Ultimately, engineering real and lasting peace is the responsibility of Lebanon’s political class; to build a meaningful social contract so that all Lebanese can trust the state to provide (at least in part) security, political freedom and social justice, rather than looking to confessional and sectarian communities either inside or outside Lebanon’s borders.
This requires root and branch political reform to transform Lebanon’s ‘cosmetic democracy’ – in which human rights are flouted, most obviously for Palestinian refugees and migrant workers, gender equality is denied, and confessional leaders and state institutions are prone to authoritarianism. The confessional political system with the executive ‘Troika’ at its summit is at best ineffectual, and at worst a catalyst for conflict.
A concerted and gradualist strategy is required that both acknowledges the realities of confessionalism and leads clearly towards genuine and inclusive representation. This would allow people to see progress in a functioning political process. A starting point could be an audit of the process of reform of public administration – promised at Taif, inscribed on the agenda of every subsequent government and heavily supported by international institutions and Western partners.
Three domains should be prioritised – as these provoke unanimous criticism among Lebanese and are crucial for the legitimacy of the state:
- reduction of tensions around economic and social inequality: ensure investment in key infrastructure; and address socio-economic welfare and extreme poverty, in particular serving the needs of marginalised and peripheral populations
- legal disentanglement of public and private sectors in order to ensure fair and efficient access to essential services such as fresh water, electricity and telephone
- effective political decentralisation, to restore public confidence in state institutions and facilitate political participation of peripheral, marginalised and younger groups
Legitimising the state would offer a solid basis for the government to start implementing political reforms, ongoing delays of which accrue risk of a return to civil war. There is widespread consensus that the Taif power sharing formula reinforces unfair represention in terms of age, gender and region – not to forget sect.
Confessional belonging hampers the freedom of individual social and political choice and blurs state-citizen relations. Many Lebanese, especially youth and women, question the democracy of the Lebanese power sharing formula and trust neither their leaders’ capacity nor inclination to bring about reform. Only social justice (to respond to deepening frustration) and political distancing from confessionalism (to defuse sectarian strife) can alleviate violence and enmity.
Lebanese leaders should not delay reform policies but should look to adopt and implement them as early as possible – for example as part of the 2013 legislative elections. A good starting point would be electoral reforms suggested by the Butros Commission and accepted in principle by deputies in 2008: lowering voting age to 18, organising the vote of expatriate nationals and facilitating the election of women. They should also reopen National Dialogue negotiations to build minimal consensus on national identity and security policy and prepare for the complete return of the rule of law and state monopoly on the use of force.
Reforms should be negotiated as balanced ‘packages’ that enable various parties, political blocs and interest groups to compensate losses with benefits – for example realising proposals for a confessional Senate to offset reforms designed to deconfessionalise parliament. As well as empowering small local administrative units, decentralisation could provide a broad framework for reform, helping to redefine the relationship between central and local authorities, and to re-think key issues of representation, participation, accountability, local development and ultimately the political system itself.