Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Clash of Politics or Civilizations? Sectarianism among Youth in Lebanon [*]

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Clash of Politics or Civilizations? Sectarianism among Youth in Lebanon [*]

Article excerpt

THE SECOND LEBANESE REPUBLIC, created by the 1989 Ta'if Agreement, is rife with paradoxes. Recognizing that sectarianism was one of the principal causes of the conflict that had racked the country since 1975, those Lebanese politicians who gathered in Ta'if implicitly and, in some cases, explicitly, pledged to reform the political system to overcome this defect. Yet what emerged from Ta'if--more in its implementation than in its actual content -- was not a "de-confessionalized" Republic, but one in which the balance of power between confessions had been tilted in favor of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, away from Maronite Christians. Thus Ta'if reinforced confessionalism by reforming it, correcting the historical imbalance in favor of Maronites that had contributed to the destabilization of the political system.

That the Second Republic did not overturn but in fact reinvigorated confessionalism gave rise to another paradox, which is that the former critics of that system of sectarian balance have become its protagonists, while its former advocates are now its opponents. Chief among the latter are Shiite Muslims, whose new found political strength, combined with their plurality of the population, compels many of them to view confessionalism as a system which denies Shiites the power they would exercise under one based on majority rule. Secularized, middle class Maronites, who formerly constituted a major subcomponent of the anti-confessional forces, appear now to be fearful of the rising power and numbers of Shiite and more willing to accept the confessionalized status quo.

Predominant among Ta'if's arrangements for the domestic political system was the conversion of the dominant presidency, the sole preserve of Maronites, into a power-sharing troika comprised of a weakened Maronite President, a somewhat strengthened Sunni Prime Minister, and a Shiite Speaker of Parliament whose role, formerly far less important than the other two, was significantly upgraded. In the event this tripartite division shifted power dramatically toward the Prime Minister, and hence toward the Sunni community, reducing the role of the President--and therefore of the Maronite community -- apparently more than was envisioned at Ta'if. The term "troika" is, moreover, misleading, for the three do not pull in tandem as is implied in that term.

Related to the reallocation of power between these three key roles was what was thought at the time of Ta'if to be a redistribution of power between the executive and legislative branches to the benefit of the latter, as well as the devolution of power from the national to the local level. Upgrading the role of the Speaker, increasing the size of the parliament, and reducing the power of the President, were all thought to have paved the way for an invigorated Chamber of Deputies. But post-Ta'if parliaments have for the most part been more acquiescent to the executive than their predecessors, and probably less representative as well. No power has yet been devolved to any unit of local government.

Ta'if was to have been a new political beginning, yet it perpetuated the political power of the "warlords" who had divided the running of the country between themselves for the better part of fourteen years of conflict. It failed to provide for the emergence of a new political class to formulate policy for rebuilding of the country on new foundations. Ta'if was also to have signaled a thaw in inter-confessional hostilities, but instead it may have simply frozen animosities while facilitating the restoration of a central government, leaving unresolved the vital issue of inter-confessional relations, especially at the level of the "street."

The Second Lebanese Republic, in sum, is fraught with political paradoxes that intertwine sectarian relations, constitutional arrangements, economic reconstruction and foreign intervention. While these paradoxes have been much described and analyzed, what has received scant attention is their impact on the attitudes and behavior of Lebanese of different sects. …

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