Will secularists be given recognition and rights in Lebanon?
"Confessionalism" – a power-sharing measure that distributes government appointments among different religious groups and allows communities to be governed by their own religious laws – runs deep in Lebanon's history. When the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 delineated the borders of what is now called the Lebanese Republic (mostly without the will of its citizens), it distributed power equally among the different confessional groups, planting the seeds of modern-day Lebanon: a constitutional republic with 18 legally recognised groups, an elected and (supposedly) representative parliament and government, and an independent judiciary.
Decades later, when Lebanon gained independence in 1943, confessionalism endured, remaining the basic principle of Lebanese life. In practice, it means the president has always been and always will be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim. This also means that seats in parliament are apportioned between Christians and Muslims, and civil service posts follow similar sectarian formulas.
But it also means chronic instability, flagrant inequalities, and a weak, corrupt and dysfunctional central government continuously failing to provide basic services and security to citizens – and incessantly failing to assert sovereignty over its own territories. Yet, furtive attempts to abolish political sectarianism by leftist and secular political parties and activists in the 1950s and 1960s have fallen on deaf ears.
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