April 28th, 2010
01:35 PM ET

Lebanon youth have hope, but can it cause drastic change?

Thousands of Lebanese youth took to the streets demanding a secular country.

“What’s your religion?” big signs asked and thousands of Lebanese shouted, “None of your business” in a daring, bold and ambitious effort to demand a secular country.

A group of young activists and intellectuals have prepared for the event for months mainly through social media. They created a Facebook page, produced several promotional videos which they distributed through YouTube and they engaged the media and the street in a subtle way until Sunday, April 25, the day of the march.

A couple of thousand people showed up. All age groups and genders were represented from babies in strollers to an aging generation of Lebanese who bore witness to atrocities that resulted from sectarian divisions in their country. They expressed through slogans their impatience with their country’s present status, where every aspect of their life rotates around religion and tradition.

In one of the promotional videos leading up to the march, the organizers announced their mission statement through a rap-like song.

“Let's march on April 25, march for a secular state in Lebanon,” it said.

Lebanon’s infrastructure is built on the basis of religion. Politics and social life are all about religion and sectarian divisions. The presidency belongs to one group while the premiership belongs to another, government positions are distributed by quota to make sure the various groups and sub-groups are fairly represented. This has been the case since Lebanon's independence in 1943 and several wars have been fought over the years in the name of religion there.

The tiny Mediterranean nation of about 4 million inhabitants has seventeen official religions and keeping a “balance” among them has been the source of many headaches for government officials and citizens alike. Local artist Maya Zankoul captured the complexity of the issue and its essence in a humorous cartoon highlighting what many Lebanese consider normal behavior - to guess someone’s religion from their name, which they will use then as a basis to judge that person. Zankoul herself joined the secularism march and reported on Twitter that it was “Peaceful, fun, happy and full of positive vibes!”

The signs people carried during the march and the slogans they shouted gave a hint to what the youth of Lebanon are interested in.

They rejected the quota system among the various religious factions and insisted on everyone's right to equal opportunity in jobs, property ownership, wealth distribution, all the way to love, marriage, divorce, and child custody.

"One shouldn't have to change religion to achieve what they want" some signs read.

Among the marchers was a son of Lebanon, world-renowned author Rabih Alameddine who happened to be in the country. He said it felt great that “young Lebanese [are] full of hope.”

Although it's clear that one demonstration is not likely to bring any immediate change but Alameddine thinks that is not important. What’s important he said, is that “they believe they can, or they hope they can.”

He added, “In Lebanon, everyone has given up hope that the status quo can change. To have people with hope is what changes things. It's a miracle!"

For Alameddine who grew up during Lebanon's civil war and wrote about it in his book ‘The Hakawati’ this small step is a miracle.

Others watched from a distance shrugged and dismissed the notion that any change will result from this march or any other.

The big winners were the young people who believed they can march and demand a secular country, and they did. They're now living the highlight of their achievement, wondering what they can do next to turn their dream into reality, and their peaceful demonstration into effective change. A tall order for a conservative region and a country interwoven in tradition. It would require before anything, tough skin.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Zeinab Saleh

    Our people are strong and our women stronger. I believe change is necessary in order to move forward. Lebanon has a great spirit and it can be felt around the world through its music, literature and its youth. Education is key.

    April 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Zeinab Saleh

    A sectarian state would be a great solution. Respect for all people, all races and all religions. Change is possible. Ask Ghandi. Ask Obama. Ask MLK. Change is possible and it will occur. It is a matter of fime. Thanks to the Internet, the youth of Lebanon, tomorrow's leaders, will prevail!

    April 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Nawal Abbas

    Lebanon is a great country, however; the governement needs to go.....

    April 28, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jeff

    how long until the clerics squash this freedom march, the same clerics who probably believe boobs will cause earthquakes. Why is Turkey so successful, the clerics have no real power!!

    April 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tareq asfour

    I will come back to Lebanon when two very important reforms : (1) secular country & (2) Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code is Abolished !!! I'm so proud of Lebanese Youth standing up & fighting for their rights & making headlines all over the world ! It's time for a change

    April 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lava

    Just an early summer breeze, before the forthcoming elections, where you'll see those some secular youths lining up after their sectarian leaders....
    what this country needs most of all is determination and consistancy, a far different approach than the current fashionable and trendy.

    April 28, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DanzoCoolest

    It's so great to see the people of Lebanon demanding freedom from not having a religion of any type shoved into thier lives anymore. People are free to make thier own decisions about their sprituality, and do not need a bunch of grumpy, uptight and humorless men – for example that "fun loving bunch" who hold sway in Iran, or the equally gloomy clerics who regualrly issue supposedly religious "fatwas" calling for divisivness and conflict (as long as their own kids stay in college and aren't involved, that is). Best of luck to the youth of Lebanon, and all freedom seekers in that region who are sick of those who seem to think they know what's best for everyone else through their humorless interpretation of life and of religion.

    April 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Coigne

    Lebanon will be the first Democracy in the Middle East.

    April 28, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angela

      Honey, Israel is THE FIRST AND ONLY DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY in the Middle East.

      July 11, 2010 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joe

    Whatever they doing they better hurry up. From what I heard Israel has other plans, they said they are after some scuds missiles. Lebaneese needs to stand together against the Israeli if in case they decided to launch an attack, they are due for another conflict somewhere. Maybe it is time for a change in Lebanon, but Israel need to be taking care off first. Until then Lebanon needs to be prepare for the worse.

    April 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David

    That is great. Keep it up. Religion is fine until it hurts and controls people. Keep up the good work. We support you.

    I'm American living in Canada with Canadian wife.

    April 28, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Talgrath

    I love how the sign in the picture says epic fail; the fail has spread to Lebanon too!

    April 28, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. michael

    This is great news for a nation which recently suffered a civil war sectarian violence and too much influence and manipulation from syria

    April 28, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Catherine

    I will move back to Lebanon the second we have a secular government. Long live Lebanon, Christians and Muslims united, LEBANESE!

    April 29, 2010 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |