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A Citizens’ Assembly on Energy in Lebanon

Animation video
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Without democracy the people are prevented from taking part in the political decisions that affect their lives. But even when democracy exists through voting and parliamentary representation, it does not necessarily reflect the demands of the people. But who said that there is no other way to democracy? Democracy can be done through the direct participation of the people in government affairs. Just like there is a parliament, a citizens’ assembly can also be initiated. What is a citizens’ assembly? The dereliction in the parliamentary system comes from the fact that people in most of the democratic countries have lost trust in the rulers. The priority of the elected members is to be re-elected.
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The period between every election is long which imposes the priority of decisions that only lead to short-term impact. The citizens’ assembly can fill the gaps of democracy and pave the way to implementation that guarantees its foundations. It is a group of randomly selected members from the country, region or city. and represents all groups of society. They meet to deliberate on a topic of public interest and make decisions about it. The importance of this practice is that different groups listen to each other and the opinions of specialized experts. Therefore, these decisions are made out of awareness and with the consent of all groups of society.
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This model is not brand new but rather a form of participatory democracy and has proven its success in several countries. While the Arab world has been witnessing popular movements and continuous developments, the citizens’ assembly can provide a framework for an organized public participation The sessions of the citizens’ assembly vary according to the needs.
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However, it must always include: Male and female citizens equally representing all groups of society, an impartial and unbiased committee, experts specialized in the deliberate issue, and a facilitation committee to ensure that everyone gets his or her turn to speak and their voices are heard. Every citizens’ assembly focuses on three goals Firstly, all the participating groups can listen and learn from the experts and study the various and, sometimes, the contradictory suggestions and solutions. Secondly, they can deliberate and discuss with each other to understand the different points of views and set their priorities. Thirdly, they can take decisions commensurate with their values and priorities, and make their voices heard. For the first time, a citizens’ assembly will convene in the Arab world.
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It can be an opportunity for wider participation in the decision-making process.

This video describes what is meant by a citizens’ assembly. We created this video to explain the concept of a citizens assembly to people in Lebanon. The RELIEF Centre has been working with partners and advisors to deliver a Citizens’ Assembly on Electricity in Hamra, an area of Beirut in Lebanon.

As we discussed in steps …. Lebanon faces chronic energy shortages from an ageing energy infrastructure that relies on fossil fuels that have detrimentally affected people’s quality of life. Fossil fuel subsidies are also responsible for 40% of Lebanon’s public debt. The CA was a new method, an experiment in bringing community members together with stakeholders, including academics, to learn, deliberate and vote on things that affect their quality of life directly. Initial consultations were positive about the feasibility of holding a citizens’ assembly (CA) on electricity to discuss the electricity crisis and begin to form a bottom-up vision of what a future sustainable energy system in Lebanon can be.

Why a citizens’ assembly?

The recent devastating explosion in the port of Beirut, as well as destroying lives, homes, livelihoods and dreams, has propelled Lebanon into a more profound political and economic abyss. One of the critical facilities that were damaged severely was the iconic building of Electricité du Liban (EDL – the state electricity company) and key figures in the organizations were killed or injured. As with many other public services, electricity is a crucial sector that needs deep reforms to be able to meet the energy demands of the country. EDL became a lynchpin of the state’s inability to meet the basic needs of its citizens. The challenges ahead are enormous, and the mood in the country has returned to one of despair, disappointment and scarcity.

For these reasons, a Citizens’ Assembly on electricity was proposed as it enables a uniquely bottom up, community focused approach to creating policy. Many Citizens’ Assemblies have taken place in Western contexts, and have become more popular in the wake of climate emergency. However, the Citizens’ Assembly is a novel idea in the Middle East, and in Lebanon in particular. After consultation and testing, we translated ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ as majlis madani in Arabic invoking the idea of a civic forum that would be inclusive of everyone and not just those with citizenship (for example, to include refugees who make up over a quarter of the population in Lebanon).

The process began with the need to raise public awareness about what a Citizens’ Assembly is, using videos in Arabic. Working with designer Muana Sabah and animator, Tariq Keblaoui, the short video in this step was created to explain the concept of a Citizens’ Assembly, it’s structure, and key principles so that participants and the general public can envisage what a Citizen Assembly is.

Over to you

After watching the video, do you have any questions about the meaning of a citizens’ assembly? What are your first thoughts about whether a Citizens’ Assembly is a good way to engage communities in discussing issues such as renewable energy? Are there challenges of using an approach like this?

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