SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Monitoring MPs’ Human Rights and Free Speech Positions – June 2022

Friday , 01 July 2022

Background and context

 

Following Lebanon’s May 2022 parliamentary elections, the parliament has undergone a variety of changes in terms of its make-up, political significance, and role in the upcoming four (or more) years. The most noteworthy change today, when compared to its predecessor, is the presence of a sizable anti-establishment bloc. Prior to election day, the Samir Kassir Foundation has been producing a series of reports to document the ways in which parliamentary candidates (via their respective parties and leaders) have been addressing concepts and events pertaining to free speech and democracy within their statements, platforms, and programs.

 

On that note, we have decided to pursue this assessment for the post-election period, in which the statements (within reach) of all 128 Members of Parliament (MPs) are observed on a daily basis. This is done in order to arrive at monthly conclusions and analyses concerned with the ways in which political violence, state repression, and the principle of free speech are tackled by the MPs, in addition to whether or not these statements are being demonstrated by concrete legislation.

 

This report will first commence with the methodology used to both monitor and assess the content acquired. While the method put forth is similar to that of prior reports, small differences will arise due to change in sample theme and size. Afterwards, the data will be displayed and later analyzed in order to arrive at clear conclusions for the month in terms of how various parliamentarians have addressed the aforementioned matters.

 

Methodology


The method used for this report does not entirely differ from our prior reports; nevertheless, the pool under study is exhaustive, with all accessible platforms from the 128 parliamentarians researched and monitored on a regular basis.

 

The MPs examined range from representatives of historical and well-established sect-based parties, represented by strong parliamentary blocs, to those who spawned from relatively new alternative groups and movements emerging in the past 12 years. The difference between “sectarian” and “non-sectarian” movements ultimately boils down to several factors: the usage of sectarianism/confessionalism in party discourse, the history of the party in the context of sectarian contestation during and after the civil war, and the demographic make-up of the party and the extent to which it is diverse. It is also worth taking into account that most MPs which belong to Hezbollah’s bloc do not have social media platforms, and so Hezbollah’s own statements are assumed to be representative of them within the sample used below.

 

This diverse pool allows us to provide strong and abundant comparative indicators in the pursuit of understanding how and when the question of free speech is tackled and discussed in specific contexts. In our analysis of the data, we primarily focus on the following highlights:
1) the overview of the data and its categories;
2) a comparison between traditional and/or sect-based MPs, and those who took part in alternative/newly established non-confessional political organizations; and
3) discrepancies (if any) from within these two categories of MPs.

 

Data display


In the process of gathering this data, we insist that the information provided cannot be considered comprehensive, but more or less should allow us to put forth possible hypotheses about how the concepts of free speech and democracy are being brought up in the public political conversation.

 

Fig.1: Distribution of data across Members of Parliament (MPs)


Fig.2: Distribution of data across political parties and groups


Fig.3: Distribution of data across non-sectarian opposition political parties and groups


Fig.4: Distribution of data across type of statement, publication


Fig.5: Distribution of data based on type of movement



Fig.6: Distribution of data across theme of statement, publication


Table 1: Distribution of data across theme of statement and group name



Analysis


An initial analysis of the numbers monitored for this report ought to begin with a comparison between the pre- and post-election atmosphere and conditions. For starters, it is rather noteworthy that “sectarian” and “non-sectarian” parties have an equal share of statements concerned with the broad titles of democracy and/or free speech. Nevertheless, given the fact that most MPs still belong to the former “camp”, this is not an entirely surprising statistic, especially when non-sectarian candidates made up a larger share of the total sample when compared to non-sectarian elected MPs.

This is also indicated by the fact that the single party with the largest number of statements on the matter are the Lebanese Forces (17.9%). However, when grouping MPs who form the “Opposition/Change Bloc” (made up of 13 MPs), they form the largest share of statements on the matter (25%). This coincides with the fact that the “assassinations” theme makes up exactly half of the statements, particularly as the month of June witnessed two asassinations targeting figures of the March 14 movement 17 years ago: George Hawi and Samir Kassir

 

Furthermore, when compared to the pre-election sample, the vast majority of MPs remain reactive in the statements they put forth, commenting on an already present situation, historical instant, or violation rather than initiating plans or programs which directly concern free speech, democracy, and anti-violence in an applicable and practical sense. In other words, free speech has yet to have been approached from a concrete policy perspective most of the time. Two noteworthy exceptions are acts of follow-up pursued by MPs Ibrahim Mneimneh and Firas Hamdan on matters related to torture and Lebanon’s commitment to international agreements on that front.

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