SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

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

Wednesday , 07 September 2022
Photo credit: Reuters/Mohamed Azakir

Background and context

 

The question of free speech in Lebanon, alongside other social matters, has gradually grown marginalized in the public debate. This is also indicated by the lack of policy initiatives on such issues in Parliament. Nevertheless, the reality of repressive discourse has imposed itself following the attempted murder of Salman Rushdi in New York by a Lebanese-born young man influenced primarily by Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, who acted upn a fatwa by Iran’s Khamenei calling for Rusdhi’s murder in 1989.

 

The event immediately spilled over in the public conversation in Lebanon, with various journalists, authors, media personalities, influencers, activists, and general internet users expressing solidarity with Rusdhi. On the other hand, a vast network of users aligned with Hezbollah and Iran and/or hold an antagonistic viewpoint towards critics of religion have initiated a hate campaign justifying or sympathizing with the actions of the assaulter. This includes Lebanon’s Minister of Culture Judge Mohamad El-Mortada.

 

This conversation allows one to unravel how various sections of society (including but not restricted to members of the political elite) treat and limit freedom of expression. This particularly manifests in terms of being unable to uphold universal moral standards and henceforth resorting to policy choices and positions based on identity politics. The importance of this report stems from these contradictory worldviews, potentially allowing proponents of free speech to amplify the power of their arguments in a more contextualized manner by observing how various Members of Parliament respond to their constituencies on this matter.

 

Methodology

 

Similar to prior reports, and as planned to be for all reports after the completion of the 2022 parliamentary election, the pool under study is exhaustive, with all accessible platforms from the 128 parliamentarians researched and monitored on a regular basis throughout the month. Nevertheless, in the month of August, we plan to monitor all four weeks of the month, as opposed to the first three weeks - this is to experiment with a wider range of data. The MPs examined range from representatives of historical and well-established sect-based parties, represented by strong parliamentary blocs, to those who spawned from “new” 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 political parties and groups, with non-sectarian opposition break down


Fig.3 - Distribution of data across type of statement, publication


Fig.4 - Distribution of data based on type of movement


Fig.5 - Distribution of data across theme of statement, publication


Fig.6 - Distribution of data across individual Members of Parliament


Table 1 - Distribution of data across group and theme, with non-sectarian opposition break down



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


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


Analysis and key indicators

 

When examining the data, certain patterns and recurrent themes cannot be neglected, commencing with the fact that MPs belonging to independent, non-sectarian movements are those primarily concerned with issues or violations pertaining to free speech or democracy, as exemplified by their commentary on violations and threats targeting journalists Dima Sadek and Hassan Shaaban. Meanwhile, MP Ashraf Rifi, classified among independent traditional representatives, published two tweets that are relevant to the themes tackled by the report, despite lacking a developed articulation in favor of free speech. It is also noteworthy to mention that only two MPs, Mark Daou and Ibrahim Mneimneh, tweeted about the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, despite the case being a direct violation of freedom of expression and pertinent to the Lebanese political scene.

 

This month’s report particularly demonstrates the ways in which independent, anti-establishment MPs have tackled issues concerned with freedom of expression. Even though the tone and language used in their tweets varies widely, it is safe to say that those MPs seem to have the topic of free speech on their political agendas more than others. With that being said, one common theme between all MPs was their lack of proactive stance, considering they did not advocate for new policies that address the issues at their core. Instead, most of their statements reacted to violations which took place. It is rather crucial that these MPs elaborate and submit draft legislation that target specific policy positions on this matter, in the pursuit of informing citizens where they stand for future references.

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