SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

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

Friday , 05 August 2022
Photo credit: AFP/Anwar Amro

Background and context

Two months following the parliamentary elections, Lebanon has faced a situation of “crisis as usual,” as opposed to the typical statement – “business as usual.”. The country’s Members of Parliament (MPs) primarily concentrated their efforts on the local affairs of their constituents or general constitutional milestones pertaining to choosing a prime minister and the formation of the new cabinet, gradually paving the way for the presidential election scheduled in September-October 2022. In parallel, little-to-no practical proposals were put on the table in face of the economic crisis, with those lobbying in favor of the interests of bankers and aligned politicians setting the tone of both parliamentary and ministerial meetings.

 

In this context, the state’s authorities have escalated the repression especially against marginalized groups, most notably refugees and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Towards the end of June, Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi issued a circular proclaiming that any demonstrations favoring the “display of abnomal sexual tendencies” are not allowed. It is suggested that this decision was executed in coordination with the country’s various religious authorities.

Following the incident, while a few MPs and/or their respective political groups released statements of solidarity and condemnation on the matter, insignificant policy-related follow-up or direct lobbying was made in the pursuit of putting a stop to the decision. Hence, no specific statements were released on the matter throughout the month of July, and so they have not been included within this month’s report in order to keep all matters in sync with our methodology and time intervals. On the contrary, a few MPs have showed explicit support to different religious authorities and leaders in response to hard-hitting criticism directed at the latter following the wave of incitement.

 

Methodology

 

Similar to our June report, and as planned to be for all reports after the completion of parliamentary elections, the pool under study is exhaustive, with all accessible platforms from the 128 parliamentarians researched and monitored on a regular basis from July 1 to July 24. The MPs examined range from representatives of historical and well-established sect-based parties, represented by strong parliamentary blocs, to those whom spawned from newer groups and movements emerging and developing in the past decade. The difference between “sectarian” and “non-sectarian” movements relates to several indicators and factors: the utilization of sectarianism in party/individual discourse, party/individual history in the context of sectarian contestation during and after the civil war, and the demographic make-up of the group or informal circles revolving around the particular MP.

 

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 whom took part in alternative/newly established non-confessional organizations, 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 political parties and groups


 

Fig.2 - Distribution of data across type of statement, publication


 

Fig. 3 - Distribution of data based on type of movement


 

Fig. 4 - Distribution of data across theme of statement, publication



Fig. 5 - Distribution of data across Members of Parliament (MPs)



Fig. 6 - Distribution of data across both political group and theme




Fig. 7 - Distribution of data across MPs since their election (monitoring commenced June 1st 2022)


 

Fig. 8 - Distribution of data across political groups since the election of their respective MPs  (monitoring commenced June 1st 2022)

 

 

Analysis and key indicators

 

When examining the data, there are a few noteworthy indicators and observations. First and foremost, MPs belonging to sectarian parties/movements form the vast majority of those whom have commented on items related to free speech and democracy in July 2022, as opposed to prior data which put non-sectarian opposition in the lead on these matters. Moreover, half of the statements scrutinized source back to the Lebanese Forces. Finally, the overall data is very limited when compared to the number of the statements released in the month of June. We attempt to explain these indicators given our reading of the socio-political reality in the country post-elections.

 

One may hypothesize that more inclusive and comprehensive matters related to free speech are not on the national agenda today. Despite the Ministry of Interior’s decision to ban any form of demonstration encouraging "the spread of homosexuality” towards the end of June, no MPs (particularly on the level of the “opposition”) followed up on this matter in terms of pushing for legislation to counter such administrative procedures during the month of July.

 

On the contrary, a more contentious subject was brought to public attention, i.e. the the detention of the Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land, Moussa El-Hage. El Hage was detained under the pretext that he had been traveling between Lebanon and Israel for a while; he was arrested based on an order from military court Judge Fadi Akiki. On that basis, most MPs who were vocal against this procedure did not tackle it as a violation against freedom of movement/speech/religion, rather from the perspective that the “Church is being targeted.”

 

Nevertheless, a minority of MPs did indeed mention that the military court’s intervention in civilian matters shouldn’t be the norm, but even such statements contained sectarian undertones (with MP Mark Daou being the outlier). In other words, the vast majority of MPs in the month of July were not only incapable of being vocal about matters of free speech and human rights, but also those who did mention particular violations were unable to differentiate these matters from a discourse polarized along sectarian lines.

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