Time for a new government system in Lebanon . Why continue to live a lie?

In this August 22, file photo, a Lebanese activist holds a poster with pictures of Lebanese Cabinet ministers during a protest against the ongoing trash crisis, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. To the casual visitor, Lebanon may look like a relative success story: a tiny slice of modernity and coexistence in a turbulent region plagued by violence and extremism _ but the reality is quite different. For residents, it is a failed state eaten away by a corrupt sectarian political class, AP

Ya Libnan Editorial

Over the course of a century, Lebanon lived through two civil wars, two foreign occupations, and assorted calamities while being plagued by corruption and substantial losses of liberties. Regrettably, all nation-building efforts came to naught, as political and religious leaders raised fresh power-sharing formulas. These ranged the gamut from federalism to partition, as the Lebanese, Christians, Druze, Sunni Muslims, and Shiite Muslims repeatedly rejected “communal coexistence”—a colloquial expression that is frequently used but lost meaning some time ago. After 100 years, many Lebanese are asking themselves: Why continue to live a lie?

Lets adopt the Swiss system

The Swiss system of government has proven to be effective in maintaining stability and promoting cooperation in Switzerland which was suffering from coexistence problems before adopting its system

Ever since we can remember while we were growing up in Lebanon , we were always told that Lebanon Is the  Switzerland of the East , but as events have shown , Lebanon  today does not resemble Switzerland in anything . The purpose of the article is to explore the possibility of adopting the Swiss model of government in Lebanon to save the country from collapse.

The idea comes to mind after Lebanon’s corrupt sectarian system of government failed to elect a president after 11 attempts by the parliament

We think this is a great opportunity to change the Lebanese political system that has failed the country badly

Switzerland and Lebanon are both complex multi-communal societies.  They both have a long history of trying to manage pluralism, some  with more success than others.

Switzerland can provide valuable lessons for Lebanon, although the model may not  be transplanted as is.  Lebanon needs to develop its consociational democratic institutions in ways that reflect its unique circumstances. 

Historically Switzerland has not always been a nation state. It was a loose alliance of autonomous cantons  but since  1848 the Swiss Confederation has been a federal republic of relatively autonomous cantons, some of which have a history of confederacy that goes back more than 700 years, putting them among the world’s oldest surviving republics.

Switzerland adopted the  federal constitution in 1848, amending it extensively in 1874 and establishing federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters, leaving all other matters to the cantonal governments. From then, and over much of the 20th century, continuous political, economic, and social improvement has characterized Swiss history.

The history of Switzerland since 1848 has been largely one of success and prosperity. Industrialisation transformed the traditionally agricultural economy, and Swiss neutrality during the World Wars and the success of the banking industry furthered the ascent of Switzerland to its status as one of the world’s most stable economies.

Switzerland signed a free-trade agreement with the European Economic Community in 1972,, but it has notably resisted full accession to the European Union (EU) even though  it is surrounded by EU member states

Like in Lebanon, no party dominates in  Switzerland  and, more importantly, each canton has its own constitution, parliament, government, and courts. The Swiss model is a well-balanced mechanism that caters for the country’s many different aspects. It has four official languages and large geographical differences, but they coexist. Federalism was key to the transformation of Switzerland, as well as its neutrality among Europe’s big countries, such as France and Germany. On a security level, each canton has its own police force, while the federal police organization focuses on federal competences.

Lebanon  in its current structure has never been a viable solution 

 A highly decentralized system might be the only solution for Lebanon. Let each community have its own security, protection and electoral targets. 

Like Lebanon, Switzerland,  is a small country yet it has a political and legal structure that allows its various parts to live together.

Lebanon is a country of minorities  and the Swiss model of government may prove to be the most suitable to protect the rights of all these minorities .

Many think that confessionalism is the problem  but abolishing it would  condemn the minorities and paves the road  to ruthless dictatorships. 

Lets face it each minority in Lebanon  has its own culture , its own customs and its own believes . These are differences that cannot be denied or ignored, but like the Swiss we can recognize these differences while still living together under the rule of law. 

All Christian minorities need to feel represented. The Druze need to feel represented. The Shiites need to feel represented.  Sunnis need to feel represented. Every community needs to feel represented and protected by the nation. 

The very existence of Lebanon as a nation state is under threat today and the status quo cannot go on for much longer.

Could we build this in Lebanon? Could we accept that we are in a crisis and need to move on to something new? 

The proposition by Ralph Nader a famous Lebanese American consumer advocate and a former presidential candidate of invoking the U.N. Charter’s “7th Chapter” in Lebanon may be what Lebanon needs

Based on this, Mr Nader calls for “representatives of a broad spectrum of Lebanese public opinion petition the UN Security Council under Chapter VII to establish a UN Transitional Authority for Lebanon headed by a designee of the Secretary General and entrusted with the short-term governance of Lebanon with apolitical experts (drawn from vast pool of accomplished political and business professionals in the Lebanese emigre community) … and tasked with organising and conducting an election of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution with a subsequent referendum”.

To help expedite the change we recommend that the UNIFIL’s role in Lebanon should be expanded  to cover the entire country

Once a decentralized system is put in place, we would be able to have federal laws that allow for broader secular system. This decentralized system would also create healthy competition that would push Lebanon toward economic excellence.

Switzerland and Lebanon

Switzerland  historically faced  social divisions such as 

  • Religious differences, which resulted in several wars between Swiss Catholics and Protestants during the 19th century. 
  • Social differences between the rich and the poor, which were alleviated by the creation of a mixed economy and the development of rural areas;
  • Linguistic and cultural differences, which were reflected in geographical distribution and have gradually become accepted by Swiss citizens.

Some of the chief differences between the situations in Switzerland and in Lebanon

  • Geographic Location: The geographic location of Lebanon has resulted in the country being drawn into several regional conflicts. Such regional tensions, including the status of Palestinian refugees who settled in Lebanon and the wars between the Arabs and Israel, have created internal and external pressures in Lebanon which have contributed to violent domestic conflicts. 
  • As a result of civil war in Syria there are as many Syrian refugees in Lebanon as Lebanese according to Levabon’s interior minister
  • Sectarianism: The 1989 Taif agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war, was intended to end sectarian conflict. However, many of its terms have not yet been fully implemented  

Lebanon’s problems  keep  repeating themselves for four chief reasons: 

  • A political culture that favors religious and confessional loyalties over voting based on issues, and that portrays politics as a tool to obtain services and not as a means for national reform; 
  • Persistent economic problems;  
  • The geographic and political positioning of Lebanon. Lebanon is bordered by two problematic states: Israel, whose recognition is difficult for the Lebanese political system to accomplish; and Syria, who does not effectively recognize the territorial sovereignty of Lebanon;   
  • The religious conflict intrinsic to Lebanon’s pluralism.      

Lebanon lives in a condition that is similar to Switzerland two centuries ago and the only way to lift it  from its current situation is for its citizens to put the country first, focus on development, and maintain neutrality within the region,

While Switzerland has developed a culture of compromise based on institutions that allow diverse groups to feel represented and active in their government, Lebanon struggles with a problematic regional environment and citizens uncertain of how to define their identity.

Here are five institutions that characterize the Swiss political model: 

A multicultural state that recognizes and serves all of its citizens

The federal system, that allows the Swiss cantons to enjoy autonomy

The bicameral parliament

Proportional representation that prevents the majority from ruling over the minority;  

Direct democracy that ensures the inclusion of Swiss citizens in governance.

The support that Switzerland received from Europe helped the country become what it is today. In comparison, Lebanon is surrounded by authoritarian regimes and besieged by regional sectarian divisions.

Identity Conflict: The conflict in Lebanon revolves primarily around issues of religion and identity rather than socio-economic concerns, leaving Lebanese youth struggling to define their identity.


A picture taken on 9 August 2020, shows a man stands next to graffiti at the damaged area following the Aug 4 massive explosion at Beirut’s port which destroyed Lebanon’s only grain silos , killed at least 211 people , injured 6500 and left 300, 000 homeless after 2,750 Tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate Exploded . They were stored there for nearly 7 years. , reportedly for use by the Syrian regime in its barrel bombs against the civilians in Syria . The shipment was reportedly confiscated by Badri Daher a close supporter of President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil . The shipment arrived at a time when Syria was surrendering its chemical weapons to a UN backed organization for destruction . Aoun officially knew about the Ammonium Nitrate 2 weeks before the explosion but did nothing about it . He , along with his Hezbollah allies refused an international investigation but he promised a local investigation that will bring the culprits to justice in less than a week . Judge Fadi Sawan was appointed to investigate the explosion . He charged caretaker PM Hassan Diab , former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and former public works ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Youssef Finianos with negligence over the explosion . The politicians behind the charged politicians attacked the judge and accused him of politicizing the issue. The investigation was halted for months and after it was reactivated Judge Sawan issued an arrest warrant for Finianos which prompted the court of sessation to remove the Judge who was later replaced by Judge Tarek Bitar whom Hezbollah has been trying for over a year to get him fired over concern he may expose its role in the import and smuggling of the chemical to the Syrian regime (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, Beirut, Lebanon 

A comparison of Swiss and Lebanese processes for making political decisions revealed some of the problems in the Lebanese system, including the heavy role played by both regional and personal interests.

Decision-Making in Switzerland: The Swiss confederation system has proven to be effective. In this system, both citizens and politicians take part in the process.


Map of Lebanon showing all the 25 districts ( Qadaa) In the Swiss system each Qadaa besoms a Canton

While Switzerland has 26 cantons or districts   Lebanon has 25 Qadaa’s  or district  and 8 muhafazat or governorates 

Lebanon religious groups map

The median  population of a  canton in Switzerland is 224, 000  people  though some cantons have much smaller  population  about 16,000   for example   . On the other hand the median population of a canton in Lebanon will be about 240,000 though some will be much smaller with population of about 20,000 for example , like Jazzine 

Switzerland is larger in Area than Lebanon 41,285 Sq KM while Lebanon is 10452 Sq KM 

While Lebanon has 18 religious sects , Switzerland has 8 

Finally the biggest difference between Switzerland and Lebanon is in the per capita income , while the per capita income in Lebanon in 2021 was $4,136, a 26.14% decline from 2020 when it was $5,600, a 37.68% decline from 2019 when it was $7,583.69 while in Switzerland the per capita income was is $75,800 in 2022.

A cartoon showing Lebanon transformation from Switzerland of the East to a colony of Iran. Many Lebanese now feel that Lebanon is an Iranian colony . For Iran Hezbollah in Lebanon is Iran in Lebanon and Iran reportedly considers its border starts in Hezbollah’s stronghold of south Lebanon.

The above numbers are based on an the official exchange rate of 1507 LL / USD, but the actual black market exchange rate has been ranging recently between 60, 000 and 66, 000 per US dollar. In other words the actual JDP in Lebanon 2 to 3 % of the above numbers ,

Not a new idea

Speaker Nabih Berri revealed to al Akhbar newspaper in 2012 that the president of an unnamed European country has advised Lebanese political parties from across the political spectrum not to object to the division of Lebanon into a Switzerland-like federation.

“Lebanon is heading to a Swiss federation and all the political parties should be wise and not to object such a plan because refusing it would shake Lebanon’s stability,” the speaker quoted the unnamed European official as telling a Lebanese party.

Lebanon is sharply divided between the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah-led coalition and the Arab and western backed alliance. Hezbollah replaced the Syrian occupational army because it is the only militia that was allowed to keep its arms at the end of the civil war .

The Swiss Federalism system has been proposed on many occasions as a solution to many political and governance challenges, and it could potentially be beneficial for stability in Lebanon

Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units, such as the Qadaa ( canton ) and provinces. In a federal system, each level of government has its own distinct responsibilities, and both the central government and constituent units have the power to make laws and regulations.

In the case of Lebanon, federalism could help address some of the country’s long-standing political and sectarian divisions by providing more autonomy and self-governance to the different regions and communities within the country. This could lead to a more equitable distribution of resources and power, and help reduce tensions between different groups.

However, it is important to note that implementing federalism in a country like Lebanon would require a great deal of political will, compromise, and consensus building.

It is high time that the citizens of Lebanon live with their heads high and in safety, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or beliefs. It is high time to build a new Lebanon. This can only happen if we remove the fear of the other. The October revolution proved that what binds us together is our  love to Lebanon , nothing else . Time to build a nation state