Religion & Politics in Lebanon
Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/10/2006
Lebanon was established with as a secular state with a large number of established religious denominations and specific participatory rights granted to individuals belonging to these denominations.
Since 1943, the country has been following a different path. With the coming of the “national pact” (a cross-communal inter-elite agreement on the allocation of political seats), the defining element of the Lebanese State became its Christian-Muslim identity. This character was reinforced when the Constitution was amended in 1991.
In the 1940s, the approach to this Christian-Muslim identity was resolutely secular and political. Clerics were not given any particular right. The religious dimension only started to be explored in the 1970s when interfaith meetings became regular and publicised. During the civil war (1975-1991), Christian and Muslim religious authorities started participating or sponsoring interfaith meetings aimed at bringing peace back to the country. In 1991, Parliament granted these authorities a constitutional right to seize the Constitutional council on specific affairs.
During the Syrian mandate (1990-2005), the Maronite church became the only place where Syrian rule in Lebanon could be criticized. So Christian politicians used to flock there to make their speeches, and regularly, the Council of Maronite Bishops and the Maronite Patriarch would issue a statement or voice a recrimination toward Syria or its cronies.Moreover, interfaith dialogue became synonymous with peace and national reconciliation, and Lebanon now has a national committee for Christian-Muslim dialogue regrouping lay people belonging to different denominations and having strong ties with their religious authority. Even the Papal seat has condoned Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim character. Pope Jean Paul II in a very frequently cited statement said that Lebanon is more than a country, it’s a message.
The country now parades a dual religious identity as its defining character. And this identity is even presented as hybrid with claims that Muslims and Christians are closer to their compatriots of another faith than Muslims and Christians of other nationality (even those of neighbouring countries). Some even claim that this closeness affects their religious identity. This, I believe, is more of a rhetorical over bidding than a reflection on political and religious realities in Lebanon.