The First Step Towards a Secular Lebanon (Hint: Not Just Protesting)

We all felt proud over the past few weeks with the ever-growing secular movement’s protests in Beirut. What started out as a few thousand has swelled to some 30,000 on Sunday March 20 according to organizers of the event. This breath of fresh air is much welcomed, with no particular party behind it and no particular sect chieftain threatening them with the traditional scarecrows (like Israel, Iran, etc.) many Lebanese people are feeling optimistic and excited about this somewhat spontaneous movement.

Despite certain reservations I have regarding the protests and some of its organizers, I feel it is necessary to focus on the causes of the sectarian disease versus its symptoms. The symptoms are of course our beloved chieftains, Aoun, Hariri, Berri, Nasrallah, Junblatt, Geagea, Frangieh, Gemayel etc. Every single Lebanese person hates at least a couple of these names, and if that is our gauge of sectarianism, than we are all thriving secular reformists. Unfortunately, that’s just what we see on TV that makes us cringe at the irrationality, hypocrisy and simple stupidity.

The first and main problem in Lebanon is the reason the above ad is on Lebanese streets and in our inboxes. The Personal Affairs System, or A7wel Shakhsiyeh law, is an abomination to a country that calls itself Democratic. In Lebanon, for someone like me who was born Maronite, it is close to impossible for me to divorce. When my Orthodox or Muslim classmate can do so by filing simple paperwork. What is even more unnerving, is that what is classified in religion as an “honor killing” gets a lighter sentence for a heinous crime. So, if Maroun kills his sister for dating a Muslim guy, he will get life in prison, but Mohammad would serve a much lighter sentence, for his sister’s murder was an “honor killing.” I will give you a moment to process this absurdity, and get over your religious prejudices, to realize how horrific this reality is.

We are protesting against the political dynasties, the corruption, the shady government and zero-trust and zero-accountability. Those are principles no human being should overlook. But, that is not the definition of sectarianism. The dynasties might be religiously-established, the corruption might be in favor of one sect and in spite of another, but those things are present in secular systems as well.

The real problem, again, is sectarianism. In other words, where religion plays a part in legislation, the judicial system and executive domains. As a citizen, as a human being, what affects me is what really affects me. For me, and any other person, my status in the courts, is more important to me than which sect the Prime Minister is. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean the sectarian partitions and quotas in MP and minister seats is not completely absurd. I am merely pointing out that as long as the Personal Affairs System is upheld, the dream of a secular Lebanon, will remain that, a dream.

I want civil marriage, I want equal rights between me and my Muslim counterpart, I want my status as a citizen to be as just a citizen, not a Maronite citizen. As long as these most basic of principles are governed by the Church or Mosque, we can kiss our secular dreams goodbye.

The 30,000 protestors will become 1,000,000 if its about being fed up with our traditional, prostate-prone, cynical politicians. But, Lebanon is not Tunisia, or Egypt, or Libya, or Bahrain, or whatever other country is revolting now, because no one person or party is in charge. We are a bunch of warring parties with no specific leader exercising oppression and corrupt policies in alternating turns, unlike in the countries in revolt, with a regime or dictator that can be ousted in the streets.

My question to the protestors today, is are you ready to do away with this religiously-based legal framework for your personal lives? Or is it just being fed up with Aoun, Geagea, Hariri, Junblatt and Nasrallah? And am I wrong in suggesting the first thing we should focus on, is abolishing this law, which makes us unequal and can never allow true democracy in a country that boasts its democratic ways compared to its autocratic neighbors?

At the end of the day, it is no one’s business but mine if I want to divorce or if my friend wants to be a single mother able to give her family name to her child. It is mine, and no religion or religious figure has the authority to tell me what I can and cannot do. Preach all you want about family values, but at the end of the day, nothing gives you the right to force me to follow these archaic laws. I want to have equal rights regardless of religion or sex. We need to eradicate religion from our personal rights and mentalities, before even fantasizing about abolishing the politically-sectarian system. For if we abolish the religious-quotas in politics tonight, those appointed or voted for will still be according to the twisted and corrupt sectarian mentality, propelled by the presence of religion so strongly in our personal legal matters and rights.

I don’t want to get married in Cyprus or Greece… I don’t want to have a fake wedding at a Church after my civil marriage… So, let’s lobby and work for abolishing this law, with people like Minister of Interior Ziad Baroud and other reformists at the helm, it is not so farfetched a hope… The only problem that remains though, is making everyone see that what is divine to you, is not so to me, and thus, cannot be a law that applies to both you and myself…

Best of luck to the secular protests, and I plan to go to the next one. I apologize if I appear to be a turn-off, but I felt I have to share my views about this topic.

Comments

  1. says

    i humbly believe that the problem starts by the lack of acceptance of the other. we need to accept each other and stop labelling people that we disagree with as traitors/sinful etc. diferent is still my fellow lebanese citizen

  2. says

    I think it would be great to have a secular Lebanon, where religion has nothing to do with civil law. Unfortunately, it’s too far-fetched a dream. It’s too Utopian. I don’t see this happening in our lifetime.
    We have so many different sects, in unequal numbers. The minorities feel threatened by the majorities. Lebanese people are refusing to look at the greater general good. For now, and with Lebanese people’s current level of maturity, secularism is just not gona happen.

  3. says

    Great arguments.
    But are you sure there is no political background for the latest secular uprising? I mean i’m sure you know by now that its supported by Berri’s proponents. So, this makes it a biased manifestation if we were looking from a point of view of someone who just wants to get rid of the present leaders, but from a view of a proponent of a secular Lebanon, regardless of who starts it, it is still a manifestation for secularism and I support it.
    As for civil marriage, …. It will take time. But let’s keep our fingers crossed & lobbying with what we’ve got.

    • says

      There is no clear political aspect, and if there is, its just the organizers. The people, most of the them, are genuinely protesting cause they hate the current politicians.

  4. says

    I could not agree more with:

    -We need to eradicate religion from our personal rights and mentalities, before even fantasizing about abolishing the politically-sectarian system.

    -But, Lebanon is not Tunisia, or Egypt, or Libya, or Bahrain, or whatever other country is revolting now, because no one person or party is in charge. We are a bunch of warring parties with no specific leader exercising oppression and corrupt policies in alternating turns, unlike in the countries in revolt, with a regime or dictator that can be ousted in the streets.

    As if I myself have written these. Finally someone that has a same point of view.

    The Lebanese peoples’ mentalities have sectarianism deeply ingrained in them after the Lebanese civil war and due to the existence of minorities. The Lebanese minds are, in the words of Upham in Saving Private Ryan, FUBAR (which stands for Fu**ed Up Beyond All Recognition)
    Even if the current government and parliamentary system is abolished, it will take many years for the Lebanese to change the state of mind. Yes, they all claim to be open and tolerant, but deep inside they all thrive for the benefit of their sect/religion/community. The existence of the struggle ‘minorities v.s. majorities’ is destroying the Lebanese society. Unfortunately, religion has interfered to much in Lebanese politics. This interference has created this mutual benefit between religion and politics. Religion uses politics to secure seats in the parliament and government as means of gaining power and status against the ‘majorities’. Meanwhile, politicians are taking advantage of this need of power, by abusing the name of religion in prospect of securing seats.

    It is sad so see Lebanon go beyond repair. I personally have given up to attempt and repair Lebanon, not even protest. Lebanon is Great, but only for vacations. I am leaving Lebanon and heading to France soon, a true civilized, democratic country.

    • says

      I’m sorry to hear you’re leaving Jad, but I can’t say I don’t often feel the same way you do about Lebanon’s hopeless case =(

  5. says

    I have a proposition Gino. Since sect is not a only a religious group but also a group with distinctive religious, political or philosophical beliefs (according to wiki), then perhaps lebanese citizens who are atheists or don’t want religion to tell them every single thing they do, should probably form a new sect, perhaps call it ‘secular’ or ‘atheist’ or whatever, and this new sect will have its own civil marriage and all. This way a new ‘a7wel sha5siyi’ law would be directly related to those who wish to have it, doesn’t transgress over the rights of religion, and anyone from a certain religion could simply file some papers and change his sect from ‘X’ to ‘secular’, and viola! Good enough?
    Btw you mentioned that religion is interfering with politics, but I think it’s the other way around. Politicians are using religion, or sect for that matter, to accomplish political status.

    • says

      Thats brilliant! It would be an awesome, symbolic gesture to motion for the recognition of a new, godless sect. The only problem I am afraid of is violence against proponents of this new sect…

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