Adonis Diaries

Secularism Without Politics? On Civic (Laic) Pride’s lack of economic demands

Posted on: May 9, 2012

Secularism Without Politics? On Civic (Laic) Pride

There is a need to evaluate the “Laic Pride” or civic movement in Lebanon.  There is a need to discuss and offer some constructive criticism to this third attempt at advancing a secular agenda in the sectarian Lebanese system. How to move forward from a yearly march to a political movement?

An example of a positive criticism was posted by Walid el Houri on May 3, 2012 (with slight editing):

“The Laic Pride march was held on the May 6, and the marchers gathered at the Sanaye3 Park (where the ministry of the interior is located) to a rather peripheral space (Ain el Mreisseh) deprived of any political symbolism, at 4 pm. The group is composed of “Lebanese citizens who wish to live in dignity and equality with other co-citizens.” It aims to mobilize “for a secular civil State founded on citizenship, that guarantees the expression of the country’s diversity, and secures social justice – one of the main foundations of civil peace.”

People protesting against the sectarian rule in Lebanon. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

This group’s demands are political in nature (gender equality, legal respect of human rights, civil code, the abolition of institutional sectarianism and so on), but the group has been very adamant in asserting its refusal to be associated with any political party or movement.  It is striking that no economic demands are set forth…

This year’s march has a number of specific demands consistent with its overall message:

1. A unified civil code,

2. The adoption of the “Law for the Protection of Women from Family Violence” submitted by KAFA to the Lebanese parliament,

3. Abolition of article 522 of the penal law, “which drops charges against a rapist if he marries his victim,”

4. “amending the nationality law for the full right of Lebanese women to grant their nationality to their children and spouses,”

5. “passing the Draft Law Prohibiting the Pre-Censorship on Cinema and Theatre launched by Maharat Foundation and Marsad Al-Raqaba,”

6. The withdrawal of the Lebanese Internet Regulation Act (LIRA).

While Laic Pride is neither a political organization nor pretends to strive to be one, one criticism of its activities is its failure to reach a wider audience beyond the niche of activists and NGO workers. An evaluation of the achievements of this movement offers a good starting point for re-envisioning the strategies and approaches undertaken to promote and instigate change in Lebanon.

In three years of activity, Laic Pride is still far from being the agent of mobilization in this country. In fact, one of the essential reasons for this group’s failure to achieve palpable popularity (such as attract new blood, change the perception of secularism as anti-religious among a large number of Lebanese people…), is its failure to reach out to the groups and classes most affected by the country’s corrupt sectarian system.

The group, like most of civil society movements in the country, addresses and is also composed of middle and upper middle classes (mostly university students and graduates). This fundamental shortfall can explain the group’s failure to incorporate economic demands and an alternative political and economic project that would put forth the interests and speak to the needs of the large segment of Lebanese workers, peasants and unemployed.

Mobilization requires reaching out to people whose economic situation does not allow them to see secularism as a valid demand. After all,this kind of  secularism is a vague and meaningless demand, if it is not coupled with a clear-cut position in regards to the economy and the organization of the state.

A secular State can have all the same inequalities and preserve the dominance of the same political, religious and economic elite as the present sectarian one.

I propose that secularism without a political project that advances alternative economic policies is meaningless and will remain a social demand of a privileged class in Lebanon.

While this criticism is not meant to undermine the importance and urgency of the demands to be raised in this year’s march, it does emphasize the nature and limitations of such demands and it should be carried out with the mobilization in the social groups where awareness about these issues is much-needed.

Sectarianism should be understood as both a social issue and an economic one as well.  Sectarianism is both a product and a source of the economic system and policies in the country.

Achieving a secular State is not a demand that you nicely asks for from the very people who profit from the sectarian system. It is a political project that requires more than civil marriage, inter-religious love, or a society where people do not ask each other about their religious identities.

The Laic Pride is a march and not a protest. It will take place on a Sunday and head to a place that is designed for Sunday strolls. In this sense, it is a march that presents no threat nor disruption, neither economic nor social, to the institution being asked to give up its sectarian privileges.

There is no shortage of cross-sectarian issues in Lebanon (bread, electricity, labor laws, election laws, tax regulations…), but there is a shortage of political projects that present an alternative way of managing this country and include the concerns and needs of those who are truly marginalized.

Like the Occupy movement, Laic Pride is in essence and in form a movement of the privileged. They have both failed to leave their comfort zone (whether it be the internet or their class boundaries), and learn to speak to a public that has different concerns even if it sometimes has similar interests.

The Occupy movement managed at least to disrupt the daily routine and exercise pressure by occupying physical and symbolic spaces. This year Sunday walk, even with an open microphone on the Cornish, cannot achieve more than what it already has: Institute a yearly tradition where a small group of people express their thoughts and dreams of a country better suited to their desires. This in itself is certainly a good effort, but cannot further much progress in terms of producing actual change in the system nor does it come close to realizing the stated goals of the group”. End of Walid quote

I think that Laic Pride is following a good strategy by not coming out of the closet and stating outright: “We, the initial organizers of Laic Pride, are communists and of leftist leaning, and we are proud of our great patience for not coming forth as a traditional political parties, demanding everything and meaning never to deliver…”

This civic movement has three main tasks to pursue:

1. Communicate with All the secular political parties, and engage in serious dialogue for a common secular program as secular  opposition alliance to confront the traditional sectarian parties running this  pseudo-State

2. Keep marching and sounding the civic demands, in every district in Lebanon, in order to keep the human rights of citizens alive and urgent…

3. Reminding the traditional political and militia leaders that the youth is not about to let go this time around, and reform of the system has to start now…

Note: Walid el Houri is a Lebanese journalist and filmmaker who recently earned a PhD from the University of Amsterdam.

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