The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Over 70 Lebanese citizens were greeted by Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud Saturday as they assembled at the ministry building in Beirut to remove the indication of their religious sect from their national identity cards. The gathering comes two months after Baroud issued a decree allowing citizens to erase any mention of their religion or sect from their official state records.

"It should have happened decades ago," Baroud told event organizers during a meeting before going outside to witness the crowd. "It's a step toward creating a real civil society in Lebanon."

The timing of the event was also symbolically chosen to take place the weekend before the 34th anniversary of the 1975-90 Civil War, which was marked on Monday.

According to a ULDY, statement, about 200 people removed their sects from their IDs Saturday in Beirut and several other towns including Aley, Hammana, Jbeil and Saghbeen.

The minister also said he expects citizens who conceal their sect to run for a Parliament seat in future elections as an "experiment" to see how Lebanon's sectarian electoral law would hold up under the circumstances. The current 1960 electoral law only allows citizens of a particular sect to run for Parliament in each district.

"Baroud met with us to show his support and reassure us that our actions are allowed for by the Constitution and are within our rights of freedom of religion and belief," ULDY president Arabi el-Andari said. "Freedom of religion means having the freedom not to believe and not to disclose your religion."

ULDY, a left-wing secular youth group comprised mostly of communists, often holds events across the country to promote issues like civil marriage and a secular state. It is also active in the boycott campaign against Israel and regularly calls for protests outside businesses with ties to the Zionist state.

Not all citizens who met at the ministry Saturday were ULDY members. Many journalists sent to cover the event finished up their interviews and jumped in line alongside others to have their IDs modified.

One middle-aged woman, Fawzie Ali Sharife, brought her young child who stood on the sidewalk holding a sign that read: "My sect is meaningless. My country is my only concern."

Sharife, like many others present at the ministry Saturday, said she remained faithful to her religion but believed the government had no right to identify its citizens by their sects.

"What's between God and myself should remain between us and not have to go through the state," she said. "As a Muslim, I believe in all human beings as equal, just like the communists that are here believe we are all equal. Anyone who disagrees with that is not human."


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