Democracy can be defined as a political system anchored in the active participation of its people in the political and civic lives. The people in such systems, considered to be the source of power, are bound to be free, fully aware, involved, integrated citizens in performing their rights and duties. According to the Preamble of the Lebanese Constitution: “Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief […]”. Lebanon also abides by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which emphasizes through Article 19 on the right to freedom of opinion and expression guaranteed by the access to information right. The understanding of the link between democracies, political participation, right to freedom of opinion and access to information is crucial to define the modality through which citizens in a democracy properly exercise their responsibilities.
To materialize the above mentioned, one can look at it from a cause and effect point of view. Take for example the case of a Lebanese youngster who is partaking for the first time in a municipal or legislative election. This youngster is convinced that his or her vote will shape the future of his or her beloved country, and is determined to vote for the candidate with the project that would meet the needs and aspirations of a new generation. How can this youngster make a decision if he/she doesn’t have access to the agendas, figures, and facts of each candidate? How can this youngster debate with his/her peers why the candidate of his/her choice is more suitable than others if there is no reference to go back to for one to back up his/her arguments? Therefore, the lack of access to information, hinders the free will of citizens and constitutes an obstacle for their political participation. Trust between the youngster and the leader is completely undermined, leaving the youngster dependent to the flow of information generated from the leaders and not from his/her autonomous and personal pursuit of truth.
The same is applied when this youngster is holding his/her representatives accountable. How can he/she proceed in this? What is the evidence at hand? Is it under the disposal of everyone? Hence, the absence of transparency in diffusing information leads to an increase in corruption, for it fosters an environment not accustomed to accountability. This behavior, repeated excessively, creates a culture of uninformed citizens who are unaware of their rights and duties, and who pointlessly express without having solid arguments that would put their words into actions. Additionally, one can no longer speak of freedom of expression when binding measures have been put to limit the people’s access to information. One can still walk, but what is the point of walking while remaining in the same spot? This is exactly why the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, ratified by the Lebanese Government, stipulates in its Article 13 that the participation of individuals and groups should be followed by measures that institutionalize transparency, right to access to information, protection of freedom of expression, awareness, and anti-corruption bodies and institutions.
The Access to Information Law in Lebanon has been passed since 2017. Nevertheless, until today it struggles to be properly implemented. It seems that the political will remains absent. However, individuals, groups, and organizations, with the support of a few decision makers, have been monitoring, proposing amendments, raising awareness, advocating, and writing policies on matters related to anti-corruption, transparency, and access to information. Furthermore, following the October 17th manifestations, a new political language has emerged among the Lebanese citizens followed by the creation of new political spaces through which people exchange ideas and information. Do these phenomena, backed by an International pressure on the Lebanese Government to conduct reforms, constitute a window for a potential breakthrough in the Lebanese habitus?