Sectarianism and Business Associations in Postwar Lebanon

Article excerpt


INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS SCHOLAR Ernst Haas observed that the term "balance of power" has at least eight separate meanings. [1] The concept of "sectarian balance" is equally elastic and carries a variety of meanings. One can identify at least six distinct ways in which the term sectarian balance has been used in the Lebanese context. First, an equitable distribution of seats, or positions (say in a certain organization, the civil service, or the Board of Directors of a major economic association) between the main sects. Second, equal representation of Muslims and Christians, and Sunnis and Shi'is, in all major decision-making bodies [2]. Third, the "right" of every sect to independently select its representatives to important decision-making bodies. Fourth, a conscious policy, by a group or by the government, aiming at preserving, or restoring, the sectarian balance. Fifth, a state of equilibrium in the relations between Christians and Muslims, where neither religious group dominates. Sixth, and finally, a st ate of equilibrium in the relations among the main sects, without any sect exerting hegemony over the rest.

Here I would like to caution that my aim is not to legitimize Lebanon's confessional system, and its consequences as regards the sectarian composition of the governing bodies of the country's leading business associations. Rather, I try to show how such a composition follows a broad pattern that is best captured by the concept of sectarian balance. I am also sure that critics of the sectarian system will find even more problems with my concept of sectarian balance than the critics of Realism have found with the more established concept of balance of power. In short, I do not seek to unproblematize Lebanon's confessional system or the enduring tendency of operating by the government and societal groups alike within a framework defined by various sectarian balances [3]. The confessional system has been responsible for many frictions and conflicts within the Lebanese polity and has stifled the development of a secular and civil society. Nevertheless, successive governments and most societal groups have treated such a system as a given, and chose to operate within its contours, rather than attack its foundations. Finally, it is worth pointing out that looking at business associations from a sectarian perspective does not negate the need for examining other, and equally valid, questions about them, such as how they articulate the interests of their members, what strategies they follow in dealings with government and labor, and how effective they have been in influencing government policy.


Lebanon has a rich associational life, with labor unions, business and professional associations, and other interest groups all trying to exert a measure of influence over government policy. Private sector dominance in the Lebanese economy, and a relatively open political system, led to the formation of scores of associations that represent business interests. Business associations can be divided into national associations and sub-national or regional ones. At the national level, the most powerful associations are the Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI) and the Association of Lebanese Banks (ALB). Less important (but not inconsequential) national associations include the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture of Lebanon, the Assembly of Lebanese Businessmen, the Association of Insurance Companies, the Syndicate of Hotel Owners, and the syndicate of Bakery owners. The number of regional business associations (tajamu'at mantaiqiyyat) is considerably larger. The most important re gional associations are the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Beirut and Mount Lebanon -CCIAB -- (the other four Chambers of Commerce and Industry are not as important), and the Beirut Traders Association. …