Maha Yahya | Carnegie Middle East Center, Lebanon

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Maha Yahya | Carnegie Middle East Center, Lebanon
THE GOVERNANCE OF RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY
MORE OR LESS SECULARISM?
10-12 June 2015
SESSION:
THE GOVERNANCE OF RELIGIOUS PLURALITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
CITIZEN SECT: RELIGION AS A REIFIED ORDER FOR MANAGING LEBANON’S DIVERSITY
Maha Yahya | Carnegie Middle East Center, Lebanon
The predicaments of state legitimacy and the multi-faceted crisis sweeping through Arab
countries have sent politicians and political actors scurrying for alternatives mechanisms
for the national governance of diverse societies. In a number of Arab counties, citizens
have turned to ethnic or sectarian communities perceived as existential safety nets from
the instability gripping their countries. Yet when asked, these same citizens continue to
aspire for national unity within the territorial boundaries of their current states.1 In this
context, Lebanon’s consociational model of democracy, once considered a trigger for
descent into civil conflict is now held up as a singular approach to the management of
ethnic and religious diversity; an approach to be emulated across the region.
This paper argues that Lebanon’s model, based on the supposed neutrality (and
secularism) of the state towards its diverse communities, reifies religion making it the
most prominent public attribute of Lebanon’s citizens. This contradiction between
national identity and sectarian belonging, apparent in competing articles in Lebanon’s
constitution, confessionalizes the relationship of citizens to their state and undermines
their equality before the law. In time, and without the proper checks and balances, the
selective application of this model has paralyzed government decision-making and
facilitated the gradual takeover of religion over the “secular” state.
1
Maha Yahya, ongoing research into Faces and Perceptions of Injustice

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