Saturday, May 8, 2010

Prospects for Stable Democracy in Iraq, Part VI


Lebanese democracy has been extremely fragile since France granted independence in 1943. The country suffered a coup in 1949, an aborted attempt to change the constitution in 1952 to prolong the term of the incumbent president, a civil war in 1958 over another crisis of succession, and another civil war in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In 1932, the Christian population exceeded the Muslim population by a ratio of six to five, which dictated the distribution of seats in parliament. Although no official census has been taken since 1932, it is estimated that the Christian population has declined to 39 percent, which has disrupted the agreement on the allocation of seats in Lebanon’s parliament. Muslims feel that the Christians are over represented and that they are under represented.

During the 1960s, Lebanon enjoyed a period of relative calm and prosperity. In the early 1970s, difficulties arose due to the presence of several hundred thousand Palestinians, many of whom arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Their presence exacerbated Muslim-Christian differences.

Full-scale civil war broke out in April 1975, which lasted intermittently through 1991. A new president was elected in August 1982, but he was shortly assassinated. This was followed by a Lebanese Christian militia massacre of 800 Palestinian civilians. Two governments ruled side-by-side during 1985-89, Christians in East Beirut and Muslims in West Beirut. Altogether, an estimated 100,000 Lebanese were killed, and some 900,000 displaced from their homes during the long-running civil war.

Postwar reconstruction brought a modicum of stability, but Syrians, who were heavily involved in the internal political affairs of Lebanon, were charged with committing several assassinations of high Lebanese officials in order to retain their influence. Global pressure forced Syrian withdrawal in 2005 following another high-profile assassination of a prominent Lebanese leader. Stability remained under threat due to the presence of a large Hezbollah force, which crossed into Israel and provoked a war in 2006 that resulted in substantial Israeli reprisals causing significant damage to downtown Beirut. Lebanon remains a multi-ethnic country, a tinder box of opposing factions complicated by Syrian meddling.


Sudan, which became independent in January 1956, has been wracked by ethnic conflict between the Arab Muslim north and the black African Christian south for most of its modern history, and, since 2003, the conflict between the northern Arabs and black African Muslims in the western Darfur region. These struggles have been reinforced with the discovery of major oil deposits in 1979 by Chevron in the south. Previous agreements granting autonomy to the south were abrogated in 1983 when General President Gaafar Muhammed Nimeiry abolished the southern region, declared Arabic (instead of English) the official language of the south, and transferred control over southern armed forces to the central government. He further announced that traditional Islamic punishments drawn from Shari’a (Islamic law) would be incorporated into the penal code. Nimeiry, while out of the country, was overthrown, replaced with General Suwar al-Duhab.

Sudan has been at war for more than three-quarters of its existence. Northerners have sought to unify the country along the lines of Arabism and Islam. The first coup occurred in 1958. Thereafter, successful coups took place in 1958, 1969, two failed coups in 1972, 1985, and a successful coup in 1989 (following the election of 1986 which established a civilian government). The north-south civil war finally came to an end in July 2002, with a final comprehensive peace agreement to be concluded by December 2004.

With the apparent resolution of the north-south conflict, a new conflict arose in Darfur in the western Sudan, which pit non-Arabized black African Muslims, largely farmers, against the northern Arabized Muslims. This conflict has raged into 2007, cost several hundred thousand lives, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and brought international condemnation to the Sudanese government.

A new constitution, which was ratified in July 2005, declared Sudan to be a democratic, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual state. A population census is to be taken in 2007 in preparation for national elections. The comprehensive peace agreement that established the new government permits the holding of a referendum in 2011 that allows southerners to secede if they wish. The constitution has not settled the issue of Darfur. Time will tell if the 2011 referendum allowing southerners to secede proceeds on schedule.

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