Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the federal political system as a possible solution to replace the Constitution of the “Second Republic” (Taif Accord), which has become a burden on all of Lebanon’s constituent groups or communities. The injustice felt by the Muslim communities, which was legitimized by the Constitution of the First Republic (1943), seems to be currently affecting all Lebanese groups: The Christian community considers that the Taif Accord or Constitution stripped it of many of its rights and privileges, making it subordinate to other groups after it was the pioneer in the development of Lebanon. The Sunni group, which is worried about losing some of the privileges the Taif Agreement bestowed on them, is going through a period of frustration similar to the Christian situation and is calling for the implementation of the provisions of the Constitution before discussing its alteration. As for the Shiite community, who has been vocal, since the adoption of the Taif Accord, that the Constitution excluded them from the executive authority, ended up imposing, in many cases, their influence by force. This situation leads us to assert that, thirty years into the adoption of the new Constitution, there is no agreement that can last as long as one or many of its stakeholders, feel that their rights are being denied, hence becoming a source of obstruction and instability.
What could then be the solution? There is no doubt that there is a misconception or misinterpretation about the decentralized systems, especially the federal political system. Therefore, it is necessary to quickly address the concept or principle of federalism, which over the past decades has been the object of tension, criticism, and rejection by many Lebanese because of the conviction they had, since the unfortunate civil war, that those who proposed federalism had a divisive background with the intention to partition the country.
It would be necessary to clarify that the word federation means union, not division. To federate is to unify or to combine. Germany, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates are all federal or “united” countries not “divided” countries. There are 25 federal countries in which over 40% of the world’s population live, and the number of the federal-based countries is increasing.
As a brief background, federalism was a political concept aiming at bringing together several sovereign regions or states that were not capable of competing alone on economic or military fronts. In the twenty-first century, the challenge is no longer to establish federations through grouping countries, as is the case with the attempt by some to transform the European Union into a politically federated territory, but rather to implement decentralization or regionalization, in countries whose authority is centralized, as what is currently happening in Italy, the United Kingdom and France.
Practices throughout history have proven that federalism remains the most sophisticated constitutional tool for dealing with the plurality of interests of various groups within one country. One of the advantages of federalism is that it contributes to putting an end to the tyranny of the majorities at the expense of minorities by giving local authorities social and economic privileges.
A long time has passed since we’ve been practicing in Lebanon an undeclared or an implicit federation within a centralized state. As a matter of fact, in Lebanon, there is no unified marriage law. Inheritance and divorce also follow many different laws. In many regions, local authorities issue decisions that are in contradiction to the constitution of the central authority. There is nothing wrong with all of this as long as one group does not try to impose its idiosyncrasy on the other groups. What we need today is the courage to acknowledge our particularities and to find a political formula that preserves the specificities for each group without prejudice to the peculiarities of other groups, all within one single unified country.
Today, no community in Lebanon can claim to be more patriotic or more Lebanese than any other community. After decades of tension and fighting, it is obvious that each community gave its martyrs in order to defend a “Lebanon of its own”. Patriotism or “national practice” in Lebanon differs from a Christian, Druze, Sunni or Shiite perspective. However, what is beyond any doubt is the certainty that Lebanon is the final homeland for all these groups. The time has come to acknowledge that Lebanon’s centralized political system is a burden and is the problem, because centralized authorities can rarely be fair and impartial in any country made up of various religious, cultural or ethnic groups.
We must not repeat the mistakes of the past but rather prepare Lebanon for a prosperous and stable future. We have many options we can consider for our political system. I will not dive into enumerating the pros and cons of each one of them, but I will rather move to my conclusion:
For the sake of our future generations, it is time we approach the issue of federalism with an open mind and without prejudices. Federalism is a way to avoid countries from falling apart. If we want to preserve the unity of Lebanon, one of the oldest multi-cultural countries in the world, let us federate its system..!