Stumbling Blocks to the Secularization of Personal Status Laws in the Lebanese Republic (1926-2013)

in Arab Law Quarterly
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Despite recurrent efforts to introduce a civil personal status code since 1926, personal status laws in Lebanon remain regulated by the confessional codices of the country’s eighteen denominations. This article examines how efforts at secularization were repeatedly thwarted due to veto rights accorded to sectarian heads in the Lebanese Constitution. The codification of sectarian marriage and inheritance laws is related to Lebanon’s confessional political system and to the attendant perpetuation of kinship ties and fluctuating confessional attitudes. The latter are measured and compared diachronically with a series of surveys. Paradoxically, the chronic weakness of the Lebanese state would render top-down reform measures an exceedingly difficult task even as it opened the space for increasingly effective civil society activism aimed at dismantling the juridical hegemony of the sects.

Stumbling Blocks to the Secularization of Personal Status Laws in the Lebanese Republic (1926-2013)

in Arab Law Quarterly




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B. HashimIlgha t-Taifiya s-Siyasiya fī Lubnan (Beirut: Dār al-Lubnanī li-n-Nashr2000) p. 31. For more on the contending arguments in this intra-Shia debate Mughniyya ibid.


A. AlayliAyna al-Khatā? Tashīh Mafāhīm wa-Nazrat Tajdīd (Beirut: Dār al-ʿIlm li-l-Malāyīn1973).


In April 1927the Patriarchs sent a joint declaration to the French High Commissioner affirming Church prerogatives over marriage and inheritance via Church tribunals. I. Khalifeh A la recherche d’une politique ou d’un concept de secularisation PhD Thesis Université de la Sorbonne Paris 1973 pp. 93.


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A. BaydounTisaʿa tʿAshara Firqa Najiya: al-Lubnaniyun fī Marakat al-Zawaj al-Madanī (Beirut: Dār al-Nahar1999) p. 46. Fadlallah gained a reputation for being exceptionally liberal and open-minded when it comes to issues revolving around temporary marriage (zawāj al-mutʿa) or in-vitro fertilization as he pronounced children born from such unusual circumstances as enjoying a legitimate Sharʾī status prompting questions as to why children stemming from a regular mixed marriage should not deserve the same legal status rather than be branded illegitimate children.


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On 1 Nov 1997An-Nahār carried a letter signed by the Mufti of the Republic Qabbānī the Mufti of Mount Lebanon Muhammad ʿAlī Jūzū as well as the Mufti of Sidon Tripoli and the head of the Higher Sunni Sharīʿa courts Shafīq Yamūt amongst others.


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Mughayzilsupra note 5 p. 118.


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Hashimsupra note 7.


On 5 December 1991for instance an appeals court in the Biqāʿ condemned an originally Orthodox man for polygamy after he converted to Islam in order to wed a second wife. Article 485 of the penal code prohibits polygamy for non-Muslims. A. Messara La gouvernance d’un système consensuel (Beirut: Libraire Orientale 2003) p. 258.


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A. Salam“Lebanon Is Living a Silent Revolution”Daily Star (Beirut: 14 May 2013).


D. Moawad“Lebanon’s First Civil Marriage Raises Hopes for Change”Al-Jazeera Online2 May 2013.


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