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Beyond Sunni and ShiaThe Roots of Sectarianism in a Changing Middle East$
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Frederic Wehrey

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190876050

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190876050.001.0001

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The Unraveling of Taif

The Unraveling of Taif

The Limits of Sect-Based Power-Sharing in Lebanon

(p.135) 6 The Unraveling of Taif
Beyond Sunni and Shia

Joseph Bahout

Oxford University Press

The Lebanese political system is based on a sectarian division of constitutional powers and administrative positions, guaranteeing the representation of certain groups while also contributing to decisionmaking paralysis. The flaws of the sect-based governance system in part led Lebanon into civil war. The 1989 Taif Agreement, which put an end to the war, reshuffled the system. Syria was made the postwar power broker and given guardianship over Lebanon. After Taif, a divisive tension arose between Lebanon’s two main Muslim communities, the Sunnis and Shia. Syria managed the divisions while also exacerbating them. Sunni-Shia frictions sharpened after the assassination of Lebanon’s prime minister and Syria’s 2005 withdrawal from the country. They further intensified with the 2011 outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Today, the Lebanese state is deadlocked. Lebanon has no president, and parliament has been paralyzed since 2013. Many Lebanese seem to believe their system is the least bad option compared with neighbors, but the state’s dysfunction raises doubts about implementing the Lebanese model elsewhere. Time and historical experience have largely rendered sectarianism commonplace in Lebanon, and it is now deeply entrenched in the collective ethos and national behavior. Other Arab countries lack this characteristic. Models of centralized states that rely on a unifying definition of national identity for state building are the rule across the region, and the idea of pan-Arabism has traditionally been more attractive than that of states constructed around subnational identities.

Keywords:   Lebanon, Taif, Shiism, Christians, Sunnis, confessional, power-sharing, Syria

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