Lots of people announce the birth of their baby on Facebook – but not many get a congratulatory tweet back from the president. Yet that’s what happened to Lebanese couple Kholoud Sukkarieh and Nidal Darwish.
Earlier this year, they became the first couple to have a secular, civil marriage in Lebanon. Now, their baby – one-month-old Ghadi – has reportedly become the first child registered there without a sect specified on its birth certificate. The pair announced the news on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, and the response from President Michel Suleiman came a few hours later. “It was nice surprise that he congratulated us – we didn’t expect it,” Ms Sukkarieh told the BBC.
In Lebanon, a person’s religious sect matters in everyday life. Military and public sector jobs are allocated according to a religious-based quota system. This approach extends to the top level of government too – the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia.
But Ms Sukkarieh and her husband argue that this system is unfair. Jobs should be allocated based on a person’s qualifications and abilities – and bringing sect into the equation is divisive, they say. The pair took advantage of a loophole in the law when they married in a civil ceremony. A handful of other couples have followed in their footsteps – and according to Ms Sukkarieh – they too are planning to leave the sect section blank on their children’s birth certificates.
Though the president has come out in support of their moves, there is not universal agreement within the rest of the government, or Lebanese society. After their marriage, some MPs in Lebanon attempted to get the law changed to explicitly allow civil marriages – but this was thwarted after complaints from a number of religious clerics. Ms Sukkarieh says it’s not about rejecting religion, but embracing a Lebanese national – rather than a sectarian – identity.