• Joseph A. Kechichian Senior Write

Beirut: Fought over 15 bloody years, the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) finally stopped after protagonists accepted the October 22, 1989 Ta’if Accords, even if its recommendations were never implemented. On Wednesday, senior officials inaugurated a two-day conference—“The Ta’if Agreement 25 Years Later”—to mark the agreement’s silver jubilee, ostensibly to initiate a long overdue conversation on its provisions, including plans to abolish political sectarianism in parliament, create a Senate that would preserve the 1943 National Charter, balance development needs across the country, and draft an election law that ensured fair representation.

Organized by the Civil Centre for National Initiative and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation, conferees were invited to take part in four discussion panels on Thursday where eleven Lebanese political groups, international officials, religious figures from various sects along with representatives of civil society organizations exchanged notes. On Friday, attendees were expected to appraise whether Ta’if was still relevant in the current regional context, in light of the civil war in Syria.

While the country’s new constitution ushered in equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians starting in 1990, it did not eliminate sectarian strife, especially after politicians made an exception when they agreed to disarm all militias. As the Hezbollah resistance united the Lebanese against Israeli occupation that lasted 22 years (1982-2000), many overlooked the party’s adventurisms, which culminated in its military deployment in Syria. Emboldened by its actions and backed by an ambitious Iran that perceived its Western borders along the Mediterranean, Hezbollah articulated the notion that Sunni and Christian political privileges ought to be curtailed in a new Thulathiyyah [Trisection] Accord.

Such a tripartite formula between Christians, Sunnis and Shiites would replace Ta’if. However, Ta’if was still what the overwhelming majority of the Lebanese wanted. For most, it was the only agreement that prevented the country from sliding back into chaos and, at worse, into a renewed civil war.

Ironically, few remembered today that the 1975-1990 chapter killed more than 150,000 individuals, and left the country’s infrastructure and economy in ruins with damage estimated at several billion dollars. Equally important were the mental and emotional scars that left their marks on every survivor and that explained some of the current doldrums that afflicted the Lebanese.

In the event, and notwithstanding various interpretations, politicians disagreed on Ta’if, with Samir Franjieh, an astute political writer and a former March 14 lawmaker insisting that there were no alternatives, while the official Hezbollah narrative, which was included in an updated 2009 manifesto, conceded that the Lebanese must “accept sectarianism and that any efforts to the contrary,” as called for in the Ta’if Accords, “would be a complete waste of time.” In the words of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, “abolishing political sectarianism in this country is impossible,” which was one of the key reasons why party officials believed it was difficult to implement Ta’if’s various clauses.

Whether Hezbollah concluded that the Ta’if Accords could be easily sidestepped because the party was now the dominant power in Lebanon, was open to debate. Yet, Hezbollah attended the anniversary conference and participated in its deliberations. Lebanese Sunnis found themselves in a particularly uncomfortable place where they complained about extremist groups such as Daesh gaining traction, but also believed such clusters were needed to counter Hezbollah and Iran.