Independence Day

On Independence And Constitutions

Beirut's Martyrs' Square during celebrations marking the release by the French of Lebanon's government from Rashayya prison on November 22, 1943

Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square during celebrations marking the release by the French of Lebanon’s government from Rashayya prison on November 22, 1943

Independent Lebanon is 71 years old today. But then again, if you think of it, we’re barely 7 years old: During the first two years we were still technically under the occupation of the French army. Then, up until 1958, no one really understood what was happening. The next seventeen years were basically buying time so that we don’t have a civil war, which we had anyway from 1975 till 1990. And then there were another fifteen years of Syrian tutelage, followed by 10 years that were more or less similar to the first fifteen ones in terms of democracy and productivity.

And this post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t know how to elect a president. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t know how to make a decent fair electoral law.

This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still postpone parliamentary elections. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still have no control over the security situation.

This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still wait for other states to solve our problems. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t have a sustainable economy.

This post is about a Lebanese parliament that after 71 years of independence still doesn’t know how to follow the simple rules of the Constitution.

You’d think that after 14 parliamentary elections (since 1943) , we would have a parliament that actually knows how to handle a Constitution. Here’s a small compilation of the major constitutional violations that happened (or are still happening) in the past 10 years.

I – “Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic” (Yeah, right)

A) Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country. It is a final homeland for all its citizens. It is unified in its territory, people, and institutions within the boundaries defined in this Constitution and recognized internationally.
B) Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its affiliation. It is a founding and active member of the League of Arab States and abides by its pacts and covenants. Lebanon is also a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Government shall embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.
C) 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.

II – “The people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these powers through the constitutional institutions.” (That’s why we don’t have elections anymore)

D) The people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these powers through the constitutional institutions.

III – “The political system is established on the principle of separation of powers, their balance and cooperation.” (That’s probably why it takes us eleven months to form a government)

E) The political system is established on the principle of separation of powers, their balance and cooperation.

F) The economic system is free and ensures private initiative and the right of private property.

IV – The even what?!?

G) The even development among regions on the educational, social, and economic levels shall be a basic pillar of the unity of the state and the stability of the system.

H) The abolition of political confessionalism shall be a basic national goal and shall be achieved according to a staged plan.
I) Lebanese territory is one for all Lebanese. Every Lebanese shall have the right to live in any part thereof and to enjoy the rule of law wherever he resides. There shall be no segregation of the people on the basis of any type of belonging, and no fragmentation, partition, or settlement of non-Lebanese in Lebanon.
J) There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the ‘pact of mutual existence’.

V – I bet you didn’t even know that we’re supposed to (constitutionally) have a senate (Majlis Chuyukh). But right. Who cares.

Article 22
With the election of the first Chamber of Deputies on a national, non-confessional basis, a Senate shall be established in which all the religious communities shall be represented. Its authority shall be limited to major national issues.

VI – There is no quorum. There. Is. No. Quorum. You do not need 66% of the parliament to be present to elect the president. I repeat, you do not need 66% of the parliament to be present to elect the president.

Article 49
(As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927, And by the constitutional law of may 8, 1929, And by the constitutional law of January 21, 1947 And by the constitutional law of September 21, 1990)
The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a twothirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The President’s term is six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the Presidency of the Republic unless he fulfills the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.

Did you read the word quorum? Because I didn’t. And if the Constitution wanted to say that there was a quorum, it would have said it clearly and mentioned directly the word “quorum”. Like in this article:

Article 65 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of September 21, 1990)

5. The Council of Ministers shall meet periodically in a special seat, and the President of the republic shall chair its meetings when he attends. The legal quorum for a Council meeting shall be a two-thirds majority of its members. It shall make its decisions by consensus. […]

Even the patriarch said that there was no 2/3 quorum.

VII – How did we elect Michel Sleiman again? Because, unlike what the legend says, the Constitution was not amended in 2008.

Article 49


It is also not possible to elect judges, Grade One civil servants, or their equivalents in all public institutions to the Presidency during their term or office or within two years following the date of their resignation and their effective cessation of service, or following retirement.

 Really, it wasn’t.

VIII – I don’t mean to be rude, but did “the Chamber meet automatically”? Because last time I checked, we still didn’t have a president.

Article 73
(As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927, And the constitutional law of may 22,1948, And the constitutional law of april 24,1976)

One month at least and two months at most before the expiration of the term of office of the President of the Republic, the Chamber shall be convened by its President to elect the new President of the Republic. However, should it not be convened for this purpose, the Chamber shall meet automatically on the tenth day preceding the expiration of the President’s term of office.

IX – The Chamber shall meet immediately and by virtue of the law to elect a successor. Immediately. Immediately? Immediately. Immediately!

Article 74 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927)

Should the Presidency become vacant through the death or resignation of the President or for any other cause, the Chamber shall meet immediately and by virtue of the law to elect a successor. If either Chamber happens to be dissolved at the time the vacancy occurs, the electoral bodies shall be convened without delay and, as soon as the elections have taken place, the Chamber meets by virtue of the law.

X – “And NOT a legislative body” (In other words, the parliament shouldn’t have been allowed to vote on the extension law)

Article 75 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927)

The Chamber meeting to elect the President of the Republic shall be considered an electoral body and not a legislative assembly. It must proceed immediately, without discussion of any other act, to elect the Head of the State.

XI – General Budget? What was that again?

Article 83

Each year at the beginning of the October session, the Government shall submit to the Chamber of Deputies the general budget estimates of state expenditures and revenues for the following year. The budget shall voted upon article by article.

XII – No Comment.

Article 95

(As amended by the Constitutional Law of November 9, 1943 And by the constitutional law of September 21,1990)
The Chamber of Deputies that is elected on the basis of equality between Muslims and Christians shall take the appropriate measures to bring about the abolition of political confessionalism according to plan. A National Committee shall be formed, headed by the President of the Republic, it includes, in addition to the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister, leading political, intellectual, and social figures.
The tasks of this Committee shall be to study and propose the means to ensure the abolition of confessionalism, propose them to the Chamber of Deputies and to the Ministers council of ministers, and to follow up the execution of the transitional plan. During the transitional phase:
a. The sectarian groups shall be represented in a just and equitable manner in the formation of the Cabinet.
b. The principle of confessional representation in public service jobs, in the judiciary, in the military and security institutions, and in public and mixed agencies shall be cancelled in accordance with the requirements of national reconciliation; they shall be replaced by the principle of expertise and competence. However, Grade One posts and their equivalents shall be excepted from this rule, and the posts shall be distributed equally between Christians and Muslims without reserving any particular job for any sectarian group but rather applying the principles of expertise and competence.

And there are probably millions of other direct or indirect constitutional violations. They’re not as obvious as the ones here, but still, we see them almost every month.

But hey, look on the bright side: We’re so awesome and independent that we elect the president without having to rely on a Constitution.

 182 days since the 25th of May. 18 days since the 5th of November.

Lebanon’s Founding Fathers: Who’s Who

Members of the parliament counting the votes - Presidential elections,1958

Members of the parliament counting the votes – Presidential elections, 1958 (Archive -LIFE Magazine)

Today is the Lebanese Independence Day, and I wanted at first to write how we aren’t that independent, and how we’re in fact under the mercy of every foreign nation you can think of in the universe. But that’s more like the job of Beirut cab drivers these days.

So instead I’m going to talk a bit about some of Rijal Al Istiqlal (An Arabic word used to describe the men who fought for the independence in 1943)

1- The Dictator

History – unlike the Lebanese history book – does not stop at 1943.  True, Bechara El-Khoury made us an independent  country, but he later abused of his powers as president and of his status as the first among Rijal Al Istiqlal. Bechara El-Khoury’s administration was so corrupt that his brother, Salim El Khoury was often referred to in the press as the Sultan Salim. But that’s not the only abuse of power. Bechara El-Khoury will organize one of the worst parliamentary elections in the 70 years-history of our republic. Massive electoral fraud would bring him a parliamentary majority in 1947, and in 1949, the very man who changed the Lebanese constitution in 1943 for the sake of the independence, will amend the constitution again (with the help of the fake parliament), but this time for personal reasons. Instead of setting an example to the others by protecting the democratic principles in the new country, Bechara El Khoury will make sure that the constitution – that forbids reelection –  gets amended and that he gets reelected for another term (6 years).  Theoretically, he was supposed to stay till 1955 after his reelection, but in 1952 Lebanon would revolt and the white revolution (protests and strikes) along with political pressure from the opposition will force him to resign and abandon politics.  Who knows, if it weren’t for the protests, he might have stayed again from 1955 till 1961. And then from 1961 till 1968. And then till 1974. And 1980. And 1986 and 1992 and 1998 and 2004 and 2010 and 2016. Who knows, he might have been the one giving the Independence speech this week. Because you know he deserves to be dictator. After all, he made us independent.

2- The Assassinated

Every year, we have hundreds of gatherings for tens of martyrs. Every year, people remember them. But who cares about Riad Al-Solh. He’s not very important. He’s not a warlord, and he’s not a sectarian leader. If it weren’t for him, the Muslim regions of Lebanon would’ve been part of Syria, and the French army would still be in Beirut. But really, he’s not very important, he’s just that guy that was behind the independence, and the fact that the Muslim population decided to stop the boycott of the Lebanese state that lasted from the 1920s to the 1940s. He’s not even a martyr. Wait. What? He’s a martyr?!

 Riad Al-Solh, to refresh your memories, Lebanese, is the most important martyr in this country, because he’s the founder. He was assassinated in 1951 by the SSNP in Amman. That’s how he miraculously disappeared from Lebanese politics in case you one day wondered. Two times prime minister under Bechara El-Khoury, he made life easier for the corrupt regime men, even though he wasn’t  corrupt himself – apparently he was broke and in debt when he was assassinated. One of the mistakes of the regime was the  killing of SSNP leader Antoun Saade with no proper trial. When you don’t apply justice properly, justice won’t apply to you either. La loi de la jungle. No need to tell you the rest of story.

3- The Tyrant

Who would’ve thought that the same minister of interior trapped in his cell in Rashaya in 1943 for the sake of the independence would be in 1975 the same minister of interior that will let everyone arm themselves and destroy the very country he helped build? Who knew that this very man, Camille Chamoun, would destroy the national pact – that he helped to forge in 1943 – by allying with the west in 1956, paving the way for the first civil war in 1958? Who knew that the same man that turned against his party leader in 1952 because he extended his term, would try to do the same thing 6 years later? Who knew that the same man that fought for the French army to leave Lebanon, will ask the marines to enter Beirut in 1958, before calling for the Syrian army to occupy in 1976 and then welcoming the Israelis afterwards? Who knew that the man that fought for the independence of the Lebanese state in 1943 would secretly support the 1961 SSNP coup attempt? Who knew that the man that criticized the electoral fraud of 1947 in 1952 would create the most gerrymandered electoral law Lebanon has ever seen – ten years after the first elections after the independence were rigged by Bechara El-Khoury – throwing 3 of the 5 opposition leaders outside the parliament? There’s one big difference between Chamoun and El-Khoury. El-Khoury understood that he did something wrong, and he gave up power peacefully and immediately. Chamoun was ready to burn Lebanon with him every time he had to give up power. You can thank his selfishness and stubbornness for being the indirect reason behind of all our civil wars, sectarian problems (That we barely had before he decided to show up), and all the foreign armies that came to our country.

4- The Rebels And Counter-Rebels

“Repulse the enemy with your breasts! Fight them with your spears! Kill them with your bullets!” Saeb Salam promised a fight in “every block, every house, every room” – TIME, July 28, 1958

Men loyal to Kamel El Assaad were burning the Lebanese flag in Tyre during the revolution of 1958, while  Saeb Salam, the man whose house was the very place where that flag was designed, was now leading the insurgency against the Lebanese state in Beirut. Sabre Hamade – who convened members of the parliament in his house during the independence struggle – was the commander of the revolution in the Bekaa. Simultaneously in Tripoli, the son of AbdulHamid Karami – One of the six men that were imprisoned in Rachaya –  was now the leader of the revolt in Tripoli. On the other hand, Pierre Gemayel’s Kataeb party, whose paramilitary forces were essential in the struggle of 1943, was now used as a militia answering to a president abusing of his powers. Half of the politicians that were one day opposing the French  would side with the Americans, while the other half would side with the Egyptians. And what compromise was finally reached? Ironically electing Fouad Chehab – who will ally with Gaullist Frances during his rule – as president, 15 years after our independence from France.

See? I ended up talking how we’re under the mercy of foreign powers after all. Who knew.

The same men who fought for the independence of Lebanon will soon fight each others in 1958 and 1975. Don’t  get me wrong, some of  Rijal El Istiqlal are corrupt and some aren’t. Some are warlords and some aren’t. Some are good and some are bad. Some are bad and some are worse. And some are worthy of that name and deserve all the honor they should have, and even more.

Maréchal Pétain led the French to victory in WWI but allied himself to the enemy in WWII. Do you see the French paying too much respect to Pétain?

It’s not about 1943 that our  parties and deceased political leaders should be judged. It’s about everything that followed. The denial should end. If they screwed up afterwards, we should say that they screwed up, not just hide the facts and feel so lucky that we had them.

You know you’re independent when 70 years after the mandate, you can’t officially spell independant independent in the colonial language.

Reminder: We still don’t have a government. But who cares, we’re independent.