Sunday, April 25, 2010 
21:26 Mecca time, 18:26 GMT 

Lebanese rally calls for secularism
            A Lebanese activist carries a sign demanding a secular system 
during a demonstration in Beirut [Reuters] 

Thousands of protestors have gathered in Beirut to demand a separation of 
politics and religion in Lebanon.

The demonstrators marched on parliament on Sunday chanting "secularism" and 
waving placards calling for the recognition of civil marraige in the 
Mediterranean country.  

The idea of a secular political system has faced stiff opposition from ruling 
politicians who fear an erosion of power if the complex power sharing system 
between the different religious communities is abandoned.

"What is missing is the political support. In the last election in 2009, all 
the main political parties paid lip service to the sectarian system," Elias 
Muhanna, a Boston-based political analyst and blogger told Al Jazeera.

Seats in the Lebanese parliament are divided equally between Muslims and 
Maronite Christians and key cabinet posts are reserved for members of the major 

The country's president must be Christian, the prime minister Sunni and the 
speaker of parliament Shia.  

Quota system

Lebanon is home to 18 religious sects, and is deeply divided between Christians 
and Muslims.

      "We cannot live in a country where they divide the chairs of ministers 
according to their confessions, not their merits"

      Kinda Hassan,
      protest organiser
Its sectarian system was soldified in a 1943 national accord in a bid to avoid 
religious conflict, but the country was torn apart by a brutal 15 year civil 
war that started in 1975.

The agreement that ended the conflict called for the abolition of sectarianism, 
but the system has endured.

Under the complicated rules, public sector jobs are subject to religious quotas 
that change year-on-year in a bid to maintain the delicate balance.

Civil marriage is not recognised under the system, and Lebanese seeking to 
marry outside their sect are forced to choose between a church or a mosque, or 
else travel to nearby countries like Cyprus to obtain a civil marriage.

The rally was organised by the grassroots movement Laique Pride using social 
networking sites.

"We cannot live in a country where they divide the chairs of ministers 
according to their confessions, not their merits," Kinda Hassan, one of the 
march's organisers, said.

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