A semi-orchestrated campaign has been seen in Lebanon over the past week calling for the terms of the 1989 Taif Agreement to be implemented. It has involved government heads, ministers, MPs, religious authorities, leaders of political parties, journalists, social media, and women and men from various organisations, circles, regions and affiliations. But why is this happening now?
Is it because the American, French and Saudi Arabian foreign ministers issued a statement in New York about the need to "commit to the Taif Agreement which enables the preservation of national unity and civil peace in Lebanon"? Is there anyone within the Lebanese government who opposes the Taif Agreement or calls for its provisions to be bypassed?
Or did the three foreign ministers instruct their allies and supporters of their collective interference in Lebanon's internal affairs to raise this issue at this particularly difficult time? If so, why?
I would like to remind everyone, opponents and loyalists alike, that most of the reforms and obligations stipulated in the Taif Agreement are an integral part of the Lebanese constitution. The government of Prime Minister Selim Hoss drafted a law to include the agreement's reforms within the body of the constitution, and the House of Representatives approved it on 21 September, 1990. All we need to move forward is to implement the terms of the existing constitution.
The most prominent reforms legislated an introduction for the constitution and amended 31 articles in the constitution, the most important of which are the following:
- Article 22, which provides for the election of a Parliament on a national, non-sectarian basis, and a Senate with powers limited to crucial issues.
- Article 24, stipulating that Parliamentary seats are distributed equally between Christians and Muslims.
- Article 95, which works to abolish political sectarianism according to a phased plan.
Is there a country left in the modern world other than Lebanon where many of the provisions of its constitution have not yet been implemented after more than 32 years? The articles were included because the sectarian quota system in government with all its complexities and corruption was adopted upon the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon by a decision made by the French colonial authorities in 1920. Moreover, we still see the control and corruption of members of the ruling regimes, and the prioritisation of their own interests at the expense of the general national interests, as well as extreme positions taken by some religious figures and institutions.
On top of that there is the role played by business interests and monopolies allied with some people in power which loot national economic resources. And then there are the interventions by major European countries and the US, as well as some regional countries, which have interests and influence in Lebanon.
In light of these obstacles, difficulties and challenges that have turned Lebanon into a failed state, suffering a bitter economic and social collapse on the brink of total chaos, the question is what should be done. The most obvious answer, perhaps, is the implementation of the provisions of the Lebanese constitution because it is the only political and social document that is most widely accepted in the country, especially since most of the reforms of the Taif Agreement were added to it.
There are a number of approaches, initiatives and projects that could be taken by various forces, bodies and leaders, but it isn't possible to list them all in this article. However, I will summarise the common points of a rescue initiative developed among independent progressive national forces that involves reform, some of which are old, and others are new and radical:
For a start, we can build a broad national coalition for change and reform with a programme that includes the most urgent political, economic and social priorities. Among these, of course, are the provision of food, medicine, medical care, electricity and transportation.
Then we need to persuade Hezbollah that resistance against the aggressive Israeli occupation should be side by side with another priority that is no less important and urgent: the serious and long-term struggle to cooperate with the active national forces to overcome the sectarian quota system peacefully and democratically, without neglecting the political and constitutional requirements. This includes the formation of a new government with full powers, and the election of a new president within the constitutional deadline.
The various national forces need to cooperate in the adoption of a democratic election law that secures the validity and fairness of popular representation by implementing the provisions of the constitution, especially articles 22, 27 and 95. In the event that the aforementioned electoral law is not approved, the National Alliance for Change and Reform, along with other national forces, should take the initiative and adopt a radical approach to elect a Constituent Assembly made up of 100 members split equally between Christians and Muslims; they should be elected directly by the Lebanese people, independent of the government and its agencies. The election should be under the supervision of the UN and human rights organisations, which should take charge of enacting the provisions of the constitution, leading sooner or later to bypassing the sectarian quota system and building a civil state focused on citizenship.
After completing the aforementioned radical measures, a general election should be held in accordance with the new electoral law, which will allow the Lebanese for the first time in the country's history to elect their representatives without sectarianism, fraud, bribery, political money, and foreign interference. The almost constant civil unrest and unease will end in peace, security, democracy and progress.
It is true that it this will be a very difficult, ground-breaking task. However, the national forces remain committed — indeed, obliged — to launch without delay the state building process with civil society and democratic citizenship at its heart, even if it takes a generation or two to succeed.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 25 September 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.