Lebanese Constitution

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)

PREAMBLE
(INTRODUCED BY THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF SEPTEMBER 21, 1990)
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.

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Constitutionality In The Eye Of The Beholder

Nabih Berri

Guess Whose Eyes Are These

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

Three weeks ago, Lebanon’s highest judicial court, the constitutional council, stood there silently, watching an illegitimate and unjustified extension of the parliament’s term. There’s nothing worse than having a paralyzed constitutional council in a country. What was supposed to be incorruptible, unreachable by politicians, the last hope to halt  tyrannical laws – a council dissolving illegitimate senates in Egypt and capable of impeaching presidents – turned out to be a political property as it even failed to convene; two judges were loyal to Berri and another was loyal to Jumblatt. To be fair, the council’s president that was against the extension, also turned out to be a relative of the Lebanese President. Meaning that any decision – with or against the extension – would’ve been a political one rather than a purely independent judicial one. In Lebanon you can call it sharing power,  expanding an influence or even rewarding a loyal supporter with a civil servant post. In other countries, it’s called corruption.

No True Separation

The quote at the beginning isn’t from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but from the Lebanese Constitution, its preamble, article E . So what defines a democracy? Separation of powers does play a role, at least according to Montesquieu. It prevents a single body from usurping all the powers, or even corrupting and paralyzing the two other bodies.

When half of the constitutional council members are named by the parliament and the other half is the government’s share, is it truly an independent judicial power? When the parliament – that already has immense powers of electing the President, the PM, giving the government the confidence, and indirectly ruling everywhere – fails to form a government and starts surpassing its legislative authority by voting laws with no government in power, by extending civil servant terms – a purely executive right – and by having the third of the previous cabinet as MPs, wouldn’t be considered usurpation of power rather than separation and cooperation? Would an MP give a no-confidence vote if he were the minister? Is it anything but merging the three branches of the state? If there was still one thing to be proud of in this country, it was the separation of powers between the government, the judiciary, and the parliament. Even that turned to be an illusion.

Berri’s Double Standards

Constitutionality is in the eye of the beholder. Back in 2007, when the speaker refused to call for a parliamentary session (thus paralyzing the parliament), he argued that the government was not legitimate because it did not have Shia ministers. For him, the government was not considered as a functioning executive power anymore, and the parliament – selon l’usage – cannot usually convene to vote laws with no executive authority in power, because forming a government has the priority over voting laws so that the country avoids power vacuum. I have always criticized politicians for their double standards (see here). Today is Berri’s turn: If there is one undeniable and irrefutable political  fact today, it is that the Mikati government is a caretaker one, with no authority, and even less legitimate than the Siniora government that was present in 2007, for even if Siniora’s legitimacy was questioned, he did not resign and stayed in his post till 2008.

Just one simple innocent Moulahaza: The speaker paralyzes the parliament for 18 months because 7 ministers resign, but when the government officially falls, he is so eager to call for a session in three consecutive days, with 74339240032 draft laws on the agenda – without forgetting that a postponement of the elections and an extension of the mandate was also made under no government in power –  while constitutionally, the speaker is not allowed to call for a session from the end of May till the 15th of October unless the president issues a decree (article 23) .

Berri’s Point Of View

Berri considers that he has the right to call for a session because constitutionally when a government falls the parliament automatically convenes in an extraordinary session. Even if it’s not written in the constitution, the extraordinary session isn’t for legislation but for forming a government as soon as possible. However for Berri, it was understood as a green light to call for a legislating session. If he says so, why wasn’t it also understood as a green light in 2007? Apparently constitutionality is not only in the eye of the beholder, it also changes with time.

What’s Greater Than A Democracy?

There’s a video on YouTube “في احلى من لبنان” (What’s greater than Lebanon?) made by the ministry of tourism encouraging tourists to visit Lebanon. To sum it up quickly, they forget to tell you a lot of things : That the sea is probably the most polluted one in the Middle East (0:06), that the mountains are being crushed (0:20), that the sun exists everywhere in the world (0:26), that we have a  poor food quality (0:36) and that you’ll probably have gastroenteritis in a week. They don’t tell you that Baalbak, by far the most important landmark in Lebanon wasn’t mentioned because it was being shelled by the FSA, that the biggest three coastal cities are now militia hubs, and that a couple of years ago there used to be a poster of Condoleeza Rice at the airport road with the following saying beneath it:  “لا تشتري العبد الا والعصا معه”  (Feel free to to go on Google Translate). But my primary concern with the video isn’t that the Lebanese feel that sharing a video is more useful than protecting the museum  treasures,  stopping the destruction of hippodromes and old houses, watching over our coasts or even asking for a better touristic police. The world is not fool. Sharing videos from the thirties’ era won’t bring tourists to Lebanon, but working to improve and stabilize the country will. Stopping the weekly skirmishes, bringing a government to life, not destroying Amin Maalouf’s house – among hundreds of other cultural buildings taken down every day – might bring more tourists than sharing a one minute YouTube video telling us that we have sun, water, women (0:45) and food (like all the places in the world apparently)

And what is my primary problem? And how is the video related to the subject of the post? At 0:50 comes the biggest lie you might ever hear. A lie so big that even the Lebanese chooses to believe it. “What’s Greater Than A Democracy?“.

Put aside the ruling generals. Put aside the warlords that became humble civil servants. How can a country with no freedom of press, with no separation of powers, with no elections and with no government can be considered a democracy? The biggest tyranny is the illusion of democracy. When a Lebanese politician – an MP and apparently a candidate to the presidency, which by the way is supposed to be the protective post of the constitution – goes on TV and says that “What strengthens you is your strength on the ground, here in Lebanon, not what is written down in [the Constitution]”, tell me, dear reader, do you feel you’re in a democratic republic where five sheet of paper protect you and give you your basic rights wherever you go, or in an animal farm where you’ll be the prey of both the lion and the wolf?

Guess What!

Egypt is a democracy – well not really, the army just made a coup, but you get the point – and you know why? Because one year after elections, 30 millions take the streets, overthrow a democratically elected president  belonging to a religious party because of his mistakes, put the president of the constitutional council as interim president and organize early elections, only 2 years after they had removed another dictator hailing from the army.

The difference? You live in a country where you have been ruled by generals hailing from the army and religious parties for the past five decades, where the parliament elected on the basis of a gerrymandered electoral law extends his term and then starts acting like a government, monopolizing the executive power and legislative power. A country where even a constitutional council can’t convene.

In a democracy, the rules of the game are clear. When they aren’t, and the referees can’t take a decision,  constitutionality becomes in the eye of beholder. And when the constitution – that includes the written democratic principles – becomes in the eye of the beholder, it is not the constitution anymore, but rather a constitution among others.

Several constitutions do not unite one people.

Does Lebanon Need The First Amendment?

By Mazen Kerbaj

Picture By Mazen Kerbaj

Jean Assy, a free patriotic movement activist, was arrested a couple of days ago for tweeting against the president. Should hate speech be protected or not by the freedom of speech? People can debate for hours and hours, and like Elie sums it up pretty well in his post,  Jean Assy has people to watch his back, Many other Lebanese – like you – do not.

Is It Freedom?

What is exactly the difference between the United States and Lebanon? Well, you got that right: Everything. But on the top of that everything, there’s the freedom of speech. With freedom of speech, comes the freedom to criticize, and with the freedom to criticize, comes democracy. And with democracy, comes everything else, be it good or bad.

Lebanon – compared to the United States – has no freedom of speech. And it’s not about the biased media, or the conspiracies, or the wasta, or whatever we tend to convince ourselves with. We do not have freedom of speech, because we do not have a constitution that guarantees us freedom of speech. Our constitution, unlike the American one, gives the parliament the right to issue laws that can regulate the freedom of speech. In the United States, the Congress shall make no law regulating the freedom of speech (First Amendment to the Constitution):

Congress Shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances

Meanwhile in Lebanon:

The freedom to express one’s opinion orally or in writing, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association shall be guaranteed within the limits established by law.

You can clearly see the difference between the first amendment and article 13 of the Lebanese constitution: The fact that there’s a law regulating freedom of speech, and that there’s a boundary, really says it all. And according to the law that’s inspired by the constitution, the religious leaders and president are immune to the freedom of speech. I do not understand how we dare to speak of the freedom of press, while something called the Publication Court (محكمة المطبوعات) still regulates the press and censors it. Even social media will be under censorship if the Lebanese Internet Regulation Act (LIRA) passes in the parliament.

The world was shocked in June when Muhammad Al-Qatta, a 15 year old child, got executed by Syrian rebels for blasphemy. KFC Tripoli was burned in September because of an anti-Islam movie that wasn’t even produced in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah made a (very) rare live appearance in a demonstration against that same movie. Draw a caricature mocking a Maronite Patriarch in a Saudi Newspaper, and you become bad. Speak against – Or insult, depending on your political allegiance – the other Patriarch, and you become worse. A human decides to burn the Coran 11000 Km away from Lebanon, and Lebanon’s peaceful – beware, that’s sarcasm – coexistence is suddenly under an imminent threat.

The Two types of Drivers

Two types of drivers in Lebanon exist. And no, they are not classified by gender, but by the way they react to the insults they get while driving. There’s the driver that starts insulting the other driver, stops the car in the middle of the highway, gets out of the car, beats the other driver, threatens him, possibly shoots him, before finally spending the night together at the police station. And then there’s the other type of driver: The one that hears the insult, smiles back while knowing that his mom is not a whore and he is not an animal – specifically a dog – , continues driving and reaches home where he later celebrates father’s day.

La Morale

When Jean Assi insulted the President, did the president become what Jean Assi said about him? No. It only made Jean Assi’s argument weaker. When that  American said that the Coran contains satanic verses, did it make the Coran contain satanic verses? No. It only made him look like a bigot. When the Patriach was made similar to the Devil in the caricature, did that make him the devil? I guess that’s a no too.

My Two Cents

You do not censor what you don’t like. That is not and will never be freedom. If you don’t like it, or don’t agree with it – even if it’s hate speech – you move on and/or respond to it. When you censor it, you’re acting like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. To sum it up: You don’t fight an extremist bigot full of hate speech by putting him in jail because of his words. You fight him by letting him say what he wants, properly responding to him, and make him look like a fool.  Otherwise, the hate speech will spread faster, and there would not be any proper control over it. With the absolute Freedom of speech, you can at least know the impact of the thoughts and fight them. For Jon Stewart, a regime (Egypt) that is afraid of a Joke is not a regime. Can a regime afraid of an insult be considered one?

But Before wondering if the Lebanese need the first amendment and an absolute freedom of speech, we should start by wondering if they want an absolute freedom of speech. A right that includes with it the right to “blasphemy”, to write against the 18 sects, to draw comics about the prophet, -who knows- to side with the enemy publicly, to tweet against the president, to issue governmental and security leaks, while being simultaneously protected by the government.

Do the Lebanese really want freedom of speech?

A Closer Look At The Orthodox Gathering Law- Part I: Why It’s Unconstitutional

Elie Ferzli

I usually publish another post on the electoral law where I say if it has chances to pass. This time, I won’t publish. It’s obvious, the law won’t pass because there’s an unconditional general Muslim veto on it.

That’s me, 8 months ago. As you can notice, events evolve quite fast in this country. Who would’ve thought that the Orthodox Gathering law would be actually considered as an alternative to the 1960 law? There have been lots of talk on the issue (and even a Promotion and its Parody), so I’m going to bombard you with several posts on the Orthodox Gathering Electoral law. Just as a reminder, the OG law makes Lebanon one single district in which each sect can only vote for its coreligionists MPs under proportional representation.

I hereby leave you with the first part, an analysis on the unconstitutionality of the law.

Article 7 All Lebanese shall be equal before the law. They shall equally enjoy civil and political rights and shall equally be bound by public obligations and duties without any distinction.

One of the problems of the law is that it gives the Christians, 38%, the right to vote for 50% of the MPs.  Under the 1960 law, the Christian and Muslim votes are equal in their influence. (more…)