the Bush-Cheney administration in the Middle East rely , and rightly so, on the US administration’s total disregard of the rule of law and binding international conventions when each of these regimes outdoes the Bush-Cheney administration by a factor in their own abandonment of the rule of law. This is not meant to be a defense of the offensive and serious crimes committed by Bush-Cheney but instead are meant to highlight the sorry state of affairs under which we have to live.

Remember when arrest warrants were issued against three young men who had exercised their positive liberty to right but who were intimidated by the authorities who did not take lightly to being criticized? And then what about the Al Akhbar journalist who was arbitrarily detained by the military for an article that he wrote? I will not bore you by naming the hundreds, possibly thousands, of examples of arbitrarily detained individuals, redacted articles, banned films and songs whose only crime is that they offended the personal sensibilities of certain powerful individuals.

All of the above pales in importance to the continuous non enforcement of constitutional prerogatives. By elections that are supposed to take place in a month sometime go unfilled for much longer, National Constitutional Council is expected to always be ready to hear cases about the constitutionality of developments does not meet for over a year and does not pass a judgment on what is arguably the greatest constitutional violation; to elect a President who is proscribed from that position.

In light of the above political culture that acts as if there is no concept of what is the rule of law do we have the right to expect young well meaning individuals to devote their full time and energy to promote human rights, justice, rule of law and constitutional behavior? Luckily enough for us there are a few of these idealistic energetic individuals who strongly believe in praxis, to live what they preach.

Nour Merheb is such an individual that we can all be proud of for his commitment and idealism to fairness, liberty and equity. Nour has been working diligently to promote his theories and ideas about the steps that need to be taken to transform society from its current political feudalism to responsible and accountable free and democratic society.

Nour was sentenced two days ago by a Military Court to two months in prison for a small altercation with an off duty army personnel. This is outrageous for the simple fact that Military Court in Lebanon have become ubiquitous, passing rules and issuing judgments in all areas. That is simply unconstitutional.  A society is ultimately made up of its citizens. Politicians and leaders will strip away our freedoms and institutionalize abuse only with our consent. Make no mistake about it the American public enabled George Bush-Cheney to practice torture in Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib   but credit the US public with forcing a change once the facts became known. (Ultimately Bush-Cheney must be held accountable in a court of law).

The real issue facing us in this case is simply when would we show outrage? When would we act as the newscaster in Networks by saying: We are mad enough and we cannot take it any more”.

You might not agree with Nour Merheb on all the issues or even on any of them. That is not what is at stake. What is crucial is that his rights and dignity as a Lebanese citizen be respected. Nour has already declared that he would go on a hunger strike as soon as he is arrested. I would hope that his sentence be annulled but if it is not I would hope that many would declare solidarity with Nour in any way possible including the possibility of joining him in his hunger strike.

Nour and Wael Khair, the Executive Director of The Foundation for Humanitarian Rights , Lebanon held a press conference today that must be watched in order to appreciate the importance of this issue : nour merheb



19 responses to “Constitutional Civil Rights In Lebanon”

  1. There is a very simple answer for all the above… Tell me who is your wasta and I will tell you who you are…

    I can say it in a different way … tell me who is dei3mak and I will tell you how much you will be un touchable

    That summs up our intenral and foreign policy, 3ala 2ad Wasittak efta7 timmak…this should be our new motto for politicians and barkers like Wahab for instance

  2. Sebouh,

    Double standards are to be seen all over, you are right. What is the difference between what the three bloggers who were accused of slandering the president on FB and the daily tirades of Whab or even Aoun?

  3. JAD,

    It does appear that the institution of Wasta is endemic. It is ironic though that although we don’t like it when others use it we never shy from using it ourselves:-)

    1. Well if our leaders use it and the system never gives you an option but to use it…then like it or not you will eventually have to use it…:)

      As you said it is an institution of Wasta…

  4. This is a sad reality. You write: “The real issue facing us in this case is simply when would we show outrage? When would we act as the newscaster in Networks by saying: We are mad enough and we cannot take it any more”.”

    So are you asking this question from the silent majority? If so why can’t this silent majority really overthrow the oligarchs and the current political system which is forced upon us by the ruling parties.

    When Amal and Hezbollah went at each others for control of the streets, there was a silent majority embodied in the mothers, sisters, and daughters of those committing the fratricide, who went in the street to separate them. They were shot at and many casualties befell the group.

    What I am trying to say, is that, BEYOND the sphere of influence of those parties and their thugs there is little the “silent majority” can do from within. You and I know that the country is hijacked by those.

    I do believe that the individuals (expats) who have close ties to Lebanon and still consider it home, as their number is more than the number of people residing inside the country, SHOULD organize such a campaign and inject those reforms.

    Am I a dreamer? Am I too far from the reality? Is what I am proposing beyond feasible?

    My opinion is that with a seed of individuals, using current technologies of communications a new movement can arise. We are awaiting though to see someone or some group lead the way.


    1. Walid,

      I imagine that it would be impossible to know ahead of time what event, development or individual will become the catalyst for a major, radical and fundamental change. But that should not be used as an excuse to stand by. Personally I agree with you that change will most likely have a major expat role.

  5. Let’s write it!

    On a shared blog website,

    for the people,

    by the people.

    That would be a sight…

  6. Waliddddddddddddddddddddddd, wassuuuuup habibi ? You’re not takling to me anymore?lol


    1. I love ahel el-jnoub, specially Miss America 😛

      wulak kiifak ya zalame, chtaqneelak.

  8. chtaqneelak TOO YA WALID BEIK.LOL



  9. in my opinion the civil right in the hole world is twisted as there is a lot of gabs in the law can be used by the crocked solicitors its a shame to see whats happening in lebanon as we have no right at all in anything a military court can not judge a civilian person under any rules but again welcome to the lawless land welcome to lebanon i belive the only solution for lebanon is to make a mini revolution and kill all the poppet we have in lebanon and all the law makers and change the silly instatution and inpose new law base on freedom lebanon is such a tiny country dosen;t need army or bulshit let make it like switzerland

  10. lets hope he want get charged as an isarels spy

  11. Joey,

    Military courts are operating in many areas with impunity. I imagine that few of the politicians ever objects because the military establishment helps protect their interests. Real change will come only when the people demand it.

  12. Ghassan,

    It is obvious for Peace negotiations to be successful this time around, the world community led by the United States has to do a lot of arm twisting.

    It is true that freedom and democracy cannot be subjected on Citizens by force, but you have to admit that this conflict in particular is very complicated and special and the Players cannot be trusted to see it through conclusively.The Palestinians and The Israelis are so different yet in most instances they are so much alike. So much so, that this conflict in all of its phases (Liek Book Chapters) has become so predictable that anyone can guess what can happen next…

    There is so much hate and spiteful actions on both sides to keep fueling this conflict for a few hundred more years.

    The Palestinian side is especially in need of hand holding and arm twisting for the sake of future generations. They have falling behind on the ladder of culture and civilized advancement.

    Schools are still utilizing textbooks printed over a half a century ago..

    Do I need to say more…

    Although this is also true in other Arab countries, why not start reforms with the country that suffered the most? Palestine…Let the others follow…The children deserve it on both sides of this conflict

  13. Sorry Ghassan, I posted a comment to the wrong article…

    As to civil rights in Lebanon??

    Ya haram….

    You would soon solve the Palestinian Israeli conflict much quicker than to achieve Lebanese reforms

  14. Joe M,

    I suspected the error.

    BTW Joe, during a long vacation one of the books that I read was by Elaine Scarry called “Rule of Law, Misrule of Men”. She writes as a lawyer although I am not sure that she is. She builds a wonderful case about the necessity to take Bush-Cheney to court for murder. She argues that the rule of law is not satisfied by having the country rediscover the rule of law but the principle demands that both Bush and Cheney be put on trial preferably in a Federal court but a state court would do. She further argues that foreign countries are also entitled to take the two into custody. Can I as an individual initiate such a process?

    1. In theory yes and under the law as it was written yes…But in practical terms you have to have half the whole country behind you to do so and then only Maybe can you be successful.

      we all learned as new Immigrants to the United States that Americans tend to forgive and forget in order to move forward and that would be an obstacle to the case.

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