The seminar was held on September 12-16, 2008, in Limassol – Cyprus – at the Ajax Hotel with twenty-three participants from the Monitor team, coordinators in the programs of the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace, among whom Professor Antoine Messarra, and members of the Justice, Peace, and Human Rights Department in the Middle-East Council of Churches, headed by Ms. Alexa Abi Habib.
The seminar mainly dealt with the works of the Monitor set up by the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace in 1997, namely the Program 2008 yearly report, the tenth since the setting up of the Monitor; the latter report is based on more than 125 indicators as to the situation of the Lebanese coexistence pact. These indicators show that the Lebanese society’s immunity has showed progress in some points, has stagnated in some others, or has regressed in fighting off dislocation, strife, and foreign pressure aimed at destabilizing the country and toppling the Lebanese coexistence heritage.
At the seminar, there was an exchange of experiences between the team of the ‘Civil Peace and Memory Monitor in Lebanon’, and the team of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Rights, which is about to set up the Human Rights Monitor in Lebanon and the Middle-East; this exchange allowed the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Rights to complete and carry on the results of prior workshops held in Cairo (October 2007), Amman (December 2007), Bayt’anyah – Harissah (May and September 2008) as to ‘The building up of social defenses and social peace’; it also allowed to raise awareness as to the importance of these defenses and to direct people towards issues of public concern to face up the hampering of the civil society.
In this line of thought, the team of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Rights was encouraged to pursue its efforts aimed at the launching of the Monitor and the strengthening of communication between the Church and civil society as well as the deepening of ties with civil associations that advocate human Rights.
Assessing the situation of civil peace and memory
The opening session of the seminar highlighted ‘The case of social defenses in Lebanon today’ based on one participant’s affirmation: ‘Should defenses vanish, the society shall vanish as well.’ Dr. Messarra stressed the need for the Lebanese to ‘have a degree of immunity which might exceed human capacity in a hostile or non democratic environment.’ Ms. Alexa Abi Habib pointed out to ‘the need for oxygen that might rejuvenate many social institutions and organizations.’ Ms. Mary Therese Khayr Badawi, General Secretary of the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace, indicated that ‘the foundation actually produced at its workshops a number of concepts and terms, and helped spread them throughout the Lebanese society, even among politicians that now use them in their speeches realizing how important these concepts are.’
At the first session a primary report was presented about ‘The Civil Peace and Memory Monitor in Lebanon’ by a research member of the Monitor, Dr. Tony Atallah; it showed a dangerous situation that Lebanon witnessed as it reached ‘the brink of internecine war in May 2008, which was checked by the Doha Agreement, the latter becoming a positive upturn.’ Among the negative aspects raised in the report: ‘The prior closing of the Chamber of Deputies, whose role was taken up by individuals and peace intermediaries trying to establish dialogue; the degradation of constitutional jurisprudence and interpretation up to a level where almost anyone had his say; the blurring of concepts to sap the rule of law underlying institutional work.’ The report pointed out to incidents that occurred within one year, mainly ‘about the army, thus showing that the lessons of the past seem to have been forgotten’; for example, ‘Attempts were made to keep the Army out Al-Barid Camp; military and political analysts wrote exceedingly in the media trying to raise fears as to divisions among the Army, without bringing out the Army’s efficiency, or the investigations and sanctions taken against some military pursuant to the incidents in the suburbs (27 January 2008) or the attack against the chopper whose driver, Lieutenant Samir Hanna, was killed.’
Yet, the report showed, as far as national defenses and civil society are concerned: ‘the fact that the Lebanese stick together to oppose assassinations, explosions, and terror; they support time and again the independence intifada; they remember April 13 and newspapers have unanimous headings; they reject violence, encourage the building of memory with the young Lebanese to face up military tension; there are actually more associations and individuals who advocate civil peace and memory; there are initiatives to fight strife, through unity, in the Lebanese Mountain.’ Still the report considered that ‘unions and professional bodies have become mere ways for political parties to exert their influence; means of manipulating diversity have thrived in order to sap the latter.’
The second session was around ‘Institutions that regulate public life and republican values’. Dr. Messarra spoke of ‘systematic attempts to sap institutions that regulate norms’; he pointed out, in this regard, that ‘the latest Ministerial Declaration is truly remarkable as it focused on norms; the Doha Agreement put an end to the hampering of institutions under all forms.’
Dr. Mustapha Adib said: ‘We preserve our institutions through the Ta’if national agreement, and we seek to preserve not undermine it, [ighna’ la ilgha’], as President Rashid Karami put it in 1976. The Army is perfectly able to protect norms; yet, what za’ims help their acolytes with is means to break the law. When security and politics connive, conflicts and instability thrive.’
Dr. Muhammad Salhab pointed out to the ‘need for strong symbols’; he added: ‘A strong state is so through its symbols. Lebanese schisms have not prevented the emergence of resistance and continuity elements. Let us seek to highlight strong points. Each ought to say: I am responsible for what I can do. There are things I can and things I cannot do. Children learn at home from their mothers that they are the smartest and do not make mistakes. Institutional work develops trust whereas institutions today are in a deplorable state. Yet, decision taking is better than no decision at all.’
Khayr Badawi stressed that ‘concepts only become so within an institutional frame’; in this same regard, Lawyer Walid Ghayyad spoke of the ‘widespread disease: nepotism and subordination’. Dr. Victor al-Kik insisted on the fact that ‘mental concepts are hostile to the law; values conveyed through teachings are often praise or defamation.’ He added: ‘Nahda intellectuals raised the issue of public matters in-depth but the Nahda era was studied in literature not from the political aspect.’ Other speakers said that ‘the Wilâyat-e-Faqih is a religious theory not a procedural law theory; otherwise, the concept is a violation of the State and citizenship principles.’ Some stressed ‘the need for a cessation of manipulation’.
What role are religious bodies to have?
The second and third sessions mainly dealt with ‘Religious bodies: do they have a regulating role of public life? Unions and professional bodies as a balance factor facing political forces.’ Dr. Abdo Ka’i spoke of ‘belief, which is bigger than any religion. We often have religion and not faith.’ He gave as some put it ‘a cry of disgust’ indicating ‘a hard image’ that religions convey of themselves. He said: ‘The closer I get to Christ, the further I feel from sectarianism.’ Some spoke about ‘a video game, which is about breaking into the Government Grand Serail’. Mustapha Adib called ‘not to give Salafis or extremists in Tripoli too much importance: Most people in Tripoli have never heard of salafis!’
About unions and professional bodies, Atallah insisted that ‘social and economic issues are exploited to cause strife, not to solve people’s problems’. Ms. Alexa Abi Habib mentioned that ‘people’s problems are used to stir conflicts’. Omar Samaha gave an instance of empowerment through the creation of a ‘real estate coop in the South of Lebanon’.
The fourth and fifth sessions discussed matters related to education and the media focusing on ‘Educational and university institutions: the role of schools and universities in retrieving normative power; the education necessary for renewal; the media: the behavioral charter necessary to help republican values, education in legal terms, and social peace.’ They were directed by Salih Tlayss who spoke of ‘schools that teach fanaticism and isolation, control people’s mind so that they live secluded and extremists, linking their present with their past.’ He noted that ‘official teaching institutions are controlled by Za’ims and are no longer public services.’ Ghada Hawawini Constantin gave a teaching example of how to refresh memories through an expo of old pictures in Ba’abdat.
Al-Kik said: ‘Memory is used to cause conflicts in times of crisis. There is a need for the new generation to start off from what has happened in order to practice self-reform.’ Constantin stressed the fact that ‘education and depression are incompatible. The young are a mirror of their social environment and have, thus, built walls among each other.’ Khayr Badawi affirmed: ‘We need to deal with traumas or psychological shocks in history, mourn the painful past as required, clear memory, otherwise strong emotions might lead to the same incidents. Traumas that are in the historical subconscious give impetus.’
Civil values in associations
The sixth and seventh sessions dealt with ‘Civil associations: their process, the civil values they convey, their priorities.’ Ka’i said: ‘Our primary defenses showed up at the expense of our social defenses built in our mind and conscience. We have not built strong symbols in ourselves and in our schools, especially during the last few years during which societal feeling has been somewhat lost in Lebanon. We have met on earth, from various origins, to work together as one in society. We have not brought out successful instances, which is why instances remained weak.’ He inquired: ‘How do civil societies become civil? We do not ask a lot from others, especially from outdated associations and their heritage that has become meaningless, but we ask more of ourselves.’
Ghada Costanian deduced that ‘there are no positive patterns that develop trust and emulation. School students have become used to violating regulating norms, so much that some private schools have organized meetings to deal with the issue. After the setting up of general statutes, which were voted, and after the voting about an issue that concerned students, some refused to comply with the results saying: we originally refused the law! So the mere idea of a unified norm for common interest has become rejected!’
In turn, Khayr Badawi affirmed: ‘Parents are lost as to their role. Children have friends and they do not want their parents to be just another friend, but rather a father, and children need a father.’ Al-Kik mentioned ‘the blurring of concepts related to the norms of power’; Dr. Nabih Badawi insisted that ‘conflicting Za’ims repeat the same slogans and take over each others’ slogans, exploiting people’s naiveté and their estrangement as to legal terms.’
Conclusions and practical suggestions
One can make the following deductions and practical suggestions from the papers and debates:
First: regulating institutions of public life: as a result of the strategy aimed at hampering institutions, brainwashing people through terms that have nothing to do with legal norms, and as a result of the exploitation of the law so much that all norms have been lost namely regarding the basic government rules, there emerges a need to the following:
1. The President of the Republic is to practice his full role accordingly with the new Art. 49 of the Lebanese Constitution, where it is said that the President shall ‘guard the Constitution’. The renewed role of the Presidency of the Republic, above competences, should be spread, whereas Christians still have the old ideologies that prevailed prior to the Ta’if Agreement and the 1990 constitutional amendments.
2. The role of institutions as regulators of norms ought to be developed; these institutions are: the Presidency of the republic, the Chamber of Deputies, the Council of Ministers, the Constitutional Council, the Supreme Judicial Council, the Civil Service Council, the State Council, and the Army. Some institutions ought to be organized and strengthened.
3. The norms in the Doha Agreement and the Ministerial Declaration ought to be explained and spread, especially as concerns norms related to public nominations. Candidacies to the Constitutional Council have been regulated and committees have been formed to study candidacies to more than twenty posts of General Director in public administrations, to go beyond nepotism.
4. The calls to ‘national’ dialogue must be brought to an end since they give the impression that Lebanon is not a State yet, whereas ‘national’ dialogue ended with the National Ta’if Agreement; general policy dialogue ought to remain within institutions namely the Chamber of Deputies, the Council of Ministers, and the Social and Economic Council.
Second: Religions institutions and bodies: when the State is going through a crisis, religious institutions and bodies ought to have an active role in the defense of republican values and basic principles. In a society where fanatic trends appear under the cover of religion, or use violence in the name of God, religious bodies should avoid being silent or conniving with such trends, or simply condemning them; they must denounce out loud any human Rights violations and defend principles. This requires an extent of culture to distinguish between party positions and the advocacy of constitutional principles or those principles that were approved of in the lawful State; in this context, the need is to:
5. Strengthen the role of religious institutions and bodies to retrieve norms that regulate public life within public institutions and procedural principles; denounce discourses that stir instincts to mobilize people and cause strife.
6. Renew trust in Lebanon who has a role and a message; not reducing the role of Christians to that of the vice Prime Minister.
Third: Unions and professional bodies: unions and professional bodies being a balance factor as opposed to party forces that might abuse power in the absence of other bodies more concerned with people’s daily matters, and since unions and professional bodies are a true reflection of common interests, there is a need to:
7. Strengthen the role of unions and professional bodies so they no longer are a mere reflection of party power; any exploitation of union activity for political rivalries ought to be denounced.
8. A Program must be written out about social and economic rights to make the Lebanese people aware of their rights and put an end to their estrangement when it comes to their rights.
9. Positive and normative patterns ought to be surveyed and spread in union activity independently from party activities.
Fourth: Teaching Institutions, Schools, and Universities: Since teaching institutions are the main conveyor of values, there is a need to:
10. Activate ‘The Teaching Renewal Plan’ set up in 1997-2002 by a team headed by Professor Munir Abu Asli, especially as concerns civic education and history; it is to be noted that the history curricula were published in Decree no 3175 in the Gazette (no 27, June 22, 2000, pages 2114-2195) unanimously approved by the Council of Ministers and by the teaching institutions; one former Education minister actually suspended the history curricula.
11. Organizing teaching programs and activities to retrieve the normative power namely about three issues: the rule of law, democratic management of diversity, education in terms of public matters.
Fifth: the media: the media contribute to the deterioration of values in a given society or on the contrary, help spread democratic culture; therefore, the following priorities should be taken into account:
12. Focusing on norms in daily news and TV debates instead of bringing out conflicting positions that lack norms.
13. Spreading and applying ‘The Media Charter in Lebanon’ as set up by the special committee of the Regional Arab Education Office in Beirut in cooperation with the National Media Council.
14. Applying Art. 30, in the law no 382 dated November 4, 1994 related to television and radio broadcast, imposing on the media one hour a week to be dedicated to a program about public matters.
15. Relating TV news to people’s daily matters and not just to political rivalry.
Sixth: Civil associations: civil associations are autonomous from the power; therefore they are better able to advocate the norms that regulate public life. But, often in Lebanon, these associations might compromise on some basic matters as they attempt to please or seek pacific solutions. In fact, these associations ought to:
16. Exert more effort in the advocacy of: the rule of law, public matters, and approach issues based on people’s interests not those of politicians.
17. Support government, administrative, and municipal action that contribute to the building of a democratic State, one whose legality is derived from the people’s support.
18. Resort to programs and activities that are not only about awareness and information, but include applied initiatives that encourage emulation and empowerment.
19. Organizing programs and activities focused on four matters: republican values, pacts, the rule of law, sovereignty, and civil peace terms.
20. Organizing campaigns in order to encourage political participation and voting, even through blank votes. Voting is an intrinsic part of citizenship; those who do not vote should not talk about politics not even in private gatherings. This will help fight those who wager on the end of independence and sovereignty through the voters’ abstention.