Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Take it to the next step, damn it!

My dad's best friend is a priest. His other best friend was born into a prominent Beiruti family. My brother's closest friends are from all over the country, and the same applies to my sister. Beirut is host to thousands individuals who share similar relationships - real friendships that cross sectarian and familial lines.

Since the beginning of my visit here in Lebanon, I have sat in on several social gatherings in which almost all of Lebanon's sects were represented. Every one who sat in on those gatherings was having fun, cracking jokes, poking fun, and generally having a good time. In one particular gathering, I thought to myself: where in the Middle East do you find a Shi'a, Sinni, Marooni, Orthodox and Dirzi sitting around one table, having a blast? Iraq? Saudi Arabia? Kuwait? Egypt?

Iraq is even richer in its sectarian diversity than Lebanon, but we all see what is transpiring over there. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia host Shi'a minorities, but in countries as traditional and religiously conservative as those two, I have serious doubts with regards to how much leisure-time their different communities spend with each other. Besides, the oppression of Shi'as by Wahhabis and the Saudi ruling family is a well-known fact. All of that leaves us with Egypt - host to the Middle East's largest Christian population. And despite the resurgence of Muslim Fundamentalism there, I am certain that a significant minority of Egyptians are liberal to the extent that religious differences are irrelevant. However, Egypt hosts only two major sects, and one Egyptian acquaintance of mine informed me of a Shi'a minority that lives in some villages of the Nile Delta, who are not even recognized by the authorities - i.e. the government does not recognize Shi'i Islam.

So now we're back in Lebanon. A country where an influential minority, that I call the cosmopolitan population, finds that it can mix freely and enjoy leisure time together without regards to sectarian lines. But is that as far as it goes in Lebanon? Leisure and Friendships? What about the more serious matters in life? Why don't we find more business partnerships that cross familial and sectarian lines? What about Politics? And Marriages? Why the red line?

Lebanon's cosmopolitan population could potentially be the most powerful segment of Lebanese society. Economically, it leads the way. Socially, it sets the trends that the rest of the country follows. They act as counterweights to traditionalists (the elderly in villages - men especially - and imams as well as clergymen). Now if only they can muster the courage to take this trend-setting power and put it to good use! They have the power to do so. So why not? Trend-setting can go beyond merely clothes, hairdos and cars. It can have serious repercussions for the entire country!

8 comments:

Lazarus said...

raja,

sectarian lines are only as thick as you want them to be. the onus is on us to stop analyzing every aspect of lebanese life (politics, economics, etc.) in terms of these lines.

- l.

Vox P. said...

I disagree. Most people in Lebanon live within their sects, especially outside Beirut. I have plenty of Muslim friends, but this is because I went to AUB. Most of the Christians I know who didn't go to AUB go out with Christians. Before I went to AUB, I didn't know any Muslim except for the friends of my parents who are a lot older than me. Once, a social acquaitance of mine told me "you're going out with Muslims?" - it was so unusual for him that he couldn't have been less surprised if I was going out with aliens. Ras Beirut is an exception in Lebanon.

Hassan said...

Ras Beirut is indeed an exception. Try to see the Mahmoud Hjeij movie. It's really good.

frencheagle said...

First of all
true, lebanon is not heterogeneous, as said vox, the sects are not mixed

also another alternative view would be that the heterogeneous character of this country leads to tensions if the state is weak, and today the political answer to resolve this weakness is not yet put into action.

let s consider alternative models of mixed societies, such as yougoslavia during tito times, singapore considering the chinese minority etc...

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Lebanese Meze said...

I like and agree with this post Raja, but could you please convince my mom. :)

min-ras-beirut said...

I like the post but disagree that Iraq has more sectarian diversity than Lebanon.
True, Ras Beirut is unique place not only in Lebanon, in the whole Middle East and it is so because of the role AUB plays.

Yazan said...

My dad, an alawite, used to hide in a durzi house with sunni and christian friends when he was on the run from syrian security forces.

Syria, hosts a number of different minorities, although sectarianism exists deeply within syrian socirty, and still not recognized as a "problem", bas the like lebanon the main liberal wave is crossing borders, both ethnic [Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenian, Syriac, Aramaen...] and sectarian [Sunnis, Alawites, a small minority of Shiites, Ismailies, Christians "orthodox and cathloic and maronites", and even Yaznidis in the far north east..] boundaries..

so yeah, Syria boasts also one of the most complicated sectarian and ethnic maps in the region.

although might be dominated by a vast majority of 70% sunnis... every single other minority had a had a very important role in shaping syrian history, modern an ancient.