Lebanon - Politics - Background
Lebanon has a unique system of government that shares power among the country's religious sects. The political system is based on confessional affiliation, and parliamentary seats are allotted on a sectarian basis. There were four major, and numerous smaller, political parties. The larger, sectarian-based parties maintained the greatest influence in the country's political system, although a number of smaller parties existed or were in the process of forming. The cabinet must license all political parties. The government scrutinized requests to establish political movements or parties and monitored their activities to some extent.
The constitution of the country was amended in 1991, under a plan for national reconciliation called the Ta'if Accord. The accord established a new political order in which Muslims and Christians share legislative power through a unicameral National Assembly. Hizbollah, once a ragtag militia, is one of the most powerful parties in the National Assembly. It is a Shiite Muslim organization led by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah with 20,000 active members. Founded in 1982, Hezbollah has twin objectives -- the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon. The party runs hospitals, television stations and newspapers and is widely supported by the Lebanese. The Lebanese government regards Hizballah's mission as a legal resistance against Israel and allows it to operate freely within the country so long as the organization adheres to the law.
In the past, the system worked to produce a viable democracy. The civil war resulted in greater segregation across the confessional spectrum. Whether in political parties, places of residence, schools, media outlets, even workplaces, there is a lack of regular interaction across sectarian lines to facilitate the exchange of views and promote understanding.
Some Christians favor political and administrative decentralization of the government, with separate Muslim and Christian sectors operating within the framework of a confederation. Muslims, for the most part, prefer a unified, central government with an enhanced share of power commensurate with their larger share of the population. The trajectory of the Ta'if Agreement pointed towards a non-confessional system, but there was been no real movement in this direction in the decade and a half since Ta'if, though there had been murmurings to change the agreement.
Palestinian refugees, predominantly Sunni Muslims, who numbered 425,640 in 2010 according to UNRWA, are not active on the domestic political scene as they do not have the right to vote or even to reside in Lebanon. Nonetheless, they constitute an important minority whose naturalization/settlement in Lebanon is vigorously opposed by most Lebanese, who see them as a threat to Lebanon's delicate confessional balance. In 2002, parliament enacted legislation banning Palestinians from owning property in Lebanon. The Labor Ministry opened up professions previously closed to Palestinians in August 2010, but they are still barred from professions requiring associations membership, including law, medicine and engineering. The number of Iraqi refugees is approximately 50,000 and is believed to have stabilized as of 2008.
When Rafiq Hariri became prime minister in 1992, in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war, he was essentially a political outsider. After making his fortune in Saudi Arabia, he returned to Lebanon to assist in rebuilding the country, and when he took office, many hoped he would bring an end to the feudal politics of political dynasties and militia rule. Many credit Hariri with ushering in a period of revitalization following the war. At a time when the two most powerful Christian voices from the war period, Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea, were sidelined (Aoun in exile and Geagea in jail) Hariri allowed the remaining Christian leaders (and some Muslims) to benefit from their close ties to the occupying Syrians, while ensuring that the other major confessional leaders -- Shia leader Nabih Berri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt -- would have the financial resources available to keep them politically strong.
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