I have been swamped with teaching, so I have not been really paying attention to the news lately. So when I learned that I now have the option to actually remove my sect from my personal status register (Nufus) I had to rub my eyes and pinch myself. How did that happen?
Apart from increasing my respect for minister of interior, Ziad Baroud, even more, this is probably the only piece of news coming from Lebanon over the past few years that I find worth celebrating. As the atheist product of a mixed marriage, I take this personally. As a student of late Ottoman and modern history, I find it phenomenal.
Over the past 150+ years, the tendency in proto-Lebanon and Lebanon has been towards increasing institutionalization of sectarianism and the increasing intertwinement of the idea of citizenship with sect. This can be traced back to the contradictory 1856 Islahat Fermani, which, in the same breath, affirmed the sameness of the citizens of the Ottoman Empire while addressing them as nations/sects (millet). The various stops on the way — the 1860 Mount Lebanon war, the French Mandate reforms, the national pact, Taef, Hizballah’s political turn, etc — all in a long term perspective served to further entrench and institutionalize this intertwinement between citizen and sect.
Now this comes, a counter intuitive surprise considering the overall trend. It is, of course, nothing like a magical wave of the wand which undoes sect. Clearly, the parliament, voting system, and our “representative” “democracy” can continue along the same lines even if the very last citizen were to remove his sect from the register. Particularly when they are all based on a census whose population no longer exists.
But that is precisely why the option to remove one’s sect from the register is so phenomenal: the burden of responsiblity rests with me, as a person and citizen, to go tomorrow early morning and remove my sect from the Nufus register. And therein lies the challenge. What will become of it will only be a viable discussion once the widespread rejection of sectarian citizenship becomes fact. So, I find myself wondering, how many will do it? And how many will ask themselves: who am I if not my sect?