Political circles in Lebanon are talking about one thing; the recent statement made by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in which he announced his intention to form a commission to abolish political sectarianism. As soon as Berri revealed his plans, people began to voice their opinions whether to support, warn against or reject his idea. Lebanon is a sectarian country par excellence; it was founded on the concept of sectarianism and it still embraces it. There are well over 20 official sects in Lebanon and their geographic distribution is plain to see. Every major Lebanese sect has its own paper, radio station, television network, sports club and a main male or female singer.
This is the reality of the situation in Lebanon. Sectarianism is a fundamental part of life there. The famous singer Ziad Rahbani was not exaggerating when he wrote his famous song ‘Ya Zaman Ata’ifiya’ [Age of Sectarianism], as it faithfully portrays the state of Lebanon.
The Christians in Lebanon are afraid of the aforementioned proposed commission and believe that abolishing political sectarianism would somehow be at their expense. They believe they would lose out the most as a result. Christians are completely convinced that their numbers in Lebanon have decreased dramatically as a result of many Christians migrating because of feelings of fear and injustice. They claim that Christians hold no more than 25 percent of the country’s administrative positions. The independent state of Lebanon did not pronounce in its declaration of independence dividing the senior posts such as president, prime minister or parliament speaker amongst different Lebanese sects. However, it was this “readiness” for political sectarianism that made Lebanese leaders transform it into an unwritten law and custom.
After the conclusion of the Taif Agreement in 1989, political sectarian divisions became part of the ruling system. The Maronite church today says that sectarianism has to be removed from our souls before being removed from the constitution. This is not feasible; sectarianism cannot be ultimately removed from our souls at all. However, people can be protected against its negative impact through [constitutional] texts.
Another problem that affects the credibility of this proposal for abolishing political sectarianism, despite its significance, nobility and worthiness, is the fact that the person presenting this proposal is Nabih Berri, who has been known, (like all other politicians), to favour his sect and province to a large degree. He would insist on granting all kinds of administrative vacancies, over which he has jurisdiction, to his own people. As a result, some people are asking “Why doesn’t Nabih Berri first adopt this proposal himself by creating a sectarian balance around him?”
Lebanon has only just recovered from the crisis of the formation of parliament and the amalgamation with sectarianism, euphemistically referred to as the “National Accord.” Not enough time has passed for the government to prove itself and there are priorities [to be addressed]. Many people are trying to observe the dimensions and possible impact of this proposal because in one way or another, it is bound to affect other parts of the Arab world.
“Lebanization” is a phenomenon that has turned into a political term and we can see it clearly in Iraq, Yemen and Sudan. We fear it might spread to other suitable parts of the Arab world. Political sectarianism appears in fragile communities that are incapable of transforming into equal and just societies for many different reasons. But, in the end, it is a sick phenomenon that requires immediate and decisive treatment.