U.S.-based legal expert details transformation of presidential powers in Lebanon
Issam Saliba, a legal specialist at the Law Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., explains how amendments to the Lebanese Constitution have reduced the powers of the president. (Photo: Giorgio Guy Tarraf)
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December 11, 2009—
Washington-based Middle East legal expert Issam M. Saliba presented a detailed historical overview of the changes to the Lebanese Constitution that have led to the reduction of presidential power in the country over the decades, during a lecture held on December 3 at LAU Beirut.
Saliba is a legal specialist at the Law Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., who provides advice and analysis to the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the U.S. government on issues related to the laws of the Middle East and North Africa.
In his lecture entitled “The Lebanese Presidency in the Constitutional Discourse,” he explained that the Lebanese Constitution, enacted in May 1926, has been subjected to several changes over the years through three major agreements that limited the president’s powers: the National Pact of 1943, the Taif Agreement in 1989, and the 2006 Doha Agreement.
“The peculiarity common to all these agreements is the fact that they were concluded outside the normal constitutional process,” Saliba said, explaining that agreements which affect constitutional issues are legally required to be mandated by the Lebanese Parliament.
The president exercised the most power based on the terms of the country’s original constitution, according to Saliba.
Before 1943, he said, one-third of the country’s parliamentary members were appointed by the president, while the rest were elected.
The president also held the power to choose the ministers and nominate the prime minister, all of whom assumed a role of shielding the president from any errors he committed, excluding high treason or the violation of the constitution.
“The president had the power to appoint or dismiss any of the ministers at will, for whatever reason, and he was not responsible before the Parliament to say why,” Saliba explained.
But despite the wide powers held by the president before 1943, the year of independence, Saliba noted that France still reserved the authority to override any decision by the Lebanese government, including the president.
After the signing of the Taif Agreement in 1989, which was officially enacted in 1990, the president lost nearly all of his powers. All the powers the president had up until that point were transferred to the council of ministers, which was put under the control of the prime minister.
“The only power the president still has is the fact that you cannot form a new government without the signature of the president, but once he signs, that’s it,” Saliba said. “Even a minister, in his ministry, has more power than the president,” he added.
The event was part of an ongoing public lectures series by guest speakers invited by Dr. Imad Salamey, LAU assistant professor of political science, to address his Lebanese Politics and Administration course.
The next lecture on “Sectarianism and Lebanese Communal Conflicts” will be given by former Finance Minister Dr. Georges Corm on January 12 at 11:00 a.m., in Sage 01, Beirut campus.