Nurettin Taşar: Understanding Lebanese Politics through a Cross-Sectarian Lens

Posted: 2017-11-25
Written by: EU Network
Category: Battle of ideas
Tagged: sectarianism politics opinion lebanon idea france

Sectarianism created a complicated government system in Lebanese politics. Complication is present at assignments of government officials. First, the parliament, as a result of a consensus, elects president and the president appoints prime minister and deputy prime minister according to certain religious obligations.


The speaker of parliament must be a Shi'a Muslim, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and the president must be a Maronite Christian(1). According to the census data of 1932 upon which the confessional system is based, Maronites comprise of the population's vast majority.(2) To avoid domestic violence, national census has not been conducted since 1932.

In addition to that, to understand the concept of sectarianism in Lebanon, we have to mention Lebanese political history. Lebanon was mandated by France. It became independent on January the first of 1944. Afterwards, Lebanon faced many conflicts which were begun in 1975an the conflicts left behind 27 causalities within Palestinian passengers.


Then Syrian troops entered Lebanon to restore peace in 1976. However, so many people who were mostly Palestinian, killed by Syrian army as well. Later on, in 1982 Israel army occupied West Beirut. President Amine Gemayel appointed a military government under Maronite Commander-in-Chief Michel Aoun in 1988 in East Beirut when presidential elections failed.

Prime Minister Selim el-Hoss formed a Muslim opposition administration in West Beirut. The state had been ruled “bi-governmentally” during that period.

Then Civil war was ended in 1990. Rafik Hariri, who was prime minister, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005. The attack sparked anti-Syrian rallies and the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami's cabinet. Hezbollah and Syria was accused because of Hariri’s assassination. Because of this situation, the cabinet has not worked properly since then. This discord is visible especially the times when a Sunni leader gains more power than usual in the parliament.(3) From time to time, Hezbollah, Syria or Iran objected this discord and asked for a change. The same goes for Shia and Christian in parliament.


These kinds of conflict became and apple of discord in Lebanese politics as a consequence of the sectarianism. In respect to this, there is a research report regarding whether sectarianism is working or not in Lebanon. For this reason, I will examine Lebanon’s sectarian issue depends on Population Studies Center Research Report regarding sectarianism and counter-sectarianism in Lebanon. Republic of Lebanon has been governed in the course of sectarianism principle which was started in 1932. Sectarianism inextricably had influence over Lebanese identity and society. I will examine that issue whether is working or not depends on the survey which was prepared by Mansoor Moaddel, Jean Kors and Johan Garde.(4)

At first, researchers claimed that the demonstrations in Lebanon on 6 March 2011 started against system which represented corruption and does not representative of Lebanese people. During the demonstrations of Arab Spring, Lebanese activists used the slogan “bread, knowledge, freedom, and no to political sectarianism”.

One can declare that uprisings have not significantly impacted Lebanese politics. Because, Lebanon was used to local crises such as the Israeli–Palestinian crisis, the Shia–Sunni divisions so on.(5)

According to survey especially Sunni and Shi’is give lowest support for secular politics which mean that denominational differences is important for majority two groups in Lebanon. However National identity also play significant role in there which mean that most of part of sectarian group in Lebanon felt themselves as a Lebanon’s citizen even Shi’i and Sunni. It imply that tendencies of citizens have still a significant role. Furthermore there is a strange outcome of survey related to Druze sect if they define themselves as Lebanese, secular and religious fundamentalism.  It is understandable the Druze define themselves as national and secular. But at the same time they define themselves as religious fundamentalism which mean that it was/is complicated. However we should not forget that Shi’is, Sunnis and Christian are dominated in Lebanese politics unlike Druze.


The other significant issues are that inter-confessional trust in sects of Lebanon are not working with each other. Especially Shi’is and Sunnis are not trusting each other and it cause a communal subversion. Furthermore, there is also a communal subversion regarding to foreign intervention in Shi’is and Sunnis sects. For instance, Shi’is in Lebanon are tolerated to intervention by Iran and Syria. On the contrary, Sunnis are tolerated to intervention by Saudi Arabia.




When we look at from a positive perspective regarding Lebanese people, some Christian support the Shi’i group in Lebanon-Israel war. Because these Christians thought that Shi’i militant groups protect their country from the enemy which is Israel. Hence Shi’i militants under the rule of Hezbollah had taken a critical role during that war. When we look back on the time Lebanon was established, we can see similar examples. For instance Christian people started to rise against Ottoman rule with other sects in that territory.

However, established sectarian government system brings problems regarding direct/indirect discrimination. For instance in Lebanon a child has not right to be president, if he/she is Muslim. That applies to a Christian who wants to be prime minister as well. That kind of system contains the people and means that people have not the right to think political issues without sectarianism. These issues cause the loss of communication and thus socialization of different sectarian groups in Lebanon. Divided secterian/religion groups’ human affairs go from bad to worse.

On the other hand, we must mention external effects of sectarianism. For instance, Saudi Arabia tried to control Sunni groups in Lebanon and Iran tried to affect Shia groups in a similar way. Those kind of external effects cause problem as well.

Finally, my research shows that Lebanese politics tend to strengthen sectarianism included external and internal several factors. The Sectarian system caused uneven distribution of power which causes trouble among rivals. Therefore, that kind of a politic system reinforces sectarianism.  However, as I mentioned in the first part of the paper, this kind of sectarian system creates polarization in all countries.

Nurettin Taşar
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1  For detailed information about Maronite Christianity see:

2 See entire constitution:

3 For deteailed information about conflict of secterian groups in Lebanon see:

4 Mansoor Moaddel, Jean Kors, Johan Gärde. “Secterianism and counte-sectarinasim in Lebanon,” Population Studies Center Research Report 12-757,(2012 May), (Access:24.11.2017)

5 For detailed information about local crises see:


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