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Title: “They Took Everything and Divided Us”: Considering Prospects for Reform to the Lebanese Confessional System and Implications for United States Policy
Authors: Renfro, Christiana
Advisors: Kurtzer, Daniel
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2013
Abstract: Sectarian conflict in Lebanon dates back well before its inception as an independent nation. The creation of the modern state coincided with the institutionalization of these divisions, particularly through the Constitution of 1926 and the National Pact of 1943, which established the confessional system (nidham al-ta’ifiya) in its modern form. Though they attempted to increase stability by allotting representation and privilege in a way that would satisfy all sects, these agreements perpetuated an untenable hierarchy of power and dissatisfied a wide variety of actors. Though Lebanon was rendered relatively stable for several decades, these tensions provided a fertile breeding ground for conflict. While many point to the establishment by the Palestinian resistance of its base in Lebanon as the direct cause of 1975-1990 civil war, evidence suggests a more critical role played by the domestic sectarian power struggle in inviting such destabilizing external influence. The causal role played by confessionalism in the Lebanese civil war was only partially addressed by the Ta’if Agreement. Rather, the agreement only minimally reshaped the confessional system while promising more substantive reforms at an unspecified date. Additionally, it allowed for the expansion of external influence in Lebanon through sanctioning the Syrian occupation of the country and accepting Hizballah’s refusal to demilitarize. Accordingly, foreign interference and accompanying instability have persisted into the postwar era. Moreover, though the occupations of Lebanon by Syria and Israel have ended, conflict nurtured and institutionalized by the confessional system persists, with spillover from the Syrian conflict threatening to engulf Lebanon in sectarian strife once again. Little incentive exists for the current political elite to initiate potentially costly and controversial political reform in the form of deconfessionalization. Recent surveys of public opinion, however, demonstrate both dissatisfaction with the main institutions of political power and a perceived sense of national identity, suggesting that change may be more likely to emerge at the popular level. To this end, a movement for deconfessionalization comprised of numerous nongovernmental organizations has recently begun campaigning for political reform. Yet this movement has failed to capture the attention of those beyond Lebanon’s socioeconomic elite and, consequently, has yet to see its collective goals realized. United States foreign policy in Lebanon, meanwhile, has historically been reactive and inconsistent in nature. The U.S. has often demonstrated a lack of respect for Lebanon’s political autonomy and treated the nation as a proxy site through which other strategic concerns are managed, with devastating consequences for the Lebanese state itself. These actions have also rarely had positive outcomes in terms of U.S. interests. Several adjustments to U.S. strategy in Lebanon will prove crucial to breaking this pattern. Specifically, it should provide modest encouragement to political reform efforts at the popular level while promoting immediate stability in the face of external pressures.
Extent: 131 pages
Access Restrictions: Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2016

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