Lebanon, Confessionalism continues to impact state procedures

(From AFP, 17 Augusto 2010)

A Shiite Muslim in Lebanon’s diplomatic corps can forget about being appointed ambassador to Washington. The same goes for a posting in London for a Maronite Christian. And there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

“I was told there were no vacancies for Maronites, so I spent eight years waiting for one to open up,” one former envoy told AFP, requesting anonymity. She has since been posted overseas.

Her plight reflects the omnipresence of political confessionalism in Lebanon, home to no fewer than 18 sects, and where religion may well outweigh merit in the workplace.

Two-thirds of the Lebanese population is Muslim, split almost equally between Sunnis and Shiites. Maronites, loyal to the Vatican, form the vast majority of the Christian population, estimated altogether at some 30 percent.

“It’s like bartering,” researcher Mohammad Shamseddine of the independent consulting firm Information International said of the diplomatic job market.

“These patterns reveal that the aftermath of the Civil War is not yet over,” Shamseddine said.

Confessional loyalties played a major role in Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War, a sectarian bloodbath that initially pitted Sunni Palestinians and leftists against Christians.

The war ended with a “no victor, no vanquished” settlement and saw a constitutional amendment that formalized the division of power along religious lines, granting Muslims and Christians equal shares in the 128-seat Parliament.

And while the amendment also eradicated the division by religion of posts in the state administration, two decades later the sect to which a Lebanese belongs remains a primary factor in getting a government job.

By long-standing tradition, the country’s top posts are divided among the country’s three largest confessions: the president is a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.

Many Lebanese argue that their system of “democracy by consensus” has helped to preserve a fragile peace in the Mediterranean country.

“Embassies and sovereign ministries have become the property of certain confessions and no one can change this reality,” one retired diplomat, who also requested anonymity, said.

Lebanon’s coveted “sovereign” ministries are key Cabinet portfolios that include interior, defense, foreign affairs and finance and are divvied up among the country’s Christian and Muslim sects.

The country’s 68 embassies and eight consulates are also roughly split between Christian and Muslim ambassadors, another move aimed at preserving the balance of power locally and abroad.

“Why is Lebanon, such a small country, in need of so many embassies? For confessional reasons, as every group demands its share,” Shamseddine said.

Bickering among top politicians in Lebanon has hindered the appointment of a number of ambassadors of both faiths, and a handful of envoy posts around the world have been vacant for months, some even for years.

For nearly three years, for example, Lebanon has had no ambassador to Brazil – a country where the Lebanese expatriate community numbers millions. This post is reserved for a Maronite Christian.

In April, Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s unity government, which includes ministers from across the broad political spectrum, approved a confession-blind procedure for appointing candidates to posts in state administration.

But the new system has yet to be implemented, and some 40 percent of state posts remain vacant.

They include the position of manager of the state petrol department, which has been vacant since 1999.

Rights groups have been pushing for a secular state since the end of the Civil War, which saw many people killed at roadblocks based on the religion stated on their ID cards.

And in an unprecedented move last year, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud, known as a champion of secularism and civil rights, allowed citizens to remove their religion from official records and replace it with a slash sign.

But despite growing grass-roots attempts at secularization, including a campaign to legalize civil marriage, the confessional political system still has its advocates.

“As long as the criteria of competence and transparency stipulated by the Constitution are not implemented, I am in favor of the confessional system to preserve balance and diversity,” said Father Tony Khadra, the Lebanon director of the International Catholic Union of the Press.

Read more:http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=1&article_id=118300#ixzz0xA5u29wa
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)