Dossier: More Than A Talkshop

Description of the project

The project aims at sensitizing young people between 16 and 18 for the uniqueness of Lebanon's political system. Similar to a Model United Nations (MUN), the project work results in organizing a two-day simulation of the Lebanese parliament, thereby pursuing a threefold objective:

  1. generating interest for current political, societal and economic issues
  2. generating understanding of the complexity of Lebanon's political system, the functioning of parliamentary work and, by consequence, the vital necessity of political negotiation and compromise
  3. generating incentives for innovative and creative solutions to these problems by actively enquiring young people's views and interpretations of political issues

In this respect, the project wishes to sensitize young people to the need for issue-oriented, pragmatic solutions. It hence seeks to make young people realize what unites them as active citizens across religious and confessional frontiers. It thus also helps them understand Lebanon's political system and, by consequence, the concrete practical repercussions it has on citizens' everyday-life.

In order to introduce youth to the parliamentary process and the dynamics of political negotiation, four parliamentary Committees were simulated : The Committee for Human Rights, The Committee of Environment, the Committee for Women and Children and the Committee for Media and Communication.

The whole project was implemented in Arabic, the official language of the Lebanese Parliament. 

The Participants

The participants were 15 to 18 years old high school students from eight schools all over Lebanon. Each student had to fill out an application form outlining their personal motivation and background. Based on these information, our team tried to ensure the diversity of the group. This was guaranteed by associating students from different social backgrounds and regions, and respecting gender equality.

The participating schools were:

Hassan Saab Public High School (Beirut)
Palace of Modern Culture High School (Beirut)
Al Ahliah School (Beirut)
College Notre Dame de Jamhour (Mount Lebanon)
Imam Sadr Foundation-Afak Institute (Tyr - South Lebanon)
Mustafa Shumran High School (Tyr - South Lebanon)
Rafic  Hariri High School (Saida - South Lebanon)
Azm School (Tripoli - North Lebanon)

The Preparation Phase

The students prepared themselves for the two-day simulation of the Lebanese Parliament on March 21st and 22nd, 2015 during a training phase of eight weeks. Every Saturday, a training session was organized, during which the participants familiarized themselves with:

  • The subjects chosen for debate in the different committees
  • The Parliamentary Working Procedures and the Standing Orders of the Lebanese Parliament
  • The legislative process
  • Rhetorical techniques and public speaking 

Simulating the Lebanese Parliament

“The Speaker of the House and the Bureau of the Parliament remind you, the parliamentarians, that the floor is now open for amendments”, - sounds of rustling paper resonate in the auditorium of Haigazian University. On this Sunday morning, the air is humming with concentrated whisper as well dressed youth deliberates on modifications for law proposals. 32 young parliamentarians from Tyr, Saida, Tripoli, Mount Lebanon and Beirut convened in Beirut on March 22nd to simulate a plenary session of the Lebanese National Assembly. For two months, the students aged between 15 and 18 years, dedicated their Saturdays to prepare themselves and their draft laws for this day’s plenary session. 

Committees and members

In order to introduce youth to the parliamentary process and the dynamics of political negotiation, four parliamentary Committees have been simulated, discussing the following subjects:

  1. The Committee for Human Rights
    "Enhancing Human Rights Awareness among the ISF in Lebanon"

    The Committee was directed by Elza Seferian.

    Committee Members were: Zeina Mokahal, Eliane Isaac, Lama El-Kheir, Sabah Abd Ellatif, Dima El Hariri, Amal Ezzedine, Mustapha Ahkdar, Lara Zawdeh, Hussein Marwani

     
  2. The Committee For Environment
    "Enhancing Waste Management Systems in Lebanon"

    The Committee was directed by Sarah Shmaitilly.

    Committee Members were: Malek Ghalayini, Fatima M. Al-Shami, Youssef M. Fawaz, Zeinab Jamarki, Bilal Zarouf, Jana Sabakji, Leila Ghaddar, Ashraf Sibai, Cedric Feghali
     
  3. The Committee For Women and Children
    "Women’s Right to pass on Nationality"

    The Committee was directed by Lara Chikhany.
    Committee Members were: Rawad Hassan, Aya M. Arnaout , Razane Fakih, Sawsan Basrawi, Leen Abdul Jawad, Hiba Al-Sabbagh
     
  4. The Committee For Media and Communication
    "Freedom of the Press and the Problem of Journalistic Self-Censorship"

    The Committee was directed by Kareem Chehayeb.

    Committee Members were: Sanaa Sidani, Mohammed Rakka, Natalie Alayli, Wassim Ezzedine, Hoda Damoury, Elina Kareh, Joseph MerhiIn 

 

Working procedure

The participants were asked to send their committee director a weekly report of 1 page about their acquired knowledge on the topic. This report may also contain questions that emerged while reading the Committee Guidelines distributed at the beginning of the preparation phase.

Moreover, participants were encouraged to follow the news concerning the recent political debate on their subjects so that they get an idea of the different political parties’ positions. Being a parliamentarian also means being informed.

Additionally, one person in each Committee should take notes and write a summary on each session.

Between the weekly sessions, the students exchanged their ideas and proposals within their committees using social networks and communication tools such as Dropbox etc.

The Committee Directors

Elza Seferian, Director of the Committee for Human Rights
Elza Seferian is a fresh graduate from Haigazian University. She is part of the Women's Basketball Team and spends most of her time reading books, hiking and exploring nature. She is highly interested in politics in general and Middle Eastern/Lebanese politics in particular; one of the reasons why she volunteered as a Committee Director at hbs. From the beginning, she believed that this project would create outstanding critical-thinking citizens who would probably truly become real parliamentarians one day and promote a bright future for their country.

Sarah Shmaitilly, Director of the Committee for Environment
Sarah holds a BA in Psychology and recently works as Program Coordinator at the Nawaya Network in Beirut.

Kareem Chehayeb, Director of the Committee for Media and Communication
Kareem is a blogger and BA graduate in International Relations. He contributes articles to Entrepreneur Middle East.

Lara Chikhany, Director of the Committee for Women and Children
Lara is an online blogger, completing her Masters degree in marketing and advertising. She works as a researcher, and does volunteering during her free time. Lara believes in the wonders of having a positive outlook on life, and what it has to offer.

Muhammed Shikhany, the Speaker of the House
Muhammed is a Syrian Civil Engineer who graduated from Damascus university. He is a civil society activist who worked for raising awareness for democracy, civil and non-violence principles. Muhammed is a founding member of Madani organization.

Habib Battah
Habib Battah has been covering Lebanon and the Middle East for 15 years as an investigative journalist, filmmaker and media critic and is a two­ time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Habib Battah worked as a freelance journalist based in Beirut. He has done work for Al Jazeera, The Daily Star newspaper, Future Television and other regional media organizations.
He was also the managing editor of the Beirut­ based Journal of Middle East Broadcasters, and has appeared as a blogger and media analyst on BBC, CNN, and Euronews.

 

Invited experts

Habib Battah is a freelance journalist based in Beirut. He is the founder and editor ­in­ chief of the Beirut Report. Habib has been covering Lebanon and the Middle East for 15 years as an investigative journalist, filmmaker and media critic and is a two­ time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Habib has worked for Al Jazeera, The Daily Star newspaper, Future Television and other regional media organizations. He was also the managing editor of the Beirut­ based Journal of Middle East Broadcasters, and has appeared as a blogger and media analyst on BBC, CNN, and Euronews. Habib supported More Than A Talkshop as an expert on Freedom of the Press and Journalistic Self-Censorship. As journalist, he told the students about his personal experience as a journalist in Lebanon.

Kareema Chebbo is Project Officer of the Gender Equality Team (GET) at the Collective for Research and Training on Development. She is one of the main organizers of the Women’s Right to Nationality Campaign. Moreover, Kareema is responsible for the legal unit of the campaign and has extensive knowledge of the judicial questions related to the subject. During our expert session, she talked about Womens Rights to Pass on Nationality. 

Wadih al-Asmar is Secretary General of Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH). CLDH is a human rights organization which has been active in the struggle against arbitrary detention. The organization pursues the following objectives: fighting the practice of enforced disappearance of Lebanese citizens (and persons otherwise residing in Lebanon),­ fighting arbitrary detention, fighting the impunity of those perpetrating serious human rights violations, improving the capacities of the Lebanese civil society ­and rehabilitating the victims of torture. Wadih al-Asmar was invited as an expert on the issue of Enhancing Human Rights Awareness among the ISF in Lebanon. Wadih pointed out the main problem of human rights violations by internal security forces by explaining the difference between private and public torture: ISF are a main part of the executive state power and a violation of human rights executed by ISF proves arbitrariness by the state itself. 

Ziad Abi Chaker, chief executive officer at Cedar Environmental, is Lebanon’s firm believer in and fighter for a no-waste-society. Ziad is a multi­-disciplinary engineer specialized in building Municipal Recycling Facilities on the communal level going against the trend of a central Mega recycling Plant. Ziad gave the young parliamentarians insight into the issue of Enhancing Waste Management Systems in Lebanon and presented recycling projects in Beirut. He showed them in what way a no-waste-society is possible. His main point was to raise awareness towards waste management problems in Beirut among the students. Professionally, Habib Battah worked as a freelance journalist based in Beirut. He has done work for Al Jazeera, The Daily Star newspaper, Future Television and other regional media organizations. He was also the managing editor of the Beirut­ based Journal of Middle East Broadcasters, and has appeared as a blogger and media analyst on BBC, CNN, and Euronews.

Acknowledgments

This project would not have been possible without the support of Dr. Maximilian Felsch from Haigazian University. 

The UNESCO kindly shared its school network with us and supported the project by finding participants.

For the success of the simulation the cooperation and commitment by the teachers and school directors was also very important.