By Justin Salhani
BEIRUT: Six hundred people marched Sunday with the group Lebanese Laique Pride from Sanayeh to Corniche al-Manara at Ain al-Mreisseh, chanting slogans in support of secularism and calling for women's rights and media freedom.
Yalda Younes, co-founder and core team member of Laique Pride, whose tenets are equality among all Lebanese citizens and the separation of religion and politics, told The Daily Star that the group chose to march for six specific demands.
In addition to enacting a unified Civil Code for the Personal Status Law, historically a major goal of Lebanese secularists, several of the demands concerned women's rights.
They included: passing the Law for Protection of Women from Family Violence submitted by KAFA to the Lebanese parliament; rejecting the parliamentary committee's distortions of the draft law and adopting Kafa’s original draft, which criminalizes marital rape; abolishing article 522 of the penal law, which drops charges against a rapist if he marries his victim; amending the nationality law so as to give Lebanese women the right to grant their nationality to their children and spouses.
Laique Pride also issued two demands in support of media freedom. The organization called for passing the draft law Prohibiting the Pre-Censorship of Cinema and Theatre launched by Maharat Foundation and Marsad Al-Raqaba, and withdrawing the draft law for the Lebanese Internet Regulation Act (LIRA) proposed by the Lebanese Ministry of Information.
Among the marchers were the Lebanese “secular clowns,” a West African percussion group and secular clubs from universities throughout Lebanon. For the first time, secular clubs from Université Saint-Joseph (USJ) and l'Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA) were in attendance, while American University of Beirut (AUB)’s secular club, long a mainstay of such rallies, also participated.
Before the march began, the clowns passed out yellow roses to Lebanese security personnel, who greeted them with smiles.
The march concluded at Ain al-Mreisseh with a nod to London’s Hyde Park, famed for its Speakers' Corner. Upon finishing the march, each person had the option of climbing a small ladder, speaking into a dictaphone and answering the question, “How would you change Lebanon?”
Despite the fact that the march attracted a much smaller crowd than rallies for traditional political parties, Younes maintained that the secular movement is gaining ground. She cited the participation of ALBA and USJ’s secular groups, as well as volunteers in Baalbek distributing over 3,000 flyers in their region, both unprecedented phenomena, as heralding a greater push for concerted action among Lebanese secularists.
“Minorities have always changed the world, not majorities,” she said.