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LEBANON: Hundreds march in Beirut against sectarian political system

February 28, 2011 |  6:59 am

ALeqM5g7thSihLnYfRRhoCrtyUCpArkDLQ Hundreds of people braving torrential rains and wind marched in the Lebanese capital Sunday to call for an end to the country's sectarian political system.

Throngs of protesters, some holding signs saying "I want to bring down the sectarian system" were seen standing under a bridge near the main courthouse and along the old green line that separated Beirut into Muslim and Christian neighborhoods during Lebanon's 15-year long civil war, which ended in 1990.

In contrast to other Arab countries that have witnessed unrest and uprisings recently, there is no long-ruling leader or authoritarian figure to overthrow in Lebanon.

For some, Lebanon's dictatorship comes instead in the form of the country's complicated and delicate  power-sharing agreement, a government system based on political confessionalism that aims to maintain a balance between the country's 18 religious sects. The agreement has been blamed by many as being the cause of serious problems and issues this volatile Mediterranean country has witnessed over the years, including corruption and war.

"I believe the existence of the sectarian system is the cause for corruption, poverty and the civil war. If sectarianism is abolished, we'll have a much better system," 27-year rally-goer Hiba told Babylon & Beyond.

The call for the rally was put out on Facebook through a campaign called "Lebanese people want to topple the sectarian system," and several thousand clicked to say that they would participate in the protest. Only hundreds came out in the streets, but those who braved the rain and icy winds were determined and defiant to push their cause.

"Nothing is impossible," 20-year old journalism student Maytham Kassir told Babylon & Beyond."We can do it, and we're walking here under the rain. They're scared, the people. That's why they are afraid of change," he said.

His statement appeared to echo the concerns of one young man who stood on the sidelines of the protest and expressed his opposition to the march and support of the sectarian system.

"The sectarian system is giving rights to each group in Lebanon," the man, who only identified himself as Ibrahim, told Babylon & Beyond. "How can I be sure that my group enjoys full rights if the system is removed?"

Next week, organizers behind the Facebook campaign said they are holding their first public meeting,  and activists are organizing a "Seculars' March Towards Citizenship," to be held on April 17 in the Lebanese capital, for the second year in a row.

The rally calls for a civil secular state that guarantees "the expression of the country's diversity and securing social justice, one of the main foundations of civil peace."

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Hundreds of Lebanese braved rain and wind and marched in Beirut against the sectarian political system. Credit: Agence France-Presse

 

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