Lebanese government collapse: The sectarian reality for Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Jan. 13 2011 4:14 PM

Is There No Place for People Like Me in Lebanon?

The delusion of co-existence in a sect-based country.

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I come from the south, and I lived there until I was 18. When I go there today, I feel like a stranger in a place that doesn't look like itself anymore. It has lost its color, and people have forgotten how to smile.

Young Shiite men have the same reasons as young Christian men for trying to get out of the country: They want decent jobs and security. It seems that everyone in Lebanon has given up on the Shiites and handed them over to Hezbollah. Whether they like it or not, Shiites are left with no one but Hezbollah to provide services and protect their interests.

It is true that there are fewer and fewer Christians in Lebanon, and many have already left the country, but Harb's legislation wouldn't solve the remaining Christians' problem. The Christians' problem is not legal, it is political, and it is the same problem that is facing all Lebanese people: the threat of Hezbollah's arms and Iran's money.

It should also be noted that secular Lebanese citizens who still dream of a secular civil state in Lebanon would be sacrificed if Harb's law passed. At some point, people like me would probably feel that it would be better to leave the country than risk still more alienation by a system that cannot tolerate secular individuals.

Ten years ago, I married a Maronite Christian. We had a civil marriage in France, and a few years later, we bought a house in Achrafieh, in the Christian area of Beirut. Then we had a son, who was by Lebanese custom automatically considered to be Christian, like his father.

During those 10 years, Lebanon was divided along political lines; it was March 14 vs. March 8. As a Shiite who supported March 14 principles, both personally and as a journalist, I was immediately labeled as anti-Hezbollah.

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People like me—secular Lebanese and/or independent Shiites—are a minority that is never accounted for by the Lebanese state, and we feel like outsiders everywhere we go. In my own sectarian community, I am considered an outsider, and in the Christian area where I live, I feel like a stranger. Is it fair to feel that your own country is rejecting you?

According to Lebanon's sect-based legal system, a person cannot inherit the estate of someone of a different religion. Therefore, my son, a Maronite, cannot inherit from me, his Shiite mother. The only solution would be for me to sell my property to my son for a symbolic price so that I could pass it on to him. If Harb's proposed legislation passes, even that would be impossible. My son would not be able to inherit anything from me.

Harb's proposal emerged in a time of fear, and fear can drive people back into their own communities, especially in a country like Lebanon, where sects, not the state, are the first point of reference. But this cannot be a solution. The only solution is to unite again as Lebanese people, as we did in March 2005, when we started the Cedar Revolution, and try to remember why and how we felt so strong then.

We were strong because we felt we were in it together as Lebanese citizens. We were strong because we believed we could fulfill our dream of a democratic, free, and modern country. The moment that we started to become Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites, we lost that dream.

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Hanin Ghaddar is managing editor of NOW Lebanon.

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