BEIRUT: The approval of the Orthodox Gathering’s proposed electoral law by Parliament’s joint committees sparked concern Tuesday among a number of secular-minded people who consider the legislation a dangerous step toward extreme confessionalism.
The plan known as the Orthodox law, which can now be put to a full vote in Parliament, calls for a proportional system that lets citizens vote only for candidates from their own sects.
While some see the law as an acceptable compromise between political parties for the upcoming elections in June, Tuesday’s loud outcry from critics underscored the differences of opinion over the legislation.
Numerous institutions in the country already operate under religious constraints, and having religion further dictate citizens’ democratic rights is something many find deplorable and possibly dangerous.
Critics of the law say it disregards the will of the secular movement in the country and could fracture the state, potentially leading to violence.
A small group of demonstrators gathered in Downtown Beirut Tuesday night to protest the law, causing traffic congestion in the process, while social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook featured numerous subscribers debating and decrying the decision to approve the Orthodox law.
“The [voting] system is meant to divide the people,” said 22-year-old Reine Nemer, who attended the rally against the law.
Nemer warned that people had grown accustomed to a dangerous sectarian system that has been ruling Lebanon for years and might see the Orthodox law as a natural next step.
“Just because this has been going on for so many years doesn’t mean it’s the right thing,” Nemer said.
Twitter and Facebook were inundated with discussion about the law, which some saw as acceptable and others warned would set back movements to build a unified state.
“What a sad day for secular Lebanese, they just trashed our dream of civil society in Lebanon,” tweeted Beirut merchant Abdelrahman Hallak.
Others warned of the danger the law could pose to state services that might now be further stratified by sect, many using the acerbic pith so common on Twitter.
“Because only people from my sect can fix the road #AgainstOrthodoxLaw,” tweeted Mustapha Hamoui, a popular Lebanese blogger.
Many critics felt they were being manipulated by politicians whose only interest is self-preservation.
So far the controversial Orthodox proposal has been backed by most political parties, but the legislation is opposed by the Future Movement and Progressive Socialist Party.
Some critics say even the opposition by the latter parties is based on cold political calculation rather than anti-sectarianism.
The Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform also came out against the law, calling it “disastrous,” “divisive,” and “a big farce.”