Testing! Testing! Would Lebanon join Arab revolt?
BEIRUT - Hundreds of people marched in Beirut on Sunday demanding an end to Lebanon's confessional system, mobilised by a call posted on Facebook.
"The revolution is everywhere... Lebanon, it's your turn," chanted demonstrators, most of them young people, in reference to the popular uprisings rattling regimes across the Arab world since January.
Lebanon's system of government is rooted in a 1943 power-sharing agreement along confessional lines adopted after the country won its independence from France.
Aimed at maintaining a balance between the 18 religious sects, the agreement calls for the president to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister to be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.
Other government jobs are also allocated according to religious affiliation.
The power-sharing arrangement has been blamed for most of the country's problems over the decades, including corruption, cronyism and above all the devastating civil war (1975-1990) and its subsequent crises.
The protesters braved torrential rains and marched on the main courthouse, chanting "the people want to oust the regime," -- echoing the battle cry that toppled veteran leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
Police and soldiers guarded the building and some of the troops smiled as the protesters arrived while others took pictures of the demonstrators.
More than 2,600 Facebook users had signed up to participate in the rally but the wet weather seemed to have dissuaded a significant portion.
"Come on Lebanese, rise up against confessionalism!" and "We want a secular state" were some of the slogans launched at the protest.
"Confessionalism is bad for your health, we ask you to abstain from it," and "Tyrants of Lebanon, your turn is next" chanted others.
Inspired by the success of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, several groups demanding an end to the confessional system have sprouted on the social networking site Facebook.