In my estimation, there are two basic long term solutions to civil conflict. The most effective should be interculturalism. Despite the enormous success of my book (just kidding), interculturalism has not been widely attempted. However, the second best method is democracy. Lebanon has the opportunity to achieve representative democracy that cuts across sectarian lines. It is time for the Lebanese to choose democracy over collectivism.
Thousands of Lebanese are marching in Beirut to end the current system of confession-based politics. Many Lebanese are choosing to end 67 years of divisive, sectarian politics and end the system that led to civil war on more than one occasion.
In 1943, behind closed doors, a Christian and Muslim Lebanese elites decided on a system for Lebanon to ensure that each of Lebanon’s 18 recognised religious sects would share power. Positions in government were starkly separated as the Maronite Christians, assumed to be the largest ethno-religious group, were assured the presidency, Sunnis the prime ministership, speaker of the National Assembly Shii, and so on. The Taif Agreement in 1989, negotiated to end Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, transferred power based on demography but instead of eliminating the problem it merely tossed it around like a hand grenade. The civil war ended but the divisive system remained.
The system itself has made politics problematic. The elites have little incentive to change the system because they are ensured a place at the top of the ladder. The people are frustrated because change means bargaining with all the other sects. Everything depends on which religious group you are from. For instance, under the current system, people are not allowed to marry outside of their confessional group. It is a system designed by and for racism.
(For further background on the political system and the causes of Lebanon’s civil war, see my essay.)
As I enjoy reiterating, I am no fan of “identity”, in the sense of loyalty to some form of ethnic group. It is exclusive and dangerous, as Lebanon’s history demonstrates as clearly as anywhere. One of the factors breaking down outdated groups is Facebook, because of its innumerable groups based on interests as opposed to exclusive categories that create unwarranted pride. The planning of this march began in a conversation in a Facebook group, which vindicates my earlier arguments about how Facebook can help us break free of the shackles of single-minded collectivism.
The right political system would provide incentives for voters to organise according to interest rather than ethnicity. Since forming groups based on political interests provides another layer of identity that competes with and dilutes their ethno-religious identity; and because people of opposing political ideologies are less likely (since the end of Marxism) to go to war with each other than those of opposing ethnic groups, more democracy would help Lebanon find peace. It will not be easy to simply change the minds of all Lebanese to think outside their confessional group. And a single march to the capital may not be enough to sweep away a system riddled with vested interests. But, if Lebanese history is any guide, it is worth doing so in the pursuit of peace.