Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
When Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud issued a memorandum giving Lebanese citizens the option to remove their sect from civil registry records, it seemed like a step towards removing deeply embedded sectarianism from Lebanon’s social fabric.
The country has been convulsed by bouts of sectarian violence, most notably the 1975-90 civil war, in which 150,000 people were killed, and more recently last May when a power struggle spilled into armed conflict and supporters of Shi’ite Hezbollah briefly took over parts of Sunni western Beirut.
Study the measure a little more closely and some questions emerge. What happens to those wanting to run for seats in parliament, which are distributed according to sect to satisfy Lebanon’s delicate power-sharing balance? What about citizens who have to go to court over personal status issues, which in Lebanon are presided over by courts run by religious sects? Ultimately, they have no choice but to reveal their religious affiliation.
So it is doubtful that this measure will really remove sectarianism from Lebanon’s moral and social consciousness, especially when you have a political and legal structure in which sectarianism is required to achieve a power-sharing balance to accommodate 17 different religious communities.
Lebanon, once a byword for violent anarchy, remains a country where the rule of law is patchy, to put it kindly. But Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, a youthful reform-minded lawyer who was appointed in July as part of a national unity government, is determined to change that, or at least to make a start. He has told the traffic police to do something about the cheerful but sometimes lethal chaos that pervades the roads.
Few Lebanese normally bother with seat belts or crash helmets. Speeding with a mobile phone glued to your ear or an infant in your lap comes naturally. Double or triple parking is the norm, lane discipline an alien concept and right of way determined by who gets there first or who drives a bigger vehicle. Scooters fizz everywhere, a law unto themselves.
In downtown Beirut, resurrected from the rubble of the 1975-90 civil war, one is spoilt for choice of smart restaurants, trendy bars and lively clubs. Performances by sexy Lebanese divas and belly dancers contribute generously to Lebanon’s gross domestic product by attracting Gulf Arab tourists enchanted with Lebanese talent and beauty — not necessarily in that order.
There is isn’t a single international designer who has not found his or her way to Beirut’s elegant boutiques and jewellery shops. On the other hand, Lebanese designers such as Elie Saab are dressing Hollywood stars these days.
Hezbollah literally rolled out the red carpet to welcome home five prisoners released by Israel in a U.N.-mediated exchange deal. Securing the release of the last five Lebanese held by Israel was a major triumph for the group, which in turn handed over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured in a 2006 raid into Israel.
Having achieved a long-held goal, Hezbollah is holding up the exchange as further evidence that its uncompromising, armed approach to dealing with Israel brings results, directly challenging the policies of Arab leaders who have engaged in negotiations or signed peace treaties with the Jewish state. The New York Times called the prisoners’ homecoming a triumph.