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Remembering the Taif Accord

People come together following the Taif agreement on 4 November 1989 in Beirut, Lebanon [JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP/Getty Images]
People come together following the Taif agreement on 4 November 1989 in Beirut, Lebanon [JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP/Getty Images]

The Taif Accord was signed 31 years ago today and led to the official ending of the Lebanese Civil War a year later. The accord set out a new framework for a power sharing political system designed to help Lebanon return to political normality and reassert authority over its sovereign territory.

What: The agreement that led to the ending of the Lebanese Civil War

When: 22 October 1989

Where: Taif, Saudi Arabia

What happened?

As Lebanon drew closer to the 15th anniversary of the start of its brutal civil war, a regional effort to restore political normality, end the widespread bloodshed and help the authorities reassert control over the country's territory emerged. A committee headed by the then Speaker of the House, Hussein El-Husseini and made up of surviving members of Lebanon's 1972 parliament, met in Taif, Saudi Arabia to negotiate the terms of the peace agreement.

The negotiations focused on ending the war, which in nearly 15 years had claimed more than 100,000 lives, and also sought to create a lasting peace by starting a process of reconciliation among the country's many warring ethnic and religious groups. The accord set out the framework for a power-sharing political system and paved the way for the complete withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli forces, which were occupying the east and south of Lebanon respectively.

The agreement was mediated by Saudi Arabia but influenced heavily by Syria and the United States as well as, less directly, by Egypt, Iran and France. It is officially called the "National Reconciliation Accord", but is better known simply as the Taif Accord after the Saudi Arabian city where it was agreed. Signed on 22 October 1989, it was ratified by the Lebanese parliament two weeks later on 5 November.

Terms of the Accord

The Taif Accord had two main objectives: the reform of Lebanon's political system and the disarming and dissolution of the country's multiple militias.

The accord provided a framework for the equitable political representation of all the different Lebanese sects through a power-sharing arrangement. The privileged status granted to Maronite Christians in French-mandated Lebanon was removed, and the balance of power between the sects restored. To achieve this, the number of seats in Lebanon's parliament (or Chamber of Deputies) was reduced to 128 and shared equally between Muslims and Christians, down from a 6:5 split in the Maronites' favour.

The accord also reduced the powers of the Maronite Christian president, leaving the state figurehead with nothing but nominal authority. The Sunni Muslim prime minister, meanwhile, was made responsible for the legislature, elevating the position in terms of power. The agreement also extended the term of the Shia Muslim speaker of the parliament from one to four years.

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Meanwhile, under the military clauses of the accord, all national and non-national militias, with the exception of Hezbollah, were ordered to disarm. The clause was intended to put pressure on militias that had been established during the civil war as independent fighting forces so that they would disband.

The militias were later ordered to dissolve in 1991, nearly a year after the official end of the civil war, paving the way for the Lebanese Armed Forces to be restructured. Hezbollah, which was the only sectarian organisation to retain its military power post-civil war, is widely understood to have been exempted due to its utility as a "resistance force" against Israel in the south. However, Swedish academic Magnus Ranstorp, for example, claimed that Hezbollah managed to secure the exemption by holding western hostages – a practice which was not uncommon during the civil war – as bargaining chips.

The accord also conditioned the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon within two years of the ratification of the agreement.

What happened next?

Immediately after the Taif Accord was ratified by the Lebanese parliament, delegates met in northern Lebanon to elect the country's next president, René Moawad. However, Moawad was assassinated in a car bomb seventeen days after his election on 22 November and was succeeded by Elias Hrawi.

In the months that followed, Lebanon settled into an uneasy peace. In 1991 parliament passed an amnesty law that pardoned all political crimes committed prior to its enactment in March that year.

Meanwhile, Syrian troops remained in Lebanon. Their presence in the country, which was viewed widely as an occupation, was legitimised in 1991 with the treaty of "Brotherhood, Cooperation and Coordination". However, following the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, the Syrians faced increasing criticism and hostility from the local population and were eventually ousted by the 2005 Cedar Revolution sparked by the assassination of post-war Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Aftermath

The Taif Accord was almost certainly more successful militarily than it was politically, as the system of governance that the agreement said was a "national priority" to change remains in place to this day. The system established by the accord was based on political and religious sectarianism, even though the agreement, rather confusingly, explicitly called for its abolition.

The plan, it seems, was to abolish a confessional approach to politics in the long-term by reinforcing the archaic system in the short-term. Yet, instead of making the system easy to abolish, the Taif Accord cemented the confessional structure of governance in a written constitutional document.

As a result, political sectarianism exists in Lebanon to this day and many ideas, espoused in the text of the agreement, of a cohesive nation with a comprehensive and clear national identity still seem to be just an idealistic dream.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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LebanonMiddle EastOn this dayOpinionSaudi Arabia
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