The Taif agreement modified some of formal regular state functions. In principle, it was not a constitutional endeavor, but a political consensus. When the MPs went to the Saudi city of Taif, they were chaperoned by the Syrians, Saudis, and Americans. Negotiations by the sponsors preceded the amendment of each particular term or phrase. This led to the inclusion of vague references, which also contradict the spirit of the constitution.
To say, for example, that “[Lebanon] is a final homeland” is a cause of bewilderment: Is there any other country in the world whose constitution includes such a phrase? In fact, the mere mention of this phrase assumes that the situation could be otherwise.
Additionally, the mention of “coexistence” has no meaning or place in a constitution. Coexistence between who? Between citizens? Such a presumption cannot be included in a constitution.
One of the most prominent additions to the constitution are the words “Christian” and “Muslim.” This is a strange contradiction, since sects are entities that exist by law. Even on the level of terminology, there is no Christian sect and Muslim sect, but 18 sects. This is in addition to the use of the poetic phrase “spiritual families” to denote religious communities in the section on the Senate.
This means that a political statement was squeezed into the constitution, which is supposed to represent a pact of sorts. The text is suffering from interferences that make it hybrid, inapplicable, and incoherent.
The Taif Agreement is a bad arrangement that led to the wedging of political slogans in the constitution based on a consensus to end the war. Such statements are alien to a constitutional text.
In practice, Taif validated the sectarian nature of the state. Before Taif, the constitution did not mention the sects in terms of political representation. Although sectarian considerations were always present in its application, mainly in allocation of parliamentary seats, they were only inscribed in the constitution in Taif.
In reality, the agreement was interpreted through providing certain sects, headed by particular political forces, particular positions and pieces of the state. However, the system could not have functioned unless they all handed the ruling authority to a foreign side. Regional consensus gave this power to Syrian security officials, until changes in the arrangement led to their departure and disrupted the whole mechanism. Taif was interrupted by the lack of foreign rule.
Can the Taif Sensibilities be Surpassed Today?
We should ask a different question. Do sects exist as historically and socially independent entities that can form a state? If the answer is yes, then one might be able to speak about coexistence and dialogue between civilizations, in fact, even about federalism.
However, scientific analysis forces us into another direction. Most of those who lived within Lebanese territories, when they were being demarcated, were in fact farmers in isolated mountain regions within the Ottoman Empire. Throughout history, central authorities were not interested in running their affairs directly or taxing them.
These communities were marginal in the general environment so the Ottomans left them to their own devices, since the cost of their management was higher than the revenue they could have produced.
Lebanon’s sects are similar to the bedouin and Kurdish tribes. They are political and social formations similar to groups that are not a priority to central authorities, leaving them to fight among each other. Such segments lack civil power inside the center of power, therefore keeping its social relationships intact to protect itself.
From this perspective, sects seem like the continuity of strong family relations in societies where the central authority of the state has not intervened. If we do not have the courage to create a deep, overarching framework for a state, the situation will remain as is.
The main taboos that we must break are those that block the horizon of the civil state. The state in Lebanon is actually civil, but we should purify the constitution from some of Taif’s digressions.
Charbel Nahas is an economist and the former telecommunications and labor minister of Lebanon.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar’s editorial policy.