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With the rise of sectarianism and talks about separatism in the region, there is no surprise if the federalism is back as a subject in Lebanon. As always, Lebanon is an incomplete project.

I used to detest the idea which represented a confirmation of both the lead of the negative non-loving forces in the society, and the conspiracy to divide up the Middle East to smaller states. Although the conspiracy is not entirely fictitious but let’s just focus here on the subject of the viability of the federalism to Lebanon.

Blogger Gino Raidy spotted some graffiti in Beirut supporting federalism, and he blogged about the idea in support in a post on NOW Lebanon. Although I am more receptive to the federalism argument now, but I am still yet to find a conclusive and a full political federal proposal that…works.

I see great benefits in moving the decisions down the chain to the local level, and it’s worth noting that the local municipalities in Lebanon have major powers in terms of collecting taxes, imposing laws, licensing, planning and managing their localities. Some municipalities’ budgets are bigger than the ministries’. It’s the politicians that don’t make it work and spoil the decentralisation…

Anyway, back to the federalism concept, my issues with it for Lebanon are as follows:

– As Gino noted, the logistics of it is a big nightmare. How do we define the borders or the scale of the region? What do we do if we ended up with non-even regions in terms of size? How can we convince Gibran Bassil that a Christian region can’t cover 50% of the land? And what if certain citizens of a different sect ended up as a minority in their new region? Do we ask people to move from their home? Or do they end up as unrepresented second class citizen?

– The other issue with it, which is my main one is that it doesn’t solve our main problem(s). We need to identify what the country is polarised around first; and it’s definitely not constructing the roads, bridges, treatment plants, infrastructure or encouraging tourism or licensing traders/markets – which all can be well managed on a local level.

In Lebanon, we are divided – and have always been – on our foreign policy, on our war and peace decisions and forming our alliances. These issues tend to be retained by the federal state i.e. the central part of the state, which is our current problem!

Local regions shouldn’t have a say in these issues, and a hybrid federal state will only be another weak state in a continuous stalemate status, just like now.

Countries who have some sort of federalism (like United States the United Kingdom) keep the military and foreign policies in the centre. If Scotland was attacked by a foreign power for example, it’s the British army that responds, neither the Scottish nor the English army. We can’t even decide to be neutral on these matters like Switzerland, as such decision is political by its nature and Hezbollah will never accept this concept.

Furthermore, how can a Lebanese federal state assumes no responsibility if the Shiite region of Hezbollah decided to get into war with Israel which attacked later Dahyieh – the suburb of the federal capital?

Federalism doesn’t work for Lebanon. It doesn’t solve our current problems, but simply shoves them from one corner to another.

Photo credit: courtesy of Gino Raidy

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