How to distinguish between institutions working for the benefit of a country and hunters of “false glory”?
A reflection on the emergence of civil society, the new book by Dr. Kamel Mohanna, president of the main Lebanese NGO “Amel”, could quickly become an important reference to the emergence of a bourgeois conscience in Lebanon.
Civil society differs from the traditional society or community society, which is primarily based on the family, district, tribe, clan and is articulated around blood ties and religious, ethnic and hereditary affiliations. Civil society institutions, on the other hand, represent society in its diversity. They see democratic expression as an essential means of consolidating their ideas and experiences in the political, economic, health, social and cultural spheres and guide the new generation towards the fight for justice and human rights.
The “deconstruction” of civil society
Dr. Mohanna thus deconstructs the traditional concept of civil society and recalls that it is above all an arena within which the forces of change in all areas, whether political, economic or social, interact. By producing a discourse and a national strategy in favor of human rights, it opens the way to citizenship and democracy.
Through global changes and developments in the Arab world and in Lebanon, civil society has become a space of freedom and a tool of democracy, fantasized by some, perceived as an import from the West or even as a puppet in the hands of the state by others, and sometimes criticized for its paternalistic approach.
Dr. Mohanna questions his ability to formulate and develop public policy in the absence of civic culture and criticizes his lack of transparency and vision. In addition, the associative world is sometimes transformed into a charity, and thus, by its only economic prism, constitutes a brake on the idea of citizenship.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the concept of “civil society” was perverted and developed outside the question of the state. But as Dr. Mohanna reminds us that there is no civil society without a state, and national unity necessarily requires close cooperation between individuals, society and state. In addition, some Arab intellectuals have exploited the associative world for political purposes to compensate for the defeats suffered by nationalist and left-wing currents. Maintaining true independence from political parties and at the same time having a detailed understanding of a country’s political and economic structures is without a doubt the biggest challenge for societies in need of change. Arab society therefore desperately needs the concept of a democratic political society, because its democracy is still far behind in the world.
The only breeding ground, democratic culture
Kamel Mohanna criticizes the proliferation of associations that, under the guise of a striking slogan, attract foreign donations to fund the projects of a minority or a political movement, and recalls that civil society organizations should primarily aim at the development of citizenship. These excesses have helped to tarnish the image of the associative world, especially among people involved in the protest movements in Lebanon. However, a distinction should be made between organizations seeking fame and local grassroots associations, which also demand the establishment of a democratic society.
Dr. Mohanna, who is also the general coordinator of Lebanese NGOs, stresses the importance of developing partnerships within Lebanese civil society, as well as strengthening cooperation, based on equality and rejection of colonialism, between local NGOs and Westerners. Also in a new approach and against the traditional dynamics, the association Amel International has chosen to extend an outstretched hand from south to north, by sharing its experiences, to together contribute to the building of a fairer and more humane.
As Kamel Mohanna points out, “we have always been committed to establishing just relations, without subordination, between North and South, as well as to the fight against the double standard that is particularly present in humanitarian relations. We are thus committed to the just cause. for people all over the world, starting with the Palestinian cause. Far from limiting our action to talking about world misery in big hotels, we act on a daily basis with the working class and the vulnerable. The author continues: “While the gap between north and south larger every day, we campaign tirelessly in favor of a fair distribution of wealth and against the increase in poverty and accompanying phenomena of marginalization. »
Dr. Mohanna warns the reader against any community, tribe or even clan-based withdrawal that he considers to be on the rise in the Arab world to the detriment of national affiliation.
The author therefore calls for the demolition of these fortresses by relying on democracy, which alone can pave the way for social reconstruction and involves looking towards a better future. The concept of democracy must also be strengthened in civil society, which must be a model and a driving force for society, by putting the principles of participation, recognition of others and citizenship at the center of its action. The strengthening of the state must go in the direction of a just state, which mediates and balances the balance of power in society with respect for the fundamental rights of the individual citizen; as the author reminds us, the state must be at the service of society, and society must be represented in the state.
Praise for volunteering
Dr. Mohanna emphasizes that national political parties, NGOs and the work of uniting democratic forces are an integral part of the forces of change in civil society. And he returns in his book to an essential link in civil society: volunteer work. It is difficult, he explains, for a society to develop and become civilized without voluntary work, which is a component of civil society and which gives everyone the opportunity to build their personality and their self-confidence, and to anchor the notion of commitment to collective work. or to carry out professional projects.
The author concludes by urging the structures of civil society in Lebanon to take part in the bitter reality that Lebanon is experiencing, especially since 17 October 2019, and to address the difficulties of seeking a rational rather than sectarian vision of possible solutions. . It is also necessary to get rid of any negative, destructive state of mind and get used to respecting multiple authorities, from the home to the community.
It is about putting an end to the culture of negative thinking in Lebanese society. Thus, “reform from below” will become a factor for “change from above”.
BOX: SOME PROPOSALS FOR DUSTAGE OF CIVIL SOCIETY
Dr. Mohanna offers several suggestions for activating the role of civil society
Adopt a global and stimulating vision for development. The slogan “Think Globally, Act Locally” has thus become the first bid for sustainable development;
– Build a national consensus on the philosophy of comprehensive development in Arab countries by formulating a new social contract between the government, the private sector and the civil sector within the framework of a tripartite partnership with the aim of better mobilizing the company’s capabilities;
– Consider civil society organizations as an important partner for the government on the basis of dialogue, consultation, coordination and cooperation, without, however, replacing the role of the state;
– Include women and young people in the design and implementation of development programs;
– Prioritize sources of self-financing to ensure the greatest degree of independence from donor agencies to civil society organizations. It is also about finding a mechanism to ensure transparency of funding sources and local mutual responsibility to build trust and avoid suspicious funding.