Lebanon’s Aoun calls for lay state, abandonment of sectarianism

Beirut, Aug 30 (efe-epa).- Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Sunday in a nationwide address called for transforming the nation into a “lay state” as a solution to the country’s “unprecedented crisis,” adding that in the wake of the huge Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port his country must abandon “sectarianism.”

“I call for Lebanon to be declared a lay state, for dialogue that includes all the political and religious authorities to arrive at a formula acceptable to all,” Aoun said in a brief speech commemorating the centennial of the creation of Greater Lebanon.

“Sept. 1, 2020, is a continuation of Sept. 1, 1920. And it’s for that reason that I believe that a lay state will protect and preserve pluralism,” he said.

The milestone to be celebrated on Sept. 1 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon, which was proclaimed by France by agreement with the League of nations and Great Britain after World War One, a step that was welcomed by Maronite Christians, the community to which Aoun belongs, although not by local Muslims.

Lebanon experienced a bloody civil war between 1975 and 1990, a conflict that ended with an agreement to share power within the government among the country’s 18 recognized religious communities.

Since then, this distribution of seats in Parliament has made the formation of governments difficult, not to mention the taking of decisions at the time when agreements, pacts and treaties have had to be negotiated and concluded.

“The sectarian system that is based on the rights of the communities and the quotas among them have been valid for a time, but today it has become an obstacle to any kind of development in the country, an obstacle to any reform and to the fight against corruption, as well as a creator of conflict and division for everyone who wants to (harm) the country,” the president said.

Even before the port explosion, Lebanon was facing one of the worst crises in its history, and that situation has been further aggravated after the gigantic blast on Aug. 4 when almost 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate warehoused at the port for the past six years blew up, killing at least 190 people, wounding more than 6,500, leaving some 300,000 homeless and destroying a large part of the Mediterranean capital.

In addition, in his remarks Aoun mentioned the “youth of Lebanon who are calling for change,” saying that “for their well-being and for the future” they must be told that their “moment has arrived,” an allusion to the revolution that began in the country last Oct. 17.

On Monday, parliamentary consultations are scheduled to begin to name a new prime minister after the former Cabinet resigned en masse six days after the port explosion, the cause of which has not yet been definitively determined.

It is also expected that on Monday night French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Lebanon for the second time in less than a month and his official agenda will commence on Sept. 1.

When the Ottoman Empire was formally split up in the wake of World War One, Greater Lebanon was created as a League of Nations mandate under the proposed terms of the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon. France governed what ultimately became Lebanon and Syria, while Great Britain governed Palestine and Iraq.

Greater Lebanon existed until 1943, when it obtained its independence as Lebanon, and the French left the country in 1946, after the conclusion of World War Two.

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