Box 4 - The question of secularisation in Lebanon: a conversation with Fawwaz Traboulsi
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Lebanon suffers from constitutional schizophrenia. The political regime, with quotas for the electoral system and government appointments, contradicts the rights of political and legal equality enshrined in the Constitution. Yet Articles 9 and 10 of the same Constitution stress respect for all religions and the rights of religious communities. Both are a direct legacy of the Constitution of 1926, which required the state to respect all confessions and safeguard religious interests as long as they did not undermine public order. So while the Constitution makes the abolition of the confessional system a “basic national goal”, other parts of it tend to protect that same system.
Facing such a complex institutional situation, the question is whether, and how, existing resources within Lebanese society could bring an end to the political system based on confessional representation, and how these could contribute significantly to the secularisation of personal status and education.
There is a consensus among religious authorities in favour of the status quo. They assert a demagogy of sorts: for example, Christian authorities expect violent reactions from their Sunni counterparts against any proposed changes in personal status, only to support their position in the end.
The confessional system must be understood as a modern creation, not as a legacy of a remote past, that is linked to many external interests. The existence of a Lebanese national identity cannot be questioned, even if it is one that often asserts itself negatively – ‘against’ another, eg the Palestinians or the Syrians. Nowadays, no one defends the idea of uniting Lebanon with Syria. But how should we understand nationalism and patriotism in a country where the majority of the population works overseas and those living in the country are dependent on them for subsistence?