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In his recent Republic Day message, President Irfaan Ali called upon Guyanese to eschew ‘simplistic propagandist theorizing to achieve self-serving outcomes’ and to be objective in their approach to political and – I dare say all – analytical endeavours. He observed that such an approach ‘requires honesty, integrity, fairness and frankness’ and then proceeded to suggest that all of what Guyanese are and intend to be ‘must be built on a modern constitution that must be developed from the people’. Culture comes by way of historic and present interaction with each other and thus a constitution that determines by whom and how a country is governed is indeed a crucial determinant of how the culture – norms, values and beliefs – develops.
Over the last 70 years, none of the constitutions of Guyana have worked in a fashion that can lead to the kind of national cooperation the president hankers for. This widely recognised fact cannot be addressed by the ‘simplistic propagandist theorizing’ in which the PPP has previously indulged. Indeed, now that the president has spoken and we have an important study (USAID – ‘Democracy, Human Rights and Governance assessment’) that calls upon the political elite to try and create a ‘functioning democracy’ based upon power-sharing, I intend to use this and future articles to once again confront the simplistic and self-serving contentions that have littered this discourse. I will use as a backdrop a recent Stabroek News editorial (SN:20/02/2022) on the USAID study that contains many of the questionable anti-power-sharing themes and which, among other things, is a good example of the simplicity which should be avoided.
In its attempt to throw cold-water on the power-sharing recommendation, the editorial claimed that it has been ‘a total disaster in Lebanon, for example, and the much touted Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland has not worked as intended, and in fact is not working at all at the moment.’ In relation to both countries, this is ‘simplistic propagandist theorizing’ at its best or worst!
At present, Lebanon’s population is 5.3 million of which 95% are Arabs, 67.8% Muslims, 32.4% Christians, 4.5% Druze, and there are 18 different ethno-religious groups. From 1947, it was governed by an unwritten power-sharing National Pact wherein a Maronite Christian held the presidency, a Sunni Muslim was prime minister and a Shi’i Muslim held the post of speaker of parliament. Communities were to be proportionally represented in the cabinet, and a six-to-five Christian-Muslim ratio was adopted for the legislature. From 1955 until the outbreak of civil war in 1975, Lebanon was considered ‘The Paris of the Middle East’ and experienced a period of glamour and optimism known as the Lebanese Golden Age. Beirut and its environs attracted the European and American jet set, with hotels, restaurants, and clubs built for the purpose of entertaining the foreigners and an emerging middle-class. For some three decades, under a shared governance arrangement, in a region of autocratic regimes, here was a progressive Lebanese democratic exception!
The turning point came after the 1967 Six-Day War betweenIsrael and the Arab states of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The country had to accommodate some300,000 Palestinian refugees (it now also has 1 million Syrian refugees) who developed a strong resistance movement. Indeed, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) relocated its headquarters to Beirut and the country became a major Israeli military target. ., From around 1976 to about the turn of the 20th century, Syria and Israel conduct political/military campaigns using Lebanese proxies and the Syrian army was active in Lebanon from 1976 to about 2005. The Ta’if Accords, which ended Lebanon’s 15 years of civil war in 1990 altered some of the previous power-sharing arrangements and even today, the Shi’i still hold the powerful speakership of the parliament and Hezbollah, the radical Shi’i group that was formed by Lebanese Shiʿi clerics after Israeli invaded Lebanon in 1982, has serious political power.
Apart from the need to avoid proffering simplistic propagandistic explanations when dealing with consequential issues, Lebanon demonstrates that for three decades under a power-sharing regime the country became the progressive democratic exception in the Arab world, and arguably, given its location and ethnic structure, no democratic political system would have been able to properly navigate the ethnic/religious/geopolitical cauldron into which the country was thrown. However, a closer look suggests that the power-sharing system should to be reformed and that strong periodical reform requirements should be included in such arrangements. Of course, solving the political divisions does not necessarily resolve the class/equity problem.
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