The Significance of Hariri's Civil Marriage Position


— There is still hope (Photo: The wedding of Randa & Tarek Kabrit by Marco Schwarz ) —

There are many things to be said about the various parts of Mr. Saad Hariri’s interview on Kalam el Nass, and I’m sure we’ll read a fair amount of commentary in Friday’s press. But in this post I want to bring your attention to a couple of political points that are important to understand in relation to his historic position on civil marriage (and I don’t use the word “historic” lightly).

Moderate Sunnis finally found a voice

In my previous post, I wrote that moderate Sunnis don’t support civil marriage. Many readers mistook that for an indication that those moderates support the Mufti and are hard-set against the idea of an optional civil marriage. I should have made it clearer that it’s not true. Many Sunnis might disagree with civil marriage, but that doesn’t mean that they want to impose their opinions on others. Arguably a majority of them doesn’t mind the optional clause.

The moderates were shocked at the Mufti’s extremism but lacked a weighty counter-argument that would oppose it without reducing their religious credentials. This is exactly what Mr. Hariri offered. He compared the civil marriage issue to his visit to Damascus, a visit that he, as Saad el Hariri the person, would have never made, but that when you’re speaking in the name of Lebanon, you speak for the entire country and you leave your person behind. This reminded me of Erdogan’s ideas of separation of Mosque and state, a thought that warmed my heart.

The Death of the “Salafist Hariri” Bugbear

Another important result of Mr. Hariri’s position is that hopefully the idea that he’s some sort of surrogate for hardline islamists will lay to rest. That idea, constantly drummed up in FPM and Hezbollah circles, is designed to scare Lebanese Christians to serve a sinister geopolitical agenda. Mr. Hariri’s public position in support of civil marriage and against the mufti will by all means beget a loud Islamist backlash, creating dissonances that will need to be resovled in people’s minds.

Hopefully, there will be a more nuanced understanding of the Future Movement as a broad political movement with real tension between a liberal wing (those whose children are the partygoers he referred to) and a conservative wing which wears its religion on its sleeves and scares people from Tripoli’s roundabouts. Mr. Hariri’s position might be politically risky (he will expose himself to electoral challenges from the religious right), but it was probably worth it considering the state of disarray his more moderate supporters were in.

Hold the champagne

Mr. Hariri still has a lot to prove, and a white knight return is far from guaranteed. His challenges include unifying March 14 before the elections, coming up with a credible alternative to Mr. Mikati’s government and proving that he can rule.

But forget all of that for the moment and savour this delicious and historic precedent in Lebanon: A Lebanese Sunni leader coming out publicly against a Mufti and supporting the civil union of Lebanese couples.

You Cannot Censor the Web. Now Lebanon Removes Article Critical of Mr. Hariri. [Update: Article Restored]

This morning I read a reasonable opinion piece on Now Lebanon which criticized Mr. Saad Hariri and preferred Mr. Mikati’s leadership over his. I was so impressed with the fresh independence of that piece that I shared it both on twitter and on facebook. One friend, Elias Muhanna who blogs over at Qifa Nabki, presciently predicted that the piece can’t last much on Now Lebanon, a website that is at least partly owned by Mr. Hariri.

And as he predicted, by the evening the piece was gone [see update]. But I was prepared. They had done it before. So now, because it was censored, I think it deserves a much larger readership. I took a screenshot of the article (see below, click to enlarge). If you want to read the transcript, head over to Qifa Nabki.

Spread as widely as you can. They need to know once and for all that censorship doesn’t work.

[update]

After writing this post, I received messages from very well placed sources that convinced me that what happened was less a power play by a politician and more an act of bumbling self-censorship by higher-ups in NOW Lebanon who wanted to score brownie points with Mr. Hariri.

It is important to note that the removal of the article was a blow to the journalists who work at NOW, many of whom expressed their anger to me privately, noting that it made them look very bad given how often they argue in support of freedom of speech .

Gladly, the uproar caused by the exposure of the censorship here and in other places had the desired effect (thank you very much for sharing widely). The post is now back up (actually, technically it was re-posted, with a new link). The post also carries what passes for a face-saving disclaimer:

NOW Lebanon has intentionally removed this article from the site. It was not removed because of censorship, but rather because of the lack of proper arguments. We would like to repeat, again, that NOW is not owned, in whole or in part, by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, nor any other political party or figure.”