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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Samir Kassir Foundation: 2022 Annual Report

Friday , 26 May 2023
Design: Mahmoud Younis

In 2023, three years into the financial and economic crisis, the political ruling elite in Lebanon remains in control of the economy, society, and security, despite the collapse of the very foundations that hold the country together. Meanwhile, Lebanese citizens continue to face daily survival challenges and limited options. The turbulent times that began at the end of 2019 with the onset of the financial crisis only became more complicated, and solutions remained elusive. The government of Lebanon behaved in a "business as usual" fashion, refusing to confront realities and delaying action while the unprecedented economic crisis and nationwide frustration persisted.

However, the year 2022 brought winds of change with the progressive anti-establishment election campaign that resulted in the success of a number of independent Members of Parliaments (MPs) in some districts. During the October 17, 2019 uprising, elections were a central element of the debate, and the demand for early elections was present from the beginning, albeit not a matter of consensus among the political groups that formulated the uprising’s political discourse. With the intensity of demonstrations subsiding over time and growing protest fatigue, elections gradually became the remaining hope for a large segment of the Lebanese people, particularly those who were politically active and reconnected with the country through the uprising before an imminent falling out.

The May 15, 2022 elections, with their successes and frustrations, reflected the depth of the deep state, the scale of internal contradictions and the complexity of the systemic crisis. The establishment parties’ evident inability to fully contain these contradictions led, in some regions, to a victory for independent forces challenging the traditional political alignment in Lebanon. Despite concerns about the ability of independent parliamentarians to push a radical change agenda or form a politically homogeneous bloc, their entry into parliament was an exceptional event in the history of post-war Lebanon. In retaliation, establishment political parties fired up their propaganda engines, mobilizing sectarian and inflammatory narratives, systematic vilification, and character assassination on social media platforms against independent candidates and political groups.

Nevertheless, 2022 was not only a year of elections and hope. It was also the year of the merciless death on board the boats of misery for desperate Lebanese and Syrians. It was the year when a knocked-out health sector struggled in the face of cholera, causing yet another episode of collective panic. It was the year when the political establishment incapacitated the judiciary, hindering the investigation into the August 4, 2020 explosion, a crime committed by none other than the establishment itself against Beirut and the Lebanese people. It was the year that reduced life in Lebanon to the primary survival instinct, pushing citizens to storm banks for their withheld deposits to resist the onslaught against their livelihood.

The year marked the end of former President Michel Aoun’s term in office – a tumultuous era for Lebanon. During this tenure, the country witnessed its worst financial crisis, political assassinations, and over 800 violations of freedom of the press and expression, as documented in a report by the Samir Kassir Foundation on November 1, 2022. Aoun’s term ended only after it had cast a curtain of darkness over the entire country.

Lebanon was not the only nation grappling with adversity. The world was in turmoil as societies were barely starting to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic when Russia invaded Ukraine. This conflict, which has already claimed thousands of lives, posed a threat to global food security and the global economy, and triggered warnings of a truly global conflict. In the Arab countries, counter-revolutions against the Arab Spring persisted, while voices demanding democracy and justice were systematically oppressed from Iraq to Sudan, Egypt, and Tunisia. In Syria, people’s aspirations for change evaporated, as the Syrian regime successfully re-established its control with the support of Russia and Iran. Meanwhile, Palestinians launched a unified uprising across the West Bank, Gaza, and the 1948 Territories, taking the Israeli government off guard. As retaliation, the government escalated oppression and violence, leading to the killing of Al-Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abou Akleh.

Amidst such turmoil, was there anything that the Samir Kassir Foundation could do?

We had no doubt that we must continue to uphold freedoms, recognizing their fundamental contribution to stability, prosperity, progress, accountability, and good governance. We must investigate the realities of freedom of expression and media in our region, collaborate with independent media initiatives to promote an alternative media narrative, devise solutions to enhance the sustainability of alternative media platforms, combat hate speech, and extend technical and legal aid to journalists under threat or persecution. We must continue to build and stand up for a future that ensures all freedoms, fighting off political and social restrictions that shackle them, and liberating knowledge from legal obstacles and the culture of censorship and suppression.

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