November 02, 2010

Big Idea of the Day: Sectarianism Alive and Well in Lebanon Edition

From "The Role of Sectarianism in the Allocation of Public Expenditure in Postwar Lebanon" by Nisreen Salti and Jad Chaaban:

A preliminary analysis of the poverty, education, and public-health profile of the country by administrative region with the spending record of the governments between 1994 and 2004 has shown that the distribution of public funds has been at best blind to socioeconomic priorities and at worst a cause of greater disparities in education and health development indicators across various Lebanese regions. Using election data on the confessional distribution of voters to approximate the sectarian composition of cazas, we are able to estimate the share of public funds allocated to four of the major sects in the country. Each sect's share of public expenditures bears a striking resemblance to the sectarian distribution of the country and closely mirrors the distribution of funds that we would expect if allocation were completely blind to socioeconomic objectives and exclusively determined instead by a rule of sectarian balance regardless of need or economic logic.

In other words, the Lebanese state does not treat its citizens as citizens but as members of a sect. (Not exactly the most earth-shattering discovery, I realize.) And the resources of the state are not administered based upon socio-economic need but rather as one would divide up a pie: the Shia are 35% of the population, so they get 35% of the education budget, etc. The sad thing is that this is actually an improvement over prewar Lebanon: in 1974, for example, southern Lebanon held 20% of Lebanon's population and received but .7% (!!!) of the budget. (Source: Sharif, Hasan. ‘South Lebanon: Its History and Geopolitics’, from South Lebanon, ed. Elaine Hagopian and Samih Farsoun, Detroit, MI: Association of Arab-American University Graduates, Inc. Special Report No. 2. August 1978. pp. 10-11.)

Anyway, another good and thought-provoking article found in a scholarly journal.