The Education and Culture ministries confirmed Tuesday that the country would begin celebrating Alphabet Day annually on March 8, despite activists’ ire that the date coincides with International Women’s Day.
A special committee was set up to organize activities in cooperation with schools, municipalities and civil society associations in time for next year.But there was backlash against the timing of the celebration from women’s right associations, who held a sit-in Monday and submitted an open letter to Parliament, demanding officials affirm March 8 as International Women’s Day.
“We recognize the significance of the alphabet to Lebanon, but the significance will be recognized more when authorities provide equal rights for women,” the statement said.
The origin of the alphabet is still debated among historians. While there is no consensus on the issue, the Latin alphabet along with the Arabic one is believed to have developed from the Phoenician alphabet, which dates from the second millenium B.C.
“Historians tend to disagree on the origins of the alphabet, but they agree on the fact that it is Phoenicians who spread the alphabet,” Education Minister Hasan Diab said during a news conference held at the ministry.
Addressing government officials and public school students in attendance, he added that Lebanon should be proud of its heritage in championing the spread of the alphabet.
Diab stressed the need to face the challenges that arise through the introduction of new communication technologies, “which are developing in parallel with the original alphabet, to bring prosperity to modern societies.”
For his part, Culture Minister Gabby Layyoun said that Lebanon witnessed the first “globalization” in ancient history with Phoenician merchants trading in oil and unique purple dye.
He added that through trade, people of the time were able to spread the alphabet and teach it to Mediterranean people to facilitate communication.
“Law schools in the Roman era and the famous epochs of the Greeks, which inspired the classic arts and literature did not expand before the alphabet, which originated in Byblos,” he said.
The minister also encouraged students to visit the National Museum and historical sites found in Byblos (modern Jbeil), Sidon and Tyre to learn about Lebanon’s long history.
Kesrouan MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr – who proposed the law to begin commemorating Alphabet Day, which was approved by the Parliament on Nov. 18 last year – said Lebanon was the world’s most qualified country to promote inter-religious dialogue, as it is the “home of the alphabet.”
He added that the day would remind Lebanese that their language and values are more important than sectarian, partisan and territorial divisions.
Asked about the concerns of women’s rights groups who object to seeing the event fall on the same day as International Women’s Day, Abi Nasr responded that the law was approved by all 128 MPs, four of whom are women.
“The first teachers are mothers, since they teach alphabet skills to their children,” Abi Nasr added, arguing that proclaiming Alphabet Day on March 8 was not intended to undermine the celebration of International Women’s Day.
By Atallah al-Salim