Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Religion & Politics in the Middle East

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/10/2006

Religion has never been a strictly godly matter and has a lot to say on human affairs. There are two ways in which it can interfere, either by influencing the governing class or by the direct interference of clergymen in politics. The republican ideology in
France through its shaping of the public institutions and the legal order has tried to ban all influence of Religion in Politics. Decreeing that religion is a private matter, it has tried to banish it from the public sphere. But even after a century of extreme secularisation and republican indoctrination (under the banner of “laïcité”), one can see remnants of France’s catholic past that the majority hardly notices (such as State holidays, the restoration of cathedrals) but that non-Catholics are usually quite sensitive about.  
France is of course an extreme case, and countries usually do not banish religion from the public sphere, but tend to enforce a clear separation between State and religion.The Middle East is in many ways on the opposite side of board, religion is some cases the defining element of the State (it’s the case of Israel and Saudi Arabia) and in most of the others part seen as a fundamental part of the State’s identity (in countries such as Jordan, Syria and Egypt).

Lebanon in this respect differs from other Middle Eastern States: religion does not define the State or even national identity. But this doesn’t mean that religion is banished from the public sphere, quite the contrary. The country recognises 17 established denomination (12 Christian, 4 Muslim and one Jewish), respects the authority of religious courts and funds some Islamic institutions. As for seats in parliament and in the top branches of the executive, they are distributed according to confessional affiliation (Parliamentary seats are split equally between Christians and Muslims; the President is traditionally Maronite, the Prime Minister Sunni and the Speaker Shiite).  Since 1943, this totally secular identity of Lebanon has been changing and the country’s identity is increasingly being presented as Christian-Muslim.

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