“They are not mature enough. They will do it blindly.”
That is not a fact. That is a fear.
We should have the right to vote when we are 18.
As part of the Danish-Lebanese cooperation, thirty youth representatives of political parties in Lebanon and Denmark gathered in a hotel in Brummana for six days of a Political Advocacy seminar during which they drafted an advocacy campaign to lower the voting age in Lebanon from 21 to 18. A relatively representative sample of the Lebanese political scene was present (from SSNP and Amal all the way to LF, Kataeb and FPM, including the Muslim Brotherhood, PSP and Tachnag – and of course Tajaddod Youth). The main objective of the seminar was to get us to work effectively together, understood as working on enhancing cooperation with a common objective in mind. By “us”, I mean at the level of Lebanese parties (aren’t we in need of dialogue?), of Lebanese-Danish relations, and last but not least at the level of Danish parties (believe it or not, the Left and the Right do not communicate as much as we think. They’ve got their dialogue issues too).
In the span of six days (and nights), we worked well. The planning group divided us into six diverse groups, and I felt it coming: I was appointed in the group with Amal and SSNP reps’ on one hand, and Danish reps’ of the extreme right and the extreme left on the other – so much for dialogue and consensus! It turned out we all were able to be effective partners when we needed and wanted to. The groups designed six different outputs that we implemented and then took to the Parliament and Government and lobbied for their application. Among our products (you can check them out at the end of the article), we presented a set of youth-targeted videos, posters, flyers, stickers and graffiti designed and disseminated around the AUB campus for awareness purposes, as well as more official outputs such as a fact sheet outlining the issues at hand and a “Youth Declaration on lowering the voting age” signed by all parties that took part in the process. The latter were disseminated to potential decision makers we met during lobbying activities.
Well, all parties signed it, yes and no. This is where realities of political life in Lebanon stalled the process and reminded us that we, as representatives of youth parties, are a reproduction of what happens in the higher levels of political life. It is not a conspiracy theory that Christians are afraid to amend the law on voting age, and that to the least they’d demand to link it to the vote of Lebanese expatriates. They clearly voice it. Our colleague of the LF expressed it strongly on the first day, arguing that they wanted the “full package” of reforms, and not just one. In consequence, he insisted that the Declaration be reformulated (more than once) so as to satisfy the party’s stance on the issue: it was not the sole reform that we were arguing for, but a first step in a series of democratic reforms needed in the country. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the LF rep’ was not allowed to sign. The party did not want to be held accountable for advocating and lobbying for an amendment that not only did they not believe in, but also were genuinely scared of. In this sense, in their insistence on principled politics grounded in a deep mistrust of the other, the LF’s stance resembled that of Hezbollah (the most notable absent in the process) when talking about their weapons. When Hezbollah is asked to talk about this sensitive subject, they do not agree unless it is a discussion of a National Defense strategy, right? That is, in my sole opinion, because they are deeply afraid that when we – all parties strongly opposed to the presence of non-state weapons – obtain what we demand, we will topple their power. This is also what the LF fear from, and, interestingly, all other Christian parties alike – including the FPM. (Sighs).
But, finally, where is our role as youth? Are we not reproducing the same fears and mistakes than our ‘mentors’ from the first generation? Haven’t we learned anything? I ask, are we even willing to learn from the past? It seems like we have a tendency to very successfully reproduce old-generation politics in our dynamic between youth, and that is not very constructive.
Take it from social and interpersonal relations, which were very interesting to observe. From the first day, the Kataeb-LF-NLP were close to each other and already bullying the FPM representative. The unavoidable October 13 discussion surfaced, even though the four of them were only 1 year old on October 13, 1990. The ‘trio’ also made fun of the PSP rep’, betting wild guesses on when he’d switch alliances (yet) again. Don’t take it badly, it was much more fun than it was serious. In fact, we had great moments of laughter and solidarity, as well as moments of ‘enlightment’ when we looked at each other, the SSNP sitting next to the Kataeb rep’, and the LF engaged in a friendly conversation with Amal rep’, and though “Man, that is nice”. We also had deep conversations with our Muslim Brother partner on women’s rights and the death penalty, and others on Armenian identity with our Tachnag rep’. It was challenging at times, and highly informative at others. And most importantly, it showed us, once again, how much we don’t know each other, and how much dialogue, recognition, and understanding is needed between us.
And there I was, trying to represent a multi-confessional party, detached and untainted by this violent past that others kept on referring to, a pioneer of the March 14 movement and its commitments towards independence, sovereignty, and freedom. A party strongly attached to consensus and principles of dialogue. Most importantly, a party that did not fear others and did not gain its constituency through confessional belongings and clientelist networks. A party that stood on another level in these struggles, recognized and respected by others for this stance. In a sense, I was trying to bridge differences between us, something Tajaddod Youth strives to do, especially with regards to such a sensitive subject instrumentalized by religious and existential fears.
During these six days, I felt proud to belong to Tajaddod.
A copy of the campaign poster produced during the seminar:
A picture of the signed declaration:
A Campaign Video:
Another Campaign Video: