1. The Taif system of 1991 – which, laid down in the constitution, redesigned the powers taking away some prerogatives from the President of the Republic in favour of the presidents of the Council and the Parliament, making a state collegial direction of the Council – is in an advanced state of degradation.
At present the void is just about generalised: the Council of Ministers is no longer operational; the Parliament, having reached the end of its mandate and incapable of reforming the electoral law, has granted itself a supplementary mandate of a year and a half; the President of the Republic presented an appeal to the constitutional court against this initiative and also general Michel Aoun appealed to the latter for it to rule on the Parliament’s decision. But the Court is not able to unite its members and reach the quorum necessary to hold a sitting. In fact, it is the whole Lebanese democratic regime that is in this critical situation owing to the fragmentation of the community, as much on the Muslim side as on the Christian one; in fact each political group represents its own community or part of it or has taken control of it. Some maintain that among the consequences of the fighting in Syria and the alignment in favour of one or the other part of the conflict there is the prolonged suspension of the functioning of the Lebanese institutions, which throws the Lebanese democracy into a state of agony. This desperate state of affairs places the armed and security forces in a difficult situation, as it is with great hardship that they manage to keep the excesses under control which come to the fore from time to time. In Tripoli a definite army intervention was made necessary.
The heavy fighting between Sunnis, partisans of the Syrian revolution, on the one hand, and the Alawites affiliated to the Syrian political regime on the other, have claimed dozens of victims and wounded, not without the open support of the political parties of the city and the threat of the Sunnis to eliminate the Alawite minority. It is the opinion of some that the degeneration and political void have been brought about by a number of political and regional parties of the area so that it could be recognised that the Taif agreements have become ineffective and inadequate, and to prepare the ground to a new agreement and a new national pact. This should be favourable to the stronger and would allow them to take over the political power completely.
2. Connected to this deteriorating political situation, powerless to intervene we are seeing a fresh upsurge of antagonism between Sunnis and Shiites and also among the Christians, increasingly divided between the two Muslim factions. This is demonstrated by the Maronite Patriarch’s will to merge the Christian parties in an electoral law that would give back the autonomy to nominate their deputies of the parliament to the Christians. In fact, at present in order to elect thirty or so of the 64 Christian deputies of the Parliament the Muslim votes are decisive, by virtue of the so-called 1960 Act.
Nonetheless, the alliances of 8 March (between the Shiites and the Christians led by General Aoun) and of 14 March (most of the Sunnis together with the partisans of the Lebanese forces) demonstrated the limits of the influence that a Patriarch can have over the politicians of his community who even claim to be the representatives of it. Practically this antagonism reproduces the antagonism going on in the whole region that has led some Sunnis to intervene in Syria with the rebels and the Shiites of the armed force Hezbollah to support the forces faithful to Bashar al-Asad. One asks how it is possible that the situation in the country of cedars has not yet degenerated in the wake of what is happening in Syria. The answer of a number of military experts seems convincing: on the one hand the Lebanese have experienced a fratricide war that brought only destruction and a political solution of compromise after twenty years of armed conflict. A new conflict would only lead to an agreement similar to the Taif one.
Others maintain that Hezbollah has reached dimensions such that whoever wanted to launch themselves into a destabilising armed conflict would be neutralised by it, considering also that the Lebanese armed forces – which represent all the communities – could not intervene in a conflict of this sort. Thirdly, all the political parties try to restrain any transfer of this antagonism on the ground since such an option would seriously harm first if all the political dimension as an instrument to run public affairs. In fact in such a case the politicians would see themselves being supplanted by the more radical parties, above all the Sunni ones who are impatient to enter into action.
3. Another aspect that is causing concern and weighs on the political and social situation is the problem of the Syrian refugees. Various international organisations have come to help and Lebanon itself has used up considerable resources to host them and give them some amount of consolation. Many state schools have been allocated for the education of the children of refugees according to the Syrian syllabuses. But the settlement of the refugees has not been organised systematically with the opening of camps in Jordan and Turkey. They are therefore everywhere, and are neither controlled nor controllable, which causes problems with the local population and excesses of all sorts.
Therefore the refugees become hostage of the political parties, which use and manipulate them. At present Lebanon has over 600,000 Syrian refugees, equal to about 20% of its population, a number which can be added to the 500,000 Syrians who work in Lebanon. In a medium to long term perspective this risks destabilising the fragile political and economic equilibrium of Lebanese life.
4. Some think that besides the intention of a number of Lebanese political parties to change parts of the Lebanese 1990 constitution, today’s events will lead to the geopolitical reconstitution of the countries of the region according to new boundaries based on ethnic and religious purity and calling into question the present states, founded on the Sykes Pikot agreements of 1915-1916. Among the serious new elements introduced by the Syrian crisis is the relativity of the boundaries, which have become porous and do not at all reflect the breaking-off line between the communities. This putting on standby of the frontiers is used by the Syrian regime and according to a number of observers continues to facilitate the abandoning of Syrian territories to increase the problems of the countries of arrival. To the contrary nevertheless other experts maintain that the Arab revolutions have consecrated the boundaries, as their claims were national and founded on the concept of citizenship as in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya.
But all this becomes relative at the moment in which the community solidarities take on a determining role to frighten the other and to strengthen the community before threats and dangers. During a meeting with some university professors who had come to investigate the political reality and to exert pressure to come out of the institutional deadlock, the resigning Lebanese prime minister, Najib Mikati clearly expressed his doubts with respect to the possibility of reaching a solution before the future of Syria has been decided. In his opinion there are three fundamental issues whose answer influences the Lebanese situation. What will the future of Syria be, since even if Bashar al-Asad were to win, the country could no longer be like it was before? Instead in the case in which a change comes about, which regime will be established in Syria? And with what consequences for Lebanon? Whatever the outcome of the Syrian conflict might be, the nature of the Lebanese liberal economic system and the Taif agreement will at least have to be the subject of debate.
Before these questions and political deadlock it is always possible to reopen the talks to decide on a line of action for the future and to identify some common strategic points that may protect the mission of this tiny country. But are the players really ready for political dialogue? It is not certain. Some are waiting for the relationship of the parties to evolve to their advantage before presenting themselves for talks and anyway all the parties expect changes on the Syro-Iranian ground. In the meantime the crisis continues and the half-time between the two parts of the game risks going on with the danger of degenerating into an uncontrollable situation.