A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, August 27, 2012

Elias Muhanna on Bicameralism in Lebanon

Prof. Elias Muhanna of Brown University (better known here in the Blogosphere as Qifa Nabki) has a new paper out at the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at Stanford. He talks about it at his blog here, and you can download the English PDF here or the Arabic PDF here. Here's the abstract:
The Ta’if Accords, which ended Lebanon’s civil war, called explicitly for the dismantling of political confessionalism through the election of a Chamber of Deputies on “a national, non-confessional basis” and the formation of a Senate representing all of Lebanon’s various sects. Lebanese leaders from across the ideological and confessional spectrum have declared their support for this idea, and it is routinely raised whenever questions of institutional reform and “de-confessionalism” are discussed. However, the Ta’if Accords provide no details beyond the basic description of two legislative chambers elected on different bases, a fact which prompts a wide range of questions about the architecture and implementation of such a system. This paper explores these questions and proposes several bicameral models based on a comparative political analysis.
To which he adds on the blog:
As you’ll see, I’m considerably less bullish on the idea of a senate as I’ve been in the past, and that has to do with extensive conversations with many people in Lebanon, as well as conversations we’ve had here on the blog (see here, here, and here). Still, I think this is a discussion worth having if only because it offers a useful pathway into the larger de-confessionalism debate.
No, I haven't read it myself yet. But knowing his work and reading his abstract and comment, it looks like a useful contribution to a (somewhat latent but important) topic.

An aside, as a medievalist working on the contemporary Middle East: Elias is known to most of us in his Qifa Nabki identity as a superb, talented and witty commentator on modern Lebanon, but as his nom de blogue ought to tell you (the famous first two words of the qasida of Imr' ul-Qays, but you knew that, right?), he's a professor of comparative literature, and his doctoral work was on one of the great encyclopedic works of the Mamluk era, Nuwayri's Nihayat al-Arab fi Funun al-Adab. The Mamluk encyclopedists (I've worked with Qalqashandi a bit more than Nuwayri, but same idea) were ambitious collectors of knowledge. I'm not sure if Elias/Qifa has ever commented on this (but wouldn't be surprised if he has), but today Nuwayri would probably have had a blog. Or a wiki of some kind. An he'd tweet and post to Facebook every three or four minutes till everybody unfollowed and unfriended him. Come to think of it, Nuwayri probably had to write all those books. Eventually, someone would read them. even write a dissertation on them ... Actually, all kidding aside, the Mamluk encyclopedists are treasure troves for the literary types like Elias as well as historians like me: if you try to collect everything, someone's going to come along and ask the questions.

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