BEIRUT: In a corner shop in Al-Tariq al-Jadideh whose walls were lined with precariously balanced towers of pomegranates and oranges, Khaled Lababidi was talking history and politics. “It’s true that the Taif Accord ended the Lebanese Civil War,” the 49-year-old said, nodding slowly, “and the agreement is good in its content. But it hasn’t been applied completely and fairly.”
Exactly 25 years after the much-awaited peace deal to end Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War was signed in Saudia Arabia in 1989, ordinary Lebanese dismiss the Taif Accord as having had little practical effect on Lebanon’s fundamental flaws due to its uneven implementation.
Down the road from Lababidi, in a sparkling clean fast-food kitchen called Tabaq Lebanese Cuisine, the employees were all of one mind: Taif was a flop.
“Most of the Taif Accord was never applied. If it was, things would have been better now,” said Suhair, a 53-year-old woman from Ras al-Nabaa, as she straightened out her brightly colored apron.
She pointed in particular to the agreement’s failure to end the country’s entrenched political confessionalism, something it specifically mentions. “I would prefer for political sectarianism to be abolished but it’s very hard to do it,” she said, “mainly because it’s in the minds of people, not only in the texts.”
“Taif didn’t end political sectarianism,” agreed Tarek as he stuffed buns with various sandwich fillings. “In Lebanon there is no solution, and political sectarianism can’t and won’t be canceled.”
There is a whole section in Taif dedicated to the abolition of confessionalism, which the accord calls “a fundamental national objective.” No deadline or timetable was set for this goal. The document instead lays out two “interim” requirements: the removal of sect from ID cards, which has been done; and the ending of sectarian representation quotas in public institutions, from the Army to the judiciary, which still remains today.
“For example, not many Christians are applying for governmental or military positions, but the system requires a certain quota from every sect,” said the owner of a jewelry store, also located in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Now, if one Christian fails his entry test and there aren’t enough who succeeded, then he or she is accepted in order to maintain the quota policy,” he added angrily. “The person who failed is not competent and does not deserve their position, but he gets it anyway.”
This sense of frustration with the ongoing prioritization of sect over capability, more than two decades after such a system was supposed have been scrapped, was also evident in the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafieh.
Standing under the shade of a tree outside a residential building off Sassine Square, Walid Qmair said that Taif should have gone further, and voiced something never heard in political circles: he disagreed with the tradition of giving the presidency to a Maronite Christian.
“I don’t mind whether the president is Maronite, Shiite, Sunni, Druze or any other sect,” said the 54-year-old man from Tannourine. “What’s important is to have a responsible leader who is willing to work for the whole country.”
On another street nearby, a retired school secretary walking down the road agreed the principles of Taif were sound but had not been implemented, adding that religious background should not be important when it came to choosing political leaders: “Whoever is going to work for the benefit of the whole country deserves to lead it, regardless of sect or religion.”
In Bir Hasan, a largely Shiite part of southern Beirut, locals echoed exactly the same sentiments as heard elsewhere, whether about confessionalism or equal development opportunities for the country, another stipulation of Taif.
“This didn’t and won’t happen,” said a pharmacy salesman, referring to the second point. “Leaders don’t care about balanced regional development. Lebanon is centralized in the major cities.”
“In order to see what difference Taif has made, you have to compare between what was and what is now,” he continued as he stacked boxes. “Taif was able to end the Lebanese war, which is good. ... What has not been applied is separating sectarianism from the political system. And if that was already applied, we wouldn’t be in this bad situation.”
“Taif stopped the war, but it didn’t offer a permanent solution to the sectarian and political problems of the country,” added a 34-year-old male entrepreneur, who asked not to be named, in another shop in Bir Hasan. “As long as the political crew in Lebanon stays the same, the situation will never change.”