Key sources of tension in Lebanon: internal and external
Unlike other countries in the region, Lebanon has been unable to accommodate contradictory influences within a viable constitutional framework. The Lebanese government has not taken into account recent socio-political changes. These elements have led to a series of crises that have endangered the country’s security and political stability.
Foreign crises and disagreements on key strategic questions have become internal conflicts that have engaged all Lebanese factions, threatening both their own stability and the country’s institutions. The Lebanese crisis has become a mixture of internal and external factors, made up of intertwining political, constitutional and confessional elements.
There are three major areas of tension. First, resistance against Israel should be established as a condition for national sovereignty and accepted as a fundamental Lebanese characteristic that will endure as long as the threat from Israel remains. Resistance must be part of any accord between elements of Lebanese society. This does not forbid other elements from the right to express their concerns. In fact, this subject should be discussed within the framework of the National Dialogue [launched in 2006 to tackle the differences between March 8 and March 14 Alliances]. This should seek to establish guarantees that resistance serves the interests of all Lebanese people and poses a threat to none of them.
Second, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is unconstitutional and illegal. It undermines Lebanese judicial sovereignty and puts Lebanon at the mercy of foreign influences. And it is exacerbating internal divisions. It must be shut down.
Third, the relationship between Lebanon and Syria must be respected as an essential bond. The two countries are linked by a common history and a mutual border. Syria is Lebanon’s economic driver and our main pillar of support against Israel. No Lebanese party must be implicated in violence or civil war in Syria, as this would spill over into Lebanon. The future of the Syrian political system is a matter for Syrians to handle.
The Taif Agreement and the stability of Lebanon’s political system
The Taif Agreement is almost dead in the water. It is no longer able to manage relations among Lebanese people. Despite including mechanisms to promote due process, it has been unable to overcome Christian or Muslim confessional obstacles and has proven too inflexible: Christians have rejected the abolition of political confessionalism; while Sunnis wish to stick with the Agreement in its current form. There may be a desire to see political reform among certain elements, but to see this desire take shape Sunnis, Shia, Christians and Druze would all have to agree. Any reform ignoring these elements would create a crisis and cause more instability.
Responses to internal and external challenges: developing the social contract
Hezbollah’s relations with Iran and allegiance to the Wilâyat al-Faqîh [rule of the Muslim Jurist] are part of our religious, cultural and social customs, as enshrined in the Constitution. These do not challenge our political engagement with the Lebanese social contract. Acts of resistance are linked to the defence of the Lebanese people. They are a necessity and are not part of a confessional identity. They could have been developed outside the Shiite faith.
Our Constitution calls Lebanon a ‘final homeland’. But it does not exclude that its identity will evolve. This identity began as a mixture of Arabic and Lebanese elements; of freedom and coexistence. To this we must now add resistance and openness. All of these values respond to Lebanon’s geopolitical situation.
Priorities for building peace
We have two choices before us: either the creation of a democratic state based on citizenship, with the abolition of confessionalism and the protection of community rights through the establishment of a Senate; or broadening the concept of consensual democracy.
The first option implies a centralised state and a president elected by universal suffrage. This would enable him to overcome confessional power. This option seems difficult given the refusal of Christians to contemplate the end of confessionalism.
The second option seems more realistic. It appears feasible and calls for serious reflection. But the principles of such a consensus would have to be defined. I believe in four such principles: 1) creating a proportional voting system; 2) granting veto power to communities; 3) ensuring a major push for administrative decentralisation; and 4) the formation of large coalitions.
Interview by Scarlett Haddad, journalist at L’Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon