Day 4 was another long day of meetings and food. In the morning we met with the Beirut Trader’s Association. There, we discussed a lot of economic issues, including problems for women (only 30% of the workforce) and youth (25% of which are under the poverty line). We learned a lot about the banking system as well as how the government spends its money. I will elaborate on all of this during my year of blogging for my fellowship.
After that, we had lunch and then a meeting with the youth director for the Democratic Renewal Movement, a political party focusing on non-partisan engagement with youth (primarily–anyone’s allowed in). One of the biggest issues we talked about was collective memory. Many of today’s youth were born after the Civil War, and given there is no standardized history text about that period, many children and youth have very little education in what happened. There seems to be a country-wide need to move on, to move forward, and unfortunately, that in some ways has led to a generation ignorant of the war their parents went through.
We also discussed problems with elections. Election reform is a huge topic of conversation in the United States at the moment, but after hearing a discussion of how elections work in Lebanon, “hanging chads” don’t seem to be nearly as problematic anymore. Apparently, there is no standard for the ballots used to elect members of parliament. A sticky note with your votes scrawled on it counts! So many political parties will print their own ballots, with candidates conveniently missing, and hand them out in communities. For instance, they would give me twenty and ask me to hand them out to my friends. If all twenty are not back in the ballot box, they come to me after the election and there are… problems. This is one of the common themes of government corruption that we have discussed since arriving here.
Our final two meetings were with former members of parliament, who are also board members for the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation. One of the individuals spent a lot of time explaining the economic situation in Lebanon, while the other spent time discussing Muslim-Christian dialogue. As Lebanon is a country with democratic elections, and yet also a confessional society, many votes will split on religious lines. One of the biggest divisions is on the issue of Syria. For instance, there are those in Lebanon (some Christian, some Muslims – mostly Christian) that seem to prefer a secular dictatorship/autocracy over a democracy that will bring Islamists to power. This is quite telling for a country that has prided itself on being a democracy since the 1940s.
So that’s what we learned. I’ll update soon.