BEIRUT: Lebanese citizens often complain about the disconnect between their ideas and the policies enacted on their behalf by the country’s politicians. But a new program is trying to change all that.
“A Citizen Consultation Mechanism” brings together citizens of all ages, genders and economic and social classes to discuss the country’s most pressing local issues.
“There’s lots of conversations about politics that are foreign-policy oriented politically that don’t enable a lot of participation and remove [the] focus off of daily life,” said Victoria Stamadianou, the Lebanon director for International Alert, an international NGO working in partnership on the initiative with local organizations FRAME and Legal Agenda.
The new program is divided into three stages.
In the first stage, NGOs and local coordinators gather a variety of citizens to identify common priorities. So far, such meetings have taken place in Beirut, Nabatieh, Tyre, Baalbek and Sidon. More meetings are scheduled for the next two weeks in Hermel, Beirut’s southern suburbs, Jbeil, and Kesrouan.
The project will hopefully create a successful method for participatory decision-making in Lebanon as well as an implementation mechanism for solutions to problems facing the general population on a local level.
The second stage is to invite participants to a similar discussion held at the governoratelevel, where the focus is on specific and common policy issues.
The third stage is at the national level, and participants meet at a space allotted by the parliamentary administration to discuss issues and patterns brought up around the country.
“The third phase of the program will hold a series of forums at Parliament inviting participants to discuss issues with civil society, members of Parliament and high-ranking public servants,” said Ali Sayyed-Ali, co-founder of FRAME, an organization that uses creative mediums to engage and encourage citizens to tell their stories. The participants will then present the common issues to the MPs and other figures and engage in a “deeper discussion.”
“It’s a formal way for people to get involved in an open and transparent way,” Sayyed-Ali said. “Across the country people can sit at the same table and identify priorities affecting their lives.”
The idea is that citizens will feel engaged in policymaking and crucial decisions made at a local level.
Sayyed-Ali said communities in Lebanon rarely get to gather and express their shared grievances.
The pressing issues discussed at meetings already taken place include clientelism (or wasta), corruption, youth unemployment and the failure of the state to provide enough water and electricity for its citizens.
When all the meetings are completed and a core group of select issues are decided upon, Legal Agenda, a nonprofit organization comprised of lawyers that focuses on legal reform and activism in the Arab world, will draft legal briefings. These briefings will detail what has been done on the various core issues, such as draft legislation and ideas for reform that are already on the table.
“These are just options for people to look at,” Sayyed-Ali said.
While the meetings have mostly discussed run-of-the-mill issues in daily life, there have also been a few surprises for the organizers.
“In most groups the majority of people want to move on,” he said. “I disagree with people saying citizenship [in Lebanon] is dead. There’s a clear demand for it. People want to feel involved with things that affect their lives and to take responsibility as a citizen.”