Friday, February 16, 2007

'There are people other than March 8 or March 14'

'There are people other than March 8 or March 14'
Civil society takes on the squabbling status quo - but can it make a difference?

By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Two men. Each holds gun to the other's head, one facing the camera, the other with his back turned to it. In both Arabic and English, "Who's Losing?" is written in white across the dark scene, emphasizing an air of futility. This is the latest billboard campaign that has been launched by Loubnani W Bass ('Just Lebanese'), a new civil society movement that says its aim is to "give a voice to the silent majority," and to promote feelings of national identity rather than sectarianism. In an interview with The Daily Star, a founder and board member of the movement, homemaker Zeina Karam, explained how she hoped they would be able to make a difference to the tense political atmosphere that has now taken up residence in Lebanon. "We want to say that there are people other than March 8 or March 14. For us we think there are people who are fed up with what is happening, they don't agree with the situation of today," she said. "They don't have a voice, and like Resolve It, Solve It and March 11, Pour Que Le Liban Vive, and Nahwa al-Muwatiniya [other nascent groups that aim to articulate objective points of view], we want to give them that chance to shout out." "Although we have not come up with anything brand-new, I believe that if we all work together, maybe we can achieve something that shows the people are moving in the same direction," she added.

The focus of the new billboards is aimed specifically at the youth of Lebanon, "for the fighters on the streets, and the students," said Karam, with reference to an incident at Beirut Arab University on January 28 that escalated into riots, leaving four people dead and over 150 injured. Loubnani W Bass aims to take the next step of its campaign to schools and universities to create greater awareness of a "third option," which does not involve being with either the government or the opposition.

In recent weeks many similar movements have sprung up, their names like Resolve It, Solve It and Pour Que Le Liban Vive (So Lebanon Can Live) giving the impression of offering a viable alternative to the current political deadlock, but their manifestos and campaigns offering little more than another outlet for people to voice their frustration over the situation. Loubnani W Bass doesn't dispute this; rather its Web site promotes the idea of using the group to voice grievances against the current turmoil. There are those who feel that such groups are necessary to alleviate the rising tensions between different communities, specifically amongst the youth. Nahi Issa, a graphic designer from Ain al-Roummaneh, believes that this new wave of movements has the potential to bring people together while leaving politics behind. "As long as they stay strictly non-political, I think Lebanon could greatly benefit from an alternative to the two sides," Issa said. "The idea that has been created from these kinds of groups is really good, and has the potential to stop the tensions if they campaign in the right way, and target the right audience; the youth."

Although there seems to be a general consensus among the population that a third alternative is in fact a refreshing idea, some say that because none of the groups has offered a viable solution to the current deadlock, the entire movement is actually dead in the water. "To be honest, I don't think these groups can do anything successful, because they can't offer anything new to the Lebanese," said Dima Akl of Bikfaya. "Everyone in the country is already arguing, so adding them to the mix would cause more problems." Dori Chamoun, a lighting engineer from Dekwaneh, feels that while the concept of such an alternative has the potential to ease divisions, the campaigns and grassroots support are weak. "There is a point to them, definitely, but their biggest downfall is that they haven't published their ideas thoroughly enough," he told The Daily Star. "They really need to target schools and universities, and develop an educational program in order to be successful. Otherwise people will stop paying attention." "I like the new movements' approach," said Toufic Harb, a resident of Ain al-Roummaneh, "but they won't achieve their target because they don't have a leader. The successes of March 8 and March 14 are because of their leaders."

In the case of Loubnani W Bass and the others however, the essence of their being is to remain non-political. Whether this will hinder their development remains to be seen.

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