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Overcoming Sectarianism in Lebanon: Recommendations for a Stronger State

Overcoming Sectarianism in Lebanon: Recommendations for a Stronger State

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Published by Neil Hilton
This is my final term paper for my Politics in Lebanon class at the American University of Beirut. It provides an overview of secularism and sectarianism in Lebanon, and then gives recommendations for reforms to make the system more secular.
This is my final term paper for my Politics in Lebanon class at the American University of Beirut. It provides an overview of secularism and sectarianism in Lebanon, and then gives recommendations for reforms to make the system more secular.

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Published by: Neil Hilton on Jun 04, 2009
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 Neil HiltonPSPA 256Professor Hassan KrayemJune 4, 2009
Overcoming Sectarianism in Lebanon:Recommendations for a Stronger State
 
 Neil HiltonPSPA 256Professor Hassan KrayemJune 4, 2009
Overcoming Sectarianism in Lebanon: Recommendationsfor a Stronger State
Much has been said about the need for a stable, secular Lebanese state. In a country plagued byconflict since its inception, much of it driven by sectarian divisions, eliminating governance based onreligious compositions and quotas is a very logical goal. Unfortunately, a myriad of obstacles oppose realand lasting secularism in this country. With that in mind, any reform must be incremental andexceptionally well-implemented. This paper seeks to provide some recommendations for potentialchanges that could be undertaken through constitutional amendments and policy changes to be taken on by the government. To do so, it will first examine the historical precedent set between the FrenchMandate period and the Taif Agreement of 1990. Special attention shall be given to the Civil War and theimplications of Taif, as they especially embody Lebanon’s sectarian nature and the fallout from both must be overcome in order to secularize the nation. It is important to note that full or speedy implementation of all the subsequent suggestions is highly unlikely—rather, they represent potential ideals for a futureLebanon that could perhaps be gradually changed, and how the country would benefit from a moresecular composition.To understand the deep-seated roots of sectarianism in the Lebanese national consciousness, agood starting point is the beginning of the French Mandate in 1920. Greater Lebanon was created as astate specifically with the interests of the Maronite Christian community in mind. Though this grouprepresented a very small minority in Greater Syria, the borders of the new, smaller mandate wereintentionally drawn to include their stronghold of Mount Lebanon as well as the economic center and portof Beirut and the breadbasket of the Beqaa Valley, and still leave the Christians with a demographic2
 
majority. This decision was influenced by crippling famines that occurred in the late 19
th
century andduring World War I, leading to the conclusion that the Maronite community depended on agriculture fromthe Beqaa and surrounding areas. The League of Nations simultaneously annexed Shia, Sunni, and Greek Orthodox communities into the mandate, regardless of the majority’s desire for unity with Syria. TheMuslim groups especially were under the impression that they would be autonomous, mostly because of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence in 1915 and 1916 that promised independence for Arab lands,including the Levant. However, the Sykes-Picot agreement between the French and British over how todivide the territory into “zones of influence” abrogated Sharif Hussein’s contract with Henry McMahon.Instead, they found themselves locked into minority status in a mandate where the French HighCommissioner held ultimate power.At the same time, the indirect governance of France led to a reinforcement of the clientalist
 zuama
system already in place. Under this arrangement, community leaders emerged as patrons for the populace in their locality. These traditional, feudal rulers provided local, individual services on a personallevel in exchange for the allegiance and loyalty of the masses. Often, the tight-knit communities thatcentered on an individual
 zaim
were based on confession, or of clans that all adhered to the same religiousdoctrine (Hottinger 85)
.
. This family-based dynamic weakened the civil society of the fledgling nation, asno real relationship developed between the citizens and the central government. Because self-determination was essentially nonexistent, all political activities had a confessional overtone. Theconstitution written in 1926 did little to alleviate the situation, and instead included Michel Chiha’s prescription for instituting a confessional system.This state of affairs continued until Lebanese independence was granted in during World War II— at which point it only got worse. The National Pact of 1943 was a form of reconciliation between theChristian and Muslim communities that increased the country’s stability but further institutionalizedconfessionalism. Though they improved the status of Muslims, it is generally believed that the terms of the agreement gave the Maronites an upper hand, as they succeeded in forbidding the Muslims (who nowlikely constituted a majority of the population) from any designs of Syrian unity. The National Pact didn’t3

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