07 July, 2019
Mohammed Awwad and his fiancée are both Muslims. The two recently found an apartment for rent online in a Lebanese town southeast of Beirut.
Awwad, a 27-year-old reporter, decided to call about the apartment. He was surprised, however, by what the property's owner told him.
The owner apologized, but said that she could not rent to a Muslim. She said she would not mind renting to people of any religion. But the town of Hadat has a rule: only Christians are permitted to buy and rent property from the town's Christian residents.
Awwad could not believe what he had heard. He asked his fiancée, Sarah Raad, to call local officials. She, too, was told that such a ban had been in place for many years.
Hadat's rule is an example of Lebanon's deep sectarian divisions. Fighting between religious and other groups led to a 15-year civil war that left more than 100,000 people dead.
Lebanon's Christian communities often feel under siege by the country's Muslims, who have higher birth and immigration rates.
Pierre Abi Saab is a Lebanese reporter and critic. He said, "There are people who live in fear and feel threatened and this can be removed through (state) policies that make citizens equal."
Thirty years ago, Hadat was almost all Christian. Today, it is majority Muslim, partly because the Muslim population expanded quickly between 1990, when the civil war ended, and 2010, when the ban took effect.
The ban is only for property owned or rented by Christians. A Muslim resident or landowner in Hadat may sell or rent to a person of any religion.
Lebanon's long history of sectarian division
Hadat is believed to be the only area where such a ban is publicly known.
The town of Hadat is next to Dahiyeh, a Shiite Muslim area near Beirut. It is an area where the militant group Hezbollah has strong support.
Lebanon is a country of about 6 million people, who belong to 18 different religions and sects. The last census was carried out in 1932. At that time, Christians were a majority. Today, Christians are only one third of the population, with Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims making up one third each.
Christians controlled Lebanon's politics until the Taif Agreement of 1989, named after the Saudi city where it was signed. The agreement ended the civil war but divided government positions according to religion and sect.
The cabinet, parliamentary seats and top government jobs are divided between Muslim and Christian groups.
Under Lebanon's power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian. The prime minister must be a Sunni and the parliament speaker must be a Shiite Muslim.
Local opposition and support
Lebanon's interior minister, Raya al-Hassan, denounced the town's policy as unconstitutional. But the town's mayor, George Aoun, has defended his decision.
He said, "We are telling every Christian to be proud of his or her village. Live here, work here and raise your children here. We are an exemplary village for coexistence."
He has been criticized on social media and on local television.
When asked if the town ban violates the constitution, Aoun notes that Hadat is 60 percent Muslim.
Not everyone opposes Hadat's rule. George Asmar is a shop owner. He says he employs at least one Muslim woman. He calls the rule "very good."
"The decision of the municipality is very good because we want to keep our sons in Hadat," Asmar said. "It is good to keep our sons, to live with us rather than travel."
I'm Mario Ritter Jr.
Massem Mroue reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
fiancée –n. a woman engaged to be married
rent –v. to pay money in order to use or live in a property
sectarian –adj. related to religious or political sects or groups
siege –n. a state of being surrounded and attacked
apply to –v. to have an effect on, to relate to
commercial –adj. related to business and making money
census –n. the official process of counting the number of people in a country
exemplary –adj. a very good example of something
coexistence –n. the state of living together in peace with others
municipality –n. a city or town with its own government
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