Is the Laïque Pride March a Waste of Time?

(photo credit, Lilianne)

If you’re someone who truly cares about secularism in Lebanon, you can do a lot worse than read Walid El Houri’s insightful critique of the Laïque Pride movement and how it is failing to make progress in Lebanon’s pathologically sectarian system

His key argument (which also applies to many NGOs and their causes), is that in order to achieve true mobilization and make a real difference, Lebanon’s secularists should get out of their middle-class activist bubble, have an economic plan, form a political party and try their best to reach the underprivileged:

Mobilization requires reaching out to people whose economic situation does not allow them to see secularism as a valid demand. After all, secularism as such is a vague and meaningless demand if not coupled with a clear cut position in regards to the economy and the organization of the state.

El Houri’s article is a must read for anyone who wishes to advance the cause of secularism. But, and here is where I dissent: Isn’t the word “pride” a rather clear indication that political advancement is the wrong paradigm with which to view the Laïque Pride movement?

In my opinion the Laïque Pride marches are more “Gay Parade” (topic du jour) than “political party in the making”. The idea is that a considerable amount of people will gather to make a point, to tell the others that they exist and that the sectarian system is discriminating against them. Wouldn’t it be strange if gay-parade marchers were asked to come up with economic policy and a way to reach out to the underprivileged?

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  • issam (@issaminbeirut)

    I shared this last night on Twitter with a long comment. Thanks for shedding light on the article, Mustapha. Here was my response.

    The article raises good points including:
    1- “Secularism without a political project that advances alternative economic policies is meaningless.”
    2- “Good intentions do not usually lead to radical political change.”
    3- “Laic Pride is in essence and in form a movement of the privileged. They have both failed to leave their comfort zone (whether it be the internet or their class boundaries), and learn to speak to a public that has different concerns even if it sometimes has similar interests.”

    These points are valid but more so if Sunday’s event were a protest and not a march, as el Houri himself points out actually. To take this now-annual march to the next step, these points obviously need addressing in order for the movement to be taken more seriously in the long run.

    However, I treat the event for what it is as well and as such these are the reasons I will be participating:

    1- It is an open display to the public indicating that there is in fact a portion of citizens which hold these demands but more importantly: a general/open invitation for those who have better ideas (such as el Houri for example) to suggest detailed, constructive remarks to the movement, which in turn holds open meetings.

    2- Certain demands by the movements, particularly those pertaining to women’s rights, some of which have gained considerable advancement over the years, are ones which individuals and NGOs participating are working year-round to implement and this day is the opportunity for them to renew commitment to them and one where main stream media (by covering the event) allows them to surface to the general public in Lebanon.

    3- It is an excellent opportunity to meet students/activists with similar aspirations and thus a good networking opportunity for (in my opinion some more effective) events that happen throughout the other 364 days of the year (most of which do reach out to the broader public).

    So, in summary, the points raised in the article are essential for the movement to progress and the event to advance from being a “march” to being a “protest” with necessary political and economic demands, but I will take it as a positive and a step forward (no pun intended) towards a better future.

  • Alex Rowell

    I fail to see what economics has to do with it at all. Would he say, for instance, that anti-racism is “vague and meaningless” without a “clear cut position in regards to the economy”? Is it necessary for feminist activists to formulate proposals for combating price inflation?

  • Tony Sagbhiny

    Laique Pride is just a way for secularists to say “we exist”.
    It’s unfortunate that it’s the best we can do right now, but after what i saw during the “Iskat El Nizam” campaign last year, it might be better to not do more than that at the moment. In Iskat El Nizam, the main secularist blocks in Lebanon proved to be untrustworthy, violent, purposeless, power hungry and tainted with the leftist curse all over them.
    The organizers of the Laique Pride might not agree, but it’s just a way to say we exist, it doesn’t have any political impact.

  • Shiwa7ad

    I do not agree at all with Houri critique. Laique pride (not laic, the founders preferred to give the word “pride” feminine :) ) has taken the only way to change things in Lebanon, probably rather slowly, but still effectively. In my opinion, the big problem facing secularists in Lebanon is not the dearth of people with secular values or wishing a more secular society. It is the fact that secular people are divided, and they often support one of the two main sides, either March 14 or March 8. What Laique Pride tells them is: “Look, for the time being you don’t have to abandon your political sides. But there are some fundamental principles we all agree with, and that we are willing to put above our respective allegiances to various political parties. Let’s try to support them. We don’t accept that a man can rape a woman and then escape punishment by marrying her. We want people to be free to marry people from other religions, without having to go to Cyprus. We want to eventually abolish the sectarian system. We support freedom of speech”. The current problem is that currently, the secular people of one side do not trust the secular people from the other side. Laique Pride aims to reunite them on certain issues that everyone can support. We need someone to say: “if anyone tries to attack or repress a part of the population like Saudi Arabia did in Bahrein, we will not applaud like the Future Movement did. And if someone commits a massacre against the Lebanese population like the one that happened in Syria, we will not approve or defend it like Hezbollah did. We will denounce it in the strongest terms”. I think that Laique pride is aiming to be that someone. If and when it establishes that kind of credibility, then it will be possible for it to become a serious political player.

  • Shiwa7ad

    to give the word “pride” feminine => to make the word “pride” feminine

  • Mustapha


    Thanks for the detailed comment.. almost exactly my point..


    Correct, besides there are many “single issue parties” like the environmentalists


    I agree


    You make important points, especially about the country’s division. But I think saying that we completely disagree with houri is a bit too far in my opinion. I believe he makes very important points about the bubble in which many activists live