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    Will Abolishing the Sectarian System Be Lebanon’s Revolution?

    While deserving all Lebanese citizens’ support, #UniteLB lacks the specific demands regarding the abolition of the sectarian system that are required to make it a success.

    In the current regional context, Lebanese politics has increasingly appeared old-fashioned and like a broken record: who cares about a bunch Lebanese politicians yet again arguing over ministries, repeating the same clichés over and over again, when the winds of revolution are blowing through the Arab world, promising to change the region for the better? So it’s not surprising that many of us feel frustrated that nothing seems to be moving forward in Lebanon, and that the sectarian system which dominates our lives seems to be consolidating itself every day.  This is why the Facebook group “the people demand the fall of the sectarian regime” was created by a big number of Lebanese activists and individuals committed to overthrowing the sectarian system and replacing it with a secular one. As well as sectarianism, the movement states that is against political inheritance, socio-economic exploitation, unemployment, uneven development, racism and discrimination. The changes they are demanding include: a secular democratic state based on social justice, rise in the minimum wage, decrease in price of essential living items, increased job opportunities, elimination of the ‘wasta’ or the use of connections and bribery, the right to adequate housing and finally, improvements in social security and implementation of pension schemes. These are the minimum specific demands that every government should implement without delay, and that every political party has dismally failed to address, preferring instead to focus on sectarian rhetoric or empty clichés to explain away peoples’ concerns. [Here I would criticize the authors of the manifesto for completely forgetting women’s rights].

    My concern with #UniteLB (the Twitter hashtag for the movement) is that at some point, it will need to make specific demands as to the dismantling of the sectarian system. As long as the demand is general in scope, every Lebanese political party will support the campaign, because they all claim to support the abolition of the sectarian system. Feel free to disagree with me, but I don’t see how a call for the dismantling of the sectarian system will spontaneously inspire citizens to revolt against their sectarian leaders. If #UniteLB wants to rattle the political class it will need to for example, ask loudly for civil marriage and the transfer of personal status issues from religious courts to state courts. #UniteLB could also start a campaign demanding the end of censorship of all cultural material on the civil war, as a way to encourage retrospective analysis of 1975-1990.   It has been noted that a revolution in Lebanon is impossible because there is no centre to rebel against; #UniteLB can create this centre by pushing for the specific secular demands that both March 14 and March 8 oppose.

    Another point I’d like to make (of course open to discussion) is that it seems that #UniteLB is comprised of people who’ve already disconnected from the sectarian system; the real battle is over the hearts and minds of the many Lebanese citizens who have no problem with it, and even benefit from it. How do we convince them that there’s a viable alternative to following a sectarian leader for security and jobs? How do we break down the psychological wall of distrust between people fuelled by irresponsible politicians and a sectarian media?

    Maybe one solution is to run for elections (the ultimate brave action for any radical), even if this means, in the short term, entering the political system on a sectarian basis (and facing all the risks of cooptation) – and thus creating an uprising at the polls by offering a viable alternative to Jumblatt, Aoun, Hariri, Berri, etc. Electoral culture in Lebanon, the whole way people vote, is symptomatic of the whole sectarian system; if we (and by we, I don’t mean just #UniteLB, but all indivuduals, groups and parties in Lebanon committed to  the dismantling of the sectarian system) can convince people to change the way they vote, then we’ve created major change.

    2 responses to “Will Abolishing the Sectarian System Be Lebanon’s Revolution?”

    1. Philippe says:

      What about specifically asking for a referendum to secularize the state? The referendum itself would probably fail, but it would create awareness about the issue. Leading up to the referendum, strong PR campaigns explaining secularism and discrediting sectarianism would help install the idea in the hearts and minds of people. This would also allow to measure popular support for such an issue and if there is enough of it, an actual real political party could result from it, which could grow in the next few years until it calls for a new referendum. The obvious danger is, what the hell will the current zou3ama do if a secular political party was to get popular support? Assassinate its members? Sometimes, a strong-arm is required, and that strong-arm is people power through popular revolt.

    2. Doreen_K says:

      I think that the problem for a pro secularism campaign is that we need to specifically define what we mean by secularizing the state. Instead of campaigning under a general banner, we should say focus efforts on specific issues, starting with civil marriage and the transfer of all personal status matters from religious courts to state courts.

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