The Lebanese Constitution: A Hampered Transition from the Rule of Sects to the Rule of Law - December 2023

The Lebanese Constitution: A Hampered Transition from the Rule of Sects to the Rule of Law

Lebanon’s key features that distinguish it from neighbouring countries are embodied in its constitution: secularism, pluralism, and liberalism. The Lebanese Constitution sought to bring together the various religious sects under a single entity – a state that stands at an equal distance from them all. A “consensual democracy” was established, whereby positions within the central government are distributed along sectarian lines, and personal status laws are placed under the jurisdiction of the various religious sects. However, Lebanon’s recent crisis has revealed the failure of the post-civil war political system to reconfigure the state and to consolidate the rule of law in a way that guarantees the basic rights of citizens and secures political and social stability. The question that ensues is whether the Lebanese Constitution is still a sound framework for the country to transition from a state controlled by sectarian logic to the rule of law.
The social contract between the various historically recognized sects was embodied in constitutional guarantees at the level of their participation in the central government and in their right to self-manage. However, the initial concept of a state superseding the religious sects declined with time. The idea of a state that fosters sectarian pluralism gradually transformed into a state subjected to the logic of sects and their leaders’ factional interests. This eroded its authority, effectiveness, and sovereignty, and undermined what is supposed to be a direct relationship between the state and the citizen.
However, the Lebanese Constitution is built on principles and objectives that are compatible with the promotion of the rule of law. It lays the foundations of a civil, non-religious state whose sovereignty transcends its components, and guarantees basic rights and public freedoms, the scope of which was broadened through the constitutional amendments of 1990. It carries a promising vision that is embodied in the abolition of political sectarianism as a primary objective. It also includes social and economic objectives, enshrined in the principles of social justice and balanced development between the regions.