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Middle East
Lebanese rally calls for secularism
Thousands of demonstrators demand an end to the religious-based political system.
Last Modified: 25 Apr 2010 19:00 GMT
A Lebanese activist carries a sign demanding a secular system during a demonstration in Beirut [Reuters]

Thousands of protestors have gathered in Beirut to demand a separation of politics and religion in Lebanon.

The demonstrators marched on parliament on Sunday chanting "secularism" and waving placards calling for the recognition of civil marriage in the Mediterranean country.  

The idea of a secular political system has faced stiff opposition from ruling politicians who fear an erosion of power if the complex power sharing system between the different religious communities is abandoned.

"What is missing is the political support. In the last election in 2009, all the main political parties paid lip service to the sectarian system," Elias Muhanna, a Boston-based political analyst and blogger, told Al Jazeera.

Seats in the Lebanese parliament are divided equally between Muslims and Maronite Christians and key cabinet posts are reserved for members of the major communities.

The country's president must be Christian, the prime minister Sunni and the speaker of parliament Shia.  

Quota system

Lebanon is home to 18 religious sects, and is deeply divided between Christians and Muslims.

"We cannot live in a country where they divide the chairs of ministers according to their confessions, not their merits"

Kinda Hassan,
protest organiser

Its sectarian system was soldified in a 1943 national accord in a bid to avoid religious conflict, but the country was torn apart by a brutal 15 year civil war that started in 1975.

The agreement that ended the conflict called for the abolition of sectarianism, but the system has endured.

Under the complicated rules, public sector jobs are subject to religious quotas that change year-on-year in a bid to maintain the delicate balance.

Civil marriage is not recognised under the system, and Lebanese seeking to marry outside their sect are forced to choose between a church or a mosque, or else travel to nearby countries like Cyprus to obtain a civil marriage.

The rally was organised by the grassroots movement Laique Pride using social networking sites.

Said Shaito, one of the organisers, told Al Jazeera that they want equality for all Lebanese citizens.

"We are for citizenship, which is being Lebanese, not Muslim or Christian," he said. "We want people to talk about it, to create a public debate in Lebanon."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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