Nadine Elali

The march for secularism

Over the past two years the Lebanese have come together twice under the banner of Laïque Pride to denounce Lebanon’s confessional system and demand the establishment of a secular civil state.

This year, on May 6 Laïque Pride will hold its third-annual march in Beirut from Sanayeh Garden to Ain al-Mreisseh.

NOW Lebanon talks to Laïque Pride co-organizer Yalda Younes, who emphasizes that it is only through a civil state that the Lebanese can guarantee the expression of the country’s diversity, and the delivery of social justice – one of the main foundations of peace.

Why did you choose this year’s slogan "Secular March toward Citizenship” as opposed to the previous “March for Secularism”?

Yalda Younes: It expresses the joyful character of the event. We used "Secular March toward Citizenship" because citizenship is the ultimate goal of those participating in the march. 

What do you have planned for the event this year?

Younes: The march will start at Sanayeh and end in Ain al-Mreisseh. At Ain al-Mreisseh we will be organizing a Speaker's Corner, inviting each person to answer the question: "How would you change Lebanon?" in less than a minute. Our aim is to encourage free speech, as it is being threatened in our country today, and to give a voice and responsibility to the "ordinary" citizen. 

What is different about this year’s march compared to the previous two? 

Younes: Last year we supported two laws: the Law for the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence and a Civil Personal Status Law. This year we're also asking for the abolishment of Article 522 in the penal law, the amendment of the Nationality Law for the right of Lebanese women to grant their nationality to their family, the implementation of the draft law prohibiting the pre-censorship of cinema and theatre, and the withdrawal of the draft law LIRA on internet regulation.

For the past year, Arab people have taken to the streets and brought down dictators. What do you hope Laique Pride will achieve in such a context?

Younes: The Laïque Pride started before the Arab Spring and it will continue to take place after it. We hope that the Arab uprisings have given Lebanese citizens more confidence and have increased their sense of responsibility. Up to this point not many Lebanese believed in the necessity of taking to the streets to achieve any goal.  Today, we will see if they have come to realize that change cannot be dictated from “above” and that it can only come from us.

The group Uprising of Women in the Arab World is taking part in the campaign. What is your relation to them, and who else are you collaborating with?

Younes: Laïque Pride belongs to all those who participate in it. It gathers individuals from all social backgrounds and fields, civil society movements, and other groups working for secularism or women’s and human rights. Some of the examples are Nasawiya, the anti-racism movement, the civil society movement, the AUB Secular Club, Jinsiyati, Chamel and more. 

The Uprising of Women in the Arab World is a Facebook page advocating for free, independent and fearless women in the Arab world. I created this page along with Diala Haidar as a reaction to the degrading situation of women in the Arab world. Today the page is administered by people from different Arab countries. Our long-term objective is to organize parallel, synchronized actions on the ground in all Arab countries.

Can you give us an idea of what Laïque Pride does in between events?

Younes: Laïque Pride has a lot of plans, but it is still very new, and the core team is quite small, so it will take some time to implement all our demands. Right now our primary objective is to build a strong, solid working team to be able to put our dreams into action. Laïque Pride situates itself in the long term and aims at growing gradually. 
What has the movement been able to achieve till now?

Younes: It’s too early to measure achievements. At this level, it was able to gather a huge number of participants without being called on by a political leader. It gathered many organizations under one umbrella. It made citizens aware that they were responsible for changing their lives. It inspired some other similar movements, and it raised awareness on the definition of citizenship, on our rights and duties. Through our campaigns, people have understood that we are defending secularism in the name of equality and pluralism to celebrate our differences.

Many in Lebanon argue that Lebanon's sectarian system is a guarantee of protection to minorities so that no one sect can achieve domination over another. What do you have to say to that?

Younes: Our aim is to all become Lebanese citizens, and once we do, there will no longer be a minority and a majority. Laïque Pride is demanding secularism as part of a total reform toward more democracy, more freedoms and more civil rights. We insist on defending our private and public liberties, on having an independent judiciary, on laws respecting human rights, on the full equality between men and women, on having the religion/sects not interfere in politics or civil life. We’re talking about a whole reform; it doesn't leave a place for authoritarianism.

This interview has been edited for length.

  • Fadi

    I agree and support all the initiatives related to freedom, women rights, etc ... mentioned in the article. However a real secular state in Lebanon would be an existential threat to the weakest cultures. I would advocate a more realistic federalism or decentralization rather than the sweet sounding, romantic, but danger-filled "laicity". Lets face it, in this Middle Eastern brew there must be an active protection of the minorities if we dont want them to melt and disappear, rendering the region culturally boring and gray.

    May 13, 2012