Friday, September 17, 2004

Za`imism in Lebanon

I recently recieved two comments on my za`ama article about Bashar and Lahoud. One suggesting that I "really understand the area," and the other that I "have an outsider's view" and get it wrong. I will comment after copying them below.

Fares Bagh writes:
Hi Joshua,
Your article provides deep analysis that only a person that really understands the area can provide. Hafez had a big stick but also a lot of carrots for the people in terms of taking pride in Syria, opening the economy, allowing non political Islam to flourish, at least in comparison to Salah Jedid days. Our good ol boys forget these facts and focus only on Hama.
Salutation from Austin.
Thanks , Fares Bagh

Rami does not agree. He writes:

Professor Landis,
With respect I take issue with several aspects of your message. It is clear to me that you have an outsider’s view and subsequent description of Middle Eastern habits and traditions. Moreover you tend to paint the whole region with one brush and one color. As the Lebanese proverb says “la’ita min danaba”, or “holding it by its tail”.

In particular is your use and conceptualization of the term “za’im”. Although your definitions might apply in authoritarian settings such as Saddam’s Iraq or Assad’s Syria it definitely does not in Lebanon. As I understand it your concept of “za’aama” is a form of leadership that is widespread in the “Levant” and quite acceptable in such settings because of its apparent balance between ruthlessness and subsequent mercy.

In Lebanon governmental office was only reached constitutionally (even during some periods of the war). Before the war leaders did not resort to “force” or “intimidation” to quell the opposition, which rendered that opposition the most effective method of policy change in Lebanon bringing presidencies to crashing halts most memorable of which are Khouri’s in 1952 and Chamoun’s in 1958. So the people of the Levant are not generally predisposed to only respond and be governed by the laws of “za’aama”. Secondly your examples of Assad’s “mercy”, “justice”, “generosity” and “wisdom” are laughable. (See the rest of Rami's comment in the comment section of the last post.)

Landis replies:
First, Fares, Thank you for your kind words. Second, Rami, thank you for your disagreement. I agree with the notion that there are important differences in the level of constitutionality and democratic political process observed in Lebanon and Syria. I don't agree that "za`ama" is not a useful concept for understanding Lebanese politics. To the contrary, it is central.

Lebanon is the Noah's arch of za`ims (zu`ama pl. Arabic). The concept of "za`imism" in modern political science and anthropology has been hammered out using the Lebanese example. Arnold Hottinger, in his seminal article, "'Zu'ama' in Historical Perspective," (in Leonard Binder, ed. Politics in Lebanon, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1966.) defines a za`im like this:

A za`im in the specifically Lebanese and contemporary sense is a political leader who possesses the support of a locally circumscribed community and who retains the support by fostering and appearing to foster the interests of as many as possible from amongst his clientele. The za`im usually belongs to a family outstanding though its fortune. His position of leadership is frequently passed on to some of his descendents. Finally, the za`im is not purely a political leader -- for he does not promise his followers betterment only by the use of political means -- nor is he simply a successful business operator, fostering the economic well being of his associates and clients by gaining employment for them. Instead he combines the two functions in one person and tends to mix them intimately. He exchanges the betterment of his client group in all ways, economic, social, and political, for their political support."
Za'ims are many in Lebanon. The most famous families are known to all: Salam, Solh, As`ad, Gemayel, Frangieh, Chamoun, Arslan, Junblat, etc. These families have been operating in Lebanon for 100 years, some many more. They pass communal and local authority down from son to grandson. The Lebanese confessional system is their support and anchor, reinforcing their za`ama, clientele groups, business dealings, and power. The political parties they support often do not have programs. Followers support and vote for them in order to get jobs, economic advantage, and because of communal and sectarian loyalty. Their political attitudes and ideology has to conform to the general communal outlook of the group they represent.

Edward Shils of Chicago University explained how the system of za`ims and communalism in Lebanon precluded “The Prospect for Lebanese Civility,” in an article of that name. Shils came to the conclusion that the first and most general factor behind the breakdown of Lebanese polity is “the deficient civility of Lebanese society”.[1] “Lebanon”, he argued, “is not a civil society”.[2] He added:

Lebanese society revolves around an empty center. It has representative institutions, and these representative institutions are able to conduct debates but they are precluded from making decisions. The Chamber of Deputies cannot institute changes. It can only serve to prevent changes which would alter the present balance of interests among the communities of belief and primordial attachment.”[4]

No parliament has ever brought down a Prime Minister through a vote of no confidence. The same is true of Syria during its democratic experiment from 1943 to 1958. The absence of political parties (It is important to distinguish between a real party and a coalition of za`ims) and political discipline among the deputies, most of whom were independents without party affiliation, made it easy for the President to "buy" off his opposition through favors. Shil continues:

Because of the deeply rooted communalism of Lebanese society, it is not an integrated civil society in the modern sense of the term. It lacks that attachment to the national society as a whole, that sense of identity, the consensus that should embrace much of the population on issues that touch seriously upon the interests of the communities which make it up.[3]

As a result of this situation, the Lebanese polity suffers from various shortcomings and handicaps. Shils described some of them. First, he contended that: "the National Pact limits efficiency in the civil service by making communal membership [i.e., confessionalism] a major criterion for recruitment”.[5]

According to Ralph E. Crow, confessionalism affects not only the recruitment process, but the operation of the Public Service in general. As he puts it: “Confessionalism manifests itself at several points in the administrative process, three of which are: recruitment and promotion, performance and control, and effect on the stability of the political regime.”[6]

Albert Hourani described how za`imism was rooted in the "Politics of the Notables," in his now famous 1968 article entitled, “Ottoman Reform and the Politics of the Notables.” Politics of the Notables is a nicer, less offensive term, to explain the politics of za`ama in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman empire, in which za`ims mediated between the Sultan and local constituencies, which were based on traditional loyalties of confession, neighborhood, and family. In the cities, neighborhood constituencies were policed by "qabadayat" or neighborhood enforcers or strongmen. In the countryside, tribal or confessional za`ims could use village headmen and tight clan culture to achieve the same result.

For Lebanon Hourani explains how a "new system" of government based on za`ims and the "communal principle" emerged after the collapse of the Shihabi Imarah in 1842. This new communal system, he writes, "has since been the basis of the legislature." "The underlying assumption of the new system was that the different communities could live together but the Maronites were dominant. Although it was "ostensibly based on religious equality," there "was no institution to express or police this equality." (See Hourani's article, "Lebanon, the Development of a Political Society," in Binder, Politics in Lebanon.)

Who was left to police the new confessional system which had no center? "Foreign consuls," Hourani writes. "The new system of government could only be assured by a foreign presence." The Mutassarrif of Lebanon during the later Ottoman period was to be a Christian chosen from outside Lebanon by the Ottoman government. Both foreign consuls and to a lesser extent Istanbul had to police the shaky system. To minimize confessional tensions, the frontiers of the Mutasarrifiyya excluded Sunni cities such as Beirut and Tripoli, which rejected both the idea of local autonomy under the control of the European powers and the principle of communal equality, especially because it was only ostensible, but actually promoted Maronite dominance.

In many respects the persistence of communalism and za`imism in post 1943 National Pact Lebanon has meant that Lebanon cannot rule itself constitutionally. It needs a foreign power to arbitrate between the communities. Yes the two concepts of "Lebanon" and the "Maronite Nation" seemed to coalesce in the National Pact, but they were always in conflict and lived side by side uncomfortably. Communalism always seemed to trump "Lebanon" when push came to shove.

Edward Shils, in arguing that Lebanon had no center, points to the fragility of the Lebanese system despite the vaunted success of the National Pact. First, there was the violent 1949 coup attempt by the SSNP. In 1952, the constitutional process of succession broke down when President Bishara al-Khuri tried to extend his term in office. Again in 1958, there was a similar breakdown in the constitutional process when Chamoun tried to do the same which led, with other factors, to a civil war. Anyone who has read Wilbur Eveland's tell-all CIA book, the "Ropes of Sand," knows how the US was crucial as a police man of Lebanon's Maronite supremacy during this "Golden Age" period of Lebanese politics. By spending millions of dollars buying votes and za`ims and by landing troops in Beirut, it was able to push back the Nasserist and Syrian-assisted challenge to Maronite supremacy in Lebanon. Indeed the US tried to do for Chamoun what Syria just did for Lahoud.

In 1957 President Camille Chamoun received CIA money to help support candidates running for the Chamber of Deputies. The CIA also assisted in planning the campaigns of conservative politicians. With conservative members of the chamber backing their president, Chamoun was able to amend the constitution so that in 1958 he could seek another six year term.
Unfortunately for Washington, the CIA was not as skilful as Bashar at policing Lebanon, despite Bashar's "bumbling diplomacy." The Chamoun effort failed, and Washington turned to Shihab to clean up the mess.

The Sunni cities which had been swept into Greater Lebanon embraced Arabism and rejected Phoenicianism. They always looked at the notion of Lebanon as "A Refuge of Minorities," a notion first articulated by Michel Chiha, as a sneaky strategy for the Maronites to justify their primacy rather than to share power equitably. (Why else would Maronites insist on a Maronite President with the lion's share of power and a 6-5 distribution of deputies in parliament?) In all fairness, it must be said that the Sunni notables believed they were "the natural leaders" of Lebanon and undoubtedly believed in the superiority of the Sunni world-view as ardently as did the Maronites in their (Mediterranean-Phoenician-Western-modern-etc.) world-view.

The magical age of Lebanese "stability," which lasted a short 16 years between 1958 and 1975, cannot be used as proof that Lebanon's confessional system had an effective political center or that its za`ims did not need to be policed by an outside power. It should be seen as a small breathing space between French and Syrian rule, in which US power and Chihabism were able to carry the day. Chihab maintained this stability by letting the PLO build up its forces in the camps and by depending on the army. These policies, though temporarily sufficient to co-opt za`ims and buy time, could not keep the country from its next crisis. Muslims wanted one man, one vote, because they were the majority and believed that fact should be reflected in the legislature and distribution of offices. They turned to foreign capitals for assitance, just as the Maronites had so effectively done. Arabism (Muslims) faced off against Westernism (Christians) to define the essential character of the nation.

Today Syria polices Lebanon's za`ims and decides on the president and foreign policy. Yes, Many Muslim Lebanese, if not most, resent the roll Syria plays, especially when it is so obvious and humiliating as in the Lahoud extension. All the same, they sided with Arabism against the alternative, which many read as a US-Israeli-Christian nexus out to screw Arabs and Muslims. Christians would protest this is a completely unfair and false reading of the situation. They look at it as liberty (West-Bush) versus tyranny (Arabism-Bashar). But this difference in views and loyalties only serves to underline how fragile or non-existent real "Lebanonism" is.

Is Lebanon a nation today?
Many commentators believe that Lebanon has changed and has acquired a greater sense of national identity. They believe it is a nation today that can rebuild and stand on its two feet if only the US will push out Syria. Michael Young and Tony Badran, two esteemed and valued friends, often express this view on these pages. They point to recent polls which suggested that 70% of Lebanese identify first as Lebanese and secondly as sectarians. It is one thing to say it, it is another to act on it.

The Lahoud affair was depressing from this point of view, though I admit, it is far from over. A number of people have assured me that many Muslim politicians reached out to their Christian counterparts and French and American diplomats to say how horrified they were at Syria's intervention even as they went ahead and gave it their blessings. But this doesn't prove much. It is the normal "triangulating" of za`im politics. Christian politicians did this at the time of Bashir Gemayel's election to the presidency in the early 1980s, which was sponsored by Israel and Washington. They secretly expressed their outrage to the Syrians. Michael Young writes about this in his recent review of the new book by the French reporter, which is the "must" reading in Lebanon today (I forget its name).

I am not as optimistic about Lebanon's conversion to a full-blown national identity as Michael Young and Tony Badran are, just as they believe I am overly optimistic about Syria under Bashar becoming a kinder and more open society.

In the pages of the Daily Star (03/11/04), Doctor Adnan Kaddaha, president of the Lebanese Business Council in Dubai, recently wrote:

"No country in history has grown without the loyalty, the national loyalty, of its people, but in Lebanon loyalty is to a sect,” he said. “The constitutional structure of Lebanon is based on this.” He said that the country was a coalition of these sects. “It has never worked anywhere in the world, so why should it work in Lebanon?” he asked.
Talal Selman writing in As-Safir, May 28, 1998 had this to say about the municipal elections of that year.

The results of the municipal and mayoral elections in Mount Lebanon (...) revealed dangerous flaws in our political system (...). In our fragmented country, the electoral process has become a democratic veneer covering the cancer of confessionalism [ta`ifiyya] which has now spread to become a deadly epidemic of sectarianism [mazhabiyya].
Like Talal Selman, many Lebanese believe that sectarianism and za`imism are as entrenched as ever today, if not a lot worse than they used to be. Many friends have told me that they were forced to leave Lebanon in order to secure a proper future for themselves because they did not have "wasta" and were not connected to a za`im, who could help them get a job. Christians in the south, where the Shiite lords rule, have given up hope of advancement because of merit or qualifications. The Shiite za`ims, they complain, must reward their Shiite clients first and be SEEN as good sectarians to reassure their followers. Christian southerners only get the crumbs that fall off the table, if that. I imagine the same works in the north in reverse. Most complain that za`imism is worse than ever.

I do not wish to say that the Lebanese do not deserve or should not have the liberty to try to stand on their own two feet and piece together a Nation. They should. But I am not optimistic. There has always been a "Sultan" or policeman to arbitrate between the za`ims and sects. This does not mean it always has to be so, but it does tell us something about the weakness of the present system. It is why I am pessimistic about President Bush's "Forward Strategy of Democracy" thoughout the region.

The Ta`if agreement did not solve Lebanon's problem. The 1989 agreement that was brokered by Washington and Damascus in the Saudi city of Ta`if is deceptive. The Christians feel like they gave up the ramparts of the Lebanese state by allowing the power of the Maronite presidency to be watered down and largely assumed by the Sunni Prime Minister. They also conceded to an even 50-50 split between the deputies in parliament. No longer are there 6 Christians to every 5 Muslims as there were in the good old days. Many Christians say, "Look, we compromised at Ta`if and gave away the store. Are the Muslims happy. No, they go to Syria and want more. We get nothing but insults. Why should we give up more?"

For their part, the Muslims felt like they did not get the representation they deserve. No one knows the sectarian balance in the country today, but let's say it is 70% Muslim and 30% Christian. (The Druze are the wild card, depending whether Junblat feels Christian or Muslim or Druze on any given day. If only the rest of the Lebanese were so flexible and, indeed, Lebanese!)

The only reason the Muslims accept the Christians keeping 50% of the constitutional power in Lebanon is because the constitution does not rule. Syria slips teh Muslims extra bonus power under the table. Hizballah gets to rule the south and have a militia. The Sunnis get to suck down a monster share of the economic goodies through the good offices of the Prime Minister and they all get to wink at the Christian 50% in parliament. And of course, they don't really have a Sectarian minded president either. If the Syrians were to really leave Lebanon, and Hizballah were shut down, the Muslims would demand, and would deserve, a much greater share of legislative power. Are the Christians prepared for one man, one vote? Are they prepared to give up the Presidency and office of Chief of Staff of the army? Who will protect Mediterraneanism from the much-feared scimitar of Arabism? I am not convinced Christians have absorbed the true meaning of democracy in Lebanon or the significance of losing the civil war.

Maybe they have. They certainly deserve to find out. Muslims also deserve their full portion of legislative power. In the meantime, the za`ims will decide, and Damascus will police. Perhaps in time, confessional identities and politics will fade to the extent that the different sects will have nothing to fear from each other's culture and power so that merit can be placed above `asabiyya. The problem is that the confessional system reproduces itself. Confessionalism has not faded away or been erroded into a folkloric museum piece by nationalism. Syria has the same problem. That is why it is rulled by a Sultan, who can act like the Ottoman Emperor, policing Syria's (and Lebanon's) za`ims.


At 9/18/2004 09:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The point remains that “za’im” as you defined it in your original message does not apply to Lebanese leaders. This is how you put it:

“Za`ims, or leaders, don't gain office through constitutional means or by hewing closely to the law. They must use force. They must intimidate and they must be seen not to shrink from using force and intimidation.”

“Asad regained his za`ama and Syria has been surprisingly free of organized opposition ever since. That was 22 years ago.”

“The use of force and exhibition of power is only one aspect of za`ama.”

This is a far cry from Hottinger’s definition that you referenced in your most recent message. This supports my resentment of the usage of such exotic, artificial terminology to describe a manifold story that changes hues with countries. Your “za’im” is different from Hottinger’s “zai’im” which is different from my “zai’im” so it is clear that your intended readership will get a definition that is uniquely yours and one that has no connect with reality in the Levant.

Hottinger’s definition nails post-feudal 19-20th Lebanese leaders indeed but it cannot be used to define the Assads for example, who do not represent the aspirations of the Alawite community nor do they exploit the cleavages of their society to legitimize political office, at least not openly. Their unitary approach is the offspring of nationalism.

Edward Shills, Identities, and Confessionalism

Regarding the second piece; that of Edward Shills, it repeats clichés that are very well known about the shortcomings of the Lebanese political system and the national pact. In fact you are preaching to the choir. I’m more inclined to reference Georges Naccache’s adage “Deux negations no font pas une nation” “two negations do not make a nation”. For the record Naccache is one of those pesky agents of political Maronitism; isn’t it ironic that we all agree about the failures of the Lebanese formula? But I’m yet to hear anyone come forward with an appropriate alternative. I guess one alternative might be to nullify communal differences under one supranational narrative that harks back thousands of year to a dead culture and impose that culture forcefully on everyone. Now to do so we would destroy civil society by emasculating professional unions, stifling the press and other liberties, persecuting minorities, building a huge army and flank it by a ubiquitous intelligence network. Is that what you propose? But in Lebanon it can go both ways, we can have Phoenicians instead of Arabs and Moaronitism instead of Sunnism. Is that the alternative?

But going back to Shills points, he is placing all of the failures of the system on the indigenous players of that system and not the system itself. He is making it seem that it is the Lebanese fabric of the system that caused it to fail. What he fails to note is the vulnerability of consociational democracies and the absolute need for such a system in Lebanon for modernism and democracy to develop. Dr. Salim Talhuq a Druze chieftain asserted as much when he states:

“Lebanon is currently composed of communities which replace the political parties of other countries. Any community, which does not have a share in the power, considers itself wronged. We must take all possible steps to attain unity between the communities, none of which should be sacrificed. It was with this intention that article 95 was included… I repeat we want to attain unity gradually, not by force.” (Lebanon’s Quest by Meir Zamir)

John Entelis also commented on this in his book Pluralism and Party Transformation in Lebanon.

“This implies that political unity and cultural diversity can simultaneously be established as the foundation of a modern state. This is possible in a society where no single sectarian or ethnic group dominates.”

The system however does not alleviate communal distrust nor does it bring national consensus nor does it offer turnover in leadership whether it is applied, in Lebanon, Belgium or South Africa. However it does offer “recognition of its (speaking of an ethnic group) political and other rights, and responsiveness on the part of the government to the community’s needs” (Illya Harik - The Ethnic Revolution and Political Integration in the Middle East) Also, as assessed by Arthur Lewis in Politics in West Africa he states that the core problem of pluralistic societies is “to create political institutions which give all the various groups the opportunity to participate in decision making”. Lebanese post independence democracy did that; it did it in an imperfect way but it did it and it contained the aspirations of the various groups as long as foreign interference was minimal. Of course this gets complicated when arms and guerillas are smuggled across the borders via Syria (from Syria and countless other Arab countries), when the PLO opens up shop and when Syria and Israel invade. I’m not one to claim that the Lebanese are “brothers” but without the primer you have no explosion. But going back to the original point, identities matter, identities in Lebanon matter as described by Hourani himself he states that ethnic groups are “communities of which the members have shared a historical experience long and profound enough to give them a significant degree of identity, in language and all that is bound up with it in modes of thought and feeling” (A Vision of History: Near Eastern and Other Essays).

My contention is that Lebanese consociational democracy although vulnerable was not inflammatory. In every conflict there were outside players. The system although flawed worked for everyone and worked as it was intended to work spawning unbelievable cross sectarian alliances (most notable of which is Musa Namur’s cooperation with Emille Edde) but sometimes it failed to push for the common good as you have demonstrated with stalling the actions of the government but guess what this also happened pre-national pact with Emille Edde’s government and its inability to achieve the reform it set out to achieve. As Lijphart asserts though: “non-decisions are preferable to bad decisions”.

What is the alternative to confessionalism? “Formal abolition of confessionalism without supplanting it by a higher social order would lay the state open to abuses by communities bound to be strengthened from outside in undermining the foundations of the state” (Moshe Zeltzer, Aspects of Near East Society).


It is insane to justify one evil by referencing another. In effect you are not engaged in the debate to discover a viable solution of the Lebanon problem you are merely attempting to justify the current Syrian hegemony. I’m not implying that you should care about a long-term Lebanese solution but given the fact that you lament and denigrate Lebanon’s past you must engage in the discourse to remedy the reasons of this past. The current injustice inflicted on segments of Lebanese society has no equal in its history, even before independence. Riadh el Solh is a national hero even though he openly campaigned towards the dissolution of the Lebanese Syrian borders, even after independence. Antoun Saadeh’s party was licensed at different stages in history even though it advocated the destruction of the Lebanese state, (he was only arrested and executed when he forcefully and illegally tried to overturn the government, heck if he did constitutionally, like Chamoun in 1952, I don’t think he would have been stopped), and the examples are countless. At no point were agitators imprisoned, exiled, killed or persecuted as systematically and consistently as during the Syrian era. There is no room for opposition in the current axiom. All of this fails to mirror the importance of communal memory, traditions, cultures and way of life. That has been under assault since 1990. This is the real crime what Bat Ye’or calls the “Exclusion and Concealment of History”. This has never happened before, at the height of Maronite supremacy no such efforts were undertaken. National narratives supplemented existing narratives but never sought to replace them. When the Shiites were not allowed to publish one newspaper in the Arab world, al ‘Irfan was vibrant in Lebanon. The Arab nationalist ideologues operated freely in the heart of Lebanon. The same spirit is not there anymore.

You might argue that stability was sacrificed for such a system but it is with great confidence that I assert that the Lebanese would prefer instability over Syrian or Iraqi stability. Isn’t that why Syrians to this day continue to migrate to Lebanon for work, this also happened during the wart.

Couple of Notes

Some of the outside interference that you cited between 1943 and 1975 sounds like conspiracy theories, especially when the CIA gets in the mix; I’m surprised the Mossad wasn’t mentioned also. It is a well-known fact that such interferences existed but ultimately the Lebanese had to come to terms with their brethren to get anything achieved. The decision resided in Lebanon and no leader can get anything achieved no matter how much money the CIA was pumping. The prime example of this is Chamoun’s ascension to the presidency through the national socialist front. I strongly recommend the book “’akir al ‘amalika”, “The Last of the Giants” by Nicholas Nassif for it vividly illustrates last minute negotiations between Lebanese leaders to reach equitable consensus. The guy’s resources are validated and he rarely makes reference to foreign agents in the decision making process. I’m not a great translator but some of the passages and exchanges are directly relevant here.

It is also convenient how you left out Syrian interferences in Lebanese affairs during the post independence years. Syria was not an idle bystander before the 76 intervention in fact it was the most active agitator contributing guerillas, ammunition and arms not to mention its PR campaigns especially during the days of the UAR.

You are also giving the impression that the only Syrian motivator in its Lebanon policy is its arbitrator responsibility. If that is the case then why not advocate France, Israel, the USA or UN to carry out such a role? And why are you so resentful about Israel’s policing of Lebanon? After all it attempted to do what the Syrians are doing now. And by the way I have the same sort of thoughts regarding your usage of the word “Sultan”. I think at this point I’m giving credence to Saiid’s theories.

According to you the split in the Lebanese demographic is 70 30 and the Druze are the wild cards? Are you serious? The Druze are numerically insignificant with numbers that are well below 5 %. And based on what do you get 70/30? No consensus has been carried out and the only thing close to a consensus is the Catholic church’s estimates that are about 2 years old. It estimates Catholics to number 2,000,000 in Lebanon. Now assuming that 0 non-catholic non-Muslims live in Lebanon the total population of the country would have to be 6.5 million. Can 6.5 million people physically fit in Lebanon?

Lastly you seem to be eager to pigeonhole the Lebanese Christians into a subservient role in Lebanon because of the current reality. The “deal with it” mentality might not work at this point since Lebanese Christians have consistently advocated a decentralized Lebanon for they had their fill of the unitary experiment with some even advocating partition. With the Iraqi system soon to be put to test Lebanese Christians might have ammunition to again push for their rights to be constitutionally recognized technically AND on the ground. Also I hope that your understanding of democracy is not majority or mob rule especially in heterogeneous societies.


At 9/18/2004 04:13:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

This is a great back and forth with lots of information that benefit us all. Thanks.

I think that the key factor in all of this is the Ottoman legacy. I touch on it in a post I'm preparing on Phoenicianism for "Across the Bay" that'll be posted imminently. Here's the quote:

"In my opinion, and this is not something I've pursued, I think the common denominator for in the above is the Ottoman experience and the millet system. I remind you that the term millet meant "nation" and only later came to be associated with what we call "confessional groups." Of course, the millet system is based on the concept of dhimma, and is a direct continuation of it in terms of who was recognized by the millet system. A good essay on this subject is Kemal Karpat's "The Ottoman Ethnic and Confessional Legacy in the Middle East," in Milton J. Esman and Itamar Rabinovich (eds.), Ethnicity, Pluralism, and the State in the Middle East (Ithaca and London, 1988), pp. 35-53.

Given that the millet system provided considerable autonomy, despite the discriminatory laws of dhimma, it's little wonder that many Christians, especially the non-Arabist Lebanese Christians, hearken back to it with nostalgia (esp. the mutasarrifiya system of the late 19th c.). Needless to say, this drives Arabists crazy, but as Martin Kramer recently noted in Sandbox (entry "Clio Abuse," Wed, Aug 4 2004 8:41 am), quoting the great Elie Kedourie:

"Christians and Jews, he wrote, "were considered Iraqis first—that is, as far as their duties went. When it came to their rights, they were still the second-class subject of Ottoman times—but they had, in the meanwhile, lost all the advantages of the Ottoman arrangement: communal standing and self-government." Precisely. (From Kedourie's essay "Minorities.")"

The picture that emerges is that what's postulated is a mixture of what Arabists hate most: Sykes-Picot and Ottomanism. I.e., the autonomy granted by the Ottomans within a new polity, outlined by Sykes-Picot, along with the constitutional rights that it gives. In other words, what's sought is the elimination of the entire Arabist project! This in a nutshell is the definition of the Maronite project in Lebanon, and the Kurdish project today.

Another great essay in that collection by Esman and Rabinovich is the one by Gabriel Ben-Dor entitled "Ethnopolitics and the Middle Eastern State." Its outline and conclusion are very similar to your views Josh. I just disagree with the solution you provide. I believe a version of Republican politics is the key for Lebanon: a central state yes, but not an overbearing one. Rather, a federal system or some form of political decentralization, with a lot more autonomy on the local level. Chihabism or any quasi-Arab order is not the way forward. It was the tensions of Arab nationalism that broke the system not allowing it to naturally and gradually evolve and offer better solutions. See Farid El-Khazen's The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon for a more elaborate analysis.

It's not only political subcommunities that challenge the state, it's also supranational abstract ideologies like Arabism. In fact, as Michael Young, myself, and now Rami, have argued, the latter are far more destructive, while the former can be an asset, as long as a balance is struck between state and communities.

At 9/19/2004 06:50:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

"Lebanese society revolves around an empty center."

This quote, I believe, is the center (no pun intended) of your piece.

I do agree there has to be a slightly stronger state, one that can sustain pressure from the outside, like the pressure of Arabism, which the pre-75 Lebanon didn't have. However, I still think that the key to success in Lebanon, is a balance between center and communities, in the same vein as what's sought after in Iraq. I.e., the center needs to be limited.

Since Hegel we tend to think of the state as an end in itself. Elman Service has enshrined that evolutionary approach: clan-tribe-state. I think that this needs to be reviewed in our case. A new dialectic between "center" and "periphery" needs to be laid out. It's not a relationship emanating from the center outward.

Also, in Lebanon, entrepreneurship was always key, you can't stifle it with an overly centralized system. How all that is supposed to take place, I don't have an answer yet, because it has not been put to test. Obviously decentralization and federalism need to be considered. Possibly, one needs to consider bicameralism as a buffer to the tyranny of the majority. I believe that that was the essence of the Maronite supremacy earlier on in Lebanon. Their fears can be appeased through bicameralism and such measures as those found in Belgium for instance. Lijphart explains those things well in his books (Democracies and Democracy in Plural Societies).

I also agree with you that education is the solution in the end. You can't police that. It doesn't work that way. It has been policed in Lebanon now since 1990, and it's useless as anything. People still feel about each other as they did in 75 and worse. Syria is a facade Josh. Your paper on Islamic education demonstrates that.

I maintain my Republican analogy. Small government, more local autonomy.

At 9/19/2004 07:12:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

Correction: I've made an error in my sketch of Service's model. It's tribe-chiefdom-state.

See his Origins of the State and Civilization: The Process of Cultural Evolution.

At 9/19/2004 07:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rami seem to use all sort of academic words to deny the simple fact that lebanon was and is dominated by sect leaders, tribal leader, and gangsters.
this is not to pick on lebanon since is the state of most of the arab world.

At 9/19/2004 08:57:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

Dear Anonymous,

one can make a similar note on the Kennedies, Bushes, and other prominent families and cliques in US politics.

The fact of the matter however is that until the Pax Syriana and the dominance of the Arab order in Lebanon, there was a constitution that was respected by all the players, and limits that ensued. That was unparalleled in the Arab world, and as such, Lebanon was miles ahead. Since 1990, it's been gradually sucked in to the Arab order, that had sacrificed Lebanon for its hollow ideology. But you know what? In terms of liberalism and the weight of the notion of constitutionalism among the public, Lebanon is STILL miles ahead.

Call it snobbism, but it remains the truth.

At 4/09/2005 09:33:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/09/2005 09:37:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...


I think that your analogy between pre-75 and post-90 Lebanon is ill-founded. Whatever the flaws of the pre-75 system (and I admit that they were numerous), Lebanon did provide most if not all civil liberties to its citizens. This fact alone can legitimize the confessional system, especially when you compare it to an Arab ocean of brutal regimes.

You say that the system was maintained only because western support. If western intervention is necessary to keep democracy than I regard this intervention is desirable and highly moral unless you consider that democratical values are to be regarded as relative and not absolute.

It's undeniable that there are more muslims than christians in Lebanon but you should take the followings into accounts:

A-'muslims' are not a community. They are composed of sunni, shia who are deeply divided by religious and historical rivalry. Druze are heterodhox muslims and they are likely to resist islamization the same way the allawis are doing. Sunni tend to consider arabism as desirable while Shia are afraid of it. On the other hand, Christians communities in Lebanon tend to merge .

B-The Lebanese diaspora which is composed by a majority of christians is denied an elementary right which is the right to vote

C-I believe that with enough time, economical prosperity and surrounding arab countries acting as deterrents of arabism Lebanon's muslim population will begin to secularize. Because of the large christian community in Lebanon, muslims are heavily exposed to western cultural influence. This process of nation-building may seem optimistic to you but the fact that inter-sectarian wedding sharply increased in the 70's lead me to think that is possible.

D-What we chastely call communities/sects in Lebanon and in the Levant are nothing less than nations (nation is the original meaning of millet). American Democrats can accept to be ruled by republicans in the USA because they belong to the same nation and because it is done through a democratic system. But Lebanese christians cannot accept being dominated by Lebanese muslims in the same way the Polish could not accept Soviet domination.

Pre-75 Maronite prevalence was relative :it did not prevent Rachid Karame to impose the Cairo agreements on Charles Helou. Christians had a louder voice but not the only voice. Today they are mute.

I think that a purely muslim government will not be able to enforce the rights of a christian minority. I can't see a single muslim-state that fairly treats its non-muslim citizens.

I hate to say that but if I had to chose between's Lebanon integrity and freedom, I would chose freedom. I hope that I won't have to make this choice because I do like Lebanon in its present form and I do believe that its role is far more important that is size.

All communities must keep some leverage on the main political decisions. If needed, we can suppress confessionalism in the parliament and introduce a senate w

You could compare Lebanon's system to the US or the EU one. In both US and EU a dual majority is needed to take a decision. You need the state majority (senate or ministry council) to ratify a decision. In the EU parliament, the seats are not distributed proportionnally to the population. Germany's seats were limited precisely to limit its influence and small countries are over-represented. After 1860, he american southern states were able to maintaing a strong influence in the US political life through their senators. As far as I know the US and EU are legitimate and democratic organization.

Democracy has two aims: allow its citizens to rule through elected representants and protect civil liberties, the last one being the most important.

At 6/11/2008 08:36:00 PM, Blogger xicao said...

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