Lebanon’s Presidential Elections, Round One: The Joke of A Lebanese Parliament

I don’t care about who ends up president.

I don’t care about the presidency to begin with, but I do understand that the seat becoming vacant, which it probably will for the second time in a row, will indicate how utterly fucked up our political system is. It’s okay though, no one expects otherwise.

But after the first round of presidential elections, the only question I want to ask is: why the hell are we not voting for the president? Why are some of those parliament “members” voting for who will pretend to lead the country for the next 6 years?

There was a moment there, just before they starting counting the ballots, that I realized how underwhelming our elections actually are. Many didn’t even know our parliament was voting today. Many others didn’t care, and quite honestly why would anyone want to bother when we all know exactly how silly of a charade we were going to have to watch?

Yes, our elections are massively underwhelming because we – as people – are massively irrelevant as we await the main heads directing our parliamentary blocks to get their OK president from their country of political origin.

I expected the presidential vote to be predictable, indicative of how big of a joke our self-anointed parliament actually is. What I did not expect however is for our parliament to reveal itself as the combo of civil war-hung up people whose maturity range is that of a fourteen year old who has yet to hit puberty and whose IQ is that of a whale, with all respect to whales in all their forms.

I don’t mind blank papers. I couldn’t care less about Samir Geagea’s name being cast 48 times. Good for him. It’s not like he will ever win. What I do mind, however, is for some parliament members to be so spiteful, degrading, loathing and so utterly immature and irresponsible that they’d cast votes for civil war victims who have been allegedly killed by Samir Geagea back in the day, as if anyone knows who killed whom in our civil war, but everyone gets to be the expert, of course, in typical Lebanese fashion.

As I heard the names of Jihane Frangieh, Rachid Karami and whatnot being read out loud, I felt sad because there’s someone in parliament who is legislating on my behalf (or not) who actually thought it was a good idea to cast such a ballot. I felt sad because what is supposed to be a round of a presidential vote ended up becoming a gathering of kindergarten children in playtime.

Of course, such an opinion of Geagea exists in the Lebanese populace. But this is not the Lebanese populace. This is a parliament that should hold the minimum levels of professionalism when faced with a task of choosing who the country’s president will be. Parliament is not a place for such votes, no matter how poetic some people want to spin it.

Why are those people voting for my president again? What kind of system is this that gives people like them the right to have that choice?

How can we hope to have a strong enough president when the only way for someone to become as such is for him to be liked by the 128MPs making parliament?

Sure, on a bigger Lebanese scale people like them exist profusely. I only had to check Facebook and a Twitter for a wide cross section of people whose version of the civil war is basically the Lebanese Forces starting it, killing everyone and then losing. But on a bigger scale, I’d like to think people who are that spiteful get diluted among those who can actually see beyond the Lebanese civil war in casting a vote for a president.

This is not a country that has moved on. This is not a country that will ever move on if whenever – as they say – “bi de’ l kouz bl jarra” we end up digging up every single thing that happened in the not so long past, just because we can, in the most hypocritical of ways.

How many parliament members of the likes of those that were so gallant to cast ballots of civil war victims would cast a vote for current murderers participating in neighboring wars and holding the country hostage? No one.

I was told that having almost 50 parliament members vote for Geagea means we don’t deserve this country. After what I’ve seen today, I want to say this country doesn’t deserve us. It’s 2014 and we’re still pretending the civil war was yesterday, have member in parliaments voting for the civil war and have politicians who were all active way back then.

I want to vote for the president, not clowns in parliament who think it’s recess time.

Heida Lebnen: When The Lebanese Army Pulled Us Over In The Bekaa

I don’t have a problem getting pulled over and asked for my ID. Given the mess we’re in, it gives me a sense of security if there was ever such a thing in Lebanon.

However, I was forced to wonder today: what are my rights when I do get pulled over and I don’t want to entertain an abrasive, appalling and disgusting line of questioning by an army member whom I can’t but be utterly bowing to or else…?

On the way to the Beqaa today, my three friends and I got pulled over at the Dahr el Baidar checkpoint. A few ID checks later, we were on our way. It was routine and simple.

On the way back from the Beqaa, we got stopped at the same exact checkpoint. This time, however, the two minutes procedure turned into an ordeal that left everyone in the car seething.

“Hand over your IDs,” the army men said and we obliged. He glanced at them and frowned.
“This is the second time today you stop us here officer,” my friend told him.
“Is there any problem? We’ll stop you as much as we want.” That was hint #1.
“How come you’re all from different regions?” He then asked. “How do you four people know each other?” That was hint #2.
“We go to the same university.” My friend tentatively answered.
“Open the trunk and give me the car’s papers,” he ordered her around. She proceeded to do as she was told.

He then proceeded to start ransacking through her car’s trunk, going through her personal items as if they were a matter of national security.

“What were you and your friends doing in the Bekaa?”
“We were on a road trip, spending the day.”
“So you went to the Bekaa today and came back?”
“Yes!”
“How come?”
“We wanted a change of scenery.”
“How odd is it for you to be friends from different regions? What do you and your friends do?”
“Well, one is an architect and the other is a doctor. The other is a biologist and I work in IT.”
“Okay. And you went to the same university?”
“Yes.”

A few moments later, my friend asked if we were allowed to leave. He begrudgingly allowed.

I’m all for having a tight handle on security. But what’s in it for an army personnel to go through my personal business as if it pertains in any way whatsoever to the security he is trying to keep, fully knowing that I can’t but answer or he’d throw me in a military bureaucratic tangle that would have kept me stuck on that mountain all day?

How odd is it for people to be friends and happen to have been registered in Batroun, Tripoli, Aley and Saida? Is it so unheard of in Lebanon that people from different regions could hang out that it necessitates a state of utter shock and suspicion?

What protects a Lebanese citizen from an army member who felt like he wanted to mess with people on any given day? Where is the limit between an army member being thorough and being downright obtrusive and offensive?

There’s basically nothing we can do about it. Heida lebnen. If you don’t like it, tough luck.

Note to self: make sure to go with unicolor friends next time. It won’t raise eyebrows.

Daniella Rahme Craves Hallab

One of the culinary landmarks of Tripoli is the sweets palace, known to most people as Hallab after the family that established and is currently running the place.

The place and its goods have many fans, of which is recent Dancing With The Stars winner Daniella Rahme who is now part of a new ad for the place, one in which her homesickness to the country manifests in her craving for Hallab’s sweets.

I found to be quite charming as well as true. How many of us have had relatives visit the country and stuff their suitcases with baklava and whatnot to give them a taste of home away from home?

Check out the ad:

Seeing as Tripoli has really calmed down after the truce and the latest security plan, I suggest you all give the city a visit and pass by the original Hallab, where I assure you the whole experience is different from picking up the goods from Jounieh or Jbeil or wherever.

And no, I am not getting free sweets in exchange for this blog post.

This Is How Noah Got Released in Lebanon

I didn’t know “Noah” being screened in Lebanon was a matter of “if.” Everyone just assumed showing it might be a big deal given Egypt and Qatar banned it. But Lebanon following the footsteps of neighboring countries when it comes to censorship is a rare thing, and Noah found its loophole.

I watched the movie yesterday and I have to say, I wasn’t impressed at all. Not every movie needs to arise from a cinematic need to have it exist but I fail to see any point that Noah can put forth. Perhaps Aronofsky was fulfilling his childhood dream of bringing his favorite prophet to life.

I don’t even get why this movie has been labeled as offensive right out of the bat. If anything, Noah is only Biblical or Quranic because the main plot of the movie (a flood and an ark) as well as Noah himself are Bible and Quran entities. Apart from that, the movie holds next to no resemblance to any form of scripture.

In fact, Noah probably has as much in common with scripture as Harry Potter: they are, at the end of the day, only tales of good versus evil centered around a character with troubles. In Noah’s case, he is such a troubled man that his entire demeanor becomes grating, often pushing you away from any form of rapport that can be established with the characters on screen, all as he tries to appease his creator to the best of his capacities, even against common sense.

At the center of the Noah are gigantic rock transformers-ish creatures that used to be angels once upon a time, flowers that grow out of dead land, forests that sprout in minutes, a creation sequence that is beautifully portrayed, completely useless fighting scenes, a lot of CGI and a lot of drowning. It was somewhat like Lord of the Rings, except nowhere near as good.

Having watched it, I have to say this is yet another case of people rushing to see a movie only because of the controversy around it with the movie itself being quite subpar. Was it enjoyable? I have to say the two hours passed by well enough. But it was nowhere near as engrossing as I envisioned a biblical tale such as Noah would be. And that’s a shame. Out of 10, I’d give the movie 6.

However, before the movie began rolling, we were met with a screen that stayed there for 2 minutes, making sure everyone read what was on it. This was the loophole that got Noah screened in Lebanon:

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Hilarious? Sad? Horrible? I don’t even know in which category that prompt screen falls, but it’s the reason we’re getting to watch the movie. So either await a download or go to your nearest theatre to make sure that the science fiction movie you are about to see has factual contents and is religion-friendly.

When A Polling Company Calls About Lebanon’s Presidential Elections

The phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize. Hoping it wasn’t the hospital calling me for a patient emergency, I answered to someone asking me if I was Mr. Fares and if I didn’t mind answering a few questions about our upcoming presidential elections.

- Me: Okay, I’ll answer your questions

- Operator: What’s your name?

- Me: Elie.

- Operator: How old are you?

- Me: 24.

- Operator: Where do you vote?

- Me: Batroun.

- Operator: What’s your sect?

- Me: I don’t practice.

- Operator: That’s besides the question, what do you have written on your ID?

- Me: IDs don’t have sects.

- Operator: On your “Ikhraj Eid?”

- Me: I’ve had it removed.

- Operator: We can play this game for a while. Your name is Elie. I’m assuming you were born Maronite?

- Me: Yeah…

- Operator: Do you want a strong or consensual president?

- Me: Hmm, strong?

- Operator: Out of these four names, then, who do you want as your next president: Samir Geagea, Michel Aoun, Amin Gemayel and Sleiman Frangieh?

- Me: Those are your picks for strong president?

- Operator: Yes, you have to choose one.

- Me: How about none? Each one is worse than the next. Can I get that option?

- Operator: Certainly, I’ll just move you to the consensual candidate category. Which of these do you prefer? *blabs a series of names each more irrelevant than the next.*

- Me: Either Demianos Qattar or Ziad Baroud.

- Operator: Ok, I’ll list you next to Demianos Qattar. Why didn’t you go with the other four?

- Me: Because they’re not exactly “build-me-a-hopeful-future” material?

- Operator: Alright. Do you belong to any political party?

- Me: I did.

- Operator: Which one?

- Me: The Lebanese Forces.

- Operator: And what’s your level of education? Are you illiterate, a brevet holder, high school degree holder, university degree holder or postgraduate studies degree holder?

- Me: I’m a medical student.

- Operator: Oh doctor! Sorry for taking your time. I don’t have any more questions. Sorry for bothering you.

- Me: It’s okay.

*Hangs up.*

I don’t know where my answers will end up or if the woman on the other end of the line thinks of me as some pompous political hipster who doesn’t want to be labeled, but I seriously don’t get the point of polling companies in a country as politically dysfunctional as Lebanon. Couldn’t the money invested in polls be spent elsewhere?

In decent countries where actual electoral campaigns are waged, polls are employed to ascertain the effect that some items have on voters, to assess the chances of certain candidates compared to others and to test the efficacy of a campaign. Which of those do we have here?

We haven’t been to any major polling in about 5 years. We can’t vote for a president to begin with. We have no choice over who ends up as prime minister. And we are given the illusion that our opinion matters.

When their round of calls end, the company at hand will end up with a nice study about how each Lebanese sect breaks down in support for Lebanese presidential candidates. Those who get a bigger portion, or in other words those who paid for the poll to be done, will flaunt these results left and right.

Hey! Look! The people chose me! I’m the rightful heir of the Baabda throne!

But the people can’t choose. The people were not even allowed last year to choose which MPs get to choose this year’s president. And those polls force you to fit in every preset category of Lebanese citizenship to have a valid opinion. There’s no category for people who refuse to declare their sect. There’s no category for people who want a strong president outside of the Fantastic Maronite Four. Even our polls, simple and silly and irrelevant as they may be, are a redundancy of our political status quo.

I wish I had hung up.

Samir Geagea For President!

OMG. Can you believe Samir Geagea’s running for president?

The horror. The disgrace. The shame. Let us go turn in our passports (worthless as they are) right here, right now.

Samir Geagea’s nomination for president was met with an onslaught of histrionics that the Lebanese political scene hadn’t seen in a very long time.

We had photoshopped Israeli posters.

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People acting like Civil War know-it-alls when they, in fact, know nothing at all. Granted, this happens all the time but it always finds its way to surface whenever Geagea does something. As a future medical doctor, I shall dub it Geageatis.

Twitter hashtags with every combination imaginable to attack Geagea’s judicial records.

Newspaper editors freaking out like pregnant teenager girls who hail from the Bible Belt.

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And so and so forth.

You know what’s in common between all of the aforementioned reactions? They reflect the well-rooted hypocrisy of people who have perfected double standards. And isn’t that what Lebanon is all about?

Samir Geagea is a war criminal. Samir Geagea has a tarnished history. Samir Geagea went to jail. Samir Geagea is sectarian. Samir Geagea is this and that.

But the fact of the matter is that those same people digging up Geagea’s past also turn the blindest of eyes to the past of their favorite politician and warlord and person who hasn’t even gotten a brevet degree yet but is practicing politics anyway.

They are the same people who chant their politician’s name off rooftops whenever he has an aired speech. They are the people who empty riffles to celebrate such speeches, regardless of the passerby who might get hit by their stray bullet.

They are the same people who defend war criminals whenever those war criminals serve their purpose. They are the people who have been defending Bashar el Assad for the past three years as he worked his way through a six digit body count.

They are also the same people who would put forth anything championed by Lebanese parties like Hezbollah who, lately, have only been dabbling in the war mindset that we supposedly don’t want for our country through people like Geagea. Or is war in the eye in the beholder?

They are the same people who proclaim secularism as a headline to sound cool and modern but fall back to their old sectarian habits whenever push comes to shove.

Can you envision a Lebanese future where someone like Samir Geagea is president? Can you even fathom how dissociative that is from the reality of today’s Lebanon? You know, the Lebanon where Tripoli was in a state of war up until last week but no one cared; the Lebanon where everyone is getting armed again; the Lebanon where a government took a year to be formed and is basically stillborn even now; the Lebanon where there’s no economy, no hope and no prospects for a future; the Lebanon that is still talking about Samir Geagea and the other warlords he played with way back when even today.

Yes, in such a Lebanon, someone like Samir Geagea and every single other politician being proclaimed as the next president wouldn’t make the natural selection for the presidency.

No, I don’t think Samir Geagea is the best possible candidate to become the next Lebanese president.

No, I don’t think him getting nominated for that position, however trivial such a thing actually is in Lebanese politics, was the right move.

I don’t even get why everyone is entering our own version of Game of Thrones for the Baabda Chair when they all agree that it’s borderline worthless. Perhaps it’s comfortable for gluteal muscles?

I don’t have a say in who becomes president anyway and neither does anyone else including those who have been throwing bitch fits over the past few days, but I have to say it has been quite entertaining to see the borderline mania that has overtaken those people. Who knew Lebanese politics can elicit this much excitement still?

The reasons I don’t think Geagea should be president is simply because he is part of the current perpetuation of a status quo that I cannot I agree with. It’s because him as president will perpetuate this status quo for six years to come and I don’t think our country can handle such a thing anymore. It’s because I think it’s high time other people take up a position of power to challenge the current system, be it within their own sects or within the broader framework of Lebanese politics.

The same reasons why I don’t think Geagea should be president also follow to Aoun, Frangieh and Gemayel, which are being called around as the Maronite Four. Perhaps you should use your future as an argument instead of digging up pasts no one wants uncovered and instead of bashing the part of the civil war class you don’t agree with while secretly swooning over the part you do agree with.

I’ll give you this, though, the craziness is comical.

Lebanon’s Parliament Fails Lebanon’s Women

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71 Lebanese MPs signed the petition by KAFA to include amendments to the proposed Domestic Abuse bill in the actual law that would pass in parliament.

2 minutes was all it took for the law to pass.

0 is the number of MPs who argued for the amendments. 0 is also the number of amendments that made it to the actual bill.

Is the law in its current form bad? Yes it is even if it’s a step forward somehow. It’s greatly lacking in so many ways, of which is the fact that Lebanese Parliament has (unknowingly?) legalized marital rape by failing to omit the term “spousal privileges” from the draft that has become official today.

Under the new law which parliament passed today, marital rights for intercourse were enshrined for the first time in text in civil law. What a victory for civility in 2014.

The law also has other shortcomings, which you can check out in this Arabic document.

I wonder, has any of the MPs that approved this law actually read it or did they just go with the decision of their political bloc? Did the female MPs that voted for this law also give it a second look beyond the fancy title that is not even exclusive to their gender? Is two minutes all the time our MPs believed is enough for such a vital law to be discussed?

There’s a line where MPs who cared should have drawn a limit. That line is when the lives and sanctity of people is as stake.

Yet again, should we really be surprised?

The shortcomings of the law are nothing more and nothing less than a simple manifestation of the status quo in Lebanese law: one that is enshrined in religious text that dictate everything about our daily lives, legally. The bill in question has been maimed into a stillborn proposition by MPs who were too afraid for their religiosity that they can’t view any cause as worthy outside of that frame.

It will always be the case until we view our worth as Lebanese citizens as something that transcends the sect we were born in, where us being governed is not contingent upon the laws that are bestowed upon us due to our birth being in this town or in that region.

Perhaps we were too hopeful that parliament would pass a decent law for us to be proud of. But the joke’s on us for being foolishly optimistic. It is, after all, April Fools.