Strengthening and engaging Lebanon’s young Arab voices
The Outreach and Civic Engagement office prepares LAU students to take part in national debates.
Twenty-one LAU students from across all majors and both campuses showed their love for debate on Valentine’s Day by choosing to spend their Sunday learning the art of verbal sparring.
“Mastering the art of debate enables students to develop their skills and knowledge and facilitates their transformation into elite student leaders,” says trainer Frederic Mourad. Enrolled in the Master’s in International Affairs at the School of Arts & Sciences, Mourad is himself a student leader in the Model Arab League, a cornerstone program of LAU’s Outreach and Civic Engagement office (OCE). “It also helps them develop a strong civic identity,” he adds.
At least eight of those who completed the full day’s training will this week participate in a debate about the sale of tobacco and alcohol to minors. This will be the first of four sessions to be held among LAU students before they join participants from other universities and youth movements across the country in national contests.
“We’re giving them the skills they need to prepare for a debate, to deliver and challenge arguments,” explains Ghina Harb, Leadership and Civic Engagement lead coordinator at the OCE, which is heading the initiative. “We will only tell them which side of the argument they’re defending an hour before each debate, so that the focus is on strengthening their polemic skills rather than expressing their personal beliefs,” adds Harb.
The LAU debates form part of a national program conducted by non-profit Masar, a member of a wider regional program entitled ‘Young Arab Voices,’ which is funded by the UK government’s Arab Partnership Initiative and the European Commission and run by the British Council and the Anna Lindh Foundation.
“This program is essential. The problem with discussion in the region has been that it is often based on emotion and philosophy. I think we need to encourage people to base their thoughts on facts,” says Tim Sebastian, host of ‘The New Arab Debates,’ in an interview published on the Young Arab Voices website.
“This is a big political season in this region and people are making a lot of promises. [The youth] need to know how to test that. With this training they are given an opportunity to do that.”
Young Arab Voices launched in 2011. After mobilizing over 35,000 in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan in its first year alone, the program expanded to include Morocco, Libya and Algeria and, in 2015, Palestine and Lebanon. The Lebanon program began, in December, with an intensive Master Training of Trainers workshop, which Mourad and colleague Zeina Shehayeb attended alongside trainers from other universities and political youth groups.
“The program is very youth centered,” says Mourad. Youth voting rights, legal aid for minors and free medical treatment for AIDS patients are among the topics to be debated by LAU students in the coming weeks. “The topics selected are directly relevant to the youth of today and promote critical thinking and engagement.”