Model Youth Parliament

"We have a president: Youth in Lebanon practice democracy in the Model Youth Parliament."
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* Author: Aret Demirci, Project Director FNF Lebanon

** This article was originally published in German here


For over 500 days, Lebanon has been without a head of state. If it were up to the Youth Parliament, this problem would be resolved. While the country's numerous crises would not disappear overnight, reaching an agreement in the deeply fragmented parliament would be a beacon of hope for the people of Lebanon.

A New President? – A Question of Election

On March 25 at 6:22 PM local time, it finally happened: the “Speaker of the Youth Parliament” announced that the 22-year-old “Karim Zgheib” had been elected as Lebanon’s 14th president in the third round of voting. It was a close contest with his main rival, “Cesar Khreish”, narrowly losing by just a few votes.


This would end the nearly 18-month vacancy in the Baabda Palace and temporarily resolve the country's political crisis. In his first statement to the press, the newly elected Zgheib, a newcomer in politics, declared his intention to be a president for all Lebanese people. He promised to tackle the country's political and economic issues immediately, stating that Lebanon has no time to lose.

Model Youth Parliament – A Success Story by the FNF in Lebanon

This could have been the headline and opening paragraphs of a news article if Lebanese politicians and parties had managed to agree on a president after 17 months of vacancy. However, that did not happen. Instead, it was young students participating in the “Model Youth Parliament” (MYP) simulation organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) in collaboration with the prestigious Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth (USJ) who elected a president.


The MYP is the flagship project of the FNF in Lebanon. For the past nine years, students from various universities have gathered at the USJ to debate key issues in committees, develop solutions, make compromises, form alliances with other factions, and try to address the country's most urgent problems, even if only in a simulation. To ensure they step out of their comfort zones and see how challenging—but not impossible—it is to reach compromises, students are assigned to a parliamentary party that they likely have little or nothing to do with in real life.


The young participants quickly adapt, engaging in heated debates within their factions or in plenary sessions, drafting bills in committees, and forming cross-party alliances to pass their proposals. After three rounds of extremely close voting, they managed to elect a president, achieving a significant milestone.

From Simulation Back to Reality – Lebanon’s Many Crises

The actual parliament members could learn a lot from these young people. Lebanon, a prime example of a clientelist system, has been without a president for 17 months, and the country is being managed rather than governed by a caretaker government. Since Michel Aoun left office on October 30, 2022, and with the ongoing denial of reality by political actors, there have been twelve unsuccessful voting rounds in parliament—a political declaration of bankruptcy.


The country urgently needs political clarity and direction. Lebanon, long a self-sustaining paradise for political dynasties, has been mired in a deep economic crisis since 2019, a result of decades of corruption and mismanagement. According to the World Bank, this crisis is “one of the worst globally since the mid-19th century.” The living conditions for the majority of Lebanese people have drastically worsened since then. The state has withdrawn from many areas and is barely present. Education, health, electricity, water, and waste management are all privatized and largely inaccessible to most people. According to a European Union report, 80% of the population lives in poverty, with 36% in extreme poverty.


The port explosion in August 2020, which seemed to wake up the people and civil society for the last time, is now seen by many experts as the final nail in Lebanon’s coffin. Investigations have stalled, likely because prominent figures could be implicated. The entire state’s collapse is now feared. Lebanon ranks 25th on the Fragile States Index by the Fund for Peace, just ahead of countries like Burkina Faso, Mozambique, and Cameroon.


The Lebanese pound is in free fall and is mainly used for change, with transactions almost exclusively in US dollars. The exchange rate was fixed at 1,500 pounds to the dollar since 1997, but a few months ago, it was already at 100,000 pounds to the dollar.


Those earning foreign currency can barely keep afloat; for everyone else, it has been a long time since they could stay above water. With foreign reserves dwindling, banks now limit withdrawals, leading to bankruptcy for hundreds of thousands of Lebanese despite having money in their accounts.


As a result, remittances from Lebanese abroad have become the most crucial source of income for the country's economy. According to a UNDP report, these accounted for nearly 38% of Lebanon’s GDP in 2022, second only to Tonga. In 2019, remittances were less than 15% of GDP. Unsurprisingly, more and more Lebanese are leaving the country. A study by the Beirut-based Research Center Information International found that over 200,000 Lebanese left between 2017 and 2021—a significant number for a country with only a few million inhabitants.


If anyone thinks this is the end of the troubles: since October 8, a low-intensity war has been raging in the south between the Shiite militia Hezbollah and the Israeli army, threatening to escalate and drag the entire country into a devastating conflict with its neighbor. Despite the government’s repeated assertions that it does not seek war with Israel, other actors decide Lebanon’s fate. Caretaker Prime Minister Mikati openly admitted this in a TV interview, stating, “The decision on whether Lebanon goes to war or not is not in my power,” highlighting the political powerlessness of the country.

Youth Vote in the Model Youth Parliament

Back to the students. As the four-day parliamentary simulation concluded with a celebratory dinner, the newly elected president was honored. The young participants were proud of their achievements. Even though their peer is only the head of state in a simulation, it did not dampen their joy. Thanks to the MYP, they are motivated and determined to take on political responsibility for their country in the future.


Defying the latest World Happiness Report, which for the second consecutive year named Lebanon the unhappiest country; these young people were beaming with happiness, proud to have taken part in the simulation. Nevertheless, by the next morning, they would return to the harsh reality of Lebanon.