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Lebanese citizens are bound socially, economically, politically and personally to a sectarian system that perpetuates itself in continuous cycles of violence and subjugation. In its preamble, the Lebanese Constitution states that “Lebanon is a democratic, parliamentary republic founded on respect for public liberties, the foremost of which are freedom of opinion and belief, and on social justice and equality in rights and in duties for all citizens without discrimination or distinction.” Yet existing government policies and practices do not reflect the principles of justice, fairness, and equality.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) play an essential role in promoting citizenship and democratic values, and should deploy efforts to free citizens from the binds of religious sects as a first step to eradicating confessionalism and reducing sectarian tensions.
With the 2013 parliamentary elections approaching, there is a golden opportunity for civil society to pressure Members of Parliament (MPs) for electoral law reform and better political representation. Advocates of a civil status law also have an opportunity to capitalize on a 2009 Ministerial Decree that allows citizens to remove reference to their sect in personal records. Moreover, civil society should strengthen its demands for citizenship education and a unified history book, especially since the Ministry of Education is currently in the process of reforming civic education in public schools.
This brief proposes three mutually reinforcing policy areas promoting a non-confessional proportional electoral system, a civil status law, and a civic education curriculum.
In light of the above, this policy proposal aspires to:
Ensure free, fair, and non-sectarian political representation that promotes citizen rights;
Reshape citizen-state relationships through civil status reform; and
Promote citizenship values and social cohesion through education reform and adoption of a unified history book.
These interrelated steps will help overcome sectarian tensions and advance efforts to replace the confessional system with a just, democratic, and civic system.
Adoption and implementation of these policies requires a long-term process that involves new, innovative strategies at the local and national levels aimed at linking the suggested reforms to the legitimacy and stability of the Lebanese democratic system. CSOs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should work on multiple fronts to raise awareness of these issues, pilot actions with a maximum number of citizens, and support government in implementing reforms.