Monday, March 29, 2010

Religion and State Relations in Lebanon: Effects on Diversity

‘Religion and State Relations in Lebanon: Effects on Diversity’

Towards a Healthier Relationship between Religion and State, March 25 – 28, 2010

Sheraton Istanbul Maslak, Istanbul / Turkey
Regional symposium organized by DiyarConsortium and Olof Palme International Center

Istanbul, 26-03-2010

By Dr. Pamela Chrabieh Badine

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh Badine



- The usual definition of ‘diversity’ in Lebanon concerns the religious/sectarian diversity. Even what is called ‘cultural diversity’ refers automatically to the religious/sectarian one.

- For some, it is the ‘Lebanese natural condition’.

- For others, it has to do with ‘Sectarianism’.

What is Sectarianism?

1) It is the determination of actions, attitudes and practices by beliefs about religious difference, which results in their being invoked as the boundary marker to represent social stratification. Sectarianism is not necessarily synonymous with religiosity. One difference is that, while sectarianism may imply some intolerance of them (sectarian) "others" and encourage feelings of competition with them, religiosity does not necessarily imply intolerance.

2) It is a personal status system. The confessional laws by virtue of article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution regulate the personal status. The Lebanese law recognizes 18 confessions and grants the authority to religious courts. Therefore the personal status law does not depend on one unified civil law.

3) It is a political system granting 18 sectarian communities political rights and privileges, on an equal basis between Muslims and Christians since the early 1990s, replacing the 6-to-5 edge previously held by the Christians.


For some, the roots of the system go back to the French Mandate (1920-1943); for others, to the 19th CE, under the Ottoman Empire rule. For most historians, the newly state of Lebanon in the early 20th CE was created with the interests of the Maronite Christian community in mind. France annexed Shia, Sunni and Greek Orthodox communities into the mandate regardless of the Sunni majority’s desire for unity with Syria. At the same time, France’s governance led to a reinforcement of the clientelist (za’ama) system already in place. Under this arrangement, community leaders emerged as patrons for the populace in their locality. These traditional, feudal rulers provided local, individual services on a personal level in exchange for the allegiance and loyalty of the masses. Often, the tight-knit communities that centered on an individual zaim were based on confession, or of clans that all adhered to the same religious doctrine. This family-based dynamic weakened the civil society of the fledgling nation, as no real relationship developed between the citizens and the central government. Because self-determination was essentially nonexistent, all political activities had a confessional overtone.

The first constitution written in 1926 did little to alleviate the situation, and instead included prescriptions for instituting a confessional system which continued to be further institutionalized until the present day. The National Pact of 1943 - a form of reconciliation between Sunni and Maronites -, the Taif agreement of 1989 - leading to Constitutional reforms -, and the inter-confessional or trans-confessional alliances - called ‘8’ and ‘14’ of March - since 2005 did not bring substantial changes/reforms in the structure of the system and its applications. On the contrary, sectarian laws and formulas were being cemented, e.g. the President of the Republic should be Maronite, the President of the Council of Ministers should be Sunni and the President of the Parliament should be Shia. During the past few months, several politicians called for political de-confessionalism as stated in the Taef agreement of 1989. But this step, if adopted, does not lead to a Secular system. Taef sent very mixed messages on this particular issue. It reformed political sectarianism by guaranteeing parity in Christian and Muslim representation. At the same time, it made a commitment of overcoming political confessionalism by calling for the creation of a council that would examine and propose the means capable of a progressive abolition. But it also called for the creation of a Senate where all sectarian communities would be represented and would have the right/privilege to tackle important national issues.

Advantages of the Social-Political System

According to some experts, Sectarianism as a political system has many advantages:

Preserves the identity and rights of minorities - with respect to personal affairs, freedom of belief, exercise of religious rituals and freedom of religious education;

Implements consociative democratic mechanisms such as the consensus between all parties. No room for the democracy of numbers where a majority dictates its vision/practice on minorities.

Gives Lebanon a unique character in the Arab World by allowing a religious diversified society to exist while being managed by a civil ‘non-religious’ State which guarantees a balanced official representation of Islam and Christianity - Judaism being one of the three official religions but marginalized since the early 1980s.

Preserves Civil Peace and Security.

Enforces and preserves dialogue and coexistence.

Disadvantages of the Social-Political System

For many experts, Sectarianism does nothing for Lebanon but creates more conflicts, for it involves a negative mixing of religion and politics by enforcing and reinforcing a mutual instrumentalization /utilization

It arises as a distorted expression of positive human needs, especially for belonging, identity and the free expression of difference. Indeed, it expresses in destructive patterns of relating: hardening the boundaries between groups, overlooking others, belittling, dehumanizing, or demonizing others, justifying or collaborating in the domination of others, physically intimidating or attacking others, etc.

It marginalizes any form of civil and secular identity to be integrated and recognized.

It marginalizes other forms of diversity in Lebanon and recognizes only the religious/sectarian diversity: political, economical, cultural, linguistic, generational, gender diversity, sexual diversity, ethnic diversity, social classes, diasporic identities’ diversity, etc.

It encourages corruption, clientelism, foreign interventions and enforces the za’ama system.

Summary of Current Visions

Pro-Sectarianism (keeping the system as it is or reinforcing it) – According to this vision, religion/sectarian community = culture / clash of cultures to coexistence of cultures (no common values)

Pro-Reforms (undertaking internal reforms and/or reforms of the applications)

Alternative Systems (Secular, Mono-religious, Bi-religious, Federal, etc.) - EXCLUSIVISM

My vision – A Mediated System

MEDIATED SYSTEM = can manage non-contradictory and contradictory visions/practices


As I see it and based on several ground researches undertaken in the past few years, a change is needed, but it should not put aside Religion or confine it to a private sphere.

It has to manage it in a more constructive and open process, inclusive to all diversities, leading to the reconciliation of the legitimate concerns of Lebanon's various religious groups and the rights of all Lebanese to be treated equally. Fragmentation of knowledge, discourses and practices have to be overcome towards an encounter of differences.


What to conclude?

There is no consensus or no agreement on how to evaluate the current system and how to proceed. STATUS QUO – and the status quo cannot simply be decided against or be vetoed. Action must be taken if it is to change.

Spaces’ of tensions leading to internal conflicts are threatening the relatively ‘stable’ situation. Spaces of conviviality (i.e. living together) do exist but need to be enlarged.


Towards a better management of diversity and ‘healthy’ relations between diversities?
E.g. of ‘Baby steps ‘

Forming an Official Commission which will base its report on the outcomes of public debates, public hearing and academic applied researches with a particular focus on:

- Reaching an agreement on the advantages of the current system and on its disadvantages.

- Recognizing and promoting the plurality of diversities in Lebanon and in the Lebanese Diaspora.

- Tackling issues directly and indirectly related to the management of diversity’s– especially how Lebanon should manage its relations to its neighborhood and the impact of globalization.

- Identifying the basic components of the ‘revised/renewed’ system.

- This Commission would submit a report to the government including new law projects and practical recommendations .

In Quebec (Canada) for example, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on Reasonable Accommodation of Minorities released its report in 2008, a year and three months after its creation by the Government of Quebec, and it included 37 recommendations such as: Suggesting that the government prepare an official White Paper on secularism (“laïcité”), that it promote interculturalism and provide better funding to diversity programs, that it provide training to institutions about best practices in cultural adjustments, that it do more to integrate newcomers into a French-speaking majority society and that it offer better protection to those newcomers against all forms of discrimination.


Laurent said...

Hi! Great conference!
Welcome back from Istanbul. I've been there, amazing city!

Anonymous said...

So, if i understand well, there should be something in the middle, including religious and non-religious people.
Hope that system will be implemented one day.
Thank you!


Anonymous said...

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