Docuent: The third round of
inter-Lebanese dialogue organized by the Swiss Association for Euro-Arab-Muslim
Consensus democracy is an inherent part of the spirit of the Lebanese Constitution
Establishing healthy and equal ties with Syria key to welfare of both countries
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The third round of inter-Lebanese dialogue organized by the Swiss Association for Euro-Arab-Muslim Dialogue (represented by Hassan Ghaziri and Yves Besson) was held in the suburbs of Bern, Switzerland for three consecutive days, from August 17 to August 19, 2007. The meeting was sponsored by the Swiss government (represented by Swiss envoy to Lebanon Didier Befirtre and his assistant Kim Stenzler, Swiss Ambassador to Beirut Francois Barras, and Swiss mediator Julian Hottinger). Representatives of various Lebanese political groups, in addition to representatives from Lebanon's civil society took part in the meeting.
Participants included Ali Fayad, Aref al-Abed, Ghaleb Mahmassani, Abbas Halabi, Farid Khazen, Ghassan Mukhaiber, Roula Noureddine, Joseph Neameh, Antoine Messara, and Raghid Solh. Ali Hamdan and Ambassador Samir Hobeika were not present.
The three-day discussions focused on Lebanon's parliamentary system, in addition to consensus democracy, and Lebanese-Syrian ties. The overall agenda of dialogue sessions is centered on six main themes, which will be discussed in turn during future meetings. In addition to the above mentioned topics, future meetings will discuss Lebanon's electoral law, judicial reforms, the defense strategy, and the Palestinian presence in Lebanon.
Sincerity and openness prevailed over discussions, where participants agreed to opt for consensus, and respect Lebanon's higher interests whenever faced with difficulties. Organizers along with attendees hoped that the outcomes of the dialogue session would promote inter-Lebanese understanding and constitute a step toward reaching a permanent state of stability in Lebanon both on the political as well as on the social levels.
While both organizers and participants
stressed the consultative nature of the meeting, the sincerity, depth and
accountability governing the dialogue provided an excellent opportunity to
tackle the potential obstacles, the different perspectives, in addition to the
suggested solutions to the topics under examination.
The primary goal of the dialogue meeting was to provide an in-depth examination of the major causes behind instability in Lebanon which always seems to transform political conflicts into institutional crises. Such crises paralyze the state and cause divisions and feuding. In light of the previous account, this statement aims to outline the progress made during discussions, expose the different viewpoints expressed by participants, and present major conclusions reached, which are neither final nor binding.
One: A Parliamentary
Democratic System and Consensus
The discussion revolved around the essence of the parliamentary democratic system in Lebanon as well as on the terms and procedures of such a system. The discussion used specific constitutional articles to clarify the nature and principles of the system.
Article (c) from the preamble to the Constitution stipulates: "Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice, and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination."
Article (j) from the preamble walks along the same lines: "There is no constitutional legitimacy which contradicts the pact of national coexistence." Other articles in the Constitution which discuss the concept of consensus include: articles 65, 24, and 95.
Dialogie participants agreed on the following:
While the constitutional system of Lebanon is a democratic parliamentary one, it also specifies that democracy in Lebanon is a consensus democracy as stipulated by articles (J) from the preamble to the constitution and constitutional articles 65, 24, and 95, which all deal with the concept of sectarian consensus, as well as articles 9 and 10 of the Constitution which stressed the freedom of belief and the freedom to religious instruction, or as stated by article 19 which urges the leaders of Lebanon's sects to resort to the Constitutional Council on laws relating to personal status, the freedom of belief and religious practice, and the freedom of religious education.
Participants stressed that consensus
democracy, rather than being a newly introduced concept aiming at
revolutionizing Lebanon's constitutional system or introducing changes to the
Taif Accord, has long characterized Lebanon's political make up. Furthermore,
consensus democracy does not aim to reinforce sectarian politics in Lebanon but
rather aims to limit the negative repercussions of such a system by preserving
Lebanon's democratic system as well as Lebanon's diversity.
Consensus democracy is most closely embodied in societies where religious, ethnic, or linguistic diversity are prevalent. Consensus democracy is the application of consensus decision-making to the process of legislation in a democracy. It is characterized by a decision-making structure involving and taking into account as broad a range of opinions as possible, as opposed to systems where minority opinions can potentially be ignored by vote-winning majorities. Consensus democracy also features increased citizen participation both in determining the political agenda and in the decision making process itself.
Keeping a straight balance between true representation and effective rule, in addition to giving the democratic system the opportunity to develop its own tools, is a true challenge for countries where constitutional democracy is at the core of the democratic system.
Endowing the Constitutional Council with the necessary jurisdiction to explain and elucidate constitutional texts is a necessary step toward an accurate implementation of the Taif Accord. Such a step will help in setting the foundations for efficient arbitration tools, likely to resolve potential conflicts which may arise concerning the interpretation or the application of the Constitution.
The concept of partnership in
decision-making initiated an animated debate during the meeting, where
participants were segregated into two groups. The first group stressed the
importance of promoting the concept of partnership, while adhering to the
following principles: the efficiency of the administration, the government's
duties toward the Parliament, ministerial unity, and the possibility of having
an opposition. However, the second group reminded of the concept of proportional
representation as well as of veto power, which is mutual to both the executive
and the legislative authorities. The second group considered that veto power was
enjoyed at several crucial instances in Lebanon's history, which required
various Lebanese players to make mutual concessions in a bid to avoid the
country from plunging into big crises. Participants also agreed on pursuing
discussions on a number of legal concerns, in addition to a series of
problematic issues such as:
l Should consensus be established before resorting to constitutional institutions, or is consensus forged inside of constitutional institutions?
l What are the general principles governing the appointment of the government in times of crises as well as in ordinary circumstances?
l Does the concept of "equality" relate to
proportional representation of various sects or does it also relate to the
representation of the majority within each sect?
l Does the two-thirds quorum required for taking specific decisions inside Cabinet entail certain legal considerations when forming governments?
l What are the constitutional steps to be taken when the ministers of a major sect resign from Cabinet, when the resigned ministers constitute only one-third of the total number of ministers in the Cabinet?
l To what extent is the government a promoter of dialogue among the Lebanese? What is the specific role of the government as the executive power? How is this reflected on the role of the Parliament as the Cradle of national dialogue?
l How can balance between institutions and authorities be maintained in light of the impossibility of dissolving the Parliament or contesting the authorities of the president as an arbitrator?
l How can political paralysis due to the use of the mutual veto power be overcome?
l Does partnership mean that crucial national decisions such as war and peace are taken after surveying as broad a range of opinions as possible?
l How can the negative repercussions generated by the dual (consensus and competition) nature of the Lebanese political system be decreased or limited so as to ensure the well-being and efficiency of constitutional institutions while ensuring equality among the Lebanese on the other? Moreover, how can the positive facets of such a system be promoted?
l What are the possible solutions to be adopted in order to put an end to the controversy concerning the required constitutional quorum for the election of a president?
Two: Lebanese- Syrian ties
Participants discussed Lebanese-Syrian ties, where various scenarios to restore stability back to the relationship between the two countries and to cast aside previous mistakes were exposed.
Dialogue participants suggested two approaches:
The first approach considered that several factors, including elements of history and geography, as well as common political and security interests governed the relationship between the two countries. The relationship between Lebanon and Syria was further defined by a series of memorandums signed between the two countries such as the Taif Accord, which stressed the exceptional nature of the ties between the two countries, in addition to the Brotherhood and Cooperation agreement. This approach saw healthy Lebanese-Syrian ties as a guarantee against the constant threat Israel represents in the region.
Thus advocates of the first approach consider the restitution of normal and stable ties between Lebanon and Syria as an essential pre-requisite to having stability, security, and national interests of both countries safeguarded.
The first approach added that for Lebanese-Syrian ties to be based on healthy foundations, past experiences ought to be reassessed and both countries should commit themselves to acknowledging their respective sovereignty and independence, while adhering to their common interests on the strategic, political, and democratic levels.
The second approach, meanwhile, considered serious efforts to shape a steady-yet-equal association with Syria should not rule out the fact that previous attempts to establish healthy and stable ties between the two countries have failed.
The approach held Syria responsible for the failure, while acknowledging the several positive phases witnessed in the past.
Therefore, advocates of the second approach considered that in order to foster healthy and stable ties, Syria should work on wiping away its previous lapses by undertaking a series of practical steps with the aim of rebuilding trust with the Lebanese. The second approach urge Syria to express its support of Lebanon's independence, put an end to all attempts to stir chaos in Lebanon and threaten its welfare and stability, abide by Arab and international decisions concerning Lebanon, maintain a neutral attitude and not show bias against any Lebanese group.
Following judicious discussions, dialogue
participants reached a common understanding on the matter:
Participants agreed that the Taif Accord clearly defined the boundaries of the exceptional ties between the two countries, whereby the accord stipulated: "Lebanon, with its Arab identity, is tied to all the Arab countries by true fraternal relations. Between Lebanon and Syria there is a special relationship that derives its strength from the roots of blood relationships, history, and joint fraternal interests. This is the concept on which the two countries' coordination and cooperation is founded, and which will be embodied by the agreements between the two countries in all areas, in a manner that accomplishes the two fraternal countries' interests within the framework of the sovereignty and independence of each of them. Therefore, and because strengthening the bases of security creates the climate needed to develop these bonds, Lebanon should not be allowed to constitute
a source of threat to Syria's security, and Syria should not be allowed to constitute a source of threat to Lebanon's security under any circumstances. Consequently, Lebanon should not allow itself to become a pathway or a base for any force, state, or organization seeking to undermine its security or Syria's security. Syria, which is eager for Lebanon's security, independence, and unity and for harmony among its citizens, should not permit any act that poses a threat to Lebanon's security, independence, and sovereignty."
Dialogue participants also agreed to abide
by the resolutions issued by the national dialogue sessions in Lebanon
concerning Lebanese-Syrian ties, which specify:
"As stated in the preamble to the Lebanese Constitution, which stresses Lebanon's sovereignty, freedom, and independence, as well as Lebanon's Arab identity and Arab association, and as confirmed by the Taif Accord concerning the exceptional relationship tying Lebanon to Syria that derives its strength from the roots of blood relationships, history, and joint fraternal interests, and while highlighting the necessity of maintaining coordination and cooperation between the two countries by the signing of agreements in all areas, in a manner that ensures the two countries' interests within the framework of the sovereignty and independence of each of them; therefore in order to strengthen bonds and base them on clear foundations, participants agreed on the following:
One: Syria should not become a threat to Lebanon's security and Lebanon conversely should not pose a threat to Syria's security. In order to achieve such aim, the borders between the two countries ought to be controlled, and the Lebanese government ought to be urged to take necessary measures.
Two: The two countries are not allowed to interfere in each others domestic affairs.
Three: Establishing equal ties between the
two countries based on mutual trust and respect, in addition to the
establishment, as soon as possible, of formal ties between the two countries
which would include setting up of diplomatic missions.
Four: Initiate and support the activity of the Lebanese Syrian Committee in order to settle pending issues such as Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons in a fast and efficient manner.
Participants considered that the Constitution, the Taif Accord, and decisions taken during dialogue sessions provided a suitable political as well as legal framework towards arranging Lebanese-Syrian ties. Nonetheless, participants concurred that discussions should not remain in the theoretical context and practical steps ought to be undertaken:
Drawing lessons from past experiences and avoiding past mistakes are key steps to be undertaken in order to set the foundations for healthy Syrian-Lebanese ties, where the interests and sovereignty of each of the two countries will be respected, and where all forms of hegemony will be dismissed.
Exceptional ties between Lebanon and Syria
should not be at odds with standards of international relations put fort by the
Preserving Lebanese sovereignty and ensuring the proper functioning of Lebanese state institutions guarantee healthy Lebanese-Syrian ties, and preserves the security and interests of the two countries.
Lebanon, which had liberated its occupied
territories in 2000 and is currently working on liberating the occupied Shebaa
farms along with the Kafarshouba hills, will not sign peace agreements or
normalize ties with Israel until the Arab-Israeli conflict is permanently
settled. In accordance with the Taif Accord, and in attempt to safeguard
Lebanese sovereignty, Lebanon will not allow that its territories be used by
outside forces to launch attacks against Israel.
Lebanon should commit itself to developing a defense strategy that would enable it to preserve its territory in face of any potential Israeli attacks. Lebanon should not allow any permit that its territory be used to launch attacks against Syria.
Monitoring Lebanese - Syrian borders so as to ensure stability in both countries.
The necessity of demarcating the borders between Lebanon and Syria, while setting aside potential tensions and complications, which could hinder the demarcation process.
Tensions between Lebanon and Syria should
not reflect on economic ties between the two countries, which should be further
Participants in the dialogue meeting would like to thank the Swiss Government, envoy Didier Befirtre, Swiss ambassador to Lebanon Francois Barras. Participants also express their gratitude to the Swiss Association for Euro-Arab-Muslim Dialogue for facilitating and promoting such sessions. Finally, participants expressed their determination to prolong meetings so as to revive and pursue dialogue.