Friday, May 20, 2005

LEBANON: Elections will entrench Christian marginalisation.

Date: Friday 20 May 2005
Subj: Lebanon: Elections will entrench Christian marginalisation.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Lebanon's Christians have been marginalised by a programme of Islamisation. This has included the pro-Syrian regime's Naturalisation Decree of 1994 that naturalised hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Palestinians while disenfranchising the predominantly Christian diaspora.

Now, at the insistence of the UN, the USA and France, Lebanon will go ahead with parliamentary elections commencing 29 May, despite Lebanon's Christians being further marginalised by the unjust, discriminatory election law enacted by the pro-Syrian regime in 2000.

This experiment in Christian-Muslim co-existence is yielding tragic results for Lebanon's once prosperous Christians, and will continue to do so while these injustices remain.

CHRISTIANS MARGINALISED BY ISLAMISATION

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Arab Muslims sought an Arab super-state where Jews and Christians would remain a repressed minority under Muslim domination in Islamic territory.

While Israel was created as a Jewish state, Lebanon was created not as a Christian state, but as a secular Arab state to showcase to Christian-Muslim co-existence.

The creation of Lebanon, independent and separate from Syria and Palestine, with a prosperous, pre-eminent Christian majority and religious freedom, was a painful blow for many Arab Muslims, and something they could not tolerate.

Arab Muslims who become apoplectic at the very thought of a Jewish state existing in what they regard as the dar-al-Islam (land of Islam) are equally opposed to the presence of a secular state, especially one dominated by Christians, and offering full religious freedom.

The program of Islamisation that ensued has been advanced by Muslims both inside and outside Lebanon. As Muslims have poured in, tensions have escalated and Christians have poured out. Christians are now a minority, around 30%-40%. Furthermore, the Naturalisation Decree introduced by the pro-Syrian regime in 1994 granted citizenship to some 400,000 mostly Syrians and Palestinians (80% of them Muslims) whilst denying the Lebanese diaspora (who are mostly Christian) their citizenship right. This illegal decree, which increased Lebanon's population by around 10% almost overnight, was opposed by Lebanese of all faiths as not being in the national interest.

CHRISTIANS MARGINALISED BY ELECTORAL LAW

Lebanese will soon head to the polls. Voting will take place over four consecutive Sundays from 29 May to 19 June, and will be done in accordance with the electoral law enacted in 2000 by the pro-Syrian regime to ensure the election of pro-Syrian candidates. Lebanese Christians have opposed the pro-Syrian electoral law since its inception, as it entrenches the marginalisation of Christians through a gerrymander whereby Christian constituencies were divided up and redistributed amongst large Muslim constituencies, severely diluting the Christian voice.

In accordance with the 1989 Taif Accord, Lebanon's 128-member legislature is split equally between Christians and Muslims. However, the 2000 electoral law ensures that Muslims elect about 49 of the 64 Christian seats.

Lebanese Christian leaders fear that if elections are held using the unjust, discriminatory 2000 electoral law, it will be a decisive blow to Christian-Muslim co-existence. Lebanon's Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir has rejected the 2000 electoral law as unfair and requested that it be revised before the parliamentary elections. According to Lebanon's 'Daily Star', it would be possible to delay the parliamentary elections. "Former Speaker Hussein Husseini told The Daily Star: 'Any MP could propose a draft law that demands the extension of the Parliament's term.'" (Link 1)

However, pressure is being exerted from the UN, the USA, and France to proceed with the elections on time despite the electoral law being discriminatory.

Lebanese Muslims on the other hand, are generally unconcerned about the injustice of the electoral law because it is not the Muslim voice that is diluted. What's more, they are confident, given the huge swell of nationalism, that they will defeat the pro-Syrian candidates at the polls, except in the south where Hezbollah is entrenched and dominant. (See link 2)

While the current Parliamentary Speaker, Nabih Berri, has acknowledged that the country's current election law is unjust, he is not complaining. Berri, leader of the pro-Syrian Amal militia, is teaming up with the Shiite Muslim guerrilla group Hezbollah for joint tickets likely to sweep votes in south Lebanon and return many of Syria's allies to parliament. (Link 3)

When Lebanon's Maronite Bishops Council recently criticised the pro-Syrian election law, warning that it "violates coexistence between Christians and Muslims and does not allow for fair elections", Beirut MP Atef Majdalani, a member of Hariri's parliamentary Dignity Bloc, responded by labeling the Maronite Bishops Council's "strong words" as a "violent reaction" and "sectarianism". (Link 4)

A CALL TO INCLUDE THE DIASPORA

As noted by the Christian Science Monitor, "The Lebanese abroad, who are as a whole, rich, educated and influential, are not allowed to vote in the Lebanese elections. The majority of the Lebanese diaspora is Christian.

"The international diaspora is vital to Lebanon's future. There are as many Lebanese outside the country as there are in it, if you consider the last number of Lebanese who have emigrated over the past three or four generations. Expatriate Lebanese are hesitant to invest heavily in their country as long as its future is in great doubt.

"The Lebanese reform movement of the winter and early spring has weakened. There has been a rapid softening of political demands of nation building: elimination of militias, control on the escalating national debt, dealing with corruption and communal reconciliation. The approaching elections are fueling sectarian tension rather than serving as an opportunity for the empowerment of the state.

"There are no easy ways to deal with sectarian power sharing since religious and family loyalty rival interests of the state in Lebanon and the entire Middle East. But there are ways to make representation of the various religious communities fair and communal rather than a zero-sum destructive game.

"Creating a rotating formula for a 'cabinet of presidents' (a smaller group that would take turns as president) representing the major religious communities may reduce sectarian rivalry. Allowing the diaspora to vote would reduce demographic tension within Lebanon itself.

"A gradual formula of secularization of the country through popular education, civil marriage, and party-based representation are some long-term measures that the Lebanese should discuss to free their country from structural and attitudinal barriers to nation building. Finally, Lebanese politicians would do well to listen to the voices of the youth, who are determined to change the nature of current tribal politics." (Link 5)

- Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

LEBANON: A CALL TO PRAY FOR ITS FUTURE
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 325 - Wed 11 May 2005

1) Lebanon can still delay polls
By Nada Raad, Daily Star staff, 12 May 2005
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=15024

2) Lebanon Church Seeks New Election Law
By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer
BEIRUT, Lebanon, 11 May 2005
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-4999463,00.html

3) Lebanese Parliament Speaker Calls Election Law Faulty,
Says He Will Run in Legislative Elections
By ZEINA KARAM, The Associated Press, 15 May 2005
http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=758322

4) Lebanon's Maronite Bishops slam 'unjust' electoral law
12 May 2005
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=15023

5) The invisible occupation of Lebanon
By Ghassan Rubeiz, 18 May 2005
http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0518/p25s01-cogn.html