The Middle East Tribune

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Sectarianism Versus Real Citizenship


“The more things change, the more they stay the same”

Though this cliché has been used millions of times, it has never been more fitting than it is in this country now. It seems that in Lebanon, a nation founded on the principles of special confessional consideration and liberty, the crucial lessons of the war are being mostly ignored. Every now and then, a hate crime is reported somewhere in the world; largely, against an innocent people whose only mistake is belonging to a certain religion.

Many cultures have claimed, over thousands of years, some unsubstantiated reasons for their prejudice and dislike of other people’s religion. Even in Western democracies, where many of us believe that they treat all individuals with equality and neutrality, the existence of prejudice or a kind of sectarianism is undeniable.

Sectarianism and denominationalism differs from any form of bias and discrimination; it is rooted much deeper in the psyche of many people. It is reasonable enough to say that sectarian notions are passed down from parents to children. Although parents may not lecture the hatred of others religion, there is certainly some kind of repulsion to the Other that is somehow transmitted to their children. Just a few simple words like; “I hate those stupid ” may not seem significant to an adult, but it might have a great effect on an impressionable child.

However, in Lebanon, 17 years of warfare was supposed to be the ultimate lesson, or at least a wake up call, for Lebanese politicians to know that denominationalism, sectarianism and confessionalism must be abolished or at any rate firmly contained so that peace and prosperity can flourish. It is almost terrifying to think that we are making the same fatal mistakes over again.

Dogmatism and intolerance are the primary base of any sectarian society. However, the level of sectarianism practiced within the Lebanese nation, and between ordinary people, is somehow weak and tolerable. Yet, the extent of sectarian practices that Lebanese politicians and bureaucrats hold and act upon is clearly seen to be hard and unacceptable.

Actually, this is because Lebanese politicians have either been elected as “representatives” or selected as bureaucrats and ministers from within their own confessional and sectarian group, mainly to represent their sect and serve its interest–not the interest of the entire country as they often claim.

While the fact is that most of these politicians and bureaucrats serve their personal interests first, and when victorious they widen their circle to cover their relatives and associations, afterward they might extend their network to include their neighbors.

This inclination, however, is because of the current Lebanese confessional political system that restrictively allocates key public offices to certain confessional and sectarian groups. While the other reason is a consequence of that deficient sectarian electoral system they embrace – a system which, in all probability, they will stick with.

Essentially, it is because of the Lebanese ailing political system that lack real democracy. The core issue is of providing fair electoral law and regulations, confessional or not, in a context that could enable the Lebanese public to have genuine representation of their choices without interferences.

In fact, the present era in Lebanon is characterized by a widespread belief that most government officials are sectarian, corrupt, incompetent and indifferent of citizens concerns.

Meanwhile the wealthy elite within each sect evade the frustrations of dealing with an incompetent, indifferent government by the use of their economic and political leverage, normally meaning connections or bribery.

During the wartime, Lebanon’s civil society was shaped by the state’s failure, justifiable at that time, to deliver political stability, basic services and social welfare. However, at this time, the government’s failure to deliver these essentials, and the negative effects of this on a majority of Lebanese citizens, are unjustifiable and inexcusable. This situation is causing a great deal of resentment among the Lebanese people, which could become destructive.

Lebanese political society and its sectarian system are visibly warped to serve the interests of few sects, and this detracts from political cohesiveness which results in a feeble and corrupted political administration. The government usually defends its actions by invoking the risks to “the national security”, posed by the Arab-Israeli conflict, which allows its high-sounding officials to operate without effective supervision.

Such sectarian politics, however, has undermined the concept of “real citizenship” and led to many political crises because of politicians’ negative response to major political and administrative reform.

Reform is stillborn in Lebanon. It is mentioned in government policy announcements and in government officials’ speeches. But Lebanese is eager for reform in their country and want to see the development of democratic practices based on the national interests rather than confessional ones.

The government should pass a new non-confessional electoral law, to secure the independence of the judiciary, to reform its bureaucracy and, above all, to develop a non-sectarian political and civil system for all Lebanese.

This will happen when Lebanese legislators and the government fulfill their declared commitment to political and administrative reform, and do not block efforts towards non-confessional political development.



Author’s Note: This article was also published in “The Daily Star” newspaper


11 comments on “Sectarianism Versus Real Citizenship

  1. bemacomber
    August 29, 2013

    When the uneducated or the ego-driven derive their faux power via sectarianism it defeats the goals of liberty and justice for all those equal under the law. The US Constitution separated the church from the state to avoid supporting sects. The active far right within the GOP is a perfect example of repression of the truth to satisfy doctrines believed by a sect swallowed by corporate business as usual. Unfortunately, my fellow Americans are at a juncture in history saturated in citizenry apathy compounded by a prejudice any Arab is a bad Arab. This myth is being sold with little effort yet is the greatest lie of this century. Unless people find common ground based on willingness to understand without supporting the unacceptable there will be no positive forward movement in America, the Middle East, or any other geo-political entity on Earth. We, humanity, must put aside our differences and uncover bridges and pathways to move our species toward union and peace. If we do not, as an observer of nature, I can assure you, this planet will fling Homo sapiens aside and move onto another form. A bi-ped with big brains who does not work to destroy the very habitat we need to continue life and a far more advanced human-prone species who understands the heart is the ruler, not the ego or the motivation of fear. This new form of humanoid maybe just over the horizon. Or, you and I, dear sir, maybe the prototypes of same.


    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      August 29, 2013

      I’m thankful and almost speechless to comment on your brilliant view. I just prefer to quote your great phrase :”We, humanity, must put aside our differences and uncover bridges and pathways to move our species toward union and peace.”
      Thank you indeed


  2. Dr.Yasmine Jawad
    July 27, 2013

    Iraq is not much different in this regard. it is even worse. sectarian politician are fighting each other with their own militias at all level. Almost a thousand die this months in mosques, sport clubs, markets, streets, and cafes. There is no end to it so long those politicians hold tp power in the name of democracy and political process.


  3. Lucy Rizo
    January 21, 2013

    i love straight forward talk like this. Thank you.
    And Truth is hard to hear. For the Gentleman that commented on the Westerners, its always best to stay focused on what the responsibility is of the country ( in this case) that has been sectarian to a fault as their history…… before you blame others. Something has happened to taking responsibility for ones own behavior. Its epidemic.


  4. Phil Cantrill
    September 8, 2012

    Sadly, the ability of “Middle Eastern” countries to resolve sectarian differences is not helped by Western nations who, for at least the last 200 years, have adopted policies aimed at highlighting those differences to keep nations weak and easily exploited. I wonder if any real change is possible until Western sabre-rattling and exploitation ends. But that won’t happen until the Middle East presents a united front to the expropriators. How can the circle be broken?


    • M. Moussalli
      September 8, 2012

      A very strong factual point Phil. I believe that the first step to break this circle is help these manipulated people to consider the importance of being culturally educated and humanistically enlightened is the key for a better future, and that being academically and scientifically eduacated alone is not enough to have good human life.


  5. Deena Stryker
    June 21, 2012

    According to a recentoy published book in French, “Syriana’ by Bahar Kimyongur, sectarianism has also been rife in Syria and neighboring Turkey, a fact overlooked by the mainstream media when reporting on the conflict in Syria.


    • M. Moussalli
      June 21, 2012

      This is true. Actually, sectarian practices could be found far and near in the Middle East. I believe it’s hindering the real development of the region.
      Thank you Deena


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© 2018 Mohammad S. Moussalli; ----------------------- Sharing, reblogging, excerpts and republication of this material, or part thereof, are permissible PROVIDED that it's clearly attributed to the author with reference to the original publication.
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