Lebanese Politics Term Paper

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Lebanon's politics today, and how Lebanese politics has evolved over time to become what it is today. Lebanese politics is extremely complicated, and revolves around several different political parties that essentially are formed around religious beliefs. One common element of Lebanese politics is violence, from civil war to Syrian occupation over Lebanon's history. Today, Lebanese politics is complex and volatile, a combination that is not healthy for the country or her people.

Modern Lebanon came to be in 1920, when the League of Nation mandated France to create Lebanon and Syria. Lebanon is made up of what used to be the province of Mount Lebanon, along with the provinces of north Lebanon, south Lebanon, and the Biqa, which was historically part of Syria. This set the stage for ongoing conflict between Lebanon and Syria. By 1926, the State of Lebanon had formed, and they had enacted a Constitution. In 1940, Lebanon was taken over by France, but they declared independence in the same year. In 1943, the current political system formed, and high-ranking positions in the government were based on the 1932 census, which showed that 54% of the country was Christian. This census was used to determine the distribution of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, (now the National Assembly) ("Timeline"). The BBC Web site notes the distribution was based, "on a ratio of six to five (later extended to other public offices). The president is to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim" ("Timeline). This system, based on spiritual beliefs, is still in place today.

The current president, Michel Sleiman, is an Independent and was elected on May 25, 2008. He is a Maronite Christian, and he serves one six-year term, without the ability to run for re-election. The Prime Minister is Fouad Siniora, a member of the March 14 Alliance, and the Prime Minister-designate is Saad Hariri, also a member of the March 14 Alliance party. The President is elected by Parliament, and in turn names the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister after conferring with Parliament. It is interesting to note that the Lebanese government still bases the appointments on the 1932 census, and refuses to conduct another census to update the results.

There is one body of government, the Parliament (sometimes called the National Assembly). Since 1992, the representatives have been divided evenly between Christians and Muslims, before that, the Christians held the majority in both houses. However, they are elected by total votes, so they must appeal to all political and religious parties, despite the fact that they represent a certain religious group in their elected seat. There are a very large number of political parties in Lebanon, but they are not nearly as important as religious affiliation in this democracy. The Taif Agreement of 1989 is extremely significant in modern Lebanese politics, because it created the equality in the two houses (1992 was the first election held after the Taif Agreement). There are a total of 128 seats in the Parliament, divided equally between 64 Christian seats and 64 Muslim seats. The Taif Agreement is also important because it created many Constitutional amendments that essentially removed much of the power from the Presidency. Another writer notes, "He still has the power to negotiate treaties, but 'in agreement' with his Sunni counterpart (Article 52). He can 'request the reconsideration; of laws passed by parliament, but has no formal veto power. In short, president has virtually no ability to promulgate anything on his own" (Gambill). This is a major change from the original Constitution passed in 1943 that created what is now known as the "First Republic." However, the President's signature is still required on any number of bills and other legislation, so he does still wield some power politically. The President is also elected by the Parliament, not the people, but a two-thirds Parliament vote is required for his election. Thus, political power is stronger in the Parliament, and the President is the least powerful of government leaders in Lebanon.

Lebanese politics has been extremely volatile throughout the country's history. Another writer notes, "Expect the unexpected', is an oft used description for Lebanese politics" (Vesely). Lebanon operates on consociational democracy, and the decisions by representatives are not made according to majority decisions, but by large community groups. Writer Gambill continues, "Assuming that elected representatives act as guardians of core communal interests (at least in moments of national crisis), Lebanon cannot be governed legitimately for very long if one of its three main sects is profoundly alienated from the rest of the country" (Gambill). There have been political crises during Lebanon's history, and one of those crises occurred in 2008, when the March 14 party attempted to change Parliament rules and elect a new President with a 50% majority, rather than the two-thirds majority used in all prior elections. It split the country and created political chaos in the country before the idea fell flat.

Lebanese politics is also largely based on relationships with their neighbors in the Middle East, and that is one of the things that have made it so volatile. For example, in 1967, the Arab-Israeli War affected Lebanon because Palestinians began using it as a base in attacks against Israel. This caused Israel to launch attacks into Lebanon. While Yasser Arafat and his PLO organization tried to control Palestinian operations in Lebanon, attacks continued to occur, and in 1973, Israel attacked again, killing three Palestinian leaders in Beirut. The Lebanese government resigned the next day as a result ("Timeline"). Two years later, an attack on a bus by guerrillas was what most people think of as the start of the civil war that rocked Lebanon for decades and destroyed much of Beirut. The Syrians entered Lebanon in 1976, partly to try to control the Palestinians, but also to try to bring peace to the country. This began a period of control by the Syrian Arab Deterrent Force (ADF). Between 1978 and 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon twice, and took territory that it eventually gave back. Also in 1982, the presidential-elect was assassinated, and throughout this time, Lebanese politics were really in a shambles. For example, in 1988, no candidate was elected President, so the outgoing President appointed a military government, so the country essentially had two governments. Another president-elect was assassinated in 1989, and the civil war continued until 1990, along with Syrian occupation of the country (Editors). The first elections since 1975 take place in 1992, and a semblance of normality returned to the government. In 2005, the former Prime Minister was assassinated, and a new PM was appointed and told to form a new government, but he failed. Syrian troops did not leave Lebanon until 2005, as well.

All of this violence and turmoil created turmoil throughout the political system as well. Today, the March 14 party won an extra seat in Parliamentary elections, and they hold the majority in Parliament. There has been a return to some stability in the government, and many sources believe the current President, Michel Suleiman, a former commander in the armed forces, is a strong and unifying leader. Another important political figure in the country is Saad al-Hariri, the leader of the March 14 party, and the Prime Minister who just took office in June 2009.

The court system is complicated, as well. There are Four Courts of Cassation. Three of these courts rule on civil and commercial cases, and one rules on criminal cases. There is a Constitutional Council (which was formed in the Taif Agreement), which decides on the constitutionality of laws. There is a Supreme Council that hears any charges against the president and prime minister if they are necessary, and finally, there is a…[continue]

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