Society problems

Lebanese civil society groups seek to oust political elite

While Lebanon’s dysfunctional political configuration has resisted change, many wonder whether the elections slated for 2021 will finally provide an alternative to the long-established political class.

In 2018, Lebanon went to the polls. It was the first parliamentary election in nine years and many observers wondered whether this was politics as usual, or would growing concern over the myriad of issues facing the country affect the outcome? ? There was at least a hint of change in the air. For the first time, a popular movement known as the Civil Society Coalition presented candidates against long-established sectarian parties in Lebanon.

But apathy was the biggest winner – the turnout was less than 50 percent. Despite the general disgust over spiraling unemployment and the weakness of basic services, it seemed that very few Lebanese believed that the way to solutions was through the ballot box.

Since then, Lebanon’s distinctive and dysfunctional political system, which has resisted change, has continued to erode every part of Lebanese society. In the last two years since the elections, the government has been responsible for an economic failure, a medical crisis, an explosion that devastated the capital and the collapse of the entire banking system in the country.

“Despite the general disgust over the rise in unemployment and the weakness of basic services, it seemed that very few Lebanese believed that the way to solutions lay through the ballot box. “

Today, it would appear that hope has returned once again, this time promising a better outcome – perhaps this is in part due to the role the diaspora played as well as the resilience and perseverance of the people. civil society groups in the field.

In the last election, only some 82,000 people living abroad registered to vote. Of that number, only 50 percent went to the polls. But today, as many as 210,000 people have registered to vote – although this is not a staggering number, but a substantial increase, which could indicate that the tide may finally turn.

To understand what all this means, we spoke with George Khoury, 26, who left Lebanon for the UK amid the Covid-19 pandemic. After working as a consultant in the Middle East, George decided to continue his education in London leaving his family behind in the seaside town of Damour.

“I miss my family and the Lebanese hospitality, but although my heart is heavy, it was time to go.”

Unable to leave Lebanon, George began volunteering with Sawti, one of Impact Lebanon’s initiatives. “I think there is a lack of access to transparent and accessible information for people who are not politically active and Sawti tries to be a resource for people to access this information to learn more about the politics in Lebanon and find out more about who the political parties are. And so far, nothing like this existed, which forced me to join the team ”.

“Regarding the latest statistics, […] we saw more than double the number of people registered in 2018. We now hope that most of those people will actually vote.

As Lebanon draws closer to the polls, organizations across the diaspora have helped energize the political process [Sawti]

“This is the first election to take place after such important events,” said George. “So we’re hoping that this election will actually be different in terms of people more aware of what’s going on on the ground. People are more engaged and active in their desire to change. And that is why we try to raise awareness as much as possible so that people know that they have a voice and the right to use it ”.

To achieve real change, Sawti wants to see changes in parliament and new parties winning seats.

“We are trying to get people to vote for alternative political parties because we know for a fact that we only need ten MPs to be able to appeal any law that might be proposed by traditional parliamentarians and that is why we believe in the importance of having alternatives present because it is crucial if we want a new wave in Lebanon, ”he said, adding that if this is achieved it will mark“ the greatest modern victories of the recent history of our country ”.

Uncertainties and doubts

Satwi is not the only group working in the field. He has collaborated with others including the Lebanese Diaspora Network, Nahwa Al Watan and Kulana Erada.

“We were making a joint effort by working together as much as possible to mobilize people to come and register,” said George. “And for me that’s what made this campaign so successful and made it go viral. This is by no means a group or individual effort – it is an alliance, a collaboration, a unity of like-minded people who want to see the change and understand that we have to be the change ”.

Despite all this, there have been uncertainties and doubts, with some diaspora communities refusing to register to vote.

“[Some people have] lost hope and wonder why bother, for what purpose, can really change in a country where tribal leaders have ruled for generations, ”said George. “So why vote for a corrupt system. All understandable concerns. Our job was therefore to make them understand that there are genuine alternative political parties and that we cannot give up hope. their that there are efforts on the ground and alternative parties worth registering – after all, enough with the traditional political system that only keeps us going backwards ”.

“The vote is stronger than the ball”

Dana Trometer is a filmmaker and mother of two, a member of the Lebanese Diaspora Network founded several weeks after the October 2018 uprising. Her husband is French, which means that under the current system, her children are not eligible for Lebanese nationality.

Yet her love for her homeland runs through all aspects of her life. And so it’s no surprise that we find Dana running a marathon for Lebanon in a last ditch effort to raise awareness and encourage people to register to vote. From a leafy city of London, she told the New Arab why this is all so important.

“We know that democracy may have failed in many neighboring Arab countries and that changes take years to happen, but every small step leads to bigger steps and we can teach people to have an identity and a sense of purpose. national affiliation ”

“We are a group of people from all over the world who come together to do something to help Lebanon – from helping initiatives on the ground to fundraising. And now we are working on the elections, ”said Dana.

“We believe that as a large diaspora of expats living all over the world, we can influence change if we help people enroll. We recently fought to change the rules that otherwise limited us on how and for whom we can vote, ”she said, referring to a recently passed amendment to the electoral law that allowed expats to vote for candidates. in the 128 parliamentary seats, instead of six.

“It was a small victory and we hope it will last,” said Dana. “This means that the diaspora’s right to vote for 128 MPs has been restored by parliament, and each voter will be able to vote according to their constituency.

Dana emphasized the importance of voting to make the change people want.

“People have to realize that elections are a big deal and that the ballot is stronger than the ball. We cannot continue to live under the law of the jungle. We know that democracy may have failed in many neighboring Arab countries and that changes take years to occur, but every small step leads to bigger steps and we can teach people to have an identity and a belonging. national, ”said Dana, adding that the diaspora can now have a stronger voice to deliver a new vision.

She believes that civil society groups will be the only way to achieve change in Lebanon and dismantle the current political system that benefits no one except those in power.

“Even if [we are not successful] in this election, we will continue on our way and we will finally arrive at our destination of a liberal secular democratic Lebanon that serves its citizens and is not divided along sectarian lines ”.

Nada-Mai Issa is a senior filmmaker and journalist.

Follow her on Twitter: @Nada_Mai_Issa