The political system in Lebanon remained paralyzed in 2015, leaving the presidency vacant since the expiration of the last term in May 2014, while extending the National Assembly’s term twice since 2013. Furthermore, due to the still ongoing civil war in Syria and the immediate threat of the so-called Islamic State, the country is facing a wave of more than one million registered Syrian refugees as well as a direct involvement in the conflict by the Islamist militant group and political party Hezbollah (Freedom House, 2016). The case of the Palestinian refugees permanently living in Lebanon for decades is a still long-lasting issue for the Lebanese society and is in need of setting a new concept for a successful integration of the Palestinians into the political framework of the country.
The object of this paper is to work out the theoretical background of Lebanon’s “partly free” political system, giving a review on the country’s history from the period of the Ottoman Empire until now in the second part, then analyzing in the main part the various factors, which play an important role in the democratization process as well as apply the previously specified theories and approaches to the actual challenges the country is still facing in its political life. In addition to that, several reformation proposals will be critically described and interpreted in order to work out the quintessence of the challenges Lebanon has to cope with in its near future.
In order to work out a scientific discourse, it is necessary to provide theoretical frameworks and definitions which can be connected with the empirical knowledge given in the next chapters.
For this reason, it is useful to give a profound and exact definition of a democracy as well as pointing out the characteristics of Lebanon’s political system - the framework of confessionalism.
According to the political theorist Robert A. Dahl, there are five main “criteria that a process for governing an association [in a democracy] would have to meet” (Dahl, 2000, p.37).
The first one is effective participation, this means that all members of society must have equal and effective opportunities for making their views on a policy. Secondly, every member must have an equal and effective opportunity to vote and all votes must be counted equally. The third one is enlightened understanding and says that each member must have the chance to learn about alternative policies and their consequences. Control of the agenda as the fourth criterion illustrates that the members must have the opportunity to decide, what issues are going to be placed on the agenda. And if the members decide, the policies must always be open to change. The inclusion of adults as the last and most significant criterion implies that all adult permanent residents should have the full rights of citizens described in the first four criteria. (Dahl, 2000, p.37-38)
Lebanon has a unique political system compared to its neighboring countries in the Middle East. The confessional system dates back to the 1860’s when a council was elected based on sectarian allocations in order to end violence between the Druze and Maronites. For managing violence between religious sects, the government allocated positions based on religious ‘confessions’ or how politicians identified religiously. According to the National Pact of 1943, an unwritten agreement that laid down the basis of Lebanon as a multi-confessional state, this foundation serves for the current confessional system today, in which the seats in parliament are allocated six to five to Christian and Muslim representatives. Additionally, the Ta’if Agreement of 1989 – an agreement to stop the ongoing Lebanese Civil War and creating “peaceful coexistence” (Fontana, 2016, p.87) between the various religious groups – transferred the power away from the Christian bloc, giving the Muslim representatives more influence and a parliamentary allocation of 50% to 50% between the two groups. Besides of that, the top three positions in the government are always distributed as follows: the president has to be a Maronite Christian, the Speaker of the Parliament a Shi’a Muslim and the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim. (Harris, 2007, p.41).
In this constellation, it is meant to represent all layers of the society, however there has not been an official census in Lebanon since 1932 and “neither side will agree to a [new] census because it could unbalance the delicate political power relationship in Lebanon” (Kisthardt, 2013, p. 5). Considering migration, different birth rates between the various ethnic and religious groups and many other demographic changes (Traboulsi, 2007, p. 113), it represents an evolving threat to the status quo, which will be described further in the main chapter.
History of the conflict:
Situated in the region of the Middle East, Lebanon was certainly part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries until the end of World War I, when the empire collapsed and the territory of Lebanon was given to the mandate power France to govern it (as Britain did in Palestine). During this period the Lebanese delegation presented their aspirations in a memorandum to the Paris Peace Conference, which included a broad extension of the frontiers of the new state, despite the fact that the demographic situation would change tremendously from a Christian to a Muslim mayority. For this reason, the Modern Lebanon’s constitution was drawn up with equality rights and a confessional system in order to balance the power between the various religious groups. This balance was measured in the only official census of 1932, after which parliament seats were divided on a six-to-five Christian/Muslim basis. Furthermore, the constitution allocated the seat of the president to a Maronite (Christian), the seat of the prime minister to a Sunni Muslim and the seat of the speaker to a Shia Muslim. Therefore, it was meant to be a fair and modern system with equal rights for every group or minority living in Lebanon. During World War II the Lebanese government allowed Nazi Germany to move aircraft and supplies through Syria to Iraq where they were used against the British forces in order to defeat them and continuing wage war against their enemies, on the one hand, and give the Lebanese people independence from the two mandate powers France and Great Britain, on the other hand. After the fighting ended in Lebanon, the country was finally recognized independence, under the authority of a Free French government. First elections were held and on November 8, 1943 the newly-elected representatives abolished the mandate and under international pressure France withdrew from its mandating territory (Traboulsi, 2007, Ch.7)
In the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Lebanon has become home to a high number of Palestinian refugees, which had an enormous influence on the demographic situation and lead to still ongoing violent clashes between the various groups.
In the following decades, the country was facing numerous conflicts within itself due to politics and religion again.
By 1975 and even before, as aforementioned, Lebanon was religiously and ethnically diverse country with many Christian and Muslim confessions as well as significant minorities such as Druze, Kurds, Armenians and Palestinian refugees. And according to the constitution, Christians were guaranteed control of the government, which of course had come under harsh criticism underneath the Muslim population and led to the National Movement of 1969, which campaigned for the taking of a new census and a subsequent drafting of a new governmental structure that would base on the new census rather than on the one from 1932. This political tension became a military conflict and escalated in a civil war in April 1975. The officials called Syrian troops for intervention, which led to their presence and additionally, an Arab summit was called to stop this crisis immediately (Traboulsi, 2007, Ch.10)
Due to military disputes with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, Israel occupied the southern region of Lebanon in 1978 in order to secure Israel’s northern border. Immediately after this action, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 425 calling for an Israeli withdrawal and creating the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for maintaining peace in the territory. Later this year, Israel withdrew its troops, leaving a protective buffer zone against cross-border attacks.