On Sunday the 25th, more than 3000 people marched for secularism in Beirut. Civil society groups, feminists, student clubs, and LGBTQ- and cultural activist were brought together in protest of the current Lebanese political system. The atmosphere was festive and spirits were high. The question is can slogans ranging from “Queers for secularism” to “Civil marriage, not civil war” succeed in giving birth to a movement for political and social change?
[some paragraphs on the Lebanese political system and the main demands of the march]The march on April 25th exceeded expectations. Organized solely at the initiative of civil society organizations and young cultural activists, it was a political rarity in Lebanon. The organizers did not have access to the usual media outlets, mostly reigned in by predetermined loyalties when it comes to political mobilization. The organization and recruitment took place primarily on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter..It remains to be seen whether this colorful blend of activists can develop into a more concrete political program. And if it does, the question remains whether it will find wider support in a country all too often driven to violence in the name of sect and religion..Lebanon’s political system has grave shortcomings and can at best be described as a stunted parliamentary democracy. But in contrast to most countries in the Middle East, Lebanon does not have an official state-religion. At the same time, the majority of Lebanese are protective of their religious identities. For the ideas behind the march to find broader support, the greatest challenge is to shape a vision of secularism which embraces both Lebanon’s religious and non-religious identities..As participants in the protest march were shouting: “Neither Turkish, nor Western – Lebanese secularism”. Such a secularism would entail something so rich as to transform the country’s pluralism from weakness to strength. In many ways this problematic resembles the difficulties faced by several European countries trying to reconcile themselves with growing religious divides. The difference is that in Lebanon, it is the secularists who constitute a minority.
May 15, 2010
As expected, there has been a lot of discussion on the topic of secularism following the Laique Pride March on April 25. I hope to find the time to post more on this shortly. For the time being, here is a translation of an op-ed piece I wrote, published in the May 7 print edition of the left-of-center Norwegian weekly, Ny Tid. A scan of the original Norwegian version can be found here: