Forbes – Flood of Syrian Refugees Strains Lebanon’s Fragile Political Consensus

21 Jul

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Can Lebanon’s “Consociative” Democracy Hold?

Dateline, Beirut. Well, sort of.  I’m actually just back from two weeks in what should be the tourism capital of the Mediterranean. A luminous gem, Lebanon lies in the eye of a hurricane, calm for the moment but never far from trouble. The story of how a country of 4 million citizens comprising 18 officially recognized religious groupings have managed to recover from 15 years of civil war is an inspiring one. But when such a nation is deluged by a million hungry, frightened refugees, one has to wonder how long it will be before something gives way.

The complexity of Lebanon’s political situation boggles the Western mind. While there, I had the opportunity to interview and learn from two Lebanese government officials, Member of Parliament Ghassan Moukheiber and Minister of Economy and Trade Dr. Alain Hakim. (You can listen to their interviews on RealClear Radio Hour here.)

Lebanon is a land with a long and deep history whose people have accumulated more experience dealing with invaders than perhaps any other. We spent a night in Byblos, a city first settled circa 8000 B.C. that vies with Damascus and Cairo for the claim of being the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. The Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hellenes, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottomans, and French have all left their mark there, in layers of ruins exposed by archeologists for all to see.

The civilizations that passed through left not just physical marks, but cultural and religious ones as well. The result is a complex mosaic society that today struggles to operate the only secular democracy in the Arab world. Ghassan Moukheiber probably put it best when he said, “When you think that you understand Lebanon this means that it was very badly explained to you.”

To read the rest of the column in Forbes click here.

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One Response to “Forbes – Flood of Syrian Refugees Strains Lebanon’s Fragile Political Consensus”

  1. Andrew Allison July 21, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Hi Bill, Interesting post, as usual, but it provoked the follow thought: Isn’t the problem with Lebanon that the 18 different religious groups assume (with good reason) that if any one of them achieves control of the government the rest will suffer. This is tribalism, not democracy. It appears that none of the groups has grasped the principles of secular democracy. Regards, Andrew

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