1989 was a conclusive year that was engraved in the memory, on both the international and Lebanese levels. It actually was a turning point that deeply affected the souls and drew, to a large extent, the course of the events that took place in the two following decades.
On 14 February 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced his famous fatwa against the British author Salman Rushdie. In May 1989 took place the vast demonstrations of the Chinese students in Tiananmen Square. In September 1989, Frederik De Klerk was elected President of South Africa and started to dismantle the apartheid regime. However, the year 1989 was particularly marked by the fall of the Berlin wall (9 November) and the unification of Europe following the Peaceful Revolution by the people of Eastern Europe, especially the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. This is how the international system that saw the light in 1945, turned upside down, and a new era took off, full of hopes and risks caused by such a change.
Lebanon had his own share; it actually witnessed historic events and drastic changes in 1989. In 14 February 1989 internal fighting started between the Lebanese Army led by General Aoun on the one hand and the Lebanese Forces on the other hand. On 14 March 1989 was declared the “Liberation War” against the Syrian forces. Six months after intensive bombings and shuttle diplomacy, Lebanese deputies met in the city of Taef and adopted the “National Accord Document” on 22 October. Deputy René Moawad was then elected as President of the Republic on 5 November and was assassinated on the 22nd; he was substituted by M.P. Elias Hrawi.
I was 19 years old in 1989. I remember all these tragic events as if they took place only yesterday. The events of that year still hunt the memory of the Lebanese people. We sometimes feel that the clock stopped in 1989. The American writer, William Faulkner was right when he wrote: “The past is never dead. It is not even past”. This is true in Lebanon, more than in any other place. The wounds of 1989 are not healed yet. The discord between the followers of General Aoun and those of the Lebanese Forces is still rooted. In parallel, the division between those who accepted the Taef agreement and those who didn’t still exists. But, it is time to overcome convulsions, make an objective inventory about the Taef agreement and to think quietly and deliberately about the State’s institutions which performance draws our future. I had the chance to accompany my father to Taef and closely follow this historic conference. Few years later, during my university studies, I spent several months dissecting the agreement from the perspective of political sciences and constitutional law.
Like many Lebanese young people, I had mixed feelings about it. I had to understand those who considered it another lame settlement that does not really constitute a turn from the old system. In spite of these legitimate reservations, rejecting this agreement wholly was considered risky in the context of 1989 since it was widely supported internationally and particularly involved some hopes of putting an end to a war that destructed the country and pushed more than a million Lebanese to immigrate.
The constitutional reforms were not the main obstacle at that era. Most of the political parties accepted, at least officially, these reforms. The first source of concern for the opponents of this agreement was the absence of a clear timeline for the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from the Lebanese territories. And since the issue of armed Syrian troops is now behind us, we should re-think of the constitutional and institutional issues. Over the years, it clearly appeared that the country is still unsteady, that the institutions suffer from their disintegration and contradiction, and that they are unable to curb the natural tendencies of the Lebanese political system. This reality has promoted the hypothesis considering that the Taef settlement was reached at the expense of the efficiency of the institutions. But we consider that it is unfair to point out the Taef and hold it responsible for all the deviations that we have witnessed for 20 years, and the reasons are many. Let’s state them clearly: The Constitution of 1989 and that is still adopted nowadays is not the Taef Constitution. In fact, some reasons related to internal policy or to regional bets soon led us to what was described as “Coup on the Taef”.
Twenty years after signing the Taef agreement, it is important to conclude that it was only partially applied. However, the authors of administrative reform wanted this agreement to be coherent, since only the integrated application lead to the desired balance.
What should be done now? It goes without saying that it is tempting to start from scratch, to come up with a new ideal constitution, and to reform the whole system. However, we all know that this is not feasible in the present context. We will neither be able to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, nor to go on with the reforms unless the Taef agreement was practically applied. So, I consider that we should now implement the Constitution after waiting for that long, in whole, and nothing but the Constitution. This is the optimal project that the new government should undertake. This is why I’ve been striving, since a few months, to promote the idea of working for a parallel implementation of the Taef agreement clauses that remained dead letter by forming a Senate where all the sects are represented, forming the national commission for the abolition of political sectarianism, and implementing administrative decentralization that allows the citizens to be closer to the state. Implementing all these reforms in parallel is crucial. If we manage to drive these reforms to the end, and if these latter are accompanied with a new electoral law that gives the immigrant Lebanese the right to vote and that allows to renew the political elites, we would have made a big jump towards the new Lebanon we aspire to.
If it appears later on that it is necessary to go farther and to reach a better system, we can think of amending our system or adopting a new Constitution. But, given the status quo, and the persistent obstacles, it is necessary to use, as in a state of urgency and political reality, the only weapon we own: applying the current Constitution.
We heard some people talk about their concerns regarding the abolition of sectarianism; we understand these concerns. Nonetheless, we call upon studying this essential subject, from all angles, urging not to defer it. We ask for discussing this subject and creating the suitable environment before abolishing political sectarianism so that this latter doesn’t lead to a new form of sectarianism.
Let’s recall the advises of those who first drafted the Lebanese Constitution in 1926 and who insisted on considering the sectarian nature temporary; in addition, Presidents Bechara El Khoury and Riad El Solh warned the Lebanese in 1943 against the risks of political sectarianism. Here we are, after eighty years of crisis, conflicts and regional and international interventions, facing the same simple choice:
Either we decide to remain a mixture of conflicting confessions and tribes who recourse to foreign countries in order to settle their disputes, or we decide to build a modern state. Imbalance, confusion and sectarian fears make our country very fragile towards foreign interventions and destabilizing factors. We should work on building a Lebanese citizen in the context of a new political system that ensures equality to all Lebanese and that provides guarantees to all the sects, so that Lebanon does not remain a battleground where all the regional and international powers settle their accounts, through the Lebanese.
Even if the Taef Agreement is far from being perfect, it could represent a gateway towards a more efficient and just system. Is there any other gateway? After implementing the rest of the Taef Agreement, several core questions related to our system should be asked; it is time to answer them: does consensual democracy go along with institutional efficiency? Should national unity governments constitute the rule or the exception? Who forms the government and how is it formed? What are the limits of agreement and unanimity before they become a right of criticism and therefore our regime becomes a federal one? What does popular vote mean, if everybody, at the end of the day, would hold a governmental position?
It is time to discuss these questions quietly. We consider it necessary to make the rules of the game clear to all in the era of the current parliament, to make it feasible to rule the country in an efficient way, without allowing the continuous bargains to disrupt the decision-making process or constrain public action.
Lebanese youth, from various affiliations and confessions, aspire to the emergence of a new political class that neither emanates from the militias, nor from the traditional regime, but that is rather chosen based on competence, efficiency and integrity. They strive to build a unified, strong and sovereign state, with efficient, well-established and stable institutions. Twenty years have passed since 1989, and now it is time to join forces and think together for sake of renewal, building, hand in hand, the future Lebanon.