Desktop version

Home arrow Education arrow Education Policy and Power-Sharing in Post-Conflict Societies: Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and Macedonia


Compromises (1958-1974)

The 1958 war can be best interpreted as the breakdown of a rigid corporate consociational political system, inadequate ‘to channel political and socio-economic changes’.70 In particular, the war embodied the emergence of a Sunni challenge to the political predominance of the Maronite community and ‘ownership’ of the executive Presidency.71 Rather than settling the ambiguities at the heart of Lebanon’s nation-state building project, the 1958 civil war institutionalised the ‘sanctity of the [National] Pact’.72 In its aftermath, President Fouad Chehab embarked on extensive reforms and called for the ‘building of a new society’.73 He encouraged the fine-tuning of Lebanese political and non-political institutions to ensure equilibrium among the different sects: his ‘object was not the creation of a secular state, but to ensure that all communities got their share of the cake’.74

This approach permeated education policy. Some had seen the 1958 civil war as proof that the state had failed in furthering social cohesion through education.75 After 1958, the government set out to expand schooling and partly succeeded in reducing regional disparities over the following decade. State schools increased from 184 in 1941 to 1487 in 1980: the majority were located in the South, the Bekaa and the North, and over 60 % of state school students were Muslim.76

Despite popular calls to improve the quality of state schools and increase government funding for public education, successive governments relied heavily on private schools to extend the reach of primary education.77 Private institutions expanded their educational provision and the number of Christian community schools increased from 451 in 1920 to 548 in 1977. The previously underdeveloped Muslim educational provision increased sevenfold over the same period, from 41 community schools in 1920 to 300 in 1977.78

Moreover, in 1959, the state transferred powers of inspection to the regional level and specified that, while state schools should be inspected, private schools would only be ‘supervised’.79 Private schools remained free to promote ‘their own divergent views of national identity and sense of civic loyalty’.80 Once again, the divergence in values and narratives was most apparent when looking at textbooks for the national subjects, particularly history. Christian primary schools largely used textbooks that glorified a pre-Arab Lebanese past, while the newly politically conscious Shia community produced The Enlightening History, which focused on the anti-colonial struggles of the ‘Arab nation’.81

Finally, the government revised the national curricula in 1968. In an attempt to sidestep the increasingly salient issue of Lebanese and Arab identities, the new curricula avoided references to the ‘Lebanese nation’, ‘Lebanese identity’ and other thorny social, political and civic issues.82 In the early 1970s, the state also eliminated exams for citizenship education and most schools stopped teaching it. In its place, the government introduced one hour per week of religious education in all schools in 1973: the new subject was taught by clergymen chosen by religious authorities but paid by the state.83

Palestinian refugees emerged in this period as significant political actors and, as most other local political actors, relied partly on schools to convey identities and political allegiances to children. About 100,000 Palestinians settled in Lebanon after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and a further 200,000500,000 arrived in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War and of the 1970 ousting of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) from Jordan.84 Palestinians resided in refugee camps and were marginalised from Lebanese society, politics and economy through an array of legal measures that prevented them from ‘participating in government, working in more than 70 professions, accessing health and unemployment benefits, building and owning their own homes, travelling freely within Lebanon and obtaining a passport’.85 Palestinian children attended schools managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). These schools followed the Lebanese national curriculum but their hidden curriculum conveyed a vision of Lebanon as a pawn in the Arab struggle against the state of Israel and as ‘Palestine’s surrogate battlefield’.86 Despite its official neutrality, the Lebanese state suffered the consequences of the PLO increasing military presence on its territory. The 1969 Cairo Agreement between the PLO and the Lebanese Army transferred de facto sovereignty over Palestinian refugee camps to the PLO and committed Lebanon to tolerance towards the PLO’s military actions against Israel. Thus, from 1969, the PLO could act as ‘a state within the state’. In return, the Cairo agreement bound the PLO ‘not to interfere in Lebanese affairs’.87

‘Lebanese affairs’ were once again strained along familiar lines of identity, belonging and political allegiance. Lebanese nationalism ‘deteriorated into a group ideology’ associated with the Christian right, while Arab nationalism had an appeal ‘almost exclusively among the Muslim masses’.88 Moreover, Hanf notes that the early 1970s witnessed increasing social conflicts, which ‘were not conflicts between communities but between social and economic groups and interests’.89 However, socio-economic fractures often coincided with confessional and national cleavages: Muslims (particularly Shia) were overrepresented in the lowest socio-economic group and among the least educated.90 Thus, the Shia Movement of the Dispossessed (Amal) exemplifies the coincidence of communal and socio-economic interests: by founding new schools and orphanages, the movement exploited ‘the political potential of social assistance as a means of outflanking the traditional elites and entering the political arena’.91

Adding to these overlapping socio-economic, confessional and national cleavages was the perception, particularly among Christians, that ‘the state could not guarantee the safety of its citizens’ against the Palestinian insurgency.92 The weakness of the central state was an intrinsic and valued aspect of communal autonomy in a corporate consociation, but in the 1970s it also ‘created insecurity, forcing factions to establish their own independent power structures and to look for support beyond Lebanon’s borders’.93 One after the other, Lebanon’s communities created militias.

Hanf aptly summarises the main perspectives explaining Lebanese descent into civil war in the early 1970s:

One thesis is that the sham conflict of the traditional political class could no longer conceal the fundamental economic contradictions in the country: it is regarded as a conflict between rich and poor. Another thesis holds that the conflict is one between a Lebanese nationalism mainly supported by Christians and an Arab nationalism with largely Muslim support: a conflict of identity. A third thesis treats it primarily as a conflict between the concept of a traditionalist, “confessional” state and that of a modern, secular and politically integrated state: a conflict between pre-modern and modern politics.94

In fact, in the mid-1970s the positions of rival factions were ‘a lump sum’: Muslim communities proposed ‘a package of domestic, pan-Arab and Palestinian politics’ and challenged the Christian emphasis on sovereignty and stability.95 Through schools and the media, communal actors disseminated divergent and hostile narratives: mutually exclusive identity markers and political allegiances both reflected and framed deepening communal polarisation, and inter-communal differences evolved into ‘confessional labels and fighting banners’.96

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics