BEIRUT: Civil society leaders launched a dialogue on implementing the Taif agreement Friday, saying they need to take the lead in breaching the country’s political impasses and put into effect the decades-old agreement. Gathering under the banner of a Patriotic Allegiance Movement, leaders of non-governmental organizations and activists, as well as former Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud and former Beirut MP Bahij Tabbara, opened a public dialogue on Taif’s provisions and their impact on the country’s political system.
Organizers saw the dialogue as an opportunity for groups to fill a gap left by political parties and bridge differences to bring about positive change. Little or no political progress has been made on many of Taif’s provisions since its inception.
“The civil society in Lebanon needs to play more of a role in building the public opinion,” said Ghassan Bou Diab, a journalist and moderator of the discussion at Beirut’s UNESCO Palace. “We need to do something; I think the civil society is the only place we can have reconciliation between [March] 8 and [March] 14.”
The 1989 Taif agreement ended the Lebanese Civil War, and settled two controversial issues: the identity of the country and the religious composition of the political system.
Taif also included a number of other provisions for the government to implement or consider. The agreement includes a call to disarm militias in the country, create a senate and an open-ended call to do away with the political sectarian quota system.
Participants at the conference called for Taif’s implementation, but also said they want dynamic solutions to implement a document that was crafted under intense political pressure and may not completely encompass what the country needs right now.
“There is a deterioration of the political situation in Lebanon due to the rift between the political forces in the Lebanese arena that is reflected in a frightening paralysis in various sectors of the lives of people. It’s no longer acceptable for it to continue,” reads the group’s founding document.
The Patriotic Allegiance Movement’s founding document lists four points of emphasis for their work: moving beyond the sectarian system, ending patronage networks, working to end bribery and corruption in politics and responding to the needs of Lebanese citizens.
Discussion focused on an array of concerns about what were considered the most important parts of Taif, as well as how exactly the provisions would be carried out. Fifteen groups were included in the dialogue.
“The aim of launching the dialogue table is to demand the implementation of what is stipulated in the Taif Agreement and in my name and on behalf of the Lebanese woman I ask for only the implementation of this with the participation of women in the political decision,” said Hayat Arslan, speaking for women’s groups at the event.
Civil society in the country is frequently criticized for its large size but limited results. Its defenders say the non-governmental institutions do the best they can in a difficult environment that resists change.
Kamel Mohanna, head of the NGO Amel, said implementing Taif and changing the direction of the country was the only way to alleviate the suffering for many people in the nation. Mohanna said implementing the agreement could be the start of a new political and economic system in the country.