AUB’s Debate Club hosted representatives of seven political clubs at AUB on Thursday, April 6, to debate the Lebanese electoral law.
The debate, which took place in the Issam Fares Hall for two hours, was moderated by media student Maysam Azzam, who is responsible for the Public Debates’ team of the club.
Azzam described the event as a means through which the debate culture is revived from within the American University of Beirut and stressed on the importance of ensuring strict regulations during a debate, where members respect and tolerate each other’s opinions.
Former Minister of Interior and Municipalities Marwan Charbel was present during the debate session to actively supply students with information about the different electoral systems the country might adopt.
Charbel’s input was essential to the debate because many students were unaware of how the electoral system works or its implications.
The debating members, who scientifically discussed which electoral law is the best option for the country, were as follows: Hadi Hashem from the Lebanese Mission Club, Joumana Talhouk from the AUB Secular Club, May Makki from the Red Oak Club, Mohammed Farhat from the Cultural Club of the South, Faysal Madi from the Youth Club, Bassel Malaeb from the Communication Club, and Firas Nakfoor from the Civic Welfare Club.
The Social Club, The Discovery Club, and The Freedom Club were also invited to debate but chose not to participate.
The debate was divided into two rounds, followed by a Q&A session. Participants were asked to answer, either through argument or refutation, within a strict time limit.
The first round focused on deciding which electoral law was best for each political club representative, who had only four minutes each to present their arguments and any right to reply was limited to only two minutes.
The second round was a discussion on the female quota in Lebanese politics. Each representative was supposed to provide insight as to whether and why they, on behalf of the political party they represented, would agree to the establishment of this quota.
The round was limited to three minutes per representative, with a one minute right-to-reply.
Following the event, Azzam gave her input on both the debate and the club.
“I feel that, as part of the Debate Club, I was able to impact. Debates are not about lashing upon our opponent. They’re about discussing. They’re about debating in the most literal sense of what a debate is all about,” she said. “I am glad because not only were we able to revive the unified definition of debates, but also managed to soothe sectarian arguments which usually lead to nothing but strife. We managed to achieve tolerance for two hours and this is a very good first step.”
Each of the representatives also shared what they thought of the debate and gave some recommendations for any future debates.
Secular Club’s representative Joumana Talhouk mentioned that “the debate was a good exercise to listen to different viewpoints.”
She also commented that “most people in the audience were from the clubs being represented” and wondered “whether the debate changed anyone’s mind or was even informative for people.”
“The people on the panel did not truly represent clubs on campus, but represented political parties on campus,” said Talhouk, mentioning that the wording used in the debates should be more accurate and technical.
Cultural Club of the South’s representative, Mohamad Farhat, said that the topic was essential, specifically among student bodies, because the implementation of a fair electoral law to correct parliamentary representation is crucial for a healthy political environment.
He added that the attendance of the representatives, as well as former minister Charbel, was important for the event.
Farhat said that the simple majoritarian electoral law is mostly supported to reproduce the same political set of leaders, which has proved not to be at par with their political duties and this is worrisome.
Communication Club’s representative, Bassel Malaeb, said that obliging the representatives with the rules and technicalities helped make the debate a more efficient and discussion-driven one. Malaeb also thought that the presence of the minister, who disregarded some rules, obstructed the debate at certain times, despite everything else being organized and professional.
Red Oak Club’s representative, May Makki, said that “political clubs meeting to discuss and debate over a topic as important as this is essential, as it re-affirms the identity of each.”
She expressed that there was a negative side to bringing all the political club representatives in one place and that the time frame was very little for a topic as comprehensive as this.
The discussion needed an exhaustive overview from every party, and the absence of some club representatives was another barrier to the debate, according to Makki.
She recommended that more time be added to the next debate, but believes that the event was generally a good one.
Lebanese Mission Club’s representative, Hadi Hachem, gave similar feedback with regards to the absence of some political club. Since more participation yields a perspective-based span, the future debates should “attempt to have more political clubs involved.”
Hachem also saw the debate as “healthy for the university” because political debates would “ensure welfare of the country.”
Youth Club’s representative, Faysal Madi, found that the dialogue was “smooth and constructive.”
Madi also elaborated on certain technical issues that happened in the hall, like the “sound system, where representatives were not always able to listen to one another.”
He also mentioned that “[former] minister Marwan Charbel came off as informative and wanted to convince students with a certain view although it was a debate, and in doing so, defied the concept of debating, especially that his arguments did not perfectly fit into our country.”
No feedback was given by Civic Welfare Club’s representative due to an inability to contact the necessary person.
Other students present in the debate also shared their thoughts about it.
English Literature student, Nadine Barakat, said that the debate provided “space for political group representatives to voice their opinions on major political issues.”
She added that the debate allowed students to “voice their political views in a safe and unbiased environment.”
She also asked for more controversial topics to be raised during the next debates, ones that directly involve the campus, such as the electoral laws and political life inside AUB.