Bloggers break into politics to document the concerns of the Lebanese
Driven by a thirst for change, young Lebanese bloggers are searching for a space to express their opinions without censorship or judgment from anyone. Yet, their obsessions are not only political, as is the case in other Arab countries such Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. They are carrying the concerns of the Lebanese people on their shoulders and trying to break free from the monopolization of political topics to focus on the rights of the people and their demands for improved living standards. Bloggers are also reporting social issues that might not get the same attention in traditional media, which are far from the electronic space. Examining Lebanese youth blogs, of which there are more than 350, proves the presence of a different feel in writing — one that isn’t exclusively based on presenting political ideas and discussing them but that seeks to “document the situation of the Lebanese people and the general setting in a realistic and simple style.”
This idea is stated in the introduction to several blogs. Moreover, this phenomenon is becoming more widespread, day after day, as opposed to political blogging, which prevailed in 2005 in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and in 2006, in response to the Israeli aggression against Lebanon.
Today, it seems like most bloggers have forsaken political news, statements and speeches and have left their coverage to local channels, stations and newspapers. Meanwhile, they are focusing on more realistic matters, like wasted freedoms, corruption and human rights’ abuse.
Freedom of expression first
Many Lebanese youths cannot find a gateway to express their ideas publicly through traditional media. Therefore, they have resorted to blogs, which give personal opinions inspired by daily reality and depict the youths’ viewpoints, which differ greatly from what they have been brought up to believe by society.
Blogger Mustafa Hamwi, author of beirutspring.com, asserts to Al-Hayat that there is no rule in his writings, except his strong feeling toward a certain topic. Hamwi’s blogs were political at first, but today they have become a space to write about various topics and to convey his ideas clearly. Elie Fares, author of the stateofmind13.com blog, follows the same strategy. He believes that Lebanon is full of controversial issues, and this drives him to express his opinion. Fares also considers that the main motivation behind blogging is criticism. In addition to criticism of social issues, he constantly gives his feedback about movies, songs and other topics.
Blogger Rasha Ghamloush, author of “Lebanese voices’s blog” [sic], points out that she is dealing with her blog as a writing space about all topics that interest her and attract her attention. The news tackled on social media networks and the discussions with her contacts constitute a source of inspiration to her.
Although the three aforementioned bloggers are trying to voice their own vision of issues through their blogs, they are not targeting the same category of readers. Through his writings, Hamwi, who lives abroad, seeks to reach out to intelligent English-speaking readers living outside Lebanon but interested in hearing about it at the same time. Fares, on the other hand, does not focus on readers who see eye to eye with him on everything. Instead, he is curious about different opinions and accepts them, since this gives rise to a fruitful discussion regarding various issues and topics. Because Ghamloush’s blog is called “Lebanese voices’s,” she is trying to engage people with opposing ideas in writing so that their voice is also heard.
Although some bloggers have managed to escape the cycle of political monopolization, there are still several obstacles. For instance, Fares states that his family was threatened after he tackled the issue of drugs in a specific Lebanese region. Consequently, he believes that his writings are limited by the threats to his family, which is something he doesn’t accept. Fares must, however, sometimes be very careful about addressing certain subjects directly, and leave himself room to maneuver after publication. He will, for instance, take a softer tone to get his message through to people who do not accept criticism. As for blogger Hamwi, he never shies away from writing about thorny issues or taboos, but he does not offend people and prefers to explain his viewpoint in detail to be clear to the reader. Ghamloush, on the other hand, points out another obstacle that stands in the way of young bloggers — the lack of statistics and figures in Lebanon. She works tirelessly to find proof for the issue in question and is often faced with red lines that cannot be crossed without suitable and proven evidence. However, all these obstacles are not a reason for young bloggers to back down. On the contrary, they make the youths even more resolved to dig deeper. Perhaps the most obvious proof is Fares’ affirmation that the coming parliamentary elections will push him to write about many thorny issues, not only from a political perspective. As of today, he has launched a “reform” campaign in his region through focusing on its problems and on the extent of ignorance of its representatives, regardless of their political affiliations.
A new form of politics
Amid the numerous concerns of citizens and their overlooked rights, can bloggers avoid tackling political issues directly related to social issues and living standards? The common answer is that politics is inevitable, but a special touch here and there does not hurt. Hamwi, a former supporter of the 14 March Coalition, confirms today that he has become more logical and moderate. He defines himself as an independent seeking to use his brain in all aspects of the political life. Ghamloush notes that she forms her political opinions from discussions with cab drivers and ordinary people, and she adds her personal ideas and analyses from global press sources. Ghamloush finds that the local media does not broadcast all scenarios and possibilities, since each source is influenced by their political affiliations.
However, blogger Fares has a different opinion from the other mentioned bloggers. He is openly a “partisan” but does not dismiss the opinions of others. Consequently, his writings on political and social issues criticize all parties and movements.
Bloggers, each in their own way, convey a different image of Lebanon and speak on behalf of a silent group of youth seeking political, and above all, social change.