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National Pact (Lebanon)


agreement between christian and muslim communities in lebanon.

The National Pact (al-Mithaq al-Watani), an unwritten agreement, came into being in the summer of 1943 as a result of numerous meetings between Bishara al-Khuri (a Maronite Christian), Lebanon's first president after independence, and the first prime minister, Riyad al-Sulh (a Sunni Muslim). At the heart of the negotiations was the Christians' fear of being dominated by the Muslim communities in Lebanon and the region, and the Muslims' fear of Western hegemony. In return for the Christians' promise not to seek foreign (i.e., French) protection and to accept the "Arab face of Lebanon," the Muslims agreed to recognize the country's independence and to accept the legitimacy of the 1920 boundaries. Muslims also were expected to renounce demands for unity with Syria. The National Pact was intended to reinforce the sectarian system of government by formalizing the confessional distribution of high-level posts in the government based on the results of the 1932 census, with Christians outnumbering Muslims by a ratio of six to five. Although some historians dispute the point, the terms of the National Pact are believed to have been incorporated in the statement of the first cabinet after independence (October 1943).

Specifically, the National Pact decreed that the presidency shall be reserved for a Maronite Christian, the prime ministership for a Sunni Muslim, and the speakership of parliament for a Shiʿite Muslim. Other top government postscommander in chief of the army, head of military intelligence, head of internal security, and some important ambassadorshipswere reserved for Maronites. It was agreed that the deputy prime minister should be a Greek Orthodox and that "minorities" (not one of the six major religious sects) should be occasionally represented in the cabinet and always in the parliament.

The confessional system outlined in the National Pact was a matter of expediency, an interim measure to overcome philosophical differences between Christian and Muslim leaders. 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 disputesthe most notable of which were manifested in the Lebanese Civil Wars of 1958 and 1975, and the Palestinian controversies in the 1960s and 1970s have borne clear testimony to the failure of the National Pact to produce societal integration. Moreover, along with the system of zuʿama ("bosses") clientelism, it has guaranteed the maintenance of the status quo and the continuation of privilege for the sectarian elites.

The National Pact was affected by the Taʾif accord of 1989. Its weakness stems from the sectarian representation that was allowed to prevail in the 1940s. The Maronites were accepted as representatives of all Christians. Furthermore, nobody within either religious community assigned Khuri and alSulh the task of dividing the national government along sectarian lines. The Taʾif accord juridically legitimized the basic provisions of the National Pact but changed the representational formula. Muslims and Christians are now represented equally in parliament, although the top government posts will continue to be divided along the lines of the pact. The Taʾif accord constituted the first revision of the pact.

see also khuri, bishara al-; lebanese civil war (1958); lebanese civil war (19751990); sulh, riyad al-; taʾif accord.


Abul-Husn, Latif. The Lebanese Conflict: Looking Inward. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.

El-Khazen, Farid. The Communal Pact of National Identities: The Making and Politics of the 1943 National Pact. Oxford, U.K.: Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1991.

Picard, Elizabeth. Lebanon, a Shattered Country: Myths and Realities of the Wars in Lebanon, translated by Franklin Philip. New York: Holmes and Meier, 2002.

as'ad abukhalil

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