No alternative to the Taif Agreement means the death of Lebanon as an Arab state

Rami Rayess

Published: Updated:

As the final nail in the coffin of the Taif Agreement draws near the absence of an alternative will see Lebanon no longer recognize itself as an Arab state.

For all of its failings, Taif put an end to the protracted Lebanese civil war.

Within the framework of the agreement Syria took on the role as Lebanon’s guardian, with the mission to protect Beirut’s internal political machine. But, what happens when the guardian can’t protect itself properly, let alone bring another nation under its wing?

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As the civil war rages in Syria it’s sometimes overlooked the impact this is having on Lebanon.

There is criticism from across the region deeming sectarianism as the key problem in Lebanon, and one that by simply fixing the issue it will turn everything around.

Lebanon is in fact a bastion for pluralism in the Middle East. Confessionalism plays an active role in the governance of the country and the Taif Agreement was designed to support this.

There is no doubt that sectarian issues are deeply embedded in Lebanese society, but this is true in many states. Why does Northern Ireland function, but Lebanon can’t.

To a large extent religion in fact simply smolders in the background, and is set on fire only when any one of the different factions in Lebanon need to point the finger of blame to deflect from their own misgivings.

No, it isn’t sectarianism: it’s politics that rests at the center of the country’s collapse.

Right now, the institutional paralysis and the incapacity to form a new cabinet links to the abuse of the Taif Agreement by Lebanese politicians. They continue to introduce and entrench new political protocols that conform to their own interests, and not that of the Lebanese people.

Any alternative to the current system of governance will reflect the balance of power already tilting in Hezbollah’s favor. Since the Taif Agreement was signed all those years ago the Middle East has changed dramatically.

Despite the continuous episodes of violence that have plagued the country, brought on by changes in governance, there is always hope that finding a solution is possible.

A semi-presidential system is forming in an attempt to reciprocate the provisions of the Taif Agreement that transferred much of the President’s prerogatives to the council of ministers collectively.

The Higher Defense Council, an ad hoc committee headed by the President, meets when the country is confronted with national internal dangers. Many meetings have been held over the years.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun sits inside the presidential palace on the eve of the first anniversary of Beirut port explosion, in Baabda, Lebanon August 3, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun sits inside the presidential palace on the eve of the first anniversary of Beirut port explosion, in Baabda, Lebanon August 3, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)

It has become somewhat of a mini-government, presided over by the President, and works in parallel with the incumbent Prime Minister and his cabinet.

President Aoun and his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), have hindered the formation of a new proper cabinet for more than a year with the aim of capturing the ‘blocking third’ that allows him to block and hinder the introduction of new legislation.

When Aoun’s tenure as president expires in the autumn of next year, his political heir and son-in-law, Gebran Bassil is waiting in the wings to replace him. Maintaining the blocking third is vital.

Over the years the FPM has pushed to amend the Taif Agreement with the aim of regaining some of the lost presidential prerogatives. This is a moot point really because the FPM and Hezbollah have together been violating its rules for years now.

Although the FPM and Hezbollah differ broadly in their political agendas, the two parties forged an alliance in 2006 and it remains in place, despite the odd disagreement. The alliance has resisted waves of criticism from allies and opponents across the wide political spectrum.

Since his election in 2016, Aoun has trespassed across several constitutional articles, in spite of the oath he swore to that entrusts any president the prerogative to safeguard the constitution.

For example, he violated the constitution by granting himself full partnership in the decision-making process to form a new cabinet

He has manipulated two Prime Ministers that were given the priority remit of forming a new cabinet. Two within under a year.

Aoun and Hezbollah’s has had a long journey paralyzing government institutions. When the Presidency of General Michel Sleiman came to a close in 2014, they blocked the parliamentary quorum needed to elect a new President until a deal was brokered by Saad Hariri and Samir Geagea (head of the Lebanese Forces Party).

The parliament fell short of holding a Presidential election for two and a half years, when finally Aoun was elected in 2016.

For its part, Hezbollah has created its own state within a state. In 2006, it took the unilateral decision to take hostage Israeli soldiers, which in turn dragged Lebanon into a 33-day war leading to the death of more than 1200 citizens.

With the absence of an agreed upon alternative to the Taif Agreement, any new arrangement will put an end to Lebanon classed as an Arab, unified, diversified and open society.

Nevertheless, the Lebanese have a resilience that isn’t present in other parts of the Middle East. They’ve encountered plenty of potholes in their journey, and they will encounter many more in the future.

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