Friday, July 22, 2005

Merging Sects in Lebanon

Condi Rice threw Syria an olive branch by paying respects to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. She did so, however, only after visiting the tomb of the popular Rafik Hariri, murdered by the Syrians for his implicit support of Lebanese independence, and meeting with Hariri's son Saad, a political debutante who has acquitted himself rather well. The message Condi Rice is sending is that Lebanon is free.

BBC's article on Lebanon from a month ago hints at some of the political problems associated with consolidating different cultural/ethnic/religious groups into a united country. The "confessional distribution" system ensures that there is an equal balance of Christian and Muslim representations, with assembly seats allocated to subgroups based on population. Christian representatives in Muslim dominated districts must find some way to appeal to their Muslim constituents and vice versa. There are various ingenious compromises built into the electoral system to make it work in the real world, and the Lebanese have a lot of practice at making it work. Syria was just a temporary setback.

The trouble with the system, as I see it, is that it stovepipes the animosity units. What I mean by that is that, effective though it may be, the confessional method forces compromises to take place at the highest levels across the greatest cultural divides. They should be forcing this process downward toward the people. The Syrians certainly forced them to do that during the Cedar Revolution demonstrations, but there are signs that bickering has already broken out.

Big city police in the US have often addressed the problem by pairing cops across the divide. The US Army does an excellent job of educating for cultural awareness and integrating groups at the grunt level. People who depend on each other will come to understand each other. The Vietnam War may have been the greatest cultural blender in US history. People who had never touched a member of another race were forced to share foxholes with one another.

I think that the Lebanese should establish a voting unit of 128 people, combined in exactly the same proportions as their multi-ethnic confessional distribution. This committee would then chose one or two or seven people from among their numbers to cast the real votes. The criterion for election should be severe, say two-thirds, forcing the group to compromise and iron out differences at the retail level. One could expect the delegates from this group to be somewhat more levelheaded and ecumenical than most. Any national candidates who could please these delegates would have to put the interests of Lebanon ahead of sectarian concerns.

I would suggest that a similar measure would be useful in Iraq as well.

7/22/2005 4:25 PM

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