I watch a lot of Arab TV, but I’ve never seen anything like this. This popular TV show host is actually challenging a member of the clergy on national television–and not just any member, the grand Mufti, who is among Lebanon’s highest-ranking spiritual officials.
He is urging the Mufti to withdraw his recent Fatwa against civil marriage and he’s calling the Fatwa “unhealthy” even “hateful” and possibly violence-inducing. He then reinforces these arguments by quoting verses from the Quran.
And of course this isn’t any TV host we’re talking about. Nadim Koteich is one of the stars of Future Television, widely seen as the mouthpiece of the Hariri dynasty, which is still the biggest force in Sunni politics. I use that term with great skepticism and it’s the hope of many civil society activists that allowing civil marriage will help bring a gradual erosion to the categorization of our politics in strictly religious/sectarian terms.
The issue of civil marriage has picked up a lot of momentum in recent weeks following the marriage of a Sunni-Shia couple via an archaic loophole in the law–and encouraged by Lebanese President Michel Slieman, who tweeted in favor of the union. Other pro-Hariri media outlets have also been boldly assailing the Mufti’s stance.
This could mean big changes for Lebanon as Elias Muhanna points out. But beyond Lebanon, the impact could also be significant.
Although religious talk shows make up a huge amount of the content on the Arab satellite television dial, much of what is broadcast takes on a form of preaching with little debate over interpretation and, much less, challenging of the leadership from below. Perhaps we will be seeing more of that as well.