Lebanon’s Political Parties: Collecting Youth
By: Sandy Maroun
Published Monday, July 23, 2012
Political parties’ offices are abundant all over Lebanon. These offices attract many of the local youth, providing activities as well as social inclusion. Beirut’s northern suburbs are home to rival parties that see in these offices an effective way to lure young loyalists.
Metn, Lebanon - It’s a Saturday evening and three young men in their late twenties are sitting on the balcony of the Lebanese Forces’ offices in the Dora-Sadd al-Bouchrieh area. Having prepared a sheesha they sit on the balcony facing the street, sharing some food.
“I am from Halba, Akkar, yet I support the Lebanese Forces. We believe in Samir Geagea as a leader, as a real man who represents us. Rafik and Saad Hariri have deceived us big time,” says Abdo, one of the three men, who works as a tailor.
“We come here regularly, the offices are open every night. We spend our time here because we believe in the Lebanese Forces, plus we come here to meet our friends and to organize events,” he continues.
“Tonight we are meeting with a few guys and girls to prepare for a party we are throwing tomorrow in Zalka," say Abdo, Fadi and Omar, who all originally come from Akkar, North Lebanon and now live in the area surrounding the offices.
A few minutes later, Michel Jabbour, the head of the local offices, arrives to meet with everyone and prepare for the next day’s party.
Young people frequent party offices for many reasons, not only political ones. The offices have become refuges for them in times of boredom to fill their free time with useful activities, and get them excited about the party’s mission.
In Jdeideh, the lights are on on the ground floor of the Free Patriotic Movement’s (FPM) offices at 9pm. The OTV newscast is over and the TV in the corner is now muted. Four men are gathered around a table, doing calculations on a piece of paper. “We intend to sell these pictures of 'The General' to make some money and finance our activities,” states Samir Samra, the office coordinator.
The offices are big. The first floor is a services office for Member of Parliament Ibrahim Kanaan. The ground floor consists of two rooms, one for IT and the other a big meeting room which contains a conference table and a pingpong table.
Although there is a picture of Saint Maroun hung on the wall, Samra insists that FPM is a secular party, and that lots of the movement’s supporters are non-Christians. The picture is there to express the Christians’ faith. The offices also contain a big inner courtyard, now and then used as a basketball or football court as well as a lecture hall.
“Here, at these offices, youth can play backgammon, table tennis, football, basketball, or can surf the internet or practice other hobbies,” says Samra during a tour of the facilities.
At the National Liberal Party in Jdeideh, Simon Dergham, head of the students’ unit, is taking a phone call on the balcony. The office door is open – it is an apartment with many rooms, most of which are empty. In one of the rooms, Karl, a 16-year old boy is watching a Turkish TV series, while Nassif, 24, is checking the net for the latest political news. Nassif has been an active party member for many years. “I believe in political action and in party life. Attending the offices and keeping them open every night is part of the political life we aim to manifest.”
Just like other parties, the National Liberal Party’s offices are open every night so young people can hang out there watching TV, surfing the net, having dinner, as well as getting together to discuss the party’s political issues. “Sometimes, when we don’t feel like going out, we just stay here and order food. The offices are a place that brings us together and creates bonds between us,” continues Nassif explaining the party’s social role.
“Karl’s parents feel comfortable when Karl is here. For parents, the party’s youth are disciplined and thus the offices are a safe place for their children,” adds Nassif.
There are several Kataeb (Phalangist) party offices in the Metn areas. In the street beneath the offices in Dora, four young men from the party are standing around and chatting. When approached by a journalist, they refuse to engage in a conversation, instead guiding us to the person in charge. The latter promises to get permission from the party leaders and then get back to us. But he never does.
The same happens at the for Kataeb offices in the Jdeideh area, where the men we approach at the entrance are in their fifties and sixties. They also refuse to talk, and promise to get back to us later, which they never did.
Beirut's northern suburbs of Dora, Sadd al-Bouchrieh, and Jdeideh are considered lower middle class neighborhoods. Just because some of the young men and women go to the party offices every night, does not mean that they are politically active on a daily basis. The party offices have been getting youth together for years. They hang out there to talk about anything, not only politics, maybe to share sheesha, food, cigarettes and drinks, while other youth are hanging out at coffee shops, movie theaters, pubs or clubs.
“Youth who come here are between 16 and 25 years old. For them this is a place where they get together for fun and for the political activities we prepare. Financially, we do our best to help them when they’re here, sometimes by paying for the food they order or financing other fun activities,” says Simon Dergham at the Liberal National Party.
In addition to political activities, we seek to gather young people to keep them from the streets. Plus the activities they practice here are less expensive than others that they might pursue elsewhere,” says Samra from the FPM.
Besides talk revolving around the role the party offices play in their lives, the youth outline the political and social activities they organize during holidays and for other occasions.
“All the time we spend here and all our commitment are for the sake of ‘the old man,'” Samra enthusiastically emphasizes, pointing to the big picture of Michel Aoun hung on the wall behind the meeting table.
“We are here to pursue political activity in the area where we live – the entertainment and social get-togethers are bonuses. We seek to make change in society, and that is what we strive for,” stresses Jabbour.
“I come to the offices often because I believe in the necessity of keeping them open. I believe in the party and party life, for that is one way to apply democracy in Lebanon,” states Nassif while puffing on his cigarette.
Political party offices in Metn seem to be filling a void – one that exists in youth’s life, especially in poorer areas, where youth seek more involvement in their society without having the means to find it. Aside from the political functions, the offices have obvious social functions that tie youth to the parties, and secure their long-term loyalty.