The National Pact

The National Pact

The National Pact (al Mithaq al Watani), an unwritten agreement, came into being in the summer of 1943 as the result of numerous meetings between Khuri (a Maronite), Lebanon's first president, and the first prime minister, Riyad as Sulh (also cited as Solh), a Sunni. At the heart of the negotiations was the Christians' fear of being overwhelmed by the Muslim communities in Lebanon and the surrounding Arab countries, and the Muslims' fear of Western hegemony. In return for the Christian promise not to seek foreign, i.e., French, protection and to accept Lebanon's "Arab face," the Muslim side agreed to recognize the independence and legitimacy of the Lebanese state in its 1920 boundaries and to renounce aspirations for union with Syria. The pact also reinforced the sectarian system of government begun under the French Mandate by formalizing the confessional distribution of high-level posts in the government based on the 1932 census' six-to-five ratio favoring Christians over Muslims. Although some historians dispute the point, the terms of the National Pact were believed to have been enunciated by the first cabinet in a statement to the legislature in October 1943.

As noted, the confessional system outlined in the National Pact was a matter of expediency, an interim measure to overcome philosophical divisions between Christian and Muslim leaders at independence. It was hoped that once the business of governance got under way, and as national spirit grew, the importance of confessionalism in the political structure would diminish. Over the years, the frequent political disputes--the most notable of which were manifested in the 1958 Civil War, the Palestinian controversy of the 1960s and 1970s, and the 1975 Civil War--bear stark testimony to the failure of the National Pact as a means toward societal integration.

Moreover, some observers claim that the National Pact merely perpetuated the power of the privileged. The pact, combined with the system of zuama clientelism, guaranteed the maintenance of the status quo and the continuation of privilege for the sectarian elites.


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