Why The Lebanese Government Is Silent On Tripoli

Every once in a while, the city I once referred to as “3enna” by mistake becomes a place I force myself to go the extra mile to recognize.
The last time such heavy fights broke out in the city, we were all in outrage at how media couldn’t care less about the people dying and the innocent lives in danger. Today, the outrage over Tripoli’s worst night since the Civil War is gravitating towards a government that is as apathetic as apathy goes.

However, are we supposed to expect anything more from our government? Tripoli’s Ministers and MPs go on air to voice their disdain and condemnation over what’s going on. What’s actually happening, though, is that in the other side of the room is one of their henchmen waiting on a phone to issue further instructions to the fighters on both sides of the battles.

Najib Mikati feigns peace. But he probably has men fighting. Mohammad el Safadi feigns innocence. But he probably has men fighting too. Have you ever seen how Bab el Tebbane worships Kabbara? Why do you think that is? You don’t have to over think it really.

The solution for Tripoli isn’t political. If it were, all those politicians asking for calm and peace would have succeeded by now. The problem is that those same politicians want to perpetuate the status quo, because this status quo works and does wonders for them and their careers.
It keeps the city poor for them to do their “charity” work.It keeps the city relevant politically for them to make a “political” dent and remain in the country’s political spotlight.

Perhaps the solution for Tripoli is for a side of the battle to actually win. Perhaps the problem in this country is that we have never had a clear winner and a clear loser in anything, not elections, not the war and not even those sporadic battles in Tripoli which we’ve gotten used to.

Until then, my thoughts go to all the people spending their days and nights in absolute terror in the city I’ve come to love, a place that doesn’t deserve the hand it’s dealt.

Disgusting Lebanese Basketball

I used to follow Lebanese basketball as much as I can. I supported Sagesse. Not because of the party they are apparently affiliated with but because I grew up in a house that supported them because it had alumnus from that school and – for a while – they were the best.

However, I believe I’m not the only one who finds Lebanese sports in general and basketball in particular, seeing as it’s the most popular Lebanese sport, to be downright disgusting lately. Even our football league is miserable – not that it was in better shape before. Check this link out.

Every single game to be held lately has to be postponed for some amount of time in order to get the fans to cool off… politically, even the games of teams many thought were irrelevant or had no political backing. Even the Lebanese president now has his own basketball applaud squad in the form of the Amchit team. And here I was thinking I was way behind the times in not knowing Champville was FPM-centric.

I’ve been so disassociated from what was happening actually that I had no idea until recently about all the major scandals that were taking place, most of which were politically coated sport affairs. Most of them revolved around my former go-to team Sagesse and a growing rivalry with Champville with some businessmen thrown in the fold. The “scandal” was all about the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement. Then try to tell a supporter of either parties who’s absolutely elated by what went down that this isn’t how things should go: “Man, l ouwet reb7et...” or “Shou baddna, 3al tayyar ma bi3alle2.”

Every single team playing today has a go-to political affiliation. They are not playing the game, they’re playing for their politician. If they win, they bring his reputation pride. If they lose, it’s his reputation that’s on the line. But fear not, the “supporters” will wreck havoc and make sure no one takes their political affiliation lightly.

But Lebanon’s basketball league is but an absolutely minute representation of the even more disgusting state of Lebanese politics today: the election law “talks” leading to nowhere, the visits between smiling foes when you know they are bottling in every single curse word known to man, the ultra tense mood regarding everything there is. We’re not getting anywhere. Deadlines are looming. And here we are applauding.

The tension on the courts is the tension on the streets. The words going across fields are the words we hear on TV. The slogans shouted are a regurgitation of the ones our politicians franchise.

Talk about sportsmanship. At least someone mathematically wins in basketball. Lebanese politics, on the other hand, is all in the eye of the beholder supporter.

The Myth of All Terrorists Are Muslim

Bad luck Muslims: they drew a deep sigh of relief when the Boston bombings turned out not to be done by a Saudi citizen… it turns out they were European Muslims who, ironically, are literally Caucasian. I guess racial profiling is out the question now?

I didn’t know that a simple comment on a BuzzFeed article from yours truly would spark a debate of over 50 comments and a hundred “likes.” The article in question was simply about the Islam leaning-Youtube page of one of the bombers. My comment was: how is this relevant?

Many sided with me. Many called me overly politically correct. Many others said that even though not all Muslims are terrorists, all the terrorists are Muslims.

If you ponder on that last statement, you are sure led to believe it’s true: the Boston Bombings, 9/11, etc…. However, it turned out to be the furthest thing possible from the truth.

There’s a hypocrisy when it comes to the categorization of “terrorism” in American media. For instance, the Aurora and Newton shootings were not carried out by a “terrorist” but by someone who was mentally unfit. If in a hypothetical scenario that person worshipped Allah instead of God, the “terrorist” label would have been used. Labels tend to stick.

The American and international media have been doing a “fantastic” job at highlighting select bits of acts of human violence and throwing them as representative of an entire sociological or religious aspect. Their portrayal of any violence that happens to come from Muslims tends to be sensationalized à la Middle Eastern way of reporting and, since their extent of knowledge regarding Islam and Muslims is very limited, it also comes off as ignorant. But not to those who take that media as scripture.

Moreover, the numbers to back up the “all terrorists are Muslim” claim is simply not there.

A study published by the FBI – could you get a better US-centric reference? – about the acts  of “terror” on US soil from 1980 till 2005 revealed approximately 318 terrorist attacks that varied in magnitude which break down in the following way:

Terrorism by event USA 1980-2005

Luckily enough, the numbers and data in that study have been turned into a pie-chart (here) that categorizes all the terrorist attacks by religion/ethnicity/background:

Terrorism Islam USASure, many things happened since 2005. But not all of those things were from Muslims. The above percentages may have fluctuated slightly but they’re still representative. For instance, Jewish extremism has over a period of 25 years committed more acts of terror in the United States than Muslims had. Now isn’t that interesting? Did any American know about this or is it hail-Israel and bomb-the-Muslims all the way?

To back this up even further, CNN published a study about the threat of Muslim-American terrorism. The study was done by Duke University and the University of Chapel Hill and found that the supposed danger of the radicalizing of Muslim-Americans post 9/11 has been severely exaggerated. The level is “small compared to other violent crime in America, but not insignificant.”

Violence Begets Violence:

The more societies across the world shut out, categorize and work against people just because they wear a headscarf or pray in a different way, the more these people will find refuge in doctrines that may not represent their true beliefs. The actively-fueled verbal, moral or even social violence only serves to increase the physical violence of those on the other side of the equation. There could be a linear relation there. Sure, the aforementioned premise is an over-simplification but talking about Saudi or Qatari policies of exporting radical Islam coupled with American policies in the region which help fuel this export will take forever.

Is there a growing trend of radicalizing in Islam? I only need to look at samples across my country to say the answer is yes. But fighting this growing radicalization doesn’t happen by clumping those who haven’t fallen prey to erroneous indoctrination with those who have anti-American, anti-West or anti-non-Islam agendas.

The whole point is: political correctness is perhaps something that we need in a time when it’s very easy to judge and lump people in a batch of stereotypes just because we think we know everything there is to know about them, especially when said-political correctness isn’t really coming from a higher moral ground as much as it’s emanating from actual reality.

Empathy isn’t a one-way street. Those terrorist Muslims are the ones dying in the tens and hundreds daily across the world today and it’s not only because they’re fighting among each other.

So next time someone wants to “kill all the Muslims,” know this: not all Muslims are terrorists and it’s a certainty that not all the terrorists are Muslims – not even half of them.

PS: A note from all those big bad Muslims to the people of Boston:

Boston Bombings Syria

Why #ThankBassil Backfired

Yesterday night, Nicolas Sehanoui decided to take his twitter presence and use it in support of another minister in his now-defunct cabinet. The minister he decided to support was Gebran Bassil, one of the FPM’s more polarizing figures. Mr. Sehanoui figured that tweeting some of Bassil’s “achievements” in the ministry of energy and water with the hashtag #ThankBassil would get people talking.

Well, people got talking alright. But it wasn’t good at all. Instead of the hashtag turning into something positive to light Gebran Bassil’s future electoral days, no pun, it became a space for people across the twitter spectrum to express their true sentiment regarding the minister. Saying those sentiments weren’t nice would be an understatement: people are still making fun of that hashtag today, almost 24 hours later.

Many FPM supporters cannot fathom how people can’t get past their prejudice agains this man and look at his achievements. But the reasons for that are actually quite simple. Let me try to list them:

1) Gebran Bassil is simply unlikeable. This is common knowledge among Batrounis, even those in the FPM circle. Many of the level-headed FPMers I’ve spoken to admit that any other “choice” for a battle-candidate in the region would get more votes. Why’s that? Because Gebran Bassil isn’t held in the best regards among those in the FPM, despite what they try to show, and he is not liked enough to get the votes of those who are politically “independent” in the region. Case in point? He lost twice. Another case in point? Even in Michel Aoun’s Christian hayday, he barely managed to get a majority in the caza. Nicolas Sehanoui, for instance, shares Gebran Bassil’s views. But he is likeable enough to get me to maybe consider voting for him. I don’t vote in Achrafieh so there’s that.

2) What is the source of said-achievements? It’s easy to categorize everyone on Twitter as a blind supporter of political parties here and there. Many actually are. But you know what’s also interesting about Twitter? It’s a space for many Lebanese who are fed up to express that sentiment. I am one of those people. I have no problem acknowledging when someone has done a good job. What I have a hard time doing, however, is to believe rhetoric that comes from political sources that have an agenda behind each word they blurt out: every number, every syllable, every point.

3) Have you seen some of those “achievements?” One example that comes to mind is the oil achievement. Am I supposed to be grateful and eternally thankful to Gebran Bassil that Lebanon has oil, something which many of us have known for years and years now? For reference, digging sites were set up in my Batrouni hometown in the 1970s for that matter. Or how about all those dams whose projects have been around since 1960? Are all the achievements non-sensical? Perhaps not. But I don’t trust any Lebanese politician enough to give them blind thumps up.

4) Why should I be thankful to anyone again? I’ve said it before in this article (link) but I don’t want to ever be thankful to any politician whatsoever for doing what they are theoretically required to do, regardless of how well they do their job. If I see tangible improvement in a certain area, which I’m not seeing with Bassil so far, I point it out. If them doing their job is absolutely horrendous, Gaby Layoun comes to mind, then I’ll point it out as well. It is our duty as aware Lebanese people not to get carried away with political hype, especially if it comes pre-electorally, and be critical of what we hear and what politicians do. But never, ever, be eternally grateful for something someone should be doing regardless of what his or her predecessors did. Meaning: when I start practicing medicine, please don’t be eternally grateful for me curing you when you are paying me to do it.

5) Does it even make sense for politicians of the same political party to start thanking each other for their accomplishments on social media? What’s next, have Gaby Layoun thank Minister Sehanoui next week and have minister Bassil thank Layoun the week after that? How is ministerial twitter love-fest remotely acceptable?

6) If you’re from Batroun, you’d know that Gebran Bassil is being paraded around these days almost everywhere. Thank you Gebran Bassil posters are literally everywhere across my region (pictures). Why’s that? Because the man is going around the country, to every single place his ministry has started a project, to make sure the project gets affixed to his name forever. Why is he doing that in the first place? Because he knows he won’t be going back to the ministry next time and he doesn’t want his “achievements” to be affixed to anyone else’s name. Two questions can be asked here: Did he take “accomplishments” from previous ministers? And isn’t #thankbassil another extension of the media frenzy?

7) Last but not least, if you’re from Batroun as well, you’d remember a little book that was also distributed across the region in 2009 ahead of the parliamentary elections to list Gebran Bassil’s achievements. Sounds familiar, right? Well, that little book was not only trashed, it was torn apart by criticism because it was so bloated and full of achievements that were not simply true. That little book was one of the reasons Gebran Bassil lost the elections in 2009. If you’re not from Batroun, now you know.

I met Gebran Bassil a while back at my hometown’s local church hall as he paid his respect to a deceased relative. He is very good friends with my aunt who was his classmates all through school days. He was more receptive to me than I was to him. He even joked that I wasn’t “apparently with them.” I laughed as he tapped me on the shoulder to tell me it’s okay.

For the record, I don’t think he’s a bad man. On the contrary, he seemed quite friendly and I wouldn’t mind having a chit-chat with him sometimes away from all the townspeople who couldn’t wait to touch his holy suit. We might end up at each other’s throat but that’s fine.

However, I do think he is a grating politician. Is he corrupt? Perhaps he is. I can tell you about the old houses being traded around Batroun or  the aquifer water well permits being handed out to people as easy as saying A. But he is definitely not the worst and most corrupt of politicians to roam this country. Batroun has better examples to give to that. Kolestone, anyone?

It all boils down to what Twitter user @MWNader said yesterday: You can buy ministries but you cannot buy chemistry.

Refer to Fouad Sanioura for further details.

Batroun & Keserwan Fighting Over Gebran Bassil

Let’s call it the war of pre-electoral billboards like you’ve never seen before: two regions, many kilometers apart, fighting over the same man with fiery reformative, empowering, pride-filled slogans.

As I was driving back home to Batroun last Saturday, I was surprised to see a Keserwani-centric propaganda for Gebran Bassil all over the bridges stretching across the highway.

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan - 1

Thank you Ismail Sakalaki for the picture

The question couldn’t not ask itself in my head: Is Gebran Bassil running in Keserwan this time around?

It made electoral sense for him to do so seeing as his chances in our home district are next to nil, something even people from his entourage agree on.

But something didn’t add up. Why would I have to answer several polls over the past few months about elections in Batroun in which he was presented as the main candidate for the March 8 side of Lebanon’s political spectrum? Aren’t those polls run by political groups who want to test out how the wind in a certain region is blowing?
And why would Gebran Bassil be doing electoral visits across Batroun to many households and villages over the past few months if he doesn’t intend to run there?

The Keserwani posters seem to have a deeper rumor around them. Let’s call it schmoozing galore. According to this article (link), the posters are the attempt of a Keserwani MP to kiss up to the FPM’s leader in order not to kick him off his prospective list in the region. And you thought our politicians couldn’t be that desperate?

Batroun, however, wouldn’t accept this Keserwani schmoozing, regardless of who did it or why it was being done in the first place. So à la “bring it, b*tch,” we started our own gebranophile campaign across our highway.

Batroun is proud of its son’s energy:

Batroun Gebran Bassil Keserwan - 6

Whenever you land, your ministries become essential:

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan - 3

Electricity, oil, water, dams… energy without limit:

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan - 2

We’ve lived and seen the dams in Batroun:

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan -

Gebran Bassil is a red line. Point à la ligne:

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan - 5

If only billboards translated to ministerial actions or governmental projects, we’d be one first-world country by now. If political marketing blitz translated into votes, Gebran Bassil would have been in parliament now.

But as it goes in this country, the supplies of any kiss-up material, especially leading up to elections, begin to run dangerously low due to the huge demand. Who’s willing to bet that a counter campaign will be run to discredit any possible accomplishments advocated by this campaign? You know it will only be a matter of time.

So where will Gebran Bassil run? I guess the answer is quite simple: who cares about Batroun when Keserwan, the self-proclaimed heart of Lebanon’s Maronitestan, is vying for you?

As for me, I’m enjoying the billboard cat-fight. Sorry Keserwan, I’m going to side with my home-turf on this. I’m biased like that. Batroun FTW.

Gebran, why don’t you stay?

Let’s Talk About Al Ebra2 El Mousta7il (الإبراء المستحيل)

“Have you read Al Ebra2 el Mousta7il?” One of my FPM relatives asked me a few days ago, a smile spreading across her face like a three year old on Christmas Eve.
“Nope. Have you?” I replied.
“Not yet. But man, I can’t believe how anyone would fathom being with Hariri after it!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll read it when part 2 is released.”

Part 2 is currently in the works as a reply to part 1.

FPMers are having a field day with a recently released book from their MPs, mainly Ibrahim Kenaan which revealed “for the first time ever” some secrets about the Hariri era in Lebanese politics. You can buy the book for $8 at any bookstore. It has more tables in it than a Certified Public Accountant would like to handle and its purpose is more than clear: serve as pre-electoral political propaganda, as is their right.

They have begun to use the term “ebra2ihom al mousta7il” to categorize the Future Movement on their Facebook pages and political websites.

My premise isn’t about the book’s content. It’s about the point behind the book. Who among us does not know that the Hariri era of politics was riddled with corruption? Well, if you don’t now you do. And if you don’t think it did, then your conviction borders on the delusional.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Hariri was the only person running the show from the 1990 to 2005, his government not having any other participant, and ask the following: don’t FPM ministers have their own “ebra2 l mousta7il” from 2005 onwards?

A Western company is suing Gebran Bassil for the way he handled one of the many bids that pass under his ministry. Isn’t that corruption?
The following link portrays severe transgressions of Minister Bassil and Layoun (minister of culture) in Batroun, which MTV is currently investigating, whereby the ministry of culture takes over old Lebanese houses for a very cheap amount of money, gets Gebran to renovate them and sell them for massive amounts. Or how about the diesel scandal that took place last year?

We can also talk about minister Layoun’s disgusting practices in the minister of culture, from allowing the demolishing of the Roman hippodrome to the Phoenician port to many of Beirut’s old houses, including Amin Maalouf’s. How about we look at Layoun’s wealth before and after him taking on the mantle of the ministry?

The aforementioned transgressions are based on a few minutes of research here and there that I, a blogger who doesn’t register on our politicians’ radar, was able to pull off.

FPMers will dismiss this previous link immediately based on its source, as will those who are against the FPM will dismiss their book because their source is very political.

Al Ebra2 Al Mousta7il is not a book for the Lebanese masses because you can’t offer one side of the corruption story in Lebanese politics and expect people who differ from you politically to take you seriously. I will not read Al Ebra2 Al Mousta7il because, despite keeping an open mind (most of the time) to different scenarios in the country, I know for a fact that the other side which the book doesn’t portray, obviously, committed transgressions that may or may not be as severe as the side the book does, in fact, portray. But that’s not the point.

The point is that every single political party in this country has, upon reaching power committed corrupt acts. The point is that blaming the entire country’s financial and economic problems, through a book such as Al Ebra2 Al Mousta7il on one single politician and his party, however corrupt that politician was, is illogical and non-sensical.

Al Ebra2 Al Mousta7il is a book that will get those who support the FPM to support the party even further without even reading the book. Let’s be honest, most FPMers won’t read it and will count on their politicians telling them what the book contains. Those who are against the FPM will dismiss it as nonsense. And come election time, no one will really remember it.

And the merry goes round.

Hariri was corrupt, sure. But Hariri was not the only one who’s corrupt. People with glass houses should not throw stones. Everyone has their own ebra2 al mousta7il.

A Lebanese Christian Family’s Sunday Lunch Discussion

The following dialogue is an almost verbatim excerpt of what has been going on lately at the Sunday lunch table of the Christian families I’m associated with. The names have been altered – albeit they still retain a “Christian” flavor but I promise it’s not for Sectarian reasons – except my own.

Georges: You know, they said they might postpone the elections.

Mary: Better. Nothing good can come out of it.

Elie: Makes sense seeing as we don’t have a law yet.

Joseph: There is one. The Orthodox Law.

Elie: What about the Orthodox Law?

Joseph: It’s supposed to make our votes weightier. How the hell does Hariri get a parliament member in Achrafieh and the LF don’t? Or how can’t the LF choose MPs across Lebanon like Aoun does without Hariri hoarding their backs?

Georges: Yes. And those imbeciles with the Future Movement have the decency to call us unpatriotic. As if they are the patriotic ones for not supporting the Orthodox law only because their man Hariri doesn’t.

Joseph: Yeah and they’ve always been in bed with the Syrians screwing us. They’re ones to talk about patriotism. Their leader got blown up? Have we had a leader who hasn’t been threatened in this country?

Georges: Hariri doesn’t even have the decency to stand up against Al Assir. And he has the nerves to call on the LF for trying to distance themselves from his sinking ship.

Joseph: He doesn’t even have the money anymore. Looks like Saudi Arabia may not be in with him on this one.

Georges: Saudi Arabia is busy drawing caricatures about the patriarch while they go fuck Christians every day. What a country of retards. Fuck them and their prophet.

Elie: Enough with religious crap. How would you feel if someone insulted your Christ?

Joseph: Whatever. Anyway, I’m with the Orthodox Law. It allows us to stick it to Aoun.

Elie: There are other laws which do that and allow the LF to have more weight without being this crappy. Besides, why would you want to vote for the MP of Keserwan or anywhere else exactly? Betdallak ghrib. 

Georges: How does the Orthodox Law work exactly? We vote for the Maronites of Batroun only?

Mary: I don’t understand why you must have this discussion every week. Is it gonna be this way until election day?

Elie: You go into the voting place. The person in charge gives you a ballot paper with all the lists running for your sect’s MPs. You choose one of the lists then you pick an MP to give him or her your preferential vote. So we vote for the Maronites of Lebanon. All 34 of them.

Peter: How will I explain this process to my mother exactly? I’m not sure if I understand it.

Mary: the more complex these laws become, the more I think all these elections are useless. The same people are gonna win any way.

Joseph: I know how I’m voting.

Georges: Yeah, me too.

Elie: If the law stays the same and we remain a one district place, I’m most probably not voting for Antoine Zahra. I’m sure as hell not voting for Boutros Harb and definitely not for Gebran Bassil.

Georges: Are you fucking serious? Please tell me you’re joking.

Elie: Not at all.

Joseph: Leave him be. He’ll change his mind soon. Elie not voting for Antoine Zahra? And pigs fly.

Elie: Why would I vote for Antoine Zahra exactly? What has he done that should make me eternally grateful for him that he should get my vote and stay and MP for the 3rd time?

Georges: He’s not Gebran Bassil!

Elie: I’m not voting for Gebran Bassil.

Joseph: Not voting for Zahra is you not caring enough. If other people thought like you, Bassil would win.

Peter: Why would anyone give a shit? My family has been supportive of Boutros Harb ever since he entered parliament in 1972. And what good did that do us? I never asked anything of him. Never. Except when I wanted to provide my son who studied law with a job. I begged him and he promised he’d help but he didn’t. I held it in and I voted for him in 2009 because I couldn’t stand the idea of Bassil winning. I was happy when Harb won because Bassil didn’t win. But my son is now working a dead-end job with no prospects. I would never admit this to a Aounist of course. Screw them.

Elie: I understand but an MP’s job isn’t exactly to provide jobs for those who ask for it. He should have helped. But what has he done in the past 23 years that should get me to vote for him? Nothing!

Georges: the highway!

Joseph: Yes, the highway.

Elie: the highway that has been in the works for 40 years? The one which was started near Tannourine because that makes perfect sense? No, thanks.

Georges: As long as there’s something called Michel Aoun roaming the Earth, I will vote against him.

Elie: What about the economy? The roads? Electricity? Telecom?

Joseph: Oh shut up. You’re almost becoming Aounist these days with liking Sehanoui. Do you fancy that unibrow?

Elie: The man does a good job. I cannot not acknowledge it. Besides, why would you not care about the economy and security in voting? Do you fancy almost every one my age leaving the country or considering leaving it?

Georges: Really? Assume I won’t be voting for the LF because you don’t like them these days. Mesh 3ejebne bel marra 3a fekra. Who am I supposed to vote for? Those third party leftists who have no chance of winning?

Elie: I don’t know. But voting for someone because you want the other to lose doesn’t work for me.

Joseph: It does for me. As long as Gebran Bassil never ever becomes a parliament member, I’m happy.

Georges: I concur. I couldn’t have been happier when he lost in 2009.

Elie: Gebran Bassil isn’t winning in Batroun no matter how I vote. At least I’d rather vote in a way that doesn’t make me feel disgusted with myself for the years afterwards.

Joseph: What if he wins?

Elie: Really? How is that possible exactly? Where will he get his votes? Do you want me to get you the 2009 results for you to see how impossible that is? Let’s not pretend that a lot of people in the district are thinking like me at the moment. Kellna 3ashra.

Georges: Yeah, 10 is more than enough of your kind for now. We can’t let them win and run the country. We can’t allow it. Michel Aoun wants to get that Orthodox Law to pass so he becomes president next year, you know that?

Joseph: Yes, that’s true. He wants to become president.

Peter: Michel Aoun president? Hell no. If that law passes, I’m voting for the LF without blinking. I can’t allow it!

I expect this discussion or some variants of it to be taking place every Sunday when the family is gathered for lunch or any other festivity for that matter until elections are over. I’m sure that the same discussion is taking place in other households which are different from mine politically in more or less the same way. Everyone is talking elections these days. So why not make what people say behind closed doors public? It beats beating around the bush in pretending as if things will change.

I only had to see a pollster in action in my hometown to see exactly how few things have really changed and how much the circumstances had.

My Article for Annahar: بلاد الضحايا الدائمة

Annahar A Separate State of Mind blog interview article

I was approached recently to be interviewed for renowned Lebanese newspaper Annahar regarding my blog. I obviously agreed and was also asked to write an article – in Arabic. After a brief moment of panic because I hadn’t written in Arabic since 2008, I gathered my thoughts and came up with the following, which I believe is decent:

نتباهى كلبنانيين، بصلابتنا التي نعتبرها مصدر فخر لنا في بلدٍ أقل ما يُقال فيه إنه يصعِّب كل نواحي الحياة علينا. الشعب
اللبناني دائماً ضحيّة… ضحيّة الغبن، الإهمال، النسيان، التناسي، المزايدة المستمرة،النفاق الدائم، والموت.

اللبنانيون ضحيّة المراحل. يكثُر الحديث عن تحضير جارنا الجنوبي لحرب كونيّة جديدة، فيما شعبنا المغلوب على أمره لا ملاجئ عنده ولا يشعربطمأنينة ولا بأمان.

اللبنانيّون ضحيّة الكلام الفارغ الذي يكثر ويعلو كل أربع سنوات ليشحن آمالهم بمستقبل افضل، لكن الدهر يعود بهم إلى واقع فقير، مرير لا خروج منه. ويتساءل البعض، من ضحايا القوقعة المناطقيّة، كيف يعلو التطرف في تلك المناطق التي لن يزوروها حتماً. فهم لا يعلمون أن الوجه الآخر للمركزية الإنفتاحيّة هو التناسي المكرّر، المحتّم والممنهج، نتيجته الأساسية زيادة الشرخ في كل مكوّنات هذه الأمّة المنقسمة على ذاتها، دائماً وأبداً. الشعب اللبناني هو ضحيّة خوف مستمر هدفه الأساسي سياسي، ويصوّرونه له بأنه للحماية. الخوف على الوجود، الخوف على أشباه الحقوق، الخوف على الذات، على الهواجس والخصوصيّات. كل هذه الأمور تؤدي إلى اقتناع راسخ في صلب الكيان الفردي، بصحة هذا الطرح السياسي أو ذاك. والحقيقة الواضحة أن أصحاب تلك الطروحات هدفهم واحد: جمع أكبر عدد من اللبنانيين ووضعهم في صناديق الاقتراع.

الشعب اللبناني ضحيّة التخويف التكفيري الذي يجعله يعتقد بأنه يحمي معتقده الديني كلما تشبّث بروحانيّته أكثر، لكن الواقع هو لحماية جيوب رجال الدين من خطر حرية الإختيار.

الجيش اللبناني ضحية المزايدة السياسية والعاطفية المتبلورة في السؤال اللّا متناهي: من يحب الجيش أكثر؟
فيعدد البعض أسماء شهداء جيشنا، متناسين أسماء أخرى لا تخدمهم، فيما تنقلب معادلة الأسماء عند آخرين ويبقى جيشنا رهن المتغيّرات العائليّة، الطائفيّة والسياسيّة التي تحمي الجميع، إلاّ أفراده. فلتسترح أنفس شهداء الجيش أجمعين، من أبطال نهر البارد مروراً بسامر حنا، فرانسوا الحج، وصولاً إلى بيار بشعلاني وإبرهيم زهرمان برحمة الله والسلام.

يكثر الكلام عن صعوبات اللبننة الحياتيّة ولا يكفّ. في استطاعتي أن أسترسل في الحديث الى أبد الآبدين، ولن يكفيّ!
الحق يقال، إن شعبي يلتقي في كونه ضحية معاناة مشتركة ويتشرذم إلى قطع صغيرة متى ذكرت له تلك المعاناة الّتي لا يراها كفيلة برفعه من حدود الإنتماء المناطقي والطائفي، ليتلاقى باللبناني الآخر المُفترق عنه قسرا
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You can read the Annahar article about my blog here (click) and find the above article also on Annahar here (click).

The Lebanese Electoral Law No One’s Talking About

Orthodox law here, orthodox law there. It’s all about the Orthodox law and the myth of its improvement of “representation.”
In the very narrow sense of things, the Orthodox Law makes sense given what the country is all about. Those who suddenly woke up and panicked about the law being sectarian: where were you living exactly?
You may not like what that sense is and you may be absolutely in love with it. In broader terms, however, the Orthodox Law is a disaster – not because it “improves” Christian power as some claim it will, but because it doesn’t really tackle the foundation of the issue which necessitated such a law to be present in the first place.

The problem with Christian representation in its current form in parliament is the following: democracy.

Let’s examine 3 different scenarios.

Caza A: has 40,000 Shiite voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Christians usually vote 50-50 between both politics camps. Shiite voters vote with about 90% for one camp. Half of the Christian voters feel their voice has been stripped.

Caza B: has 40,000 Druze voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Christian votes get divided almost equally. Druze votes are beyond one-sided. The Druze voter has now chosen for the Christian voter.

Caza C: 40,000 Sunni voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Repeat same scenario as in A or B.

The above scenarios are in play in Lebanon today in several districts of which I note:
- Aley: has 50,000 Christian voter who, the propaganda, goes cannot choose their own MP because of the Druze majority.
- Jbeil: has 10,000 Shiite voter whose votes make the election result look very lopsided while it isn’t.
- Zahle: A sizable Sunni population was key in the victory of whoever won in that area.

Don’t worry, I am not defending the Orthodox Law’s premise. The above examples are to illustrate the following:
The “problem” in Lebanon today isn’t that Christians are too few demographically or that they are given a greater voice in parliament than they should have or that their only solution is for a separation from everyone else in choosing their representatives. It is that there is a true democratic condition among Christian communities which is beyond nonexistent in all of the other sects in the country – and any electoral law which doesn’t lead to the growth of an opposition to the key leaders of each of the landslide-sects is not a law which can actually be used for a sustainable development of Lebanese society. This is nowhere near guaranteed with a law such as the Orthodox Law or any of the laws currently discussed.

Another major shortcoming that politicians seem to ignore in order to communicate the rhetoric of “defending Christian rights” is the following: how is it logical and acceptable for a Maronite voter in Akkar to vote for a Maronite MP in the deep end of the South? How can they fathom it is a “right” for the Sunni in Saida to vote for the Sunni MP of Tripoli? How is it logical for the Shiite in Tyre to vote for the Shiite MP of Hermel?

But there is a law that takes in consideration both regions and proper representation. It is a law which is not even discussed around the round tables of our MPs as they fight over their prospective seats in parliament: individual districts (El daweyer l fardiye): voters can vote for one MP in a small district of a few thousand voters.

To illustrate this, let’s examine a real life example: my district, Batroun, which has only two MPs – one of the fewest per district in Lebanon.

If my entire district is considered as only one electoral circumscription, the results are pretty well known: the current MPs will be re-elected. The votes coming in from the Mountains overtake whatever votes are coming from the Coast. If any third party candidate wants to run, they have to communicate their message – or try to at least – to over 60,000 voter. And parties rule by having a sizable base spread across the district which can vote for whichever candidate their party endorses.
Now with individual electoral districts, my district is split in half corresponding to each of the MPs it gets. The lesser number of voters per district means higher effect for those whose votes bordered on the irrelevant in a bigger district: the 1000 Sunni vote of Rasenhash and the 500 Shiite vote in Rashkida become something that whoever wants to run needs to win in order to have a chance at winning. By lessening the number of potential voters, any third party candidate will also have a higher chance at communicating their message to the voters. Instead of having an Antoine Zahra-Gebran Bassil face off in the coast and a Boutros Harb-Whatever face off in the mountains, we could have a three-way race with a viable alternative candidate. Said candidate may not win but at least people would have another option to vote for and express their disappointment with the current political establishment.
By decreasing the overall number of voters per circumscription, the bulk-voting effect of political parties is also decreased.

This electoral model, when applied to bigger and more diverse districts, leads to a more substantial weight for minorities, less effect for political parties and a room for centrists to take office.

Individual electoral districts, however, will never see the light of the day for the following reasons:
- It decreases Hezbollah’s influence by cutting his bases into pieces.
- Can you imagine the seizure Jumblat will have if this law is proposed and he won’t be able to get every single Druze seat in the Lebanese Republic? The only law he accepts is the law everyone refuses. They call this in Lebanese slang: “7ajar el dema.”
- The Future Movement will also lose a few MPs because of a decreased effect of the voters which constitute his base and an increased power of those who don’t.

The individual districts electoral law means that the current political establishment receives a drastic makeover. Do any of our politicians want this? Absolutely not. They preach about change, reform, proper representation. But anything that doesn’t bring them back to power with absolute certainty isn’t something they can accept.

True representation isn’t, in my opinion, sects voting for themselves and themselves alone. If Maronites vote for Maronites alone, how can we expect to accept Sunnis and Shiites voting for the president? If Sunnis vote for Sunnis alone, then why should the Christians and Shiites vote for the prime minister? If Shiites vote for Shiites alone, why should Christians and Sunnis vote for the speaker of the house?

A Maronite MP isn’t an MP that represents Maronites only. He is an MP who represents the voters of the district he comes from in order to transcend that and become a representative of the entire country and as such, it is shameful that an MP of a given sect who has to represent everyone has no chance of getting the votes of the other part of the country which he/she should represent.

Our votes as Lebanese of different sects are not and should not be confined to the sects that we are born into. It is saddening that some people want to summarize us with whatever’s written in the sect box of our IDs and are beyond convinced with this.

I refuse to be just another Maronite number.

Replying to Samy Gemayel

I never thought I’d reach a day where Samy Gemayel gets on my nerves. I thought he represented a future of young MPs who could possibly get our voice across. He had stood up to his family establishment and established his own movement. He had his own voice. Now, the only thing I hear is some very nasal rhetoric that presents absolutely nothing new, is completely unfounded and that people obviously eat up.

He was the MP who advocated the most apparently to increase Lebanon’s MP total to 134 (click here). And he took it to Facebook (click here) to explain his point of view.

Here it is:

Good evening dear friends,
I just wanted to explain my point of view regarding the creation of a seat in the parliament for Lebanese syriacs.
1-This community has 26700 voters and are not represented in the parliament while others like Alaouites (26100) have 2 seats and protestants (11000) have one seat… So as long as the sectarian system is still in place, this Lebanese community deserves to have a seat in the parliament. That is why I proposed to add a seat for them to be represented. I hope one day we will be able to get rid of this sectarian quota in the parliament which can only be achieved through a reform of the Lebanese system. Decentralization, creation of a Senate, neutrality and some reforms of the constitution are our only way out of this corrupt sectarian system. Till then we need to have the best representation of all the Lebanese groups so everyone will feel represented as he should and we will be able to move forward in reforming our political system.
2- The problem is not that we have too much MPs but that most of these MPs are doing nothing for the people. It is normal for a country like ours to have 128 or 134 MPs. What is not normal is that most of them are inactive! They are inactive because they were elected just because some “Za3im” sectarian leader took them on their list and not because people wanted them in the parliament to achieve something. That’s why few months ago I officially proposed a draft law proposing to take off 250.000 LP from an MP salary for every committee meeting he doesn’t attend. So if they don’t want to work people shouldn’t pay them any salary. This way, taxpayers will pay for MPs who are really working.
3- We will keep working for an electoral law that can provide the best representation for all the Lebanese groups and individuals. There are a lot of good solutions. I’m sure it will be a happy ending for all :)
Good night
SG

I felt at I, as a Lebanese citizen who is irrelevant compared to Mr. Gemayel, should reply to this utter none sense. I am lucky to have a relatively read platform to voice my opinion and I hope this speaks to those who share the same frustration.

1) Dear Mr. Gemayel, one moment you proclaim that it is detrimental to Christians in the country to go around using the numbers game because we have officially stopped counting with the whole “equal division” affair. One moment you’re using those numbers to show support for “minorities.” Should the sects that got new representatives be represented? Perhaps so. But definitely not through new MPs. Let’s talk a few numbers. The country currently has 700,000 Maronite voters who are represented by 32 MPs. The country has around 900,000 for each of the Shia and Sunni sects. Each one is represented by 27MPs. Maybe those new Christian MPs should have been given out from the Maronite share to bring it closer to what it should be given the over inflation it currently poses? But of course not because that wouldn’t work at all with those many MP voters. For instance, Tripoli currently counts 4000 Maronite voters. Those 4000 voters have an MP to represent them. Isn’t that overdoing it? Why not give that seat to Syriac Orthodox? I’m sure you can find two other seats all over the Lebanese map which you can re-allocate as well.

2) Are you serious, Mr. Gemayel? We are a country of less than 4 million. We have now 134 MPs that represent us in parliament. That’s a ratio of 30,000 people per MP. Let’s consider the United States. Their population is, according to the latest census, 316 million. Their congress and senate combined have over 535 members. That brings their ratio to almost 600000 person per MP. And since the United States may not be a sufficient example, let’s look at other countries. Switzerland has 200 MP for 8 million people. That’s 40,000 people per MP. And Switzerland has arguably similar “diversity” to us. France, a country of 65 million, has a combined congress and senate of 925 members which translates to 70,000 voters per representative. I can go on and on with examples. But I guess this suffices to make the point quite clear: yes, part of the problem is that we have too many MPs. Another part of the problem is that none of the MPs, including you Mr. Gemayel, are doing their job at legislation. And your proposal to remove less than $200 from a salary of several thousand dollars for MPs who don’t attend the many many numerous meetings that our parliament has is not only laughable, it’s you insulting our intelligence. Those extra MPs will cost taxpayers much more money than any of your sanctions would bring back. But that’s not a very appealing idea for voters now, is it?

3) It would have been more honorable, Mr. Gemayel, if you and your MP friends had actually agreed on an electoral law to elect those extra MPs and the original 128 before you actually increased the number. You keep talking, Mr. Gemayel, about elements to be applied of the Taef agreement while that agreement specifically called for much less MPs than we currently have. Wasn’t the number 108? Let’s not hide behind our fingers and say that everything will have a happy ending for us, the people, because it won’t. The only thing you and your MP friends are attempting to do is come up with a formula to bring you back to power, to enable you to turn your speeches into an auction to attract people by making them believe you are fighting for their rights and to make us pay for more people who have nothing better to do than fight with each other, racing the country in a Maserati down a dead end street.

Good morning.
EF

I find it sad that an MP as educated and young as Mr. Gemayel cannot come up with better arguments as to the increase of the MP number. What a hopeless future we have ahead of us.