BEIRUT: When Erik Chiniara founded the analytical news website L’Echo du Cèdre (The Cedar's Echo), he hoped other young Lebanese abroad would rally to his message of secularism, modernity and peace.
“All we want is to get the message out there,” Chiniara told the Daily Star. “We are working for the Lebanon we dream of; one nation above sectarian tensions.”
The website is updated monthly in English and French, covering economic, social, cultural and political subjects of importance to Lebanon.
“We don’t want to be typical newspaper,” said Chiniara. “We take one subject and develop a profound and analytical article about it rather than simply reporting the news.”
Launched in 2012, the site’s editorial team is comprised of four young Lebanese writers living in Europe and North America. In addition to Chiniara, the team includes Cyril Ghanem, an undergraduate at ESSEC in Paris; Nour Chehabeddine, who studies international relations at the University of Toronto; and the site’s newest addition, Beatrice Shedid.
“L’Echo du Cèdre targets those students living overseas who are proud of their ancestry and who are willing to contribute time and effort to build a new and modern state,” said Chiniara, who studies at the Paris Institute for Political Science.
He said the site’s writers share a passion for secularism, democracy and economic liberty.
“These are the values we want to spread, because we believe they push the country toward progress and ensure the well being of its people,” Chiniara said.
He explained that in addition to having “progressive values,” the newspaper also advocates an optimistic view of Lebanon.
“We see Lebanon as a country full of great potential,” he said.
Chiniara considers himself a patriot whose “cause is Lebanon,” adding that he believes the country has a special role to play in the region building bridges between different cultures and religious groups. He dreams of the emergence of a unified Arab world that functions economically like the European Union.
“When I think about the regional conflicts, it reminds me of the old rivalries between European countries,” he said, suggesting that a peaceful settlement between Arab countries and Israel is possible and desirable.
In fact, he recently wrote a piece advocating for the establishment of a single bi-national state where Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal rights as citizens.
Chiniara said his proposal, which is not unique but far from popular, is founded in his liberal, pacifist values.
“We aspire towards a Lebanon that lives in peace with its neighbors -- all its neighbors,” he said. “Without peace, neither the country nor the region will be able to achieve progress.”
The site works in cooperation with institutions including the Lebanese Diaspora Overseas, the Lebanese Emigration Research Center, the World Lebanese Cultural Union and UNESCO, but remains financially dependent on its core team, who volunteer their time and resources.
Chiniara said he was hesitant to seek outside support that might compromise the site’s integrity.
“We want to be free and independent,” he said. “If we can have funding from particular institutions that support our organization without affecting our writing, this would be excellent.”