Youth-oriented ‘Hyde Park’ comes to Beirut

A Lebanese student holds a photo of slain journalist Gebran Tueini as she attends a ceremony to unveil a statue representing his 'pen' at the site where he was assassinated in Mkalles, northeast of Beirut. Tueni, publisher of the An-Nahar newspaper, was brutally murdered in a bomb attack Dec.12, 2005. (Photo by Joseph Barrak/AFP/Getty Images)

A Lebanese student holds a photo of slain journalist Gebran Tueini as she attends a ceremony to unveil a statue representing his 'pen' at the site where he was assassinated in Mkalles, northeast of Beirut. Tueni, publisher of the An-Nahar newspaper, was brutally murdered in a bomb attack Dec.12, 2005. (Photo by Joseph Barrak/AFP/Getty Images)

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The memory and methods of the late Gebran Tueni were alive and well in Beirut on Sept. 16.

On the day after Tueni, the assassinated anti-Syrian newspaper publisher, would have turned 51, more than 200 Lebanese youths met in Beirut. According to the Lebanon Daily Star, they were attending the NGO Nahar Ashabab-organized event to question and debate Parliament deputies about topical issues such as Hizbullah’s weapons, violence in Tripoli and the politicization of the nation’s universities.

Tueni owned the An-Nahar newspaper and, among other ideas, was advocating unity among Muslims and Christians when he was killed by a car bomb in December 2005. He also realised the hopes of a brighter future for his troubled nation rested with the younger generation. Toward that goal, Tueni had started making plans for a shadow government made up of youths. After his death, his daughter, Nayla, and other family members have carried on.

“It’s very important to have this here, next to the Parliament, to let young people talk about their concerns and to express themselves,” Nayla Tueni told The Daily Star. “We are trying to continue what Gebran Tueni wanted – then we can build our country the way we want it to be.” The televised debate – modeled after the “Speaker’s Corner” in London’s Hyde Park where anyone can speak about anything - garnered much attention. However, it was not the first time the young people of Lebanon have said they want a voice in the governance of a country that appears on the brink of a civil war and whose economy remains shaky.

For the past several years, Lebanese youth have been “deeply involved in the country’s frequently tense political arena,” Ya Libnan volunteer Nader Houella wrote in February 2007.

Foremost, among the youth making noise for change and political stability is the Lebanese Youth Shadow Government (YSG), a United Nations-supported project aiming to promote youth governance. Now in its second year, this realisation of Tueni’s dream was created by the Nahar Ashabab Foundation. That foundation was founded after the death of Tueni, who also had been a member of Parliament and one of the leaders of Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution.

The YSG started with 29 “shadow ministers.” Chosen from 20 universities from around the country, their duties were to monitor and evaluate the performances of the government’s actual ministers. The shadow ministers hold weekly meetings and also have participated in leadership, team building and communication training sessions.

“We are also expected to demonstrate a new approach in handling the troublesome Lebanese political and economic issues, which have been embattled by corruption and sectarian bias over the years,” Houella wrote at the organization’s birth.

Since then, the YSG already has had some influence on the Lebanese government. According to a news release issued by the Middle East Partnership Initiative in April 2008, Minister of Economy and Trade Sami Haddad’s consumer protection project was launched in cooperation with the shadow ministers, who are being trained as consumer rights advocates. Also, the YSG Minister of Education has been working with a network of organizations outside the government to help battle drugs, violence and discrimination in the public schools.

The youth movement’s biggest contribution might be its optimism. On Jan. 25, one of the shadow ministers read a declaration before Parliament that called for a free, independent and sovereign state. At the Sept. 16 “Hyde Park” debate, speaker after speaker challenged the status quo with alternative solutions.

More of these debates are planned; Tripoli will host one in October and there will be another in southern Lebanon. For many of the participating young people, their eyes will remain on the big picture as well as the everyday things others more fortunate probably take for granted.

“We want to finish this year without any war,” Farah Ghannam told The Daily Star before adding, “I want to graduate this year.”

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