Why Lebanon Protesters Target Religion-Based Politics

LEBANONThe anti-government protesters filling Lebanon’s streets have been unappeased by proposals to cut politicians’ salaries, recover looted money and create a national anti-corruption commission. They’ve been unmoved by the ditching of a plan to tax phone calls over the internet and by the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. They demand, instead, a complete rout of the country’s ruling class. Some want a redrawing of the entire political system that would eliminate the religion-based framework they blame for empowering inept leaders who serve themselves and perhaps their coreligionists rather than the country.

1. What is Lebanon’s political system?

Lebanon officially recognizes 18 religious groups or “confessions” — 12 Christian sects, 4 Muslim sects, the Druze sect and Judaism. A combination of traditions and laws dating back to French rule after World War I divide political power among them. High-level government offices, legislative seats and public-service jobs are divided equally among Christians and Muslims. By convention, Lebanon has a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shiite Muslim speaker of parliament. The religious groups have autonomy over the personal matters of their members, such as family law, marriage and divorce.

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