Web voters, web observant, or web “encouragers”?
Some even speak of a digital Revolution, a revival and reinvention of identity movement for the Arab world via a keyboard, a computer screen or a mobile phone. But what about the links between the opportunities offered by the web and how internet users take advantage of them? Engagelebanon.org was created in early 2010 for this purpose: bring together and also interview all Lebanese civil society representatives within a common platform. The result seems convincing and a common tool for information, exchange and assistance in civil process development has seen the light in April 2010.
Supported by Social Media Exchange, an NGO founded in 2008, specialized in providing training sessions for associations or other structures about the new information and communication technologies, to promote Internet use and benefit each person of the offered possibilities (educational, communicative, etc..). Engage Lebanon has already been praised for its activity during the first two rounds of municipal elections in Lebanon. They told us that their site’s traffic was significant during these two poll weekends and that the reactions, tweets and browsing, have been numerous on their website. But what about their main objectives? Switch to observant, “watchdogs” while ensuring true democratic elections as done by LADE (Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, founded by Ziad Baroud)?
It is rather about creating a sort of citizen media, to show as clear as possible how the elections are being held, shedding the light on their internal and external environment, and ensuring live media coverage of various polls for maximum visibility. The site also features a forum for young voters, resources on youth engagement, on electoral reform and on all procedures related to civic and political engagement in Lebanon. Their bond is high since they’re directly supported by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, Lebanon Support; NGO established jointly by Handicap International, Mada and the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs after the 2006 war and an NGO which public utility was recognized since 2008.
Rita Chemaly, Lebanese girl fighting in the name of freedom and equality, winner of the Samir Kassir award in 2007 for Freedom of the press and Fellow researcher at CEMAM (Centre for Study of the Modern Arab World – USJ Beirut) briefs us on both her impressions and results of her research on ICT (Information and communication technologies), and civic commitment in Lebanon,
“Lebloggers.org portal’s main objective is to encourage people to blog, using the web and its facilities,” she explains. “It’s also about getting to know each other, activists and” net-citizens “to understand who is writing, and for what reason he’s doing it”. She added that in a second step, the initiative contributes in creating a network of mutual aids; providing training to all Lebanese citizens, highlighting recurring problems: low Internet services, permanent and very recurrent blackouts in villages outside the major cities and finally, a very slow connection speed. As for political change, it is more circumspect:
“Political change? I do not know if I really believe in it, let’s not be obsessed with a radical change that was the Web 2.0, we’ll see. Political mobilization is very particular in Lebanon. Nevertheless, Facebook is a very good example; Web 2.0 can establish itself as a catalyst, a civil society activater. Take a look back to the Laic Pride held lately in Beirut and April 6 Movement in Egypt, these two events where primarily launched through Facebook. ”
Do you think that a Facebook “party” will be ever founded in Lebanon? And beyond that, how do “net citizens” set new media, political and social challenges at the land of cedars, how would they be able to put the population on the track of reform?
Finally, to be interested in Internet in Lebanon (with the special case of mobilization on the web regarding Lebanese municipal elections) is not only about mentioning the specificity, particularity, singularity of the situation in a given region, but rather developing a more open way of thinking in order to understand the interactions with the globalized system.
In other words, trying to understand how Lebanon considers its inclusion in a comprehensive development process. It is also about controlling some delays (infrastructure and service quality, Internet usage and access, etc…) and also some unexpected facts, according to paces which may experience level fluctuations, trend reversals and sudden accelerations.
This issue has been recently unfolded. We will insist on doing this investigation and reflection task throughout this election period held in 4 rounds, of which we’re still half way…