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


The Taif Agreement and Beyond (1990-Present)

The Document of National Accord, known as the Taif Agreement, was approved by the Lebanese National Assembly in 1989 and ratified in August 1990. It attempted to settle controversies over Lebanon’s identity, borders and very existence, establishing that ‘Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country and a final homeland for all its citizens’ and that ‘Lebanon is Arab in belonging and identity’.110

The agreement reflects the reality of Syrian and Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory in 1989. It enshrines a ‘special relationship’ between Lebanon and Syria, further entrenched in the May 1991 Lebanon-Syria Treaty of Cooperation.111 The ‘special relationship’ was manifested most clearly in the continuing Syrian military occupation of the Lebanese territory and intrusion in Lebanese domestic politics. Under occupation, the selective implementation of Taif’s provisions became ‘a potent lever of Syrian power over Lebanon’.112 In contrast, Taif advocates taking ‘all the steps necessary to liberate all Lebanese territories from the Israeli occupation’: this allowed Hizbollah alone among the Lebanese militias to retain its arms and continue military resistance in the South.113

Domestically, the agreement re-established a consociation in Lebanon. This reflected the ‘political culture of coexistence and compromise’ nurtured by the National Pact and expressed by most Lebanese citizens throughout the 15 years of war. 1 14 As mentioned, Taif assigned equal numbers of parliamentary seats to Christians and Muslims, and reaffirmed the customary assignment of the positions of president, prime minister and speaker of the chamber of deputies to a Maronite, Sunni and Shia, respectively. In the post-war constitutional ‘fine-tuning’, presidential powers were reduced to the advantage of the speaker and, more substantially, of the prime minister.115

Hudson argues that Taif was based on a ‘consociationalism-plus’ model.116 Indeed, the agreement envisages the establishment of a complex consociation rather than a return to corporate practices. This is most evident in its prescriptions for the phased abolition of political sectarianism, which were never implemented under Syrian occupation.117 Thus, the Lebanese political system relapsed into familiar corporate consociational patterns and into rigid structures unable to adapt to socio-demographic and strategic changes. Under the Syrian aegis, the agreement was not implemented and the ‘troika’ of the president, prime minister and speaker of the parliament came to dominate the political system, overshadowing both the cabinet and the deputies in decision-making.118 Successive governments between 1992 and 2005 redefined the function of the state as ‘to make the economy “competitive”... but ... play only a minimal role in income distribution and welfare provision’.119 This view of the function of the state would also influence education policy.

The complex consociation established in Taif also relied on education reform as a complementary mechanism to further long-term stability. The Taif Agreement calls for the expansion of state elementary school provision, protection of private institutions, establishment of state control over private schools, reform of national curricula and production of unified textbooks for history and civic education.120 It establishes an explicit link between education policy and sustainable peace in Lebanon, echoing two recurring themes in the history of Lebanon’s education system: state attempts to establish control over private schools and state designs to promote overarching narratives and allegiances through the curricula. Finally, the education reforms mapped in Taif reflect long-standing Muslim educational priorities in calling for ‘the re-socialisation of children along national unitary lines’.121

Chapters 4, 5 and 7 explain debates over the reforms mapped out in Taif: the drafting of a unified history curriculum and textbook, the framing of a common citizenship education curriculum and textbook, and the redressing of the dichotomy between public and private schools. They show that successive Lebanese governments reiterated rhetorical commitments to producing common curricula to convey ‘feelings of unity among citizens and the developments of notions of solidarity and fraternity’ and to establish state control over private institutions.122 Yet, the pluralist principles underpinning Lebanon’s corporate consociation also legitimise the thriving of parallel schools and of competing identities and allegiances.

Indeed, in the early 1990s, the civil war appeared to have solved the fundamental debate over identity, teaching ‘the Lebanese that they [were] a nation and that they want[ed] to remain a nation’.123 It also appeared to have settled the long-standing struggles over borders, establishing that an independent Lebanese state should exist.124 Yet, the momentous changes of 2000-2005 revived clashes over the intertwined issues of communities’ relative power in the state and of Lebanon’s alignments in the regional state system. In 2000, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon, and its conflict with Hizbollah reduced to inter-border skirmishes over the contested territories of Shebaa, Ghajar and Kfar Shuba. This, combined with the UN Security Council Resolution 1559 of 2004 delegitimised Hizbollah’s military presence in Lebanon in the eyes of the majority of the Sunni and Maronite communities.

Moreover, the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, and the subsequent Syrian military withdrawal from the Lebanese territory, triggered the polarisation of Lebanese politics into rival blocs: the pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian 8 March coalition, and the pro-Western 14 March coalition. Knudsen and Kerr observe that from 2005 ‘this two-bloc system has left Lebanon ungovernable’.125 Indeed, the March 8 and March 14 coalitions hold fundamentally different perspectives on the 1990-2005 period, rely on rival external sponsors and express conflicting aspirations for the reform of Lebanon’s corporate consociation.126 They are headed by the Shia party Hizbollah and the Sunni Future party respectively, confirming that the most politically salient cleavage in post-2005 Lebanon is not between Christians and Muslims, but between Sunni Muslim and Shia Muslims. Indeed, representatives of the Maronite community sit on both sides of the political divide. The Sunni-Shia cleavage solidified in 2008 when Hizbollah, protesting against government attempts to dismantle its telecommunications network, turned its weapons against fellow Lebanese citizens and occupied central Beirut.127 The 2011 Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria, the influx of over a million registered Syrian refugees and the employment of Lebanese territory as a base for military operations both against and in support of the Syrian regime added fuel to the fire, and brought Lebanon back to the brink of war.

This section has shown that since its creation, the Lebanese state has existed in a complex, dialectical and interdependent relationship with its communities and that state institutions have evolved into arenas for clashes of identity and political allegiance, periodically tearing up the fabric of society. The same tensions have also permeated the education system: efforts to reform curricula and state schools in the 1940s exemplify the state’s drive to impose itself as a legitimate and hegemonic actor. However, the founding principles of Lebanon’s consociation also legitimised communal control over certain private schools. From the late 1950s, and increasingly during the civil war, the legitimacy of a state built on the principle of religious and communal pluralism came to depend on the extent to which each confessional community was included in state institutions and narratives. This affected education policy: pluralism, initially viewed as the provision of mixed common plural schools, came to be understood as the provision of financial support for a plurality of communal institutions conveying diverging narratives of identity.

The history of Lebanon’s education system provides an important clue as to the political function of education in consociations: before and throughout the civil war, schools remained the primary ‘means of preserving and reproducing group identity’ in Lebanon.128 Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 trace reforms of history education, citizenship education, the languages of instruction and the fragmented structure of the education system after the Taif Agreement to determine in which ways the manifest and hidden curricula helped or hindered consociational politics.

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