Civil Movement for Accountability
Civil Movement for Accountability
There has never been a single spokesperson for the CMFA, rather it relied on communication networks already built by the organisations which compose it.
The coalition quickly structured itself following its inception, based on members’ willingness and determination to work. Members would meet up to twice a week in a general assembly. By early May 2013, committees were created.1
Ideology and Goals
The central ideological goal behind the inception of the Civil Movement for Accountability was for officials to hold elections on time, and initially to prevent the first extension of the Parliament’s term. The CMFA hence emerged as a spontaneous response from civil society to what was happening, and that needed to be considered a primary national issue. However, it should be stressed that it does not work as a political movement in the sense that it is highlighting concrete issues but not proposing concrete policies.
Specifi cally, given the numerous consequences brought about by the ongoing presidential vaccuum since May 2014, the struggle for accountability has been essential for Lebanon. As argued by LADE’s program director, Samer Abdallah, the Movement’s focus on Constitutional deadlines is of central importance, as those arguably stand as “the last pillars of democracy in Lebanon: elections on time, whether it is parliamentary, presidential or municipal.”2 Indeed, legitimate concerns have been raised by civil society regarding the State and its institutions’ capacity to function effectively. The systematic lack of quorum for the election of a new president has been perceived by many Lebanese as infringing upon their right to vote.3 Activists part of the CMFA have been very critical of the arguments used by lawmakers to justify the extension of their mandate, including the security situation.4
The CMFA follows a peaceful strategy of action, relying mainly on protests, demonstrations and sit-ins. It also resorts to other peaceful means of opposition, such as art, videos, graffitis... 5
Notably, it launched the “Tomato Revolution” in May 2013, during which tomatoes were thrown at MPs’ cars to protest the extension of their mandate. This was extended in 2014 when tomato boxes were sent to MPs with the label “no to extension”. As part of that demonstration, protesters were actively trying to prevent MPs from entering Parliament. As stressed by Samer Abdallah, the CMFA never thought it could force MPs to hold elections on time, it was not an illusion. The whole point was rather to make this an issue, to make it costly for them.6
Nationally, the Movement’s steps also include engaging directly with MPs by visting them and getting them to sign pledges to oppose any project allowing the extension of Parliament. The Movement also held mock elections, on June 16th, 2013, the date the elections were supposed to be held, and posters were distributed to raise awareness.
The campaign has also been launched internationally, as the organisers filed a complaint with the United Nations, human rights bodies, and other international organisations. According to the organisers, taking the campaign to a higher level of scrutiny is essential due to the importance politicians give to their international reputation.
It is also important to note that the CMFA strategy is one of reaction to governmental actions, or lack of; its sole agenda is to raise awareness reagrding governmental violations of constitutional deadlines.
In terms of mobilisation, the movement relies on social networks, but as argued by Samer Abdallah, when undertaking grassroot work, priority should be given to direct dialogue and on-the-ground engagement. The CMFA does have presence on the ground, yet it is not sufficient enough to organise and mobilise outside of the capital, Beirut.7
Effect on public policy
The success of the CMFA cannot be measured by its ability to force MPs to hold elections on time, as this was not a goal realistically held by its main organisers. However, by making Constitutional deadlines an issue of concern, by increasing the awareness of the population, and working towards mobilisation, the actions of the movement have been qualified as successful by its organisers.8
As argued by Samer Abdallah, this is especially true given the politics of the country, and the fact that “people are not interested in anything that doesn’t have to do with their basic daily needs”.9 This success can be explained both by the importance of the issue at hand for the Lebanese public and the Movement’s inclusive decision-making process. “There’s awareness when it comes to confronting people with the reality about our lawmakers,” Abou Mrad says, “the real effort is in convincing them to continue mobilising against them.” 10
The movement aims at reaching the whole Lebanese population. In order to do so, organisations part of the coalition have used their network throughout the country to spread the word. However, the efforts in the regions are not up to the same standards as in the capital. Nonetheless, support from the regions remains strong, and people from the Bekaa, the North, and the South joined the 2013 gatherings by buses. In 2014, the constituency was more central, with some presence from the North.11
The CMFA emerged as a reaction to the expected extension of the Parliament’s mandate in April 2013. It comes in a context that has historically witnessed the development of “civil movements” as active civil society actors in Lebanon.13 The CMFA’s central aim is to raise awareness over the lack of accountability which politicians are subjected to and to mobilise the Lebanese society against politicians’ disregard for Constitutional deadlines. Overall, the network aims at making Lebanese politicians accountable, and have the Parliament hold elections.14
To do so, the coalition uses peaceful means of actions by organising initially small-scale sit-ins, gatherings and protests. This built up to the event of June 20th, 2013 (the day prior to the Parliamentary elections), which rallied a large number of supporters. As stressed by one of the organisers, for this specific re-elections issue, rallying around 2,000 people was significant. Indeed, the last day before Parliamentary elections was supposed to be almost a court day in which civil society representatives would be allowed to speak out about the failures of Parliament. The June 2013 demonstration attracted a large number of individuals, organisations and activist groups with different emotions and impulses, which explains its success.
When the Parliament extended its term, the Movement subsided with it. But then again, it really grew with the issue of the presidential election, and ensuing vaccuum, and the same scheme reproduced with the second extension of the Parliament. In this sense, the coalition work deployed as a series of sporadic reactions. It is not an organisation, and does not have concrete policy goals. As argued by Samer Abdallah, “if next year there is a postponment of municipal elections, it can be garanteed that the CMFA will re-emerge and have a stance.”15
May 2013: the “Tomato Revolution” gathered a large number of activist individuals and associations, including the CMFA. As part of this peaceful opposition to the Parliament’s second mandate extension, protesters threw tomatoes at lawmakers.16
November 5th, 2014: Tomato boxes were sent to lawmakers with the inscription “no to extension”, in reference to the previous year's action. In addition, protesters were actively preventing MPs from entering the Parliament.
* For more on the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, please visit: http://www.lade.org.lb/?lang=en-US [last accessed April 7th, 2015].
** For more on the Lebanese Transparency Organisation, please visit: http://www.transparency-lebanon.org/ [last accessed April 7th, 2015].
*** For more on the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, please visit: www.lcps-lebanon.org/ [last accessed April 7th, 2015].
**** Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Samer Abdallah, Program Director at the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, April 7th, 2015, Beirut.
[last updated on 11 May 2015]
- 1. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Samer Abdallah, Program Director at the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, April 7th, 2015, Beirut.
- 2. ibid.
- 3. Ahmed Zein, "A parliament extension... Or security for Lebanon?", Heinrich Boll Stiftung, October 15th, 2014, available at: http://lb.boell.org/en/2014/10/15/parliamentary-extension-or-security-lebanon [last accessed April 1st, 2015].
- 4. Noor Baalbaki, “A double dilemma in Lebanon: two postponed elections”, Heinrich Boll Stiftung, December 6th, 2014, available at: http://lb.boell.org/en/2014/12/06/double-dilemma-lebanon-two-postponed-elections#_ftn2[last accessed April 1st, 2015].
- 5. Ginwa Obeid, “Activists campaign against Parliament extension”, The Daily Star, English, August 21st, 2014, available at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Aug-21/267928-activists-campaign-against-parliament-extension.ashx [last accessed April 1st, 2015].
- 6. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Samer Abdallah, Program Director at the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, April 7th, 2015, Beirut.
- 7. ibid.
- 8. ibid.
- 9. ibid.
- 10. Ginwa Obeid, “Activists campaign against Parliament extension”, LebanonWire, English, August 21st, 2014, available at: http://www.lebanonwire.com/1408MLN/14082111DS.asp [last accessed April 8th, 2015].
- 11. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Samer Abdallah, Program Director at the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, April 7th, 2015, Beirut.
- 12. Facebook page available at: https://www.facebook.com/hirakmadanileb [last accessed April 8th, 2015].
- 13. Karam Karam, Le Mouvement civil au Liban. Revendications, protestations et mobilisations associatives dans l’après-guerre, Paris, Karthala / Iremam, 2006, p.361
- 14. Ginwa Obeid, “Activists campaign against Parliament extension”, The Daily Star, English, August 21st, 2014, available at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Aug-21/267928-activists-campaign-against-parliament-extension.ashx [last accessed April 1st, 2015].
- 15. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Samer Abdallah, Program Director at the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, April 7th, 2015, Beirut.
- 16. “Protesters hurl tomatoes at MPs”, The Daily Star, English, June 1st, 2013, available at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2013/Jun-01/219091-protesters-hurl-tomatoes-at-mps.ashx [last accessed April 1st, 2015].