Beirut: Lebanese youth continue to pour out into the streets three weeks after anti-government began on October 17.
As the protests are demanding sweeping changes, including the ousting of the country’s ‘corrupt’ ruling elite, doing away with sectarian-based politics and forming a government of technocrats, the youth have introduced another specific demand: lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
Lawmakers had approved a draft law to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 in 2009 but the measure remains unratified.
But young Lebanese say they want their voices to be heard now more than ever, and they want their vote to be counted because the decisions made by today’s politicians will have a direct and immediate impact on their future.
Youth unemployment stands at more than 30 per cent in Lebanon, from which many young people were seeking to emigrate until last month’s rallies created a rare moment of national hope and unity in a country often characterised by its divisions.
On Thursday, Gulf News went to a protest taking place on Beirut’s Bliss street where students were demanding the voting age be lowered.
Ali Hankir, 18, said he wanted the right to vote.
“This is also our country, the youth are the future,” the Lebanese American University student said.
“In the past 22 days we have seen a unification between all Lebanese no matter what backgrounds and political party they belong to. This is the most beautiful thing that Lebanon has witnessed in its history,” Joelle Nicodeme, a medical student at the American University of Beirut told Gulf News.
Students from various universities marched from Quraitem to Hamra Street before they gathered on Bliss Street near AUB, effectively closing the entire road.
Hundreds of schoolchildren have refused to return to class before the demands of a nearly three-week-old protest movement are met.
“What will I do with a degree if I don’t have a country,” one pupil told Lebanese television.
Carole El Danaf, 22, an LAU architecture student, says as she gets older, she has become more aware of the government’s corruption.
Younger generations deserve to be part of the change. Some people want immediate change but this will only happen gradually.
Noura Semsarzadeh, 19, says she hopes the youth’s voices are heard.
School children as young as 15 are protesting. We are much more mature than we are given credit for.
Youmna Mufti, 21, agreed.
This revolution has made us more mature and we have learned so much.
“By the time I reach 21 and graduate from university, I will need to knock on a politician’s door to get a job,” Linda Jamaleddine, 18, said.
“Why? Why can’t we vote now?” the LAU student majoring in education asked.
Lebanese youth have long complained that they study hard and graduate only to remain jobless.
Many say that you need a ‘wasta’ or a ‘high-up connection’ in order to land a job.
Michel Douaihy, a professor of political science, believes that the youth, in fact, are the main players in the revolution.
“They have breathed life into this uprising,” he told Gulf News.
-Bassam is a freelance journalist based in Beirut.
-with inputs from Layelle Saad, Middle East Editor