Threats to the Taif Accord

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The consequence of such agenda has been to incorporate Lebanon into the Iranian sphere of influence, and thus the alienation of the Arab countries.

by Bassem Ajami -Source: Annahar

In this photo released by the Lebanese government, Lebanese president Michel Aoun addressees a speech, in the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (AP Photo)

On the 45th anniversary of the start of the Lebanese civil war, it is useful to examine the main threats to the 1989 Taif accord.

The agreement redefined the powers of Muslims and Christians. However, General Michel Aoun, at the time prime minister and army chief, rejected the accord as biased against the Christians because it diminished the powers of the president. And although the agreement was incorporated into the constitution, which, as president, Aoun swore to protect and preserve, he never wavered in his disapproval of the accord.

General Aoun’s complaint is that the agreement trimmed extensively the authority of the president. This is true, yet Aoun’s objections carry some exaggerations. While it is true that before the Taif accord the Maronite president enjoyed considerable powers, most such powers remained inapplicable. One example is the power to dissolve parliament, which in effect was never practiced. Another example is the appointment of the Sunni prime minister, which in effect had always been subject to the approval of members of parliament and the main Muslim leaders.

President Aoun is trying to change the constitution, which is a legitimate effort. But he is going about it by creating precedents, which creates more problems than it solves.

One example is the financial meetings that take place frequently at the presidential palace. Such meetings, involving bankers, financiers as well as government officials, maybe useful as brain storming sessions among experts, but not much beyond that. They cannot produce binding decisions. Their aim is mostly to give the appearance that the president is setting the national economic agenda.

Another example is the role of the Supreme Defense Council, which, according to the constitution, meets whenever summoned by the president who chairs all its meetings. The council appears to be playing a role parallel to that of the cabinet.

Since the new government took office, president Aoun has summoned the council prior to all cabinet meetings held at the presidential palace. The council issues recommendations, which are adopted at the cabinet meetings.

Still, another fierce opponent to the Taif accord is Hezbollah. While General Aoun regarded the accord as unfair for the Christians since it stripped the president of much of his powers, Hezbollah saw the agreement as a death sentence.

The Taif accord called for dismantling all militias. But Hezbollah refused to comply as long as Israel continued to occupy parts of south Lebanon. And although the Israeli occupation ended in 2000, the Iranian – backed party redefined its mission as the liberation of the disputed Sheba farms.

But Hezbollah’s main mission has to do more with Iran than Lebanon. Its real purpose is to help project Iranian influence and power throughout the region and beyond. The consequence of such agenda has been to incorporate Lebanon into the Iranian sphere of influence, and thus the alienation of the Arab countries. This has been distressing not only to the delicate Lebanese political fabric, but mainly to its economy which it all but devastated.

Nonetheless, the opposition to the Taif accord brought together General Aoun and Hezbollah in an unusual alliance. General Aoun, who always opposed the existence of the militant group, found it nonetheless expedient to ignore his earlier objections and ally himself with the Iranian – backed party. General Aoun was motivated by a promise by the party to support his bid for the presidency. Consequently, Hezbollah obstructed the election of a president for more than two years until it was able to fulfill its pledge to Aoun.

Lebanon thus now lives in the shadow of a “presidential deal” with devastating consequences. The threat to the Taif accord is evident as both President Aoun and Hezbollah energetically deplete it of much of its value. The former by establishing precedents that in effect change the political system into a presidential one, while the latter by pursuing policies and practices that undermine the authority of the Lebanese state and weaken its influence.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the powers of the president need to be boosted in order to allow him to play a more meaningful role. Yet such change needs to come by way of a constitutional amendment, and not through establishing one precedent after another. President Aoun can use his presidential and moral authority to request such change through constitutional channels.

Yet Hezbollah’s opposition to the Taif accord cannot be mitigated. Its agenda runs in direct opposition to the existence of the Lebanese state. Its encroachment on the authority of the state is likely to increase in proportion to Iran’s influence in the region.

 

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