Lebanon president admits need to ‘change the system’

Lebanese President Michel Aoun delivers televised address on eve of Lebanon's centenary. (AFP)
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Updated 30 August 2020

Lebanon president admits need to ‘change the system’

  • 'Lebanon's youth are calling for change,' the 85-year-old Aoun said

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Sunday acknowledged a need to "change the system" and called for the proclamation of a secular state on the eve of a visit by his French counterpart.
"Lebanon's youth are calling for change," the 85-year-old Aoun said in an address that was interspersed with footage from last year's anti-government protests.
"Yes, there is a need to develop, modify, change the system... Call it the way you like, but Lebanon most definitely needs to be running its affairs in a new way," he added.
Aoun offered few details but called "for the proclamation of Lebanon as a secular state" and a dialogue that could lead to constitutional amendments.
The main framework of Lebanon's current mode of governance is the 1989 Taif accords.
They led to the end of the 1975-1990 civil war but have since become a by-word for the kind of sectarian-based politics that many want to get rid of.
Aoun's political ally Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah also said in an earlier address he was open to Emmanuel Macron's proposal for a new political pact in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the country's Sunni political heavyweights agreed on a name to propose as prime minister, a move that Lebanon's protest camp immediately rejected as exactly the opposite of change.
Less than four weeks after visiting Beirut in the aftermath of an explosion at the capital's port that killed more than 180 people and traumatised the nation, Macron was due back on Monday to press his demands for change.
On the eve of Macron's return, Nasrallah also adopted a conciliatory tone.
"On his latest visit to Lebanon, we heard a call from the French president for a new political pact in Lebanon... Today we are open to a constructive discussion in this regard," Nasrallah said.
"But we have one condition: this discussion should be carried out... with the will and consent of the various Lebanese factions," he said in a televised speech broadcast a few hours before Aoun's address.
Nasrallah did not say what changes Hezbollah was willing to consider.
Lebanon recognises 18 official religious sects and its 128 parliamentary seats are divided equally between Muslims and Christians.
Governments born out of this system have been prone to deadlock and failed to meet popular demands to improve living conditions.
Macron, the first world leader to visit Lebanon after the Aug. 4 blast, had called for "a revamped pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks".
The explosion of a massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate, left to languish for years in a warehouse at Beirut's port, forced the government to resign on August 10.
Consultations to name a new premier are due to begin on Monday but the top political leaders of the Sunni community, who are entitled to the position under Taif, agreed on one man.
The 48-year-old Mustapha Adib is Lebanon's ambassador in Berlin and a relative unknown on the political scene.
A group of former prime ministers, including top Sunni political figure Saad Hariri, announced they had decided on Adib after reviewing several names.
Many Lebanese have blamed the monster blast on a ruling class seen as mired in nepotism and graft since the country's civil war.
The explosion that wounded at least 6,500 people and rendered thousands homeless without any significant government support revived the protest movement that had emerged in October to demand the wholesale removal of the political elite.
It also prompted Washington to press for political change.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker is expected next week in Lebanon, on the second visit by a top American official since the blast.
He will "urge Lebanese leaders to implement reforms that respond to the Lebanese people's desire for transparency, accountability, and a government free of corruption," the State Department said.

A Lebanese nonprofit helps refugees develop confidence through the creative arts

Updated 30 October 2020

A Lebanese nonprofit helps refugees develop confidence through the creative arts

  • Seenaryo has brought imaginative new learning techniques to hundreds of classrooms across Jordan and Lebanon
  • Youngsters take the stage as part of drive to use drama and song to strengthen community ties

BEIRUT: Lebanese theatrical nonprofit Seenaryo teaches drama, dance and song to marginalized communities, building confidence and self-esteem through the creative arts, while its teacher-support app has brought imaginative new learning techniques to hundreds of classrooms across Jordan and Lebanon.

Founded in 2015 by British expat duo Victoria Lupton and Oscar Wood, Seenaryo’s five-day intensive theater workshops are still operating despite the coronavirus pandemic, with the group’s most recent — socially distanced — project staged at Beirut’s Dar Al-Aytam Al-Islamiya orphanage in September.

Up to 30 boys and girls, or even a group of adults, participate in each workshop where, through improvisation exercises, they brainstorm ideas to create a musical play, write a script and song lyrics, and master dance routines. Each play includes five original songs set to professionally made backing tracks. The group then performs its play to a local audience.

Up to 30 boys and girls, or even adults, participate in each workshop where, through improvisation exercises, they brainstorm ideas to create a musical play, write a script and song lyrics, and master dance routines. (Supplied)

“What we’re trying to do is support our participants to feel a sense of agency and ownership over their own lives, to feel that they can contribute to their communities and have an impact on their own lives and those around them,” Lupton said. “Play-based learning and theater does that by building life skills — that might be communication skills and empathy or building confidence and a sense of self-worth.”

Initially, Seenaryo worked solely with Syrian and Palestinian refugees. “Very quickly, within a year, we realized it was neither particularly helpful in terms of existing tensions between communities nor reaching the neediest beneficiaries if we just focused on refugees, so we widened the focus to work with all marginalized people regardless of nationality,” Lupton said.

“Theater has the power to bring a community together and feel like a family.”

In 2019 alone, Seenaryo staged 15 original theater productions in Jordan and Lebanon. Aside from the co-founders, most staff are from the local community. The non-profit also runs several choirs for children and women singing music from around the world as well as original songs written by participants in two-part harmony.

The influx of refugee children has strained the education systems of Lebanon and Jordan, with low quality teaching causing children to drop out of school, while stressed teachers often quit. In response, Seenaryo created a teacher training book that this year launched as an app, Playkit, to support educators teaching children aged three to eight.

“We fit into the national strategies of dealing with this new population by helping to increase teaching quality, Lupton said. “The Playkit is a shortcut to 21st century learning techniques. Just this small intervention can have a transformative impact on classrooms and helps keep children in school.”

On the app, there are hundreds of play-based activities available including games, songs, interactive stories and tools to help classroom management. These take the form of how-to videos, flashcards, music tracks and step-by-step teaching instructions. Among the subjects covered are languages, mathematics, health, the natural and human worlds, and social and emotional learning. The app is available in Arabic, English and French.


As of early September, 113 schools were using the app along with 1,075 teachers and 28,875 children.

Usually, teachers would first undertake a three-day training course before incorporating the app into their classroom activities, but the coronavirus pandemic has halted in-person instruction as schools shut. So, Seenaryo created short, instructive three-minute videos that it sends to parents and caregivers via WhatsApp to help them home school children.

This distance-learning program, “I Learn from Home,” dispatches three new videos each week to around 2,500 families. “These lesson plans needed to be accessible to even people who are illiterate or have low educational attainment, which is why we went for video,” said Lupton. “These are a very engaging set of instructions as to how to teach that day’s lesson, whether it’s on health or maths or whatever was in the curriculum that day.”

Seenaryo is funded through various government and non-government agencies, while the organization hopes subscriptions to Playkit will enable it to provide the app to schools. Now, with Lebanon facing new hardships and traumas, Seenaryo’s community-building projects are needed more than ever and Lupton’s team is ready and determined to help.


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.