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A Citizens’ Assembly on Energy in Lebanon

Animation video

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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