BEIRUT: Round two of a campaign to “topple the sectarian regime” will take place Sunday with a march in Beirut, as open-ended sit-ins have now begun in both the capital and Sidon for the same objective.
The demonstrators will gather in Dora at 3 p.m. and proceed to the Electricite du Liban building in the neighborhood of Nahr in Beirut.
Prior to the march, a conference will be held at UNESCO Palace to coordinate activities for the campaign, which has begun to spark interest around the country.
While activists who support an end to the sectarian system are expected to arrive Sunday from Tripoli, Jbeil, Nabatieh, Sidon, and elsewhere, a group of demonstrators will launch their protest action early Sunday morning in Sofar, Aley and a string of villages in Mount Lebanon – they intend to travel on foot to Beirut, in the hope of encouraging the public to join in.
The first protest action by the anti-sectarian campaign took place last Sunday, when hundreds of people turned out in a driving rainstorm for a march in Beirut.
The campaign has been promoted by a number of Facebook groups, all centered on the goal of toppling the sectarian regime and its “leading figures.”
The groups stress their total independence from political parties, most of which appear to be lukewarm about the campaign.
According to Nehmat Badredinne, the campaign’s spokesperson, “we are people who differ from each other, and we might find ourselves [suited to joining] this or that [Facebook] group, but all of us aim to topple the sectarian regime and leave our differences aside,” she added.
One of the activists noted that the campaign is trying to leave the realm of Facebook and concentrate efforts on the logistics of organizing demonstrations.
“Division won’t infiltrate into the movement, no matter how many groups on Facebook there are, we are one group now on the ground,” said Rawad Shami. “Committees are being created all over the country in order to simplify communication and the mobilization [needed for] demonstrations. We’re trying to have less activity and news on Facebook; we need more privacy.”
A public appeal was issued late Thursday, stressing the peaceful nature of the protest and calling on the entire public to support the effort.
“For those who ask who we are, we are Lebanese citizens, and we question this sectarian regime and its cruelty,” the statement said.
The statement enumerated a series of objectives, such as a civil personal status law, social justice, and sound proper public education.
Organizers have been cautious about being seen as receiving support from traditional political leaders and groups.
Ali Dirani, an activist, said “sectarian political leaders are trying to take advantage of the movement and adopt it, under their principles, but we have rejected such acts.”
“If they believe that [our cause] is just, let them resign from their parties and they will be more than welcomed with us as ordinary members,” he said.
“They have invited us into meetings but we refused to attend these meetings, we want to topple the sectarian regime, along with its figures,” Dirani said.
Organizers say that a number of political parties are anxious about the campaign, and are adopting various strategies to fight back.
Dirani said that a week ago in Beirut, two people distributing fliers in Beirut were kidnapped for five hours and roughed up, before eventually being released.
Meanwhile, enthusiastic supporters erected tents in a public square in Sidon and held a noisy rally Friday to generate support for the campaign.
They painted the slogan “abolishing sectarianism” at the roundabout next to the sit-in, and chanted slogans such as “we’re not afraid of the leaders of sects.”
A number of passers-by joined the protest, which highlighted deteriorating socio-economic conditions as a major grievance.
Malak Khalil, one of those who joined the protest after it began, said “we have the hope that change will take place. We’re not sectarian – what brings us together is our desire for changing the sectarian system, to arrive at social justice.”
In Beirut, activists began an open sit-in Friday at Sanayeh garden near the Interior Ministry, where organizers say the protests will feature cultural and intellectual activities.
Organizers said the two sit-ins were not part of the original action plan, but were entirely spontaneous, representing enthusiasm by people enthusiastic about the goal of ending sectarianism.
A website (http://isqatalnizam.org) was recently created to publish the movement’s activities and appeals. The website includes print and video media coverage of the protest actions and information about future events.
“We ask people to join us on Sunday at 3 p.m. in Dora to first topple the sectarian regime and its figures, and second to liberate ourselves from a system that has manipulated our lives for more than three decades,” Dirani said. – with additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari