During the period from its independence in 1948 until the start of the civil war of 1975-1990, Lebanon was seen as the Switzerland of the Middle East, thanks to its economic prosperity, financial strength and political stability. Today Lebanon is a shadow of what it once was.
The first Lebanese constitution was adopted in 1926 under the French mandate that preceded independence. This states that: "Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties ... social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination." Moreover, it guarantees the equality of its citizens, not just before the law but also in the enjoyment of civil and political rights. Lastly, the constitution ensures an equitable distribution of parliamentary seats among Christians and Muslims.
However, since the end of the civil war these apparent legal guarantees have mostly remained on paper only. Now, a multi-faith, politically confessionalist society, since 1990 Lebanon has faced an ongoing political crisis, pitting at first the different religions against each other, and more recently the elites grouped into two opposing blocs where each group attempts to seize power, disregarding the will and needs of their fellow citizens. Moreover, foreign influence is increasingly evident in political decision-making, with less heed paid to the will of the Lebanese people.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lure of Lebanon's natural resources and Syria's desire for dominance all contributed to the religious tensions and power games that formed the backdrop to the 2009 "Crossed Pens" workshop.
Unfortunately, the situation has not improved at all since 2009.
Indeed, growing Israeli-Palestinian tensions in recent years and the war in Syria have further damaged relations between Lebanon and its neighbours. The flow of refugees from neighbouring countries has become too great for this small country of four million inhabitants and is now a real problem, having altered the religious balance and affected unemployment and housing, as well as the funding of health and education provision.
In response, Lebanon is continuing to apply policies and laws that discriminate against the Palestinians on its territory, in violation of the Lebanese constitution. Palestinians are barred from certain professions and denied rights enjoyed by other communities within Lebanon. Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Palestinian refugees even face discrimination on entering Lebanon.
Discrimination in Lebanon is unfortunately not limited to issues of citizenship. Other groups still face widespread discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation.
There are also other problems regarding respect for human rights in Lebanon. Lebanese citizens have in recent years seen their freedom of expression restricted. In some cases challenging this has led to unfair trials, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.
The generalised violence experienced by the Lebanese people is further seen in the numerous cases of torture registered in Lebanese prisons, as well as in the state's retention of the death penalty in the Lebanese criminal code.
"Crossed Pens: the search for a Lebanese citizen" focused on three main topics directly linked to the context described here. First, it sought to highlight the problematic relations between the clans, different religions and political institutions in Lebanon, as well as the media bias in reporting on these issues.
The second point raised by the Lebanese edition was the important connection between a person's religion and their daily life.
The last point that the caricaturists focused on in the third "Crossed Pens" was the absence of rules common to all citizens, the notion of citizenship being, so to speak, subordinate to religion in the Lebanese context.