This weekend, a group of Lebanese citizens will take to the streets of Beirut to participate in a Laïque Pride rally. In the Guardian‘s Comment is Free blog, Elias Muhanna provides some background to this event. Increasingly, Lebanese citizens have become wary of the confessional system which, much like the Dutch “pillar” system, divides up political offices between Maronite Christians and Shia and Sunni Muslims. At the same time, there is no clear conception of what a secular (or laïque) arrangement would look like.
Recent polls have shown that there is significant public support for abolishing the confessional system in Lebanon, but, like many issues, this is also influenced by a sectarian calculus: most of the support lies among Lebanese Muslims, whose numbers relative to the Christian population have grown over the past several decades. Many fear that trying to impose sweeping changes on the country without the support of a majority of the Christian community could have severe repercussions. Finally, of all the participants surveyed in the above-mentioned poll, nearly a quarter said that they did not know what “abolishing confessionalism” even meant.
And this really is the crux of the matter. Previous efforts by Lebanese civil society groups to push a secularist agenda have failed largely because of the ambiguity of their ideas.
While almost every major political party in Lebanon has, at one point or another, paid lip service to the ideal of a meritocratic system of government free from sectarian quotas, there have been all too few concrete proposals for how such a system would function and the process needed to produce it.