A sprint turned into a marathon: Take Back the Parliament

The Lebanese State resembles a failed State that doesn’t provide its citizens with the most basic public services, can’t ensure its monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force and since last year doesn’t dispose of a valid parliament. On top of that the Lebanese citizens’ political and social identity and even rights are constantly confined to their sectarian belonging. The Lebanese are aware of the difficult conditions they are living in and to many it seems clear that the current sectarian political system and the corruption resulting from it, prevents the Lebanese society from advancing towards a functional State and a common and peaceful future. However political activism against the sectarian system is almost nonexistent, especially among the educated youth that one would expect to have the fiercest reaction, - but in particular the younger generations appear to have resigned. This impression is confirmed by the elaborate analysis of the Lebanese society that scholar Theodor Hanf conducted in 2006. He asserts that the Lebanese have become more pessimistic regarding their future, compared to statistics from during the Civil War. Therefore the Lebanese overall tend to be more cautious about change which they fear could lead to an even worse scenario. It is important to notice that in 2006 70% of the population felt that they couldn’t bring about any social change. This expression of resignation and desperation was surprisingly even higher among young and better educated people.[1] Many Lebanese, like the lawyer Nadine Moussa, who was supposed to run as a candidate for the parliamentarian elections in 2013 on behalf of the political movement “Take Back Parliament”, were awaiting eagerly the overdue awakening of the Lebanese youth:

“I was always amazed, especially after the Arab Spring, […] at the passivity of the Lebanese youth and I believe strongly that you can’t make a change without the youth.”[2]

(Nadine Moussa, 2013)

According to Hanf’s research, in 1984 75% of the Lebanese citizens were in favor of a completely secular state. In 2006 this number had decreased to 65% which was still a significant majority. That same year, 69% of the Lebanese said, however, that secularization doesn’t stand a chance and that community membership is a reality one has to accept. This result reflects a contradiction between the people’s desire and expectations.[3] The prevalent apathy among the youth can be explained by different coping mechanisms with the political situation. The civil society activist Mazen Abou Hamdan who works for the Lebanese Association for Civil Rights (LACR) divides the Lebanese youth into three different categories, none of which constitutes a real challenge to the system:

What we are facing among the youth in Lebanon is either frustration and therefore indifference, or sectarianism, […]. And we have a group of youth who are angry at the situation, but they don’t know how to solve it or deal with it. They just go down on the streets and say down with sectarianism, but that doesn’t really work.

(Mazen Abou Hamdan, 2013)

When Take Back Parliament (TBP) a political secular movement, was established in 2012 by a group of young Lebanese who want to abolish the sectarian and corrupted political system, the initiative was received very positively, because it finally offered an organized platform to the secular youth to express itself politically. A large number of Lebanese had already come together before in 2011 under the banner of anti-sectarianism, but the movement wasn’t organized well enough and remained too little political and clear in its aspirations, so it could be exploited by the same sectarian parties it was initially up against. TBP set itself apart as the only secular political movement with well defined goals, initiated by young Lebanese who tried to reach out to all like-minded people in the past years. They managed to organize themselves as a group of volunteers with no dependency on internal or external political actors and with the aspiration to transcend sects and religious groups with their agenda. Through social media the movement managed progressively to make a name for itself and present its political programme. However the movement also came across a lot of scepticism by people who didn’t believe that a completely independent secular movement is feasible and could be influential in Lebanese politics. More than a year after TBP's experience started it is necessary to study the initiative critically by investigating which challenges secular movements in Lebanon face when it comes to establishing their internal organization and identity. On the other hand through the study of the movement, the research touches on the Lebanese political context which still presents many obstacles for political alternatives trying to find their way into the well established political system confined to the prevalent political parties. The research seeks to explain that the attempt to infiltrate the political system by TBP shouldn’t pass unnoticed as it points to the feeling of political misrepresentation and the quest for political alternatives. In order to foreshadow future trends in Lebanese political movements the research tries to enhance the comprehension of these activists’ vision of secular activism in Lebanon, because in the future the political alternatives to the already existing parties will be shaped by them and composed of them. Even though the group is no longer active since the summer 2013, it merits to be asked to what extent this new form of political secular movements has contributed to the development of secular movements in Lebanon. By doing so, it is hoped that other movements can build on its achievements and learn from its shortages in the continuing Lebanese struggle for a secular State.

[1] Letters from Byblos, Theodor Hanf „E pluribus unum? Lebanese attitudes and opinions on coexistence“ 

[2] All information on the interviews led by the author can be found under Bibliography; Primary Sources 

[3] Letters from Byblos, Theodor Hanf „E pluribus unum? Lebanese attitudes and opinions on coexistence“

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Date of Publication
January 2014
Heinrich-Böll Stiftung Middle East
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