Politics in Lebanon

Lebanon's Government

| Introduction |
| The Basis of Government |
| The Constitution |
| The National Pact |
| Zuama Clientelism |
| The Presidency |
| The Prime Minister and the Cabinet |
| The Legislature |
| The Judiciary |
| The Bureaucracy |
| Summary |


In late 1987, after more than a dozen years of civil strife during which as many as 130,000 people may have died, Lebanese politics had become synonymous with bloodshed, and political power had come to be equated with firepower. Within this context, it was sometimes difficult to recall that Lebanon was once considered by some to be a model of pluralistic democracy in the Arab world.

Despite the widespread erosion of law and order and the reduced effectiveness of the central authorities, in 1987 some vestiges of the traditional political system persisted. The president, as provided for in the Constitution, had been elected by the legislature, or Chamber of Deputies. He presided over a carefully selected cabinet, commanded the Lebanese Armed Forces, and supervised the civil service. But at this point, much of the resemblance between this framework and the pre-1975 Civil War national-level political structure ceased. In 1987 the president controlled only a small portion of the country. The members of the Chamber of Deputies had been elected in 1972--as of 1987 the latest election--and some of the deputies no longer even lived in Lebanon. Many of the traditional zuama (sing., zaim) of the various sects who had formerly participated in Lebanon's many cabinets were dead. The confessionally split Lebanese Armed Forces were only the sixth or seventh most powerful military organization in the nation. And the civil service, which still collected taxes and provided services to some parts of the country, did so at greatly diminished levels.

Lebanon's political traditions--including its internal contradictions--can be traced back several centuries. Under Ottoman rule (1516-1916) Lebanon's multisectarian character was already in evidence as powerful Druze, Muslim, and Maronite feudal lords extended their control over certain tracts of land in Mount Lebanon. They enjoyed a high degree of autonomy as long as taxes were paid to the Ottoman authorities. Likewise, under the short period of Egyptian control (1832-40), rule was relatively tolerant, both within the region and toward outside powers. It was during this era that European penetration helped Maronite Christians make gains against Druze landlords, and after the British and the Ottoman Turks drove out the Egyptians, Druze-Maronite antipathy turned violent. At the urging of the European powers, in 1842 the Ottoman Empire divided Mount Lebanon administratively, creating a christian district in the north and an area under Druze control in the south. But this system, called the Double Qaimaqamate, did not change the fact that portions of the various populations were still integrated. For example, Maronite peasants worked for Druze overlords. In 1860, in response to peasant revolts, Maronite-Druze animosities again boiled over. Although both sides suffered, about 10,000 Maronites were massacred at the hands of the Druzes. As a result, at the instigation of the European powers, the Ottomans reunited the two sections of Mount Lebanon, this time under a single, non-Lebanese, Christian mutasarrif (governor) appointed by the Ottoman Sultar, assisted by a multisectarian council.

After World War I and the defeat of the Ottomans by the Allied Powers, the League of Nations granted France mandate authority over Greater Syria, an area that included present-day Lebanon. As a result of Lebanon's years under the French Mandate (1920-43), the Constitution enacted in 1926 is fashioned after that of the French Third Republic. Article 95, however, is unique in that it provides for "balanced" confessional representation in government. In 1943 the provisions of this article were spelled out more clearly by unwritten agreements between Maronite and Sunni leaders. These agreements came to be known as the National Pact. The balancing advocated in the National Pact was meant to be provisional and was to be discarded as the nation moved away from confessionalism.

This movement, however, never occurred; in fact, in the years between the National Pact and the start of the 1975 Civil War, sectarianism became even more entrenched, and the principle of balancing, which created multiple power centers, frequently inhibited the political process. Basic philosophical differences on political outlook often separated the various parties. Bickering among elites was common, not only between Christians and Muslims but also among sects within each religious group. Also during this period, the political system of zuama clientelism, whereby powerful heads of families (similar to the feudal warlords of the Ottoman era) who wielded considerable political influence and dispensed patronage, became institutionalized. As a consequence, loyalty to subnational entities, such as family or sect, took precedence over allegiance to the state.

Other problems impeded the smooth operation of government. Chief among them was that the National Pact was based on the 1932 census, which enumerated Christians (including even those who had emigrated) to Muslims in a six-to-five ratio. Because this census was never updated officially, the growing number of Muslims, especially Shias, was not taken into account, thus giving Christians disproportionate political power. Many observers believe that it was the inability of Lebanon's leaders to agree on a new power-sharing formula in line with demographic realities that led to the 1975 Civil War.

Although it no longer monopolized the means of coercion, the government survived this conflict. The destruction and brutality wrought by both sides were catastrophic, but, except for a few small extremist groups, none of the armed militias demanded the abolition of the state or the abrogation of the Constitution; instead, many of them called for meaningful reform.

To some extent, the state and governmental institutions were able to survive through the direct intervention of external powers. In 1976 Ilyas Sarkis was elected president while much of the country was subject to Syrian presence. Then, in 1982 Bashir Jumayyil (also cited as Gemayel) was elected president largely under pressure from Israel, whose forces occupied most of southern Lebanon and Beirut. Because of the presence of a variety of armed militias throughout the country and the resulting "cantonization" of the state, in 1987 the term government had relevance only within the context of sectarian politics.

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The Basis of Government

The Constitution and National Pact together form the framework of Lebanon's parliamentary democracy. The Constitution provides for three branches of government: an executive, a legislature, and an independent judiciary. The president of the republic, who appoints the prime minister, is elected by the Chamber of Deputies, the legislative body. Although this system resembles that of a Western democracy, because of the National Pact and its legitimization in the Constitution, the president, ministers, and deputies act as members of their respective confessional communities and not as atlarge representatives.

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The Constitution

In the early 1920s, the League of Nations requested that the French Mandate authorities devise a law for Lebanon in cooperation with the native leaders and in harmony with the wishes and interests of the diverse religious sects. Accordingly, in July 1925 the French government appointed a commission, which by May 15, 1926, had prepared a draft constitution. The Representative Council, an elected body of Lebanese leaders sitting as a constituent assembly, adopted the draft constitution on May 23.

Although many Lebanese historians and politicians have claimed that the Constitution was designed primarily by local leaders to reflect purely Lebanese interests, the minutes of the constituent assembly reveal the major role of the French representative. He had the power to veto any modification to the draft, and he also controlled the agenda. In reaction to France's dominance, Muslim representatives made it clear during the meetings that they were against the very idea of expanding the limits of mostly Christian Mount Lebanon to create Greater Lebanon incorporating Muslim areas and insisted that the record show their reservations.

When completed, the Constitution was divided into six parts, one of which contained four articles relating to the French Mandate and the League of Nations. By these articles, France retained full political control over the country. In theory, France's high commissioner was charged with advisory and supervisory functions in normal times; in practice, he exercised supreme power. Army troops under French control were stationed throughout the country. Although their ostensible role was to keep the high commissioner informed of the local political situation, in fact they exerted a great deal of influence on the local administration. Thus, between 1926, when the Constitution was adopted, and 1946, when the French finally handed over all functions of state, France, not local officials, exercised control over implementation of the Constitution. The high commissioner, in fact, suspended the Constitution several times during the 1932-37 period and again at the beginning of World War II.

The Constitution stresses freedom and equality, although with some limitations. All Lebanese are guaranteed the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association "within the limits established by law." There are also provisions for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, as long as the dignity of the several religions and the public order are not affected.

Clearly, there are inherent contradictions within the Constitution. Even though articles 7 and 12 provide for equality of civil and political rights and equal access to public posts based on merit, Article 95 affirms the state's commitment to confessionalism, but without setting forth how it is to be applied. Article 95, in effect, legitimizes the National Pact.

Amendments to the Constitution may be initiated by the president of the republic or by a resolution of at least ten members of the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber of Deputies, by a two-thirds majority, can recommend an amendment. However, the president and his cabinet, who together constitute the Council of Ministers, have veto powers, which can be overridden only by a complex procedure of the Chamber of Deputies. The most significant amendments were promulgated in 1943, when all references to the French Mandate were expunged and Arabic was designated the nation's official language.

Attempts to amend the Constitution have met with both favor and controversy. In 1949 the Constitution was amended to allow President Bishara al Khuri (also cited as Khoury) to succeed himself. Nine years later, however, when unpopular president Camille Shamun (also cited as Chamoun) sought an amendment that would allow him to succeed himself, vigorous opposition throughout the country prevented him from doing so.

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The National Pact

The National Pact (al Mithaq al Watani), an unwritten agreement, came into being in the summer of 1943 as the result of numerous meetings between Khuri (a Maronite), Lebanon's first president, and the first prime minister, Riyad as Sulh (also cited as Solh), a Sunni. At the heart of the negotiations was the Christians' fear of being overwhelmed by the Muslim communities in Lebanon and the surrounding Arab countries, and the Muslims' fear of Western hegemony. In return for the Christian promise not to seek foreign, i.e., French, protection and to accept Lebanon's "Arab face," the Muslim side agreed to recognize the independence and legitimacy of the Lebanese state in its 1920 boundaries and to renounce aspirations for union with Syria. The pact also reinforced the sectarian system of government begun under the French Mandate by formalizing the confessional distribution of high-level posts in the government based on the 1932 census' six-to-five ratio favoring Christians over Muslims. Although some historians dispute the point, the terms of the National Pact were believed to have been enunciated by the first cabinet in a statement to the legislature in October 1943.

As noted, the confessional system outlined in the National Pact was a matter of expediency, an interim measure to overcome philosophical divisions between Christian and Muslim leaders at independence. It was hoped that once the business of governance got under way, and as national spirit grew, the importance of confessionalism in the political structure would diminish. Over the years, the frequent political disputes--the most notable of which were manifested in the 1958 Civil War, the Palestinian controversy of the 1960s and 1970s, and the 1975 Civil War--bear stark testimony to the failure of the National Pact as a means toward societal integration.

Moreover, some observers claim that the National Pact merely perpetuated the power of the privileged. The pact, combined with the system of zuama clientelism, guaranteed the maintenance of the status quo and the continuation of privilege for the sectarian elites.

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Zuama Clientelism

In pluralistic societies, patronage is often a common feature of the political process; the promotion of the interests of a particular sect is frequently widespread. Although patronage is prevalent in developed and lesser developed countries alike, clientelism may be more entrenched in Lebanon than in most other nations. The pervasiveness of this system in Lebanon is easily traced to feudal times, wherein the overlord allowed peasants and their families the use of land in exchange for unquestioned loyalty. In more recent times, this social system has been translated into a political system; the overlord has become a political leader, or zaim, the peasants have become his constituents, and, instead of land, favors are exchanged for electoral loyalty. And although clientelism has its roots in the rural areas, it now pervades towns and large citites down to the neighborhood level.

A zaim is a political leader, and rather than being exclusively an officeholder, he may be a power broker with the ability to manipulate elections and the officials he helps elect. Accordingly, wastah-- the ability to attain access to a power broker--is widely sought, but only achieved at some price.

There are those who believe that at the local level zuama clientelism may have reduced sectarian strife. Often, political competition was intrasectarian, rather than with members of different groups. And because only some of Lebanon's electoral districts were confessionally homogeneous (although most had a certain sectarian preponderance), a candidate often could not be elected unless he were supported by other confessional groups within his district. Once elected, however, the opportunity to augment his power was great. To ensure that constituents continued their support, zuama have been known to employ qabadayat, or enforcers, whose job it was to see that their chiefs were warmly supported at the polls or to discourage opponents from voting. In fact, in the post-World War II years, many zuama developed their own militias to safeguard their interests, often against rivals within their own sect. The development of these militias led to tragedy during the 1975 Civil War when these private armies were turned loose on members of opposing sects.

Another component of the Lebanese patronage system is the important role of family. The position of zaim is frequently hereditary, and politics is often treated like a family business. For example, almost one-fourth of the members of the 1960 Chamber of Deputies were the descendants of men who had been appointed to the legislative assemblies under the French Mandate. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for more than one member of the same family to hold office in the same government; for example, four different members of the Sulh family have held the position of prime minister. In the 1970s and 1980s, Amin Jumayyil (the Phalange Party), Dani Shamun (the National Liberal Party), and Walid Jumblatt (the Progressive Socialist Party) inherited their fathers' political mantles. Occasionally, the family of a zaim would control an entire sect, as the Asad clan did over the Shias of southern Lebanon in the first half of the twentieth century.

Thus, in 1987 Lebanon's constitutionally based political system had to be viewed through the overlay of clientelism, a system that had persisted in one form or another for over a hundred years. Even so, this system, although unlikely to disappear in the near term, perhaps was being challenged by a post-1975 Civil War development: the rise of the militias. Although some militias were still controlled by descendants of traditional zuama, others, like Amal, Hizballah (Party of God), and the Lebanese Forces, were led by figures who had arrived relatively late on the political scene. These militias were not just military organizations; through military force they often gained control of revenues that formerly went to government coffers. In this way, by controlling armed might and the purse, the militias were appropriating the basic stock-in-trade of the traditional zaim system. The patronclient relationship, therefore, rather than dying out may merely have taken one more turn along an evolutionary track.

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The Presidency

As might be expected because of the significance of the family with its strong father figure and the influential role of the zaim, Lebanese have come to accept a powerful national leader. Indeed, the Constitution consigns to the president vast authority. He is commander in chief of the army and security forces; he can appoint and dismiss his prime minister and cabinet; he promulgates laws passed by the Chamber of Deputies and may also propose laws, enact "urgent" legislation by decree, and veto bills; he can dissolve the Chamber of Deputies; and he exercises considerable influence throughout the bureaucracy.

His constitutional powers notwithstanding, the president is constrained by the necessity of obtaining cooperation from at least a majority of the zuama of the various confessional communities. In addition, he must accommodate an array of other competing interests, including those of religious, business, and labor leaders. Moreover, the president, who by custom is a Maronite, must try to work in harmony with the prime minister, who by custom is a Sunni Muslim. Together, they are the most eminent members of the executive and wield a direct and personal influence over the deputies and other political leaders.

The president is elected, by the Chamber of Deputies, not by the general public. He is selected for a six-year term and may not succeed himself; he may serve any number of nonsuccessive terms, however. A sitting president steps down on September 23 of his sixth year in office. Thirty to sixty days before this, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies calls for a special session to elect a new president. A quorum of two-thirds of the deputies is required to hold a special session. A two-thirds majority of deputies attending is needed to be elected on the first ballot; failing that, a simple majority is required on subsequent ballots.

In theory, anyone who meets the eligibility requirements for election to the Chamber of Deputies can be elected president; in reality, before the 1975 Civil War powerful Maronite zuama usually were elected. Exceptions were Fuad Shihab (also seen as Chehab) and Charles Hilu (also spelled Helou), leaders who unsuccessfully sought to diminish the power of the zuama. At times, political maneuvering and interconfessional wrangling have been intense; nonetheless, the reality has usually been that no one could be elected president without the support of a wide spectrum of confessional blocs.

Although the Constitution grants the president wide latitude in conducting the affairs of state, it is questionable whether the Lebanese leaders who negotiated the National Pact envisioned the growth in power that occupants of the office assumed in later years. For many Lebanese, especially Muslims, the presidency came to symbolize political tyranny and sectarian hegemony. In domestic matters involving regional interests, the powers of the local zuama always held sway. But on broader, national-level issues, the Maronite presidents tended to safeguard Maronite interests. This was certainly true with regard to the pan-Arab question and the events that led to the 1958 Civil War, with respect to the Palestinian controversy, and in response to any call for fundamental political reform, especially musharaka, i.e., a more equitable distribution of power between the president and prime minister.

Some presidents have viewed the office as a means for aggrandizement. Sulayman Franjiyah (also cited as Franjieh), for instance, a zaim from Zgharta who was elected through the efforts of traditional zuama by the margin of a single vote, is commonly regarded as having used his office to reward his family and constituency. Many observers believe that nepotism and corruption--routine features of Lebanese politics--reached an intolerable level under Franjiyah's tenure.

The 1975 Civil War has left an indelible mark on the institution of the presidency. In the 1980s, the office no longer was viewed as a product of intersectarian consensus. The rise in sectarian consciousness has forced each president (and prime minister, for that matter) to be more accountable to the demands of his narrow community. At the same time, as external actors such as Syria and Israel have influenced elections, and as the power of the militias has increased, the status of the presidency has declined at home and abroad. In 1987 the authority of the president did not extend much farther than the confines of the Presidential Palace at Babda.

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The Prime Minister and the Cabinet

As noted, the president is constitutionally empowered to appoint the prime minister and the cabinet. Although a prime minister need not be a member of the Chamber of Deputies, this has usually been the case, particularly because the president must consult with the deputies before naming a prime minister. The president and the prime minister deliberate over the composition of the cabinet and present the nominees to the Chamber of Deputies to solicit a vote of confidence.

As the highest Muslim political official, the prime minster can bring a significant amount of authority to his position, and indeed this may have been the intent of Lebanon's "founding fathers." In practice, however, the power of the prime minister has varied according to his personality, his base of support, and the preferences of the president he served. A distinguished prime minister can enhance the prestige of the president, and the office has been held by some fairly capable politicians, including Riyad as Sulh, Saib Salam, and Rashid Karami.

Clearly, a prime minister's constitutionally mandated power is small, and over the years his most effective methods of action have been informal. His resignation could embarrass a president, influence popular opinion, and increase Muslim opposition. He could induce the Chamber of Deputies to voice a vote of no confidence and force the president to reappoint a new list of ministers, thereby stalling for a time governmental operations. In the end, however, these informal weapons were virtually inconsequential in comparison with the arsenal at the president's disposal. If a prime minister's actions caused a president dismay, the minister could be dismissed and replaced with a more pliable individual. For example, in 1973 when Salam resigned as prime minister to protest the government's refusal to oppose with force Israeli attacks, President Franjiyah nominated a political unknown to the post. Although the nomination was defeated, the eventual replacement was decidedly less resistant than Salam. Since the 1975 Civil War, the president has been forced to treat his prime minister with greater deference, but in the late 1980s the balance of political power in what remained of the official government was essentially unchanged from the prewar status.

In theory, the cabinet is the vehicle through which the country is administered. It is supposed to set policy, prepare legislative bills, and appoint or dismiss top members of the bureaucracy. Historically, however, ministers have often used their positions to increase their patronage within their constituencies and to add to their personal wealth. Unlike some other nations, in which the president appoints a group of like-minded officials to the cabinet, in Lebanon cabinets are often intricately formed bodies, designed to accommodate diverse sectarian interests. Consequently, they sometimes have degenerated into arenas for political sniping and backroom machinations, with ever-changing coalitions and factions being formed. It has not been uncommon for intracabinet antipathies to paralyze the business of government. In the late 1980s, some members of the cabinet were not even on speaking terms, and the Muslim members boycotted the president for more than a year.

Any Lebanese can be appointed as a minister, but most often influential zuama have held these positions. Less frequently, for example during the 1975 Civil War, technocrats have been called upon to serve as ministers. And, for a few days in 1975, military officers held ministerial slots. In general, certain ministries have been reserved for the various sects; as a consequence, cabinets have not been noted for their efficiency. One example of the anomalies that can develop because of these circumstances is the 1955 cabinet in which a Sunni ex-diplomat headed the Ministry of Public Works, while a Maronite engineer became the foreign minister.

There is no set number of ministries, but historically it has fluctuated between four and twenty-two, expanding and contracting according to political exigencies. Sometimes a minister has held more than one portfolio; as of early 1987, there were ten ministers holding among them sixteen portfolios. And, as with much of Lebanese politics, members of the same privileged families have tended to hold cabinet positions. As an indication of postwar reform, however, and in recognition of the growing Shia population, in 1984 the Ministry of State for the South and Reconstruction was created.

Typically, because of constant political pressures, cabinets have been ephemeral. Between 1926 and 1964, the average life of each cabinet was less than eight months. Even though cabinets were in an almost constant state of dissolution and reformation, the same men tended to be reappointed to the same or other posts. For example, 333 ministerial posts were occupied by only 134 individuals from 1926 to 1963.

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The Legislature

The Chamber of Deputies (sometimes called the parliament) has many responsibilities, but electing the president is its most important. Despite its legislative role, traditionally the Chamber of Deputies seldom has been involved in law making or policy formulation. The Constitution details the duties and procedures of the Chamber of Deputies and grants it considerable authority in such matters as budgetary oversight and amending the Constitution. But because of the strength of the presidency and the power of the zuama, the Chamber of Deputies generally has been a fragmented, inefficient body, playing an insignificant part in Lebanese politics. In effect, it has merely been an extension of the executive, rather than a separate, co-equal branch of government.

Deputies are elected every four years by popular vote, but only within the strictures of the confessional system. Each slot is assigned to one sect or another according to its size in any district. It should be noted, however, that party politics have played almost no part in Lebanon and candidates campaign as part of a "list" sponsored by a local zaim. In other words, competition within districts is intrasectarian, in which, for example, a Greek Catholic from one list would campaign against Greek Catholics from other lists. Even though it is possible to vote across lists, typically lists have been elected in toto. To ensure the success of his list, a zaim often enters into complex alliances with zuama supporting other lists in other districts. As a result, one zaim may support another zaim in a neighboring district but oppose him in another district.

Because of the 1975 Civil War and the subsequent political disintegration, as of late 1987 there had been no election since 1972. Elections have been somewhat chaotic, often characterized by the strong-arm tactics of qabadayat, vote buying, and general disruptions. Elections have been conducted in stages, as much to allow voters to return to their home towns to cast ballots as to permit the redeployment of security forces to limit disturbances.

Money, of course, has been at the core of this system. Regardless of confessional association, candidates have tended to be men of wealth, often landlords, lawyers, or businessmen with family connections to the local zaim. Not surprisingly, candidates have frequently spent large sums to win elections. Once in office, although he was still beholden to the zaim, a deputy could further his accumulation of wealth. In addition, this system has perpetuated the promotion of parochial interests over the national welfare.

Despite its obvious unrepresentativeness, little reform to this system has occurred. One important factor maintaining the system has been the government's voting regulations, which encourage an individual to vote in his home town or village, regardless of how long he may have lived elsewhere. This policy reinforced the political hold of the zaim and, at the same time, discouraged the emergence of modern political parties.

Several other features characterized the Chamber of Deputies in 1987. By custom, its speaker (also referred to as its president), who was selected by the deputies, was a Shia Muslim. He presided over a body of fairly well-educated men, many of whom were related to one another. To be eligible for election, an individual had to be at least twenty-five years of age; still, most members of the Chamber of Deputies were over fifty years old. Only one woman, Mirna Bustani, had ever served in the Chamber of Deputies, and this was under unusual circumstances. Her father, Emile Bustani, a deputy, died in office, and, being an only child, Mirna was appointed to complete Emile's term in the 1960 Chamber od Deputies.

To accommodate the six-to-five formula for representation of Christians to Muslims, the number of deputies has always been a multiple of eleven, although the number has varied over time. In 1951 the Chamber of Deputies was increased from fifty-five to seventy-seven members, in 1957 it was reduced to sixty-six, and in 1960 it was raised to ninety-nine. In the latter year, the Chamber of Deputies was made up of thirty Maronites, twenty Sunnis, nineteen Shias, eleven Greek Orthodox, six Druzes, six Greek Catholics, four Armenian Orthodox, and three members of groups minority.

Rather than trying to hold elections amid the chaos of the 1970s and 1980s, the Chamber of Deputies chose to renew its members' terms every two years until "appropriate conditions" would allow a free election. Moreover, it had not even been possible to hold by-elections to fill seats of deceased members. In the mid1980s, government officials discussed appointing new deputies to these seats. In addition, during this time a national consensus developed to modify the formula of representation so that seats would be evenly distributed. Furthermore, some officials proposed that the size of the Chamber of Deputies be increased to 120. Nonetheless, by 1987 none of these ideas had been implemented, and, as a consequence, of the ninety-nine deputies elected in 1972, only seventy-seven remained.

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The Judiciary

As with other branches of government, the judiciary suffered as a result of the 1975 Civil War and the ensuing disruptions. Prior to the war, the Lebanese justice system mirrored many features common to West European systems especially that of France. The Ministry of Justice had official authority over the judicial system, but the Supreme Council of Justice, a body consisting of eleven judges appointed by the president in consultation with leaders of the sects, exercised actual jurisdiction over the various courts. It appointed judges to the several courts and could transfer or remove them. There were fifty-six courts of first instance, with seventeen in Beirut alone, and each was presided over by a single magistrate. Cases from these courts could be appealed to one of eleven courts of appeal, each of which had a three-judge panel. Above these were four courts of cassation, on which sat three judges each. Three of these courts adjudicated civil cases, and one heard criminal complaints.

Several other courts existed outside this general framework. The six-member Council of State functioned as an appeals court for administrative matters, and the Judicial Council, which included the most senior judge of the courts of cassation and four other judges appointed by the government, ruled on cases of public security. In addition, there were a few other special courts that heard questions relating to the military, the press, and business affairs.

Matters of personal status, dealing with such issues as marriage and inheritance, were in the domain of the various sects. These cases sometimes involved complex layers of appeal. Maronites and Greek Catholics, for example, could appeal to the Vatican, whereas Greek Orthodox could look to the Patriarchal Court in Damascus for relief. Shias and Sunnis, in contrast, often dealt with appeals locally and based decisions on sharia.

As might be expected in a society based on patronage, political interference in judicial affairs was not uncommon, and pressures from zuama on judges often influenced rulings. Observers noted that confessionalism also marred the judicial system, not only in the selection of judges, some of whom were mediocre jurists, but also in the determination of criminal penalties.

As of 1987, the Ministry of Justice was an active portfolio, but there was little evidence that the judiciary resembled its prewar status; only a few government-run courts seemed to be in operation. These apparently handled only minor civil and criminal cases and ultimately were circumscribed by the desires of the local militias.

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The Bureaucracy

In 1987 there were skeletal remains of the prewar bureaucracy. For example, although there were still many interruptions, telephone and postal service continued to function in many areas, and electric power and piped water still flowed to many users. But with the central authorities in a shambles, the bureaucracy was often more heavily influenced by the local militias than by the cabinet ministries.

Before the 1975 Civil War the bureaucracy, bloated by patronage, was noted for its slowness, inefficiency, and corruption. Favored clients of zuama often held important positions and, regardless of their competence, could not be fired. Given the low pay of many positions, it was not surprising that government employment did not attract the most capable people. Moreover, to make ends meet, many civil servants were prone to accepting bribes and spending only a few hours at the office so they could work at a second job.

Sectarianism has perhaps been stronger in the bureaucracy than in any other Lebanese political institution. President Shihab, one of the few national-level politicians to introduce reforms to the system, in 1959 enacted the Personnel Law. This statute technically abolished the practice of appointing officers on the basis of the six-to-five formula; instead, Christians and Muslims were to be appointed on an equal basis. Shihab also created the Civil Service Council to examine, train, and certify new appointees, and he established a school to provide such training.

But as with other reform measures that threatened the hold of the zuama, these efforts were largely ignored. An estimate of sectarian representation in 1955 among higher ranking civil servants put Maronites at 40 percent, while 27 percent were Sunnis, and a mere 3.6 percent were Shias. Furthermore, by the start of the Civil War in 1975, these ratios remained relatively unchanged.

In the aftermath of the violence of the late 1970s and early 1980s, observers were uncertain of the exact functioning of local administration. As noted earlier, it was believed that, like much of Lebanese politics, local affairs had become the domain of the militias. In 1987 the country was divided into five provinces (muhafazat): Bayrut, Al Biqa, Jabal Lubnan, Al Janub and Ash Shamal. A sixth province, Jabal Amil, was created in the 1980s. It was to be carved out of Al Janub Province, with its capital at An Nabatiyah at Tahta. In 1987, however, its exact boundaries could not be determined. All provinces except Bayrut were subdivided into districts. Prior to 1975, local administration was highly centralized, with the Ministry of Interior having oversight and fiscal responsibilities. The governor, who was appointed by the president with cabinet approval, was the highestranking official in each province. He headed the Provincial Council, which included a representative of the Ministry of Finance, and the deputy governors (qaim maqams), who were appointed in the same manner as the governor. Despite the elaborate infrastructure of the local administration, by virtue of its control over the purse strings, the Ministry of Interior exercised considerable authority.

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Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy in which the people constitutionally have the right to change their government. However, until the parliamentary elections in 1992, the people had not been able to exercise this right during 16 years of civil war. According to the constitution, direct elections must be held for the parliament every 4 years. Parliament, in turn, elects a president every 6 years. The last presidential election was in 1989. The president and parliament choose the cabinet. Political parties may be formed and some in fact flourish.

Since the emergence of the post-1943 state, national policy has been determined largely by a relatively restricted group of traditional regional and sectarian leaders. The 1943 national pact allocated political power on an essentially confessional system, based on the 1932 census. Until 1990, seats in parliament were divided on a 6-to-5 ratio of Christians to Muslims. Positions in the government bureaucracy were allocated on a similar basis.

Efforts to alter or abolish the confessional system of allocating power have been at the center of Lebanese politics for more than 30 years. A series of amendments has substantially altered the constitution of 1926. Among the more significant is Article 95, which provides that the confessional communities of Lebanon shall be equitably represented in public employment and in the composition of the cabinet but that such a measure is not to impair the general welfare of the state. This article supplements the National Covenant of 1943, an unwritten agreement that established the political foundations of modern Lebanon. The covenant provides that public offices shall be distributed among the recognized religious groups and that the three top positions in the governmental systems shall be distributed as follows: -- The president is to be a Maronite Christian; -- The prime minister, a Sunni Muslim, and -- The president of the National Assembly, a Shi'a Muslim.

Those religious groups most favored by the 1943 formula sought to preserve it, while those who perceived themselves to be disadvantaged sought to revise it on the basis of updated demographic data or to abolish it entirely. The struggle gave a strongly sectarian coloration to Lebanese politics and to the continuing civil strife in the country.

Under the national reconciliation agreement reached in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in October 1989, members of parliament agreed to alter the national pact to create a 50-50 Christian- Muslim balance in the parliament and reorder the powers of the different branches of government. The Taif agreement, the political reform aspects of which were signed into law in September 1990, further modified the constitution to permit greater power-sharing and put in writing many of the provisions of the national pact.

Constitutional amendments embodying the political reforms stipulated in the Taif agreement became law in 1990. They included an expansion of the number of seats in parliament and the division of seats equally between Muslims and Christians and the transfer of some powers from the president to the prime minister and council of ministers.

Constitutionally, the president has a strong and influential position. The president appoints the council of ministers and designates one of them to be prime minister. The president also has the authority to promulgate laws passed by the National Assembly, to issue supplementary regulations to ensure the execution of laws and to negotiate and ratify treaties.

The National Assembly, only sporadically active since 1975, is elected by adult suffrage based on a system of proportional representation for the confessional groups of the country. Most deputies do not represent political parties as they are known in the West, nor do they form Western-style groups in the assembly. Political blocs are usually based on confessional and local interests or on personal allegiance rather than on political affinities.

The assembly traditionally has played a significant role in financial affairs, since it has the responsibility for levying taxes and passing the budget. It also exercises political control over the cabinet through formal questioning of ministers on policy issues and by requesting a confidence debate.

Lebanon's judicial system is based on the Napoleonic Code. Juries are not used in trials. The Lebanese court system has three levels--courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and the court of cassation. There also is a system of religious courts having jurisdiction on personal status matters within their own communities, i.e., rules on such matters as marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Principal Government Officials President: Elias Harawi
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance: Rafiq al-Hariri
President of the National Assembly: Nabih Berri
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Fares Bouez
Deputy Prime Minister: Michel Murr

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Federal Research Division - Library of Congress (Edited by Thomas Collelo, December 1987)

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1997-2001 by Ayman Ghazi
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