Secular Lebanon marches for citizenship


“How would you change Lebanon?” A group of Lebanese citizens asked the question during the third “Laïque Pride” in Beirut, a secular march for all Lebanese who “wish to live in dignity and equality with other co-citizens,” as the movement describes itself on their Facebook page.

Lebanon has a confessional political system based on sectarian parliamentary divisions. The country has historically faced sectarian skirmishes, which culminated during the Lebanese civil war triggered in 1975 and lasted for almost 25 years.

On Sunday, in Beirut, from the Sanayeh garden to the sea-walk in Ain el-Mreisseh, hundreds of secular protesters marched for the third consecutive year towards citizenship.

They wandered the streets of the capital; some playing music, others wearing costumes, shouting for a civil state, for gender equality, for human rights, before reaching the “Speakers’ Corner,” where participants took the opportunity to raise their voices and express their thoughts.

In an interview with Al Arabiya, Yalda Younes, co-organizer of the parade, said: “The march was initiated by a group of independent young Lebanese people who don’t identify themselves with the country’s current system. Today, a lot of people are somehow participating in the parade, most of whom I don’t know. We often come across an individual who has designed something for the Laïque Pride, wrote an article, made a video, composed a song, ...”

“I like to call them the Laïque Pride fireflies,” Younes added.

What the Laïque Pride movement aspires to achieve is that “all Lebanese citizens are treated equally, in a democratic secular state with laws respecting all human rights,” as Younes puts it.

“We want absolute equality between women and men and we ask for the end of sectarianism in our institution from politics, to education, and business, and health … We want the abolition of racism, classism and sexism, and strong public educational system. All laws that don’t respect human rights and that don’t protect us against violence and crimes should disappear, while our private life and public liberties are ought to be respected,” the young organizer told Al Arabiya.

The secular movement, although growing and gaining more exposure, still faces several hindrances, not only from the current ruling political horde.

“Some don’t take our demands seriously or don’t feel the urgency of the matter, among which many seculars, as they try to bash the movement instead of helping it grow,” Younes said.

“Some even consider it naive that we demand the end of rape and physical abuse, the right for Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their spouses and children, the right for a civil law for personal status that would facilitate inter-religious marriages, and prohibit children from being married.”

This lack of solidarity and organization among the secular voices in Lebanon slows down our activism as our energy is spent on fighting each other,” Younes added.

“We, the Lebanese citizens are waiting for ‘someone’ to make the change for us; we are used to having our dishes washed by someone else, our administrative papers done by others, our cars parked by someone else, etcetera … Unfortunately I don’t believe that change will come from ‘above.’
We need to become more aware that it is our duty to make the change, not only our right to receive it.

My only (big) hope lies in the future generation, the new secular voice that will carry our demands in the near future,” stated Younes.

Not ready to give up anytime soon, Younes said: “Right now the movement is being rooted and its identity is being defined and anchored. It has proved its fidelity to its ideals; it is consistent, transparent and most importantly, it is still in search of how to evolve. It is in constant motion.”

The Laïque Pride is not affiliated to any political party in Lebanon and the organizers wish for it to stay that way.

As for NGOs, collectives and other civil associations, they are welcome to help, organize, share and act along the movement.

Many already do, but “we would like to feel a stronger presence of the human rights and civil organizations in the future years. We would love it to be a joyful gathering of all those who won’t necessarily come together throughout the year, but would do on this day, for the same cause,” Younes added.

“How would you change Lebanon?” A young participant at the Laïque Pride had his own answer as he scrambled on the Speakers’ Corner stool with his girlfriend and kissed her thoroughly amid the Beirut crowd.

For him, the solution was simple. It was love.