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Lebanon should be a secular state, says president

Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Beirut, Lebanon on 16 August 2020 [LEBANESE PRESIDENCY/Anadolu Agency]
Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Beirut, Lebanon on 16 August 2020 [LEBANESE PRESIDENCY/Anadolu Agency]

In a televised speech on Sunday, President Michel Aoun called for secularising the Lebanese state, saying he recognised the need to "change the system", according to a report by Agence France Presse (AFP).

Speaking to the nation, the veteran politician acknowledged protesters, who started demonstrating against the government last October, have spent months demanding an overhaul of the political system, saying, "Lebanon's youth are calling for change".

The 85-year-old was quoted by AFP as saying:

Yes, there is a need to develop, modify, change the system… Call it the way you like, but Lebanon most definitely needs to be running its affairs in a new way.

Though Aoun offered scant information on how the system could be changed beyond secularisation, the move would be an immense adjustment for Lebanon, which has long been ruled along sectarian lines.

Lebanon boasts 18 different sects and has been governed by the Taif Agreement which allocates key government positions to a particular religious group, since 1989.

Under the agreement, which ended the 15-year civil war, Lebanon's president must be Maronite Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the parliament Shia Muslim.

READ: Newly designated Lebanese PM urges immediate reforms, IMF deal

Protesters, meanwhile, have been calling for the overhaul of the sectarian system since October last year with politicians and high-ranking religious leaders adding their voices to the demands more recently.

In May, a senior Shia religious figure called for scrapping the decades-old power sharing system during a speech during the Eid Al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Grand Jaafarite Shia Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan said in the televised speech: "No to the Taif [Accord], no to a farm of sects, no to a state of quotes…. Yes, to a state of the law and yes to the state as a strong and just institution".

Lebanese politicians have faced increasing international and domestic pressure to enact reforms in the aftermath of a massive explosion on 4 August which killed nearly 200 and injured thousands more after the blast was widely blamed on government negligence and corruption.

Aoun's speech comes ahead of a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, during which he is expected to present plans for a new political pact.

Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, also said yesterday he was open to plans for a new political agreement brokered by the French president.

READ: Lebanon speaker calls for 'disposal from confessional system'

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