Since the inauguration of the first president of independent Lebanon, in 1943, the creation of a 'modern state' has been a constant theme across the Lebanese political spectrum. Almost every Lebanese, including the sectarian-minded, have and continue to speak of the 'modern state' as a cherished dream. Yet, after well over the half century mark, the people of Lebanon today find themselves further away from that dream than ever before.
So what has gone wrong? Why have the Lebanese been unable to make a reality of this dream? Why do they continue to back-paddle when it is probably the only unifying principle in their life? The Lebanese pride themselves as an enterprising, forward-looking and creative people. So why have they bungled on this occasion? There are, of course, no simple answers to these questions, but the exercise is worthwhile.

The modern state

The modern state represents one of mankind's highest stages of development. It is a kind of an institutional pact whereby people come together to form a state or nation because they believe that, through their combined efforts, they will be more able to realize their common aspirations for peace and security, which are essential for their physical and spiritual welfare and progress, both as individuals and as a community. It is to achieve these objectives that the people agree collectively to surrender to a central state the power to control their lives and to organize and regulate activities within their society. In the process, they would have clear understandings and agreements regarding the ideas and principles that underlie their political systems and on the basis of which power and authority are to be exercised by the various elements of government.
As a public power constituting the supreme political authority within a defined territory, the modern state is associated with Western Europe's gradual institutional development beginning in earnest in the late 15th century, culminating in the rise of absolutism and capitalism.

As Europe's dynastic states - England under the Tudors, Spain under the Hapsburgs, and France under the Bourbons - embarked on a variety of programs designed to increase centralized political and economic control, they increasingly exhibited many of the institutional features that characterize the "modern state." This centralization of power involved the delineation of political boundaries, as European monarchs gradually defeated or co-opted other sources of power, such as the Church and lesser nobility. In place of the fragmented system of feudal rule, with its often indistinct territorial claims, large, unitary states with extensive control over definite territories emerged. This process gave rise to the highly centralized and increasingly bureaucratic forms of absolute monarchical rule of the 17th and 18th centuries, when the principal features of the contemporary state system took form, including the introduction of a standing army, a central taxation system, diplomatic relations with permanent embassies, and the development of state economic policy-mercantilism.

The modern state, then, is a structured and sophisticated institution backed by well-organized law enforcement agencies and habitually obeyed by the citizenry. Infraction of well-articulated legal and political norms attracts swift sanctions and the political sovereign is expected to rule in accordance with the law. Hence, the rule of law is a cardinal feature of the system of governance: the ruler is ultimately accountable and liable to deposition upon the violation of norms considered subversive of the entire political system or particularly heinous.

The creation of Modern Lebanon

Lebanon is a country of 'sects'. It was formed in 1920 to appease the religious and particularistic aspirations of the Christian Maronites with careful absorption of others sects and regions to ensure its viability. Before that time, Lebanon was a rugged mountain range extending from the hinterland of Tripoli in the north to that of Sidon in the south. Because of its geographical isolation and rugged landscape, it historically attracted sectarian minorities fleeing persecution. The Maronites moved into the area in the seventh century, and they continue to this day to form the majority of its population. Another is the Druze sect, a religious community whose traditional religion began as an offshoot of the Ismaili sect of Islam, but is unique in its incorporation of Gnostic, neo-Platonic and other philosophies. Smaller Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities also inhabited Mount Lebanon either for economic reasons or to escape political and religious persecution.
With the enlargement of the mutassarafiyyah in 1920, the religious combination of the area changed substantially. Sunni Islam took over as the second largest sect, replacing the Druze, and the Shiite community gained both in strength and numbers. The perception in Lebanon has long been that Greater Lebanon was created in this fashion to accommodate Maronite aspiration for a viable state. This is partly true. The French were attentive to Maronite political sensitivities, but their overriding objective was to maintain hegemony over the areas mandated to them after the War. The French were interested in an independent Maronite-dominated Lebanon only to the extent it did not clash with their imperial and long-term interests in the region. A Greater Lebanon served this vision in two ways:
1. It ensured continued Maronite (and other Christians to some extent) support for and dependency on France by reducing their numerical strength in the new state;
2. It weakened the burgeoning Syrian Arab nationalist movement by ceding a substantial area, where local support for the movement was strong, to Lebanon.
In other words, a viable modern Lebanon was never a primary objective of the French. Rather, the objective was to create a weak and unstable Lebanon to ensure continued Maronite subservience to France and, conversely, a lasting need for the French in Lebanon. Logically, a 'viable Lebanon' or a 'viable state in Lebanon' was and remains incompatible with French interests. It negates the very reason why France came to be in Lebanon and why it continues to exercise strong influence over the country. A viable Lebanon would make it very difficult for France, and other countries, to exploit religious differences or to justify meddling in Lebanese affairs.
Lebanese inability or unwillingness to come to term with this reality is a major stumbling bloc to the creation of a modern state in Lebanon. The reason is simple. If the Lebanese are unable to see the logic that governs international relations, that is, that ultimately foreign states are guided solely by their own national interests, their dream of a modern state will remain the object of a twisted conception. The Lebanese must realize that the first step in the creation of a modern state in Lebanon is to recognize that foreign states, be it France or the United States or England, will only assist them in their task in so far as such a state is able to serve their (i.e., foreign states) interests first.

Sect vs. State

One of the most conspicuous reasons for the absence of a modern state in Lebanon is due to the persistence of the 'sect' as a primary unit of authority. It is inconceivable to construct a national modern state on sects and sectarian life because the two differ over where ultimate authority resides. In fact, it is a contradiction of terms: the national state is based on central authority whereas the sect on communal authority. Let's examine this point more closely.

According to the sociological perspective, the sect

... is not only an ideological unit, it is, to a greater or lesser degree, a social unit, seeking to enforce behaviour on those who accept belief, and seeking every occasion to draw the faithful apart from the rest of society and into the company of each other. In its extreme form, the sect provides a sphere of investigation for the sociologist somewhat akin to the anthropologist's isolated tribal society. The essential difference, however, is that the sect, as a protest group, has always developed its own distinctive ethic, belief and practices against the background of the wider society; its own protest is conditioned by the economic, social, ideological and religious circumstances prevailing at the time of its emergence and development.'

Bryan Wilson and Andrew Walker have identified eleven behavioural traits that are typical of a sect:

1. It is a voluntary association.
2. Membership is by proof to the sect authorities of some special merit, such as knowledge of doctrine or conversion experience.
3. Exclusiveness is emphasised, and the expulsion of deviants is exercised.
4. There is the conception of an elect or gathered remnant with special enlightenment.
5. Personal perfection - however defined - is the expected level of aspiration of members.
6. There is ideally a priesthood of all believers.
7. There is a high level of participation by ordinary members.
8. The member is allowed to express his commitment spontaneously.
9. The sect is hostile or indifferent to the secular society and the state.
10. The commitment of the sectarian is always more total and more clearly defined than that of a member of other religious organisations.
11. Sects have a totalitarian rather than segmental hold over their members, and their ideology tends to keep the sectarian apart from the 'world'. The ideological orientation to secular society is dictated by the sect, or member behaviour is strictly specified.

The sect, then, is necessarily opposed to the state and the social order. Its domination of its members need not be of a purely social character. It may be the dominance of an ideology, a Weltanschauung, seeking the total organization of the lives of its members. Occasionally it may display flexibility, for practical purposes, but its ideals, values and sentiments will still diverge from that of the wider society.
Several questions present themselves here: do Lebanese seriously believe that they can achieve a modern state of their own before addressing the sectarian problem in their country? Do they really think that a modern state can actually exists side by side with sects? Do they sincerely imagine that a modern state can be constructed from a hodgepodge of exclusively sectarian doctrinal and philosophical orientations? If the people of Lebanon, in all their sects, think that it can be done, they suffer from a serious intellectual deficiency approaching true ignorance.
As long as sects remain a salient point in Lebanese social and political life, the chances of a modern state are slim. The Lebanese must understand that the process of central state building necessarily involves the deconstruction of the sects as separate political and social compartments. It also involves the deconstruction of the long-held view among many of them, particularly the ruling elite, that Lebanon is a country of sects and, therefore, has to be ruled through sectarian consensus. This might be true, but it doesn't comport with the attributes of a modern state. The Lebanese have either to acquiesce in the view that theirs is a country of sects or throw it out in favor of a modern state: there is no middle ground.

The National Pact

Another stumbling bloc to the creation of a modern state in Lebanon is the National Pact. Devised in 1943, the National Pact defined in an unwritten form the internal distribution of power and the conduct of Lebanon's Arab and foreign policies.  The Pact consecrated two fundamental principles, which, until then, had been the cornerstone of civilian political rule. At the organizational level, it maintained the philosophy "that a government governs best if it governs least, administered the day-to-day affairs of the state, and avoided, to a great extent, fundamental questions of politics such as identity, ideology, nation building, and regional and international political considerations."  Government participation was kept at a minimum because of the fear of upsetting the delicate political balance between the religious sects.  Instead, the role of the government was limited primarily to two duties interpreted rather narrowly: the maintenance of relative socio-economic stability and the provision of the opportunity to play the major role in economic expansion to the private sector.  Above and beyond these considerations, minimum government provided the leaders of the National Pact with an easy way of re-directing any economic discontent against their own leadership towards other sectors of the economy. 
The second outstanding feature, which the National Pact helped to maintain, was the religious sectarian structure of Lebanon.  Because the 1943 charter was a pact between two religious communities, it necessarily involved a re-assertion of the confessional structure of Lebanese society and the formal consecration of the sectarian identities of its various constituent communities. The Pact legitimized sect as a basis for representation and provided for a proportional distribution of political power on the basis of the first and last population census, held in 1932, which showed that Christians constituted a majority over Muslims in the ratio of six to five.  This ratio was observed in the various realms of public life, at all levels of the political system as well as in the civil service and the military establishment. At the governmental level, it accepted in principle three presidencies: the Presidency of the Republic, reserved to the Christian Maronites; the presidency of the parliament, (the Speaker), reserved to the Shiites; and the presidency of the council of ministers (the prime minister), reserved to the Sunni Muslims. The Greek Orthodox were awarded the vice-presidency of the Council of Ministers and the vice-presidency of the parliament, and the Druze and Catholics were granted at least one ministerial post each.  The minority sects were included in the exercise of power through the parliament and other departments of the state.  Riggs has classified this system as a 'polyarchy', where the political regime is broadly representative and power is not exclusively centralized or monopolized. Also, as a rule, in such a system participation in making policy decisions is wide and alternative policies have a chance to be heard and considered freely.
The Lebanese must do away with the National Pact at once. The Pact carries within its folds every single impediment to modern statehood for Lebanon and has been, since its inception, the primary cause of its tribulations and civil wars. Its main problems may be conveniently reduced to the following:

1. As a means to ameliorate conflicts between the various sectarian forces directly confronting one another in the political arena, the Pact is an unstable arrangement. Its functioning ability depends on permanence inside and outside Lebanon. Major shifts in the political, social and demographic situation can directly affect its operation and paralyze the state. In contrast, the modern state, as ideal and practice, requires stability and relative continuity in the socio-political sphere to function properly.

2. The Pact's emphasize on a disproportionate distribution of power among the sects is incongruent with modern statehood. A fundamental principle of the modern state is that all members in the state enjoy equal duties and obligations regardless of confessional, ethnic or racial background. The National Pact does not recognize this principle: it negates it.

3. The National Pact is an unwritten gentlemen's agreement between two principal figures: Riad Solh and Beshara Khoury. As such, it lacks both popular legitimacy and political legality. For any pact to become the cornerstone of a modern state it must first obtain the unanimous approval of the people through elections or a referendum to eliminate doubts or misgivings.
The National Pact had enabled Lebanon to make the transition to national independence. However, it has not served as basis for a national state in the country. Paradoxically, today, among the most vociferous proponents of the modern state in the Lebanese Republic are the most ardent supporters of the National Pact. May be it is not a paradox at all!


The concept of citizenship is at the heart of the modern state. When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," he drew upon the writings of the ancient Syrians and Greeks who had argued that the state has legitimacy only so far as it governs in the best interest of its citizens.
In the modern world, citizenship is a legal status that bestows uniform rights and duties upon all members of a state. Modern citizenship is associated with equality before the law, freedom from arbitrary rule, and a basic sense of human dignity bound up with the idea of human rights. It is a powerful term that evokes not only the rights that citizens may claim, but also the duties to which they are called, including dying for one's country.
Is there a sense of citizenship in Lebanon today? The answer would be yes if it were not for the confessional system. The Lebanese are Lebanese by name only. Most of them are more loyal to external authorities than they are to their own country. The Maronites, for example, derive almost all of their instructions from the Vatican; the Sunni from Saudi Arabia or Egypt; the Shiites from Iran, etc... This divergence is detrimental to citizenship. It creates animosity and competition between the groups and blinds them to the primary duty toward their nationality.
More importantly, the absence of a single citizenship creates impenetrable difficulties for creating a modern state. It diverts resources away from the task of state-building and deflects public attention towards lesser deserving purposes. A lack of citizenship is a sign of discord and discord is the wrong way to a modern state.

Zuama leadership

The modern state is based on the idea of government by the people, from the people, for the people. Historically, this entailed the break up of traditional forms of authority and the concentration of power in a central institution - the state. In the process, popular mental outlooks underwent a gradual transformation until it fixated on the principle of the nation-state and local power centers disbanded to give way to a central authority subject to popular will. The process was often a drawn-out battle between new and reactionary forces during which much blood was shed and vast resources wasted.
This is another thing that the Lebanese people have to come to grip with if they want the dream to translate into reality. A modern state in Lebanon is only conceivable when the centers of traditional authority and zuama leadership are disbanded and re-integrated into the state. This entails a concerted disbandment of the institutions that provide resources for these zuama and act as mediums of control over public opinion. It also entails the isolation of the zuama from the process of state building to ensure success.


The Lebanese have a bizarre conception of the world. They expect the very best  without effort or sacrifice and always wonder why it hasn't yet worked out for them. They speak loudly about the modern state but do very little in the way of achieving it.
It is high time for the Lebanese to realize that a modern state is achievable only through genuine change based on a rational critique of the established order. It demands self-evaluation, examination of their thought pattern, and an overhaul of their institutions and its philosophical underpinnings.
A modern state entails one-dimensional movement away from confessionalism to civil society, from sectarianism to secularism, from social prejudice to social equality, from communal identity to national identity, from sect to nation. Until the Lebanese realize that the mechanics of state building is a complex procedure that requires every atom of energy and commitment their dream of a modern state will remain just that - a dream.

1. B. R. Wilson, "An Analysis of Sect Development," American Sociological Review, 24, February, 1959, pp. 3-15.
2. N. Atiyah, "The Attitude of the Lebanese Sunnis Towards the State of Lebanon" PhD, University of London, 1973.
3. David Kerr, "The Temporal Authority of the Maronite Patriarchate, 1920-1958: A Study in the Relationship of Religious and Secular Power" PhD, Oxford University, March 1973
4. George Britt, "Lebanon's Popular Revolution." Middle East Journal 7 (1953): 1-17.
5. Adel Beshara, Lebanon: The politics of frustration—the failed coup of 1961, London; New York : RoutledgeCurzon, 2005.
6. G. Deeb, "al-Mithaq al-Watani fi Mafhumahu al-Assil" (The National Pact in its Fundamental Meaning), Beirut: an-Nahar, No. 7559, 26 July 1960.
7. Bassem al-Jisr, Mithaq 1943: Limadha Kan? Wa-Hal Saqat? (The 1943 Pact: Why It Was ? And Has it Collapsed?). Beirut: Dar al-Hayat, 1978.
8. Farid El-Khazen, The Communal Pact of National Identities: The Making and Politics of the 1943 National Pact. Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1991.
9. Salim Hoss, Lebanon: Agony and Hope. Beirut: Islamic Center for Information and Development, 1984.
10. Samir Khalaf, Lebanon's Predicament. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.
In search of a dream
The Modern State in Contemporary Lebanese Political Discourse
Adel Beshara