Lebanon a ‘ray of hope’ for tolerance in Middle East – UN rights expert

2 April 2015

Amid escalating tensions throughout the Middle East, the country of Lebanon, known for its rich cultural diversity, can be a “ray of hope” for tolerance in a region beset by religious fanaticism, a United Nations human rights expert has said.

“Diversity as well as freedom of religion or belief must be preserved and further developed in order to build resilience against the spiralling religious extremism in the Middle East region,” stated Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, in a press release issued today following an eleven-day visit to the country.

“In these challenging times, Lebanon can be the ray of hope in the region and beyond for as long as it preserves and promotes its legacy of religious diversity.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that the Lebanese people had learned the importance of coexisting under precarious conditions in a geopolitical neighbourhood otherwise known for its sectarian frictions. Interreligious dialogues, cooperation, and Lebanese citizenship all were enabling factors in preserving the peaceful amalgam of Lebanese society, he added.

At the same time, continued Mr. Bielefeldt, overcoming Lebanon’s political confessionalism remained an important milestone for the country on its journey to becoming a civil state based on rule of law.

Lebanon’s political framework, in fact, allows for a proportional division of power sharing among the country’s diverse make-up of ethnicities and religions.

Despite this, there has been a presidential vacuum in Lebanon after the term of Michel Sleiman came to an end on 25 May 2014. UN officials and the Security Council have repeatedly urged the Lebanese Parliament to elect a new leader without delay.

“Disentangling the tightly knit web of religious loyalties, political affiliations, social positions and societal opportunities may then enhance the prospects of common citizenship,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.

“Even though equal power sharing on one hand maintains stable relationships among religious denominations, it may on the other hand weaken the civil structure and reinforce political fragmentation.”

Mr. Bielefeldt similarly observed that allowing civil marriage in Lebanon would further strengthen the country’s respect for diversity by both mainstreaming and streamlining the union of mixed couples while removing potential discriminatory threats against them.

“It is furthermore inevitable for the society, especially the younger generation to tackle complicated facts of recent history in Lebanon,” he concluded. “Without proper history teaching and memorialisation process, a climate of mistrust against each other between different religious communities may persist.”


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