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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

SKF 2021 Annual Report - Free Speech: The Crumbling Infrastructure

Monday , 28 March 2022
Design: Mahmoud Younis

The undiluted metaphorical references to infrastructure throughout this report are neither particularly deft nor especially well-concealed. In a report which primarily tackles freedom of expression, transparent allusions to roads, pillars, tunnels, and tracks appear to be a lunge at the fa ade of something concrete and solid. In truth, there is perhaps no more apt a description of the year 2021 than the previous statement. The entire world was now reeling from the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the US Capitol insurrection and the Israeli attacks on Palestinian civil liberties. The world order seemed to stagger, the foundation of once stable democracies tremble, and long held truths lurch forwards unevenly, knees buckling under the weight of another turbulent year.

On the level of the MENA region, several events took place which will have long enduring ramifications upon the question of individual and civil liberties. Power struggles in Tunisia following President Kais Saied’s suspension of the parliament and dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi may potentially roll back the country’s democratic progress which commenced in 2011. Eighteen people were arrested in Jordan as a result of an alleged failed coup against King Abdallah. Furthermore, the uprising in Palestine which erupted in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem explicitly displayed the extent to which Israeli colonial brutality and disproportionate military aggression affected the well-being of Palestinian journalists, activists, protesting residents, and the general population within the area.

In Lebanon, clashes between sectarian partisans, the physical and moral assassination of key public figures, immense economic deterioration, and political paralysis dominated the landscape. In the midst of investigations concerned with the Beirut port explosion, the Tayyouneh clashes on October 14, 2021 exacerbated sect-based narratives, which in turn fueled Hezbollah’s agenda to militarize the public discourse even further. The October 14 armed confrontation took place between Hezbollah and anti-Hezbollah fighters in the Tayyouneh region in Beirut, as the former sought to delegitimize the investigation into the Beirut port explosion. Moreover, on February 3, intellectual and activist Lokman Slim, a renowned detractor of Hezbollah for years, was assassinated.

In this context, the Samir Kassir Foundation has been conducting a thorough analysis of the bigoted speech targeting political dissidents and marginalized groups or minorities in Lebanon, in addition to cautiously scrutinizing malicious attempts to spread discredit and delegitimize public figures and media personalities. This has been accompanied by projects aimed at monitoring violations against journalists, empowering the capacity, capabilities, and reach of alternative media outlets, assessing the question of religious freedoms in the region, and studying youth perception of independent media in Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Palestine.

Against the backdrop of a collapsing country and against all odds, the Foundation confirmed its commitment to the language of arts and culture, by organizing the 13th edition of its Beirut Spring Festival, paying tribute to young and promising Lebanese artists. The Festival crowned the efforts of the Foundation in engaging in cultural policy reform proposals, which - to go back to the infrastructure metaphore - will hit several roadblocks before, if ever, seeing the light.

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