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    Dear Boutros Harb, Where Would I Go?

    Boutros Harb & the "confessionalization" of Lebanon's real estate

    Dear Mr. Harb,

    I am not an “outraged critic,” as the media described those who made statements in the past week against your draft law that would ban the sale of land and property between Christians and Muslims. I am not going to bash your motives or call you sectarian.

    I am not going to do that because I understand the motives behind your draft law. Yes, Christians are facing a huge problem in Lebanon. Yes, Hezbollah is buying large pieces of land from Christians, and yes, many Christians are worried about their existence in Lebanon, especially after the recent church bombings in Iraq and Egypt.

    Yes, Mr. Harb, I cannot blame you, but can you tell me where I am supposed to go?

    I am a Shia, simply, because I was born into a Shia family in the south of Lebanon. I gradually grew out of my sectarian identity, and believe me, it took me years and years to construct a different identity for myself and to believe in it. My identity has many layers, but before anything else, I am a Lebanese – a secular Lebanese – woman.

    Being a secular Lebanese is already not easy in a country where a secular civil status law does not exist. My whole adult life, I have refused to be labeled a Shia or a Muslim. I have refused to be submitted to the patriarchal religious system, and I thought I would be able to continue living without having to refer to it.

    Dear Mr. Harb, I have never felt more like a Shia than I do today after reading your proposed law.

    Ten years ago, I married a Maronite Christian. We had a civil marriage in France, and a few years later we bought a house in Achrafieh, the Christian area of Beirut. Then we had a son, who was, by Lebanese custom, automatically considered Christian, after his father.

    During those years, Lebanon was divided along the political lines of March 14 vs. March 8. As a Shia who supported March 14 principles, both personally and as a journalist, I was immediately labeled as anti-Hezbollah.

    I meet your political views and hear your fears. However, as a Shia, I worry about Hezbollah taking over the identity of Lebanon, not only of the Christians.

    I truly believe that massive Hezbollah land purchasing in Christian areas is a risk that also applies to all Lebanese territories. Hezbollah is not only trying to change the demographics of Christian areas, but of all Lebanon, including Shia areas. The party has changed the people, their lifestyles and their mentalities, and that worries me most.

    Do you have any idea how much the South has changed since the 1980s? It is not the South that I used to know, and this worries me the same way Hezbollah buying Christian land worries you.

    I hear your fears because I’ve had the same fears for a long time, but for all Lebanese, for all of Lebanon. During the past five years, March 14 has not been successful in integrating the Lebanese Shia community into its political project. In many ways, the Shia felt that they have nobody but Hezbollah to refer to. Your draft law would only increase the alienation of the Shia and push them further into the arms of Hezbollah and its mini-state.

    Why should we make the same mistake again? The worries you and many Christians have are not so different from the worries that are eating up many Lebanese Shia. Instead, we need to think together, as Lebanese, about how to face the risk to all Lebanese, not only the Christians.

    Moreover, Mr. Harb, your draft law constitutes a big problem for me, as a Shia with a Christian son who owns a property in a Christian area.

    Today, if your draft law came to pass, I would feel like an outsider in my own country. I, or anyone else in my situation, could never go back to live in the South or in Dahiyeh because I am considered an outsider in my community, or what is considered by the Lebanese sectarian system as my community.

    I am an outsider there, and I would be an outsider here in Achrafieh for the 15 years you proposed your law to remain valid, after which no one could predict the repercussions of such a law on people’s collective behavior.

    Mr. Harb, where would I go? Are people like me, who are not part of their sectarian communities, supposed to leave the country for some place else where they can at least hope to belong?

    And apart from the question of identity, there is another problem. According to our sect-based law, a person cannot inherit the estate of someone from a different religion. Therefore, my son, a Maronite, cannot inherit from me, his Shia mother.

    Outrageous, I know. The only solution is that I will have to sell my son my property for a symbolic price so that I can be able to pass it on to him. Now with your draft law, even that would not be possible. My son, simply, would never be able to inherit from me.

    Dear Mr. Harb, I really think that the problem with your draft law is not that it is a breach of the constitution. My concern is that it is a breach of what we stood for back in March 2005 at Martyrs’ Square, together, when we pledged to fight as Lebanese for Lebanon’s sovereignty. My principle – and I believe it was your principle, too – is to work for a secular, modern and reformed Lebanon, where the citizen matters most.

    Mr. Harb, I am a Lebanese citizen, and I want to stay one. Tell me, where would I go?

    Hanin GHADDAR
    NOW Lebanon

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