The First Lebanese Born Without a Sect

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I’m sure you all remember Khouloud and Nidal Sukkariyeh, the first Lebanese couple to get a civil marriage without going to Cyprus and forcing our government to recognize it as legitimate, using a loophole that existed in our constitution back from the days of the French mandate.

We all knew as well that they were awaiting their first born when the news of their marriage spread like wildfire among the Lebanese populace. We wondered what would happen to that child, bureaucratically and whatnot. Well, we now have our answer.

Ghadi, Khouloud and Nidal’s firstborn, is – I believe – the first Lebanese citizen to be born without a sect plastered across his papers. The Lebanese mold has been broken once again.

This is obviously great news. It’s another firm step in getting our country to become more aware of citizens like Khouloud, Nidal and their son who don’t want to be governed by regulations that are detrimental to their well-being as citizens and which are custom-made to the community they just happened to be born in.

It’s a firm step in getting people who have lived all their lives believing there’s no alternative to realize that yes, something could be done about the situation we’re in. And it’s also a firm step in, maybe, changing the perception of those who view all of this as one big load of unacceptable actions.

But I have to wonder: is 2013 Lebanon the best place for a child like Ghadi to be born into regarding his sect-less identity? Our country is divided among sects. Job interviews need you to be honest about your religious affiliations. You can’t get into certain places if you don’t have a wasta that is contingent upon your political affiliation and your sect. The entire country is built in a way that allows those and only those who exist within the grand mold of a “sectual” identity – even if only on paper – to truly have a shot at making it.

I hope the current status quo isn’t bad news to Ghadi because it would be a shame for a child that just made the history books to go down memory lane unremembered. Allah y3ayysho.

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The Lebanese Fathers Who Hate Their Daughters

I didn’t believe when I was told she was getting a divorce.

The initial thought that crossed my mind, in sectarian Lebanon, was the how, given her sect. I then asked the why. They said her husband was beating her up. I would have never told. I knew her for a very long time. I knew her husband for considerably less but he never gave the impression of being a wife beater.

Or that could have been the reason why she liked wearing longer sleeves than usual during the times when long sleeves were intolerable.

What will happen to the children? I asked. Nobody knew. They said they might split custody. Others said their father didn’t have time to take care of them. In a few weeks since she took her decision, she became a single woman with children to support in a country that doesn’t accept cases like hers.

And I couldn’t have been prouder of her: standing up for herself, her body, her bruised arms, her children, their sanctity and all of their well-being.

I figured things could only get better for her now: she had family that should help her get back on her feet, she had the support needed to recuperate from months or maybe years of abuse, she had the strength to make herself whole again.

How wrong was I?

Her father was a man of ambition. He sought office many times. Sometimes through proxies whose campaigns he orchestrated, other times by running directly. His ambition surpassed the confines of the town in which he acted but he knew he wouldn’t get farther than that. He tried nonetheless, expanding his repertoire of friends to a growing list of much more influential men who gave him purpose, who gave him lists to drop in conversation, who gave him fake importance which he mistook as influence.

And her father beat her up as well.

He beat her up when he knew she was getting a divorce.

He beat her up when he knew she was going through with the divorce.

He beat her up when he knew she had custody of her children.

He beat her up when he asked her to stop the divorce and get the children back to their father and she refused. He beat her up so much that her ailing mother came to stand between them and was slammed across the floor, as she was withstanding for years, despite the chemo coursing through her veins and the cancer killing her insides.

He beat her up because he felt it gave him power, because he figured it would straighten her behavior.

She feared he’d beat her up if she visited her mother in the hospital. So she didn’t visit.

She feared he’d beat her up if she visited her mother to take care of her on the days her husband had her kids. So she’d wait in the car until he left before she’d sneak in.

She feared he’d beat her up if she did anything that he would think was out of the ordinary so she never did.

Her husband beating her up was something. Her father, on the other hand, was something else.

His abuse diffused to her siblings who mentally abused her as well. He rendered her a doormat on which they stepped every time the woes of life overburdened them. And she took all of it anyway.

Then, when it all became too much to bear, she decided to seek help. So she went to a lawyer. How can I sue both my father and my husband, she asked while clutching the medical reports detailing the abuse she was withstanding. The lawyer advised her not to. If you sued them, he said, the law will say there’s something wrong with you because they both beat you up.

There was nothing she could do. So she kept on taking it, hoping that one day things will get better.

That father is one of the Lebanese fathers who hate their daughters, who don’t deserve their daughters, their wives or any of the women of their lives. Those are the fathers who should stand by their daughters, forcibly weakened by society and by law, regardless of whether their daughters are in the wrong or the right, but not only fail to do so, they stand against their daughters forcing them to go down to where society put them. Those are the fathers who perpetuate the weakness that society has inflicted in our women.

I hope for a day when she wakes up and find the strength she has, despite it all, somehow rewarded. Until then, may her god be with her.

Lebanon’s First Civil Marriage Approved

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“I will sign Khouloud and Nidale’s marriage,” Marwan Charbel – our minister of interior affairs – declared today, “even though I do not support civil marriage myself.”

I don’t get why it seems like not supporting civil marriage is actually a healthy mentality for politicians who are ruling our country.

Perhaps it is to please their growing political aspirations, after all the majority of Lebanese apparently do not support the issue with drastic differences across sects. A recent poll I read shows the following results: Druze and Christians support civil marriage with more than 60% while Shiites and Sunnis oppose it with more than 70%. The total comes down to almost 57% not supporting civil marriage.

Khouloud and Nidale’s marriage passed through a lot to get to where it is. There was a time where it appeared it won’t pass as minister of justice Shakib Qortbawi said he doesn’t believe the legal aspects of it work out. A committee that was assigned to look into the issue decided that the marriage was in fact legal and despite statements from minister of interior affairs that he wouldn’t sign, he apparently did.

So it is now official – Lebanon has now had its first civil marriage ever. But at what price?

Could Nidale and Khouloud’s marriage truly get more Lebanese who are enthusiastic about this to do what they did (link)? They stroke off their sects off all their legal documents, when through a lot of legalities in order to bypass the strict counter-regulations to what they were doing and eventually had to wait months and months until their issue was resolved.

Their marriage and the debate that ensued sparked reactions from religious and common folk that no one could have expected. From fatwas declaring apostasy on all Muslim politicians who approve of it to Christian priests convening for the main purpose of discussing it.

 

I’m willing to bet that if their issue hadn’t received media attention, it wouldn’t have ended up this favorably as well.

The questions to be asked are: will Nidale and Khouloud’s marriage be the first of many to be done in the same way? Or will the hardships they went through deter people from doing so when the alternative is much, much simpler? Will their marriage open up the flood gates or will it remain a singular event standing in a country that seems to be as close to legalizing civil marriage as it is to come up with a new electoral law especially when so many couples are nowhere near willing to strike off their sects just to get married while there is a much simpler alternative only 100km and $2000 away?

Congrats to Nidale and Khouloud. Hopefully their struggle to have their union recognized doesn’t die off as another cause du jour in a country where causes are faster to spring up than rabbits reproducing.

The Miserable Maronites of Lebanon

Today is the day when Maronites across Lebanon get a surge of pride on the memory of St. Maroun, the sect’s founder.

Throughout the day, if you were “lucky” enough to come from Lebanon’s bible belt and have a lot of deeply religious friends, you’ll be swamped with Facebook statuses and pictures to glorify the day. Many celebratory dinners will be held across the country as well. It is one of those occasions.

This is the day for Maronites across Lebanon to feel empowered and self-sufficient and whatever floats their boat when it comes to self glorification.

The truth, however, is that today – February 9th, 2013 – as Lebanon’s Maronites rise to a fake glory on the day of their founder, they couldn’t be more wretched.

I’ll start with yours truly.

I was born in a Maronite family whose dose of religiousness grew as I grew. I dabbled with religion. Sometimes I grew into it, more often than not I grew out of it. My lack of ignorance when it comes to what the sect box on my ID contains led many to label me as a Christian extremist. I didn’t mind it.

But today, the only thing Maronite about me is probably what’s written next to my name on the voters list. It’s not about lack of faith. It’s not about atheism. It’s about a state of utter disgust with the social aspect that “my” sect has become and what it has made me, by default, in the process.

Today, Maronites in the country are forced to live in fear. I don’t think our fears are in any way justified. Do you know what’s the only reason that justifies us living in fear? It’s because Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea said we should be afraid.

The former told us we should panic from the impeding rise of Islamists in Syria and behold, Maronites across the land started gearing up for the apocalypse.

The latter has shoved the threat of Hezbollah’s weapons down our throats, making it a constant fixture in our daily lives, that the only thing we see as we go about our lives normally now is weapons. Illegal weapons everywhere.

Whenever our major “Maronite” politicians tell us to do something, we do it. Not because we want to – but because there’s an inherent conviction among the majority of Maronites that those leaders know best. Our critical thinking capacities are not just dismal, they are becoming non-existent.

Case in point? The electoral law. How many Maronites support the Orthodox Gathering Law? I suppose they are a lot. Are those Maronites truly convinced by the law? I doubt but they don’t know they’re not really convinced.

All they know is that their political reference came out in support of the law and gave them a set of arguments for them to wrap their heads around. Fast forward a few days later and the whole idea is now sitting comfortably in their brains, equipped with a full arsenal of conviction as if it was there for months. And then try to tell them otherwise. Try to ask any Maronite today about which law they see best and their answer will be what their politician of choice told you. Go on, try it.

We are a people that has become so weak that we can’t even stand up to the horrendous and absolute lack of qualification that flow from every single “Maronite” politician today.

Today, the road leading up to the main villages of my district has fallen into a serious state of disrepair. I wrote about it before (link) and observed an interesting reaction regarding the issue. The LF’ers blamed Gebran Bassil for the road. The Aounists blamed the district’s two MPs. Both LF’ers and Aounists are joined by the fact that their cars are getting screwed whenever they want to drive on that road – but they can’t even get together to get it fixed because God forbid their holy politician of choice be the one to blame.

What’s worse is that we are more than utterly convinced that those politicians are sacred.

Try to tell a Aounist that Gebran Bassil or Michel Aoun are not the people that Jesus meant when He said “whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Try to tell a Lebanese Forces supporter that the “hakim” is not the saint they want him to be or that the Lebanese Forces are slacking off with how they’re handling things, letting themselves be dragged into quarrels revolving around those epic never-ending Christian rights.

Maronites have now been convinced that those “Christian rights” that our heads have been drilled with are truly what our politicians are after. The idea that “Christian rights” is simply a pre-electoral ploy to get our Maronite blood boiling before we go vote didn’t cross anyone’s mind. If our politicians are truly concerned for our rights, then why haven’t they done something about it already? If our politicians are truly convinced about the army, then why do all their statements drip with unprecedented hypocrisy? If our politicians truly care about our well-being in this country then why haven’t they actually done anything to improve it?

The answer is quite simple: because we have the memory span of a fish. If they don’t do it a few months before the elections, we won’t remember come the time to vote.

We get carried away with useless rhetoric of people who couldn’t care less about our interests and eventually transform that rhetoric, in our heads, to scripture. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon today that their rights are of having hospitals and schools, not about commanding the country again, and you might as well have committed some form of higher treason. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t feel threatened at every waking moment of your life and you might as well have been committed to an asylum. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon today that those big bad Muslims are not really out there to get us at every kink in the road and you will get inundated with a slew of swear words against their “prophet.”

And while a lot of Lebanon is trying to go past the civil war mentality, many Maronites still live in it. Many are even proud of it. If you, as a Maronite, were born after the end of the civil war then your opinion is irrelevant. Their “struggle” during the civil war makes them experts and it turns you into a non-sensical nobody. They fail to see how living in 1975 when it’s 2013 is not only pathological, it’s also sickening. They fail to see that using the civil war to attempt to score points when it’s been over for 23 years is not only not healthy but downright despicable. They live in the past and revel in the fact that they do so.

So between living in constant fear, pretending as if we actually have political free will and getting swept away with dreams of a Maronite utopia, we have become a people that are beyond miserable at life in Lebanon. How many of us as Maronites will have the guts to actually stick it to all our politicians who are actively terrorizing us come election day? Not many. How many actually see those politicians as such? Well, considering I’ve been exposed to people who are voting for certain politicians because they “asked about them” during one of their electoral visits, I daresay I wouldn’t be going on a limb if I said not many. How many of us won’t be happy when, one day after the election’s results are out, our politician of choice proclaims to represent the Christians – especially Maronites – of Lebanon?

The reality is that with how we are being forced and forcing ourselves to live, our standards have gone down dramatically. Our religious extremism is rising exponentially and we can even fathom justifying it. We cling to the glories of days that are past in order to feel relevant in the present. We gloat about the president having to be Maronite by law because it gives us some form of security. We hyperventilate in joy whenever someone tells us they believe Maronites are the reason Lebanon exists. We pretend as if nothing is absolutely wrong in our communities, in our mentalities. We pretend as if all the blame is to be put on everyone else because they are the root of all problems in this country.

This is your yearly dose of a reality check.

My angry rant is also easily applicable to other sects in Lebanon. Because everyone is miserable. However, the moment someone from outside any sect criticizes it, people get offended. Even those who claim not to be sectarian. My prerogative, as a Maronite, is that I get to criticize how my sect has become, at least socially, all I want. And if this angers you, then I’m more than glad I hit a nerve.

Happy St. Maroun day.

Let’s Talk About Lebanon’s 2013 Elections: The Orthodox Gathering Law

One can argue that the French mandate was the root of Lebanon’s sectarian system. Its goal was to make a country that serves as a safe-haven for Maronites, with an edge in parliament seats and in governing powers. The sectarian divide in power reflected upon the people over the years. Blame the French? Blame everyone I guess.

Growing sectarianism and a feeling of injustice among sections of Lebanon’s population led to the Lebanese Civil war which culminated in the Taef agreement. The agreement took away most of the president’s powers, rendering him a near-puppet in a growingly tense political scene, and equalized between Christian and Muslim representation in parliament, despite the case not being so demographically.

Subsequently, a Syrian-led Lebanese regime managed to fragment Christian communities even more. The demographics, due to constant persecution, low birth rates and high immigration rates of Christians, continued to become even more lopsided. As it stands, Lebanon’s population is 60% Muslim and 40% Christian. That’s on a good day of statistics.

The problem with a skewed demographic, however, with an equally split parliament is that many of the minority’s seats cannot be chosen by said minority, regardless of what that minority is. This wouldn’t be a problem in a place where majorities and minorities didn’t view themselves as such: I have the power of numbers, therefore I rule over you.

That’s how the idea for an Orthodox Gathering Law came to be: the power that Christians lost over the years “must” be recuperated. And that should be done despite Christians not having the power of numbers anymore.

Here’s what’s given about the Lebanese situation today:

  • There’s no such thing as a Lebanese social fabric.
  • There’s no such thing as national unity – it only exists in the wildest fictive ideas of those who live in their own Lebanon-utopia
  • There’s no hope to achieve a state of national unity under current circumstances.
  • The biggest obstacle towards national unity isn’t regional (i.e. coming from different cazas across the country) but sectarian.
  • Sects always feel threatened by different sects in the country.
  • Sects are already more or less isolated and with rising bouts of extremism.

Apart from a minority in the Lebanese population, people identify with their sects first and foremost. They are more inclined to feel sympathy towards another person’s strife if that person is from their corresponding sect. It’s sickening, definitely. It’s horrible, you bet. But it’s the way things are. To fix this, you need to fix sectarianism.

You can’t fix sectarianism by forcing secularism upon people. You can’t tell a country with many who associate the current political system with being “religious” that the country is now secular which they will undoubtedly believe is also correlated with atheism. Off with their heads! No, the change towards secularism has to be gradual just as Lebanese gradually but surely became a sectarian state. People need to leave behind their sect-survival instincts in order to adopt a more global approach towards how they vote, towards how they act regarding others who are different from them, towards how they perceive those who are different.

For instance, here’s a little experience that I observed firsthand recently.

As news of Hay el Sellom in Beirut being flooded broke out, I saw two drastically different reactions in front of me. In my own little piece of the Lebanese Bible belt, people asked: Are those Shia? If they are, then ma3le (it’s okay). On the other hand, as Lebanese journalist commented on those people of Hay el Sellom’s grave violation of the law in where they built their houses, half of Twitter’s Shias, who tend to be on the more liberal side, were up in a fit.

Sectarianism is there – even among those who claim not to be sectarian.

As it stands, Lebanese people vote in a “to be or not to be” mantra. This needs to change. They are voting as such because:

  • Christians are made to fear wilayat al Fakih and those bearded Islamists.
  • Sunnis are made to fear the Shia weapons.
  • Shia are made to fear everyone being after their weapons.
  • Druze are made to fear anyone trying to breach their tightly-knit community.
  • Minorities are made to fear everyone else.

As this article is heading, you might believe this is in defense of the Orthodox Gathering law. If you had asked me a few days ago where I stood regarding that law, I would have told you this: Based on the current way that Lebanon is run, given the country’s state and fabric, the Orthodox Gathering Law makes sense. The way I see it, it doesn’t increase sectarianism and it might help, if sects stop feeling threatened, to get people to vote based on accountability which is very needed in this country. On the long run, if sectarian parties can no longer fuel people in a sectarian way then maybe – just maybe – that would help with things.

But that was a few days ago.

The MPs going on and on about how the Orthodox Gathering Law is unconstitutional and how it’ll increase sectarianism and whatnot are full of it. The only reason they are panicking isn’t because they want to keep the idea of Lebanon being an example of non-existent co-existence intact. They want to have their own behinds saved from the chopping block of a law that most probably wouldn’t vote them in again. Our MPs – all of them – are only seeking out a law that ensures they return to power. It’s as simple as that. The discussion isn’t about the country’s sake, it’s about their own personal interests.

Today, when I think about the Orthodox Gathering Law, I am not on the fence, I am against it. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s a must to tackle the growing “injustice” towards Lebanese Christians, whatever that may be. It’s not because it is demographically incorrect as it gives Christians more weight than they’re supposed to have. It’s not even because it’s sectarian in principle. It’s not because it makes it harder for centrists to break in. It’s not because it drowns out a secular minority that can’t identify with it.

I am against the Orthodox Gathering Law today for very simple reasons:

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have the prerogative of having a law tailor-made for my sect and have it applied to all other sects as well? Don’t other Lebanese sects have woes as well? Don’t they have “minorities” whose voices are also drowned out by a Christian majority somewhere?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, consider myself to be the only sect in this country who has rights eaten away and who needs some “justice” restored?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have to vote only for people who correspond to my sect without knowing if those people share my worries or if they’re even aware of the issues that I want to vote for? Does a person from a certain sect running for office automatically mean that person is knowledgeable of the issues that their sect faces? No.

My problem with the Orthodox Law today is simply that it tells me that I, Elie E. Fares, a Maronite Christian (on paper) from the mountains of North Lebanon, should have a problem in having a Sunni or a Shia or a Druze or a Catholic or an Orthodox or a Jew or a Alawite or an Ismailite or a Syriac or an Evangelical or an Armenian or whatever sect a person belonged to have a say in a parliament member that represents them all, not just me.

I believe that what the Orthodox Law is telling me is unacceptable. But I’m a Christian minority in thinking so. Most Maronites and Christians, especially some of our politician who double as Christian saviors-wannabes, want you to believe that what I believe is wrong. They are telling you that their way is the only way for you to get your rights. They want you to believe that if Christians don’t elect every single Christian-designated MP, then they’re being persecuted.

The Orthodox Law isn’t the way we get back our “rights.” We get back our rights by voting to people who can fight for those rights without turning it into a media propaganda as they kickstart their 2013 election prospects. We get back our rights by actually knowing what our rights are. And let me tell you, those rights aren’t Lebanon’s Christians selecting half of its parliament all by themselves.

So as our politicians play a game of chess with each other, you know what your rights are according to some of them? You only have the right to be afraid of everyone else all the time. You only have the right to believe you are persecuted all the time – that those big bad Sunnis and Shia and Muslims are after you all the time. Welcome to the state of mass paranoia. And we just can’t live like that – not as Christians, not as Muslims, not as Lebanese and we can’t allow laws that are based on our paranoia as Christians rule the entire country.

A Middle Eastern Revolution Overdose?

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria… and now people wanting to overthrow the system in Lebanon. I find myself wondering if it’s getting way out hand – if people are suddenly beginning to take advantage of this surge in regional adrenaline.

Do we really need to march down and demonstrate to overthrow the system in Lebanon? Is it really the best option we’ve got?

We are the only country in the region that actually has a democracy that functions – regardless of whether you think it functions properly or not, we can still vote, get our voices heard and be able to do marches like the one planned today. Sure, we have many shortcomings but I believe they dwarf in comparison to what the people of Egypt, Tunisia had to go through to get where we were in the 1940s, let alone what the people of Libya are going through as we speak.

To change the system in Lebanon, I don’t believe you need a revolution. I think you need common sense, one that is easily blinded when excitement surges among the people. Look at it this way: say the planned “revolution” succeeds and a secular state is enforced, do you honestly think that will happen without changing the basic foundation upon which the state is built? And by that I mean democracy. Do you really think shoving down secularism down people’s throats would get you further?

The people of Lebanon are not secular people because that is not how they were brought up. To move towards a secular state, you need to have a secular mind – one that is only present in a handful of people currently. And I don’t think the current political atmosphere in the country warrants further upheaval.

The best way, in my opinion, to have a peaceful and logical transition into a secular state is via a major overhaul of the education system. You cannot keep on teaching the same things being taught dealing with the way the country is run and still believe a secular state is plausible. People need to be taught on embracing the different other in a more hands-on approach, people need to be exposed more to the other’s religion and we need to at least have a version of our history that does not stop when the French Army vacated its barracks in 1946. By having an education system that invites people to become more aware of the different other, perhaps we can start moving our minds towards becoming truly secular and understanding that if I, a Maronite, do not have the presidency written for my sect, that’s okay. Or if you, a Shiite, don’t necessarily get the speaker of parliament, that’s okay as well. Same thing applies for the Sunnis and all the other sects.

Moving towards a secular Lebanon is a very hard thing to accomplish. The movement towards that should be transitory and not blunt. It should be accepted and not forced. Therefore, uniting Lebanon starts by letting the people of Lebanon share their ideas and come to common grounds with those ideas. Uniting Lebanon does not come by having one idea forced upon everyone. That would be basically a dictatorship.

On a final note, I invite people not to fall into the misconception that atheism is synonymic to secularism. It has become a common belief among many in Lebanon that the two are inherently related. That is far from the case. I also hope that we appreciate what we’ve got in our country and not take it for granted. We are still the only democracy in the region and it’ll take the countries that have had recent revolutions years to get to where we are today – regardless of what you might think lacks in our democracy. Is a revolution an answer? I don’t think so. Do we need to move towards a secular state? I believe it’s a necessity. How? Let’s just say, don’t get carried away by political excitement.