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Practising Sectarianism: Lebanese Youth Politics and the Complexity of Youth Political Engagement

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Young People Shaping Democratic Politics
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Abstract

Youth movements and youth politics have increasingly garnered scholarly attention as young people around the world have risen to demand democratic change and accountability. But what happens to the efforts of youth to mobilize in the context of deeply divided societies? What factors complicate their political activism and how does the wider political context shape their political participation? The case of youth activism in Lebanon shows the complexity of youth politics in societies characterized by political polarization - particularly, polarization based on communal identity. In this chapter Elinor Bray-Collins looks beyond macro-level explanations of communal divisions to finer levels of analysis, namely, the grassroots arenas of youth life and politics in order to shed light on the complex and often contradictory nature of youth politics. Through an examination of student politics at the American University in Beirut, she shows how educational spaces enable youths’ political participation, but in a deeply polarized society like Lebanon’s, this process of participation and politicization can work to reproduce divisive dynamics rather than transform them.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This series of demonstrations has also been known as the ‘Cedar Revolution’—a term coined by an American official, Paula Dobriansky (US Under Secretary of State), at a time when other ‘colour revolutions’ in the Ukraine and Georgia also had ‘catchy brand names.’ It was the political allies of the recently assassinated Rafiq Hariri who came up with the term ‘Independence Intifada’ which was a term with more relevance to an Arabic audience and specifically a Sunni audience, because of the connotations it shared with Palestinian uprisings against Israel (see Young, 2010, pp. 3‒4).

  2. 2.

    Halami, interview with author, Beirut, April 2005.

  3. 3.

    Salam, interview with author, Beirut, November 2009.

  4. 4.

    Myrna, Interview with author, Beirut, April 2005.

  5. 5.

    “Sects impact Beirut student polls” https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2009/12/10/sects-impact-beirut-student-polls

  6. 6.

    Kisarwani, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2007.

  7. 7.

    Nizameddin, interview with author, Beirut, December 2007.

  8. 8.

    While many of the quotes are drawn from interviews conducted years ago, recent research and communication with key informants demonstrates that youth activists associated with the traditional confessional parties have dominated campus elections since 2005 and have done up until a recent swing towards the independents in 2020 which I discuss below. However, the victory of the independents post 2020 has been uneven across university campuses in Lebanon. Meanwhile the tactics of partisan youth to accomplish electoral victory have remained the same.

  9. 9.

    Kalim, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2007.

  10. 10.

    Maha, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2007.

  11. 11.

    Mhanna, Interview with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2007; Myrna, interview with author, Beirut, February 2008.

  12. 12.

    Kisarwani, interview with author, Beirut, November 2007.

  13. 13.

    Ghosn, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, February 2008.

  14. 14.

    Rabah, interview with author, Beirut, November 2008.

  15. 15.

    Dabbous, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2008.

  16. 16.

    Hadar, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2009.

  17. 17.

    Jabbour and Sakr, interviews with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2011.

  18. 18.

    Khalil, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2009.

  19. 19.

    Ahmad, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, December 2009.

  20. 20.

    The term “carnival” was used in a video produced by independent students of the AUB Secular club on the student elections. See: http://hummusforthought.com/2013/11/01/aub-elections-in-3-minutes/.

  21. 21.

    Student councils at AUB are often not very active nor are they perceived to be very effective at the art of student government. Once elected, student representatives frequently “fade into the background, never to be heard from again,” as one student described them. Instead, elections seem to be less about being in office and affecting student government, and more about demonstrating popular support. Interestingly, this is also true for the independent, progressive activists who, at times, have gone so far as to boycott campus elections and simply focus on causes and activism at the national stage.

  22. 22.

    Rasha, interview with author, AUB, Beirut, November 2007.

  23. 23.

    See: “Political money soils elections” Daily Star, 8 November 2013. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2013/Nov-08/237163-political-money-soils-lau-elections.ashx#axzz3BB67pW00

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Correspondence to Elinor Bray-Collins .

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Bray-Collins, E. (2023). Practising Sectarianism: Lebanese Youth Politics and the Complexity of Youth Political Engagement. In: Rivers, I., Lovin, C.L. (eds) Young People Shaping Democratic Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29378-8_7

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