The Constitution

Lebanon Table of Contents

In the early 1920s, the League of Nations requested that the French Mandate authorities devise a law for Lebanon in cooperation with the native leaders and in harmony with the wishes and interests of the diverse religious sects. Accordingly, in July 1925 the French government appointed a commission, which by May 15, 1926, had prepared a draft constitution. The Representative Council, an elected body of Lebanese leaders sitting as a constituent assembly, adopted the draft constitution on May 23.

Although many Lebanese historians and politicians have claimed that the Constitution was designed primarily by local leaders to reflect purely Lebanese interests, the minutes of the constituent assembly reveal the major role of the French representative. He had the power to veto any modification to the draft, and he also controlled the agenda. In reaction to France's dominance, Muslim representatives made it clear during the meetings that they were against the very idea of expanding the limits of mostly Christian Mount Lebanon to create Greater Lebanon incorporating Muslim areas and insisted that the record show their reservations.

When completed, the Constitution was divided into six parts, one of which contained four articles relating to the French Mandate and the League of Nations. By these articles, France retained full political control over the country. In theory, France's high commissioner was charged with advisory and supervisory functions in normal times; in practice, he exercised supreme power. Army troops under French control were stationed throughout the country. Although their ostensible role was to keep the high commissioner informed of the local political situation, in fact they exerted a great deal of influence on the local administration. Thus, between 1926, when the Constitution was adopted, and 1946, when the French finally handed over all functions of state, France, not local officials, exercised control over implementation of the Constitution. The high commissioner, in fact, suspended the Constitution several times during the 1932-37 period and again at the beginning of World War II.

The Constitution stresses freedom and equality, although with some limitations. All Lebanese are guaranteed the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association "within the limits established by law." There are also provisions for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, as long as the dignity of the several religions and the public order are not affected.

Clearly, there are inherent contradictions within the Constitution. Even though articles 7 and 12 provide for equality of civil and political rights and equal access to public posts based on merit, Article 95 affirms the state's commitment to confessionalism, but without setting forth how it is to be applied. Article 95, in effect, legitimizes the National Pact.

Amendments to the Constitution may be initiated by the president of the republic or by a resolution of at least ten members of the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber of Deputies, by a two-thirds majority, can recommend an amendment. However, the president and his cabinet, who together constitute the Council of Ministers, have veto powers, which can be overridden only by a complex procedure of the Chamber of Deputies. The most significant amendments were promulgated in 1943, when all references to the French Mandate were expunged and Arabic was designated the nation's official language.

Attempts to amend the Constitution have met with both favor and controversy. In 1949 the Constitution was amended to allow President Bishara al Khuri (also cited as Khoury) to succeed himself. Nine years later, however, when unpopular president Camille Shamun (also cited as Chamoun) sought an amendment that would allow him to succeed himself, vigorous opposition throughout the country prevented him from doing so.

More about the Government of Lebanon.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress