A Debate on Secularism and Socio-Economic Reform

There is an ongoing discussion over at the Bila Houdoud / No Frontiers (a leftist group at AUB) forum on secularism, sectarianism, and social reform. I hope the admin over there would not mind that I am posting some bits and pieces of the conversation (if you do, please let me know and I will delete it).

I had not noticed the topic until the admin of the forum revived it by posting the following:

George Hawi had a theory that the sectarian system cannot be changed before having sectarian balance in power. Without this balance, any talk of abolishing political sectarianism threatens the unrepresented sect(s).

Meanwhile at the current time I believe we should bring socio-economic issues as our primary agenda item. They are the most urgent, most neglected, and their improvement may contribute do defusing sectarian tensions.

My response was as follows:

Wrong theory. Very wrong.

By sectarian system I am assuming you mean consociational system. Such a system cannot be changed – even if you have sectarian balance – unless you introduce a culture of interaction between the various sects (not their leaders, but the regular people). The problem with Lijphart’s model (of consociational democracy) is that the ties are vertical and not horizontal, that is, relations between people of different sects are channeled through the leaders of each sect rather than the people of the sect.

The problem is that you cannot talk about economic issues as a whole within this system because each leader wants to look after the interests of his own group… But if you change the system first, then all people will be treated equally regardless of what sect they belong to.

In another post I added:

The problem is, the culture of real and unbiased interaction between people of different sects cannot be introduced overnight. As such, instead of leaving it for later, it should be worked on now, because it will take A LOT of time (at least one generation, most probably two generations) to change it… But if we busy ourselves with petty issues of achieving sectarian balance for the purpose of supposedly bringing about reforms, we would be wasting our time, because if the zu’ama (elites) do not deliver on these promises, then there is nothing one can do about it, since the people are not educated in a culture of revolt against the zu’ama. There is a culture of follow-the-za’im rather than a culture of follow-the-ideology (even if it is the za’im’s ideology). So even if the za’im’s ‘reform’ is a failure, people will still follow him, and he probably would throw a fish or two at the people just to keep them busy and maintain his hegemony.

The zu’ama know this very well. This is why nothing real has been done in terms of introducing civic nationalism and toning down ethnic / religious nationalism… instead they are trying to put bandaid, fooling people with such things as ‘joining the WTO’ and the economic opportunities it would allegedly (yea right) bring with it for the people, etc.

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