SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Free Speech in the 2022 Election Campaign: First Report

Monday , 28 March 2022
Design: Mahmoud Younis

Project Introduction

The Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) is issuing its first monitoring report on how parties concerned with the 2022 parliamentary elections are approaching issues and matters pertaining to free speech and democratic frameworks. SKF stresses that this study not only aims to provide citizens, in the short term, with a clearer picture on the policy priorities of these various forces, but also contributes to the overall literature on free speech and democracy discourse in the country. Furthermore, centering elections and political contestation on conversations revolving around policies and ideas specifically stems from the call for a new way of doing politics echoed by hundreds of thousands of protesters and demonstrators during the October 17, 2019 uprising.

 

In the pursuit of promoting a culture of accountability and critical investigation, this study first begins with a brief description of the prevailing socio-political and economic context in the country. We then put forth the methods through which data is collected and examined. Afterwards, we display much of the secondary data, followed by a set of analytical statements and findings.


Background and Context 

Assessing the wider political and economic conditions in which the status of free speech and democracy is assessed is crucial to get a contextualized understanding of the local challenges found in Lebanon. Today, three titles are of primary focus: a spiraling economic crisis not met with long-term or short-term remedies, violence and insecurity induced by power struggles and armed groups, and the opportunities and threats before and after the 2022 parliamentary elections.

 

In this context of turbulent events and dramatic societal and political transformations, several components of free speech (ex: cultural censorship) are marginalized within the public conversation. The extremely detrimental ramifications of the economic crisis have seemingly induced a shift in priorities for the vast majority of the population, in which the daily hardships resulting from shortages, currency collapse, and unemployment dominate the landscape.

On the other hand, assassinations, inter-communal violence, the obstruction of democratic processes, and direct political partisan repression are consistently discussed and brought up given the nature of political dialogue within the Lebanese establishment. One example pertaining to the third point is the decision recently taken by Lebanese authorities to postpone municipal elections, which were also initially scheduled in the spring of 2022.


Methodology

For the purposes of this study, we rely on three primary components when outlining the overall methodology: semi-structured consistency, a relatively sizable pool, and diversity. The sample utilized includes 28 political parties, movements, campaigns, and/or groups, all of which have expressed an interest in taking part in the 2022 parliamentary elections, expected to be held on May 15, if not indefinitely postponed. Noting the fact that who will be running remains and will remain provisional until lists are officially formed on April 5, this method assumes that in the initial stage, the statements stemming from political parties/groups and/or their respective leaders ought to represent the political direction to be taken by their candidates at a later stage.

 

The political forces under study range from historical and well-established sect-based parties, represented by strong parliamentary blocs, to relatively new alternative groups and movements, which have emerged 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. 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.

 

The list of parties, groups, and campaigns observed, in alphabetical order:

 

  • Aamieh 17 Teshreen
  • Amal Movement
  • Ana Khat Ahmar
  • Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party in Lebanon (Ba’ath)
  • Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnag)
  • Azm Movement
  • Beirut Madinati (BM)
  • Beirut Tuqawem
  • Citizens in a State (MMFD)
  • Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)
  • Future Movement (FM)
  • Hezbollah
  • Lana
  • Lebanese Communist Party (LCP)
  • Lebanese Forces (LF)
  • Li-Haqqi
  • Mada Network (Secular Clubs)
  • Marada MovementParty
  • Minteshreen
  • National Bloc (NB)
  • Phalange Party (Kataeb)
  • Popular Nasserist Organization (PNO)
  • Popular Observatory (Al-Marsad Al-Sh'abi)
  • Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)
  • Shamalouna
  • Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP)
  • Taqadom
  • Watani Coalition

 

On a daily basis, the official platforms of the observed political parties or their respective leaders are monitored in order to extract any statements or announcements pertaining to the question of free speech, repression, and/or human rights-related matters. For this first report, we focus on any content found from February 14 to March 7, 2022. SKF has located 27 statements on the subject.

 

In our analysis of the data, we primarily focus on the following headlines:

1. The overview of the data and its categories;
2. A comparison between traditional and/or sect-based parties, and alternative/newly established non-confessional political organizations; and
3. An assessment of the more principled stances, programs, and electoral roadmaps on the question of the free speech.


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 the wider concept of free speech/democratic structures being brought up in the public political conversation.









Analysis

In the previous section, we categorize our data based on the questions for which we hope to find answers:

1. Is free speech a priority amongst parties taking part in the elections?
2. How can one account for the difference between sectarian and non-sectarian, traditional and alternative movements when concerned with discourse and program?
3. How are heated and contested national conversations (such as the one revolving around Hezbollah) accounted for when tackling free speech?
4. What types (or themes) of free speech-related statements are most utilized by parties in their programs and speeches?


As a first observation, it is unambiguously clear that the question of free speech or democracy is mostly tackled and discussed by non-sectarian movements, many of which are alternative parties which were founded or reemerged post-2011. Even amongst the traditional movements or parties observed in the data, statements on the matter were mostly made by the Kataeb (66.66%), considered to be an exception by some sections of the population. In other words, one can hypothesize that much of the establishment has little-to-nothing to offer on this particular subject.

 

This is also substantiated by the fact that while the majority of statements released are indeed situational, a large fraction of them also includes communicated policy programs, principles, and general roadmaps. Such statements are far more common amongst alternative parties which hope to clarify their ideological inclinations given the fact that they are relatively newly established and feel the need to demonstrate concreteness and seriousness. Other categories examined within the data include statements on assassinations, undemocratic structures, threats, and direct repression.

Accordingly, one noteworthy comparative trend between established sectarian parties and alternative movements is the discourse via which they tackle assassinations, particularly those said to be committed by Hezbollah. While the former tend to revive a more divisive “us v. them” and focused attitude on the subject, the latter are more inclined to include “countering assassinations” as part of a wider and more comprehensive package pertaining to how they view the regime and its repressive tools as a whole. Consequently, Christian-majority parties formerly part of what used to be called the March 14 coalition tend to comment on past assassinations more frequently. On the other hand, when compared to established sectarian parties, alternative parties and movements are much more invested in all other aspects of democratization and free speech, particularly as they engage in electoral contestation and protest in various regions.

 

This report was made possible through support from the UN Democracy Fund.

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