Monday, June 22, 2009

Twynicism - Young Lebanese and the Politics of Change

As the world watches events unfolding in Iran through social media due to government crackdown on traditional means of communication, we are coming to understand the impact new technology like Twitter and Facebook can have on world events. While not having as much direct impact on elections in Lebanon, these new media tools did play a role in the dialogue leading up to the elections.

One of the prevalent sentiments about the Lebanese election campaigns can be summed up by a Twitter persona who goes by @fulla_. Fulla, as you may know, is the Muslim version of Barbie, an abaya-clad, hijab covered plastic toy. Fulla claimed to be running for a parliamentary seat, but true to the spirit of the competitive elections, she had been slandered by her opponents, who alleged they had a compromising video tape of her, a claim she categorically denied.

Such is the cynicism of young Lebanese. This is a generation who grew up post-Ta'if, a generation raised in cyberspace, where borders don't exist and governments often can't keep up with those who want change. So they use new media to express their cynicism, this new generation who won't accept the status quo of bickering and fighting and deadlock and death.

Fulla crafted a parody of the Lebanese political process in 140 character installments. Other Lebanese Twitterers wrote:
@kheleil: Anyone voted Donald Duck?

@habibh: Probably only dude on a billboard who is not running for elections. [with photo of Marlboro man billboard]

The cynicism spills into the blogsphere as well. Maya Zankoul is an online cartoonist who recently mocked the use of scantily clad women in political advertising, political phone harassment, and odd campaign slogans. Qifa Nabki created a Lebanese election bracket in the style of an NCAA tournament bracket. For a Better Lebanon went Monty Python and the cynicism is evident even as he "gloats" over a victory for the "lesser of two evils."

Individuals are not the only ones to use sarcasm and satire in their political discourse. Youth for Tolerance, a non-profit organization that works with people aged 16-22 on issues of conflict resolution, created two online games, one in which a player "whacks a politician" and the other in which a player must whitewash sheep before they climb aboard a March 14 or March 8 bus, their colors matching the various sectoral hues.

But with cynicism comes hope. According to an article in The Daily Star, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) said that of more than 2500 election observers, over half were university students. Likewise, Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) said 80% of their election observers were university students. Young Lebanese want real democracy with transparency, accountability, and competitive races rather than assigned seats in parliament. Their involvement in the democratic process is a sign that there is a political will to move on from the old divisions and hatreds, and political will is the main ingredient in any recipe for change.

Fulla claimed she won her seat, saying, "Change, here it comes." When asked by a follower what she meant by change, she replied:
Sectarian system into the dustbin of history, plant flowers all over, exile warlords to Cedar Island, promote plastic arts. Requests?

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