The results of Beirut’s municipal elections are out. Beirut Madinati did not win, but Beirut, the city, is tonight’s biggest loser.
The electoral process was an abomination to say the least. Voting rates were abysmal. Is that how exasperated people have become? Or is that what happens when all political parties unite and give the semblance of no contest taking place? Or could Beirutis just don’t care that hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who live in the city and can’t vote counted on them to bring forward change?
Voter fraud was present in full swing, without any attempts to hide it and, with the people committing it knowing they are well protected, it will go without repercussions. Voters, especially those voting for Beirut Madinati, faced severe intimidation. Votes were being bought, as is typical for Lebanese elections. People with disabilities were met with officers telling them their vote was “useless,” ironic given there was a list – Beirut Madinati – with a person with disability running.
If they want to see this as them winning, then let them have it. Let them have Beirut Madinati votes being ripped and not counted, let them have their voter suppression. Beirut Madinati may not have gotten any seats, but they have plenty to celebrate tonight. We all have plenty to celebrate tonight.
No, this is not something to say just because Beirut Madinati did not win. Breaking into the Municipal Council would have been beautiful, but Beirut Madinati – and the Lebanese that supported them – should be proud tonight.
We are allowed to be disheartened, yes. I never expected Beirut Madinati to win, or at least whatever logical side of me thought so. But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t full of hope, as I roamed the streets of Beirut yesterday, to see those young volunteers spend the entire day unpaid, under the scorching sun, trying to do everything that they could. I’ve been hearing “zayy ma hiye” being said since I was 15, and we’ve only been going backwards since. I hoped for change, but change in the age of Lebanese politics is hard to come by.
Let’s celebrate getting every political party in power to unite against us, unite against their own personal history in which they were at each other’s throats only last month, to use all means possible in their capacity to win and do so with lesser numbers than their 2010 outing.
Let’s celebrate that Beirut Madinati not only got the political establishment to be afraid, it got them to put women on their ticket, and to adopt a platform that we all know they won’t actually do, but to adopt a platform anyway. In doing so, Beirut Madinati changed the rhetoric of political talk into talking about issues, not emotions.
Let’s celebrate that Beirut Madinati changed the dynamics of a race that was considered by many pundits to be dead on arrival. Beirut was alive – those that voted at least – and it was alive in the ways that count. Democracy is always great, unless you’re voting for Donald Trump (or the Bierte list of course).
Let’s celebrate that Beirut Madinati shook the political establishment to its core so well that they fought in the only way they knew how: fear, hate, sectarianism, the memory of Rafic Hariri, and zayy ma hiye slogans that, ironically, their leader couldn’t even do as he put his vote in the wrong ballot box. Irony of the day, guaranteed.
Let’s celebrate that on election day, Beirut Madinati acted as winners. They did not litter wherever they went, like the political parties did. They did not fight among themselves, like the political parties did. They were exemplary, young, hopeful, and damn beautiful. They helped those disabled get out of their cars, go to wherever they wanted to go to, whether they voted in Beirut or not, and whether they had intended to vote for Beirut Madinati or not.
Let’s celebrate that Beirut Madinati gave Beirutis the chance to tell the whole system: go screw yourself, allowing many Lebanese, Beirutis and otherwise, to have a breathing space, an alternative, one that promises to be better as the years go buy: people defined by who they are, not how they pray, by what they’ve accomplished and not who they know. Change in mentalities is gradual, and it started on May 8th. Or at least one hopes.
Let’s celebrate that in the heart of our capital, there are thousands of people who want change, who voted for change. Let’s rejoice that in Achrafieh, Beirut Madinati won and it was the establishment’s list that was fighting for votes. Some political forces have adopted a war-time slogan to say: Achrafieh is the beginning. Yesterday, Achrafieh was the beginning of change. Achrafieh’s voters should be immensely proud.
Let’s celebrate that Beirut and Lebanon’s political landscape has changed, in smaller increments that we had hoped, but changed anyway, to the better. Let us hope that by forcing them to do so, political parties in power will not keep a reserve of people they’ve forced to remain hungry and poor so they could be summoned on election day in droves. Let us hope that by speaking up, in ballot boxes or otherwise, we’ve shown that this country has people who will not succumb to the status quo of being told that they are irrelevant. We are relevant. We make the discussion, and we will not be silenced anymore.
In 2010, when the political establishment ran in Beirut last, they won with a difference of around 50,000 votes. This time, that difference has shrunk substantially to 15,000. This is a victory. Beirut Madinati got 60% of the vote in Achrafieh. This is a victory. The got 40% of the votes overall. This is massive. Celebrate it as such.
But it does not end here. This is where it starts.
As we move forward, the most important thing to realize is that we do not exist in this country alone. We can’t parade ourselves around as being those who are “educated,” who have Facebook accounts they know how to use, and blogs they write on, and believe that that should be enough, that the bubble we’ve made for ourselves is enough. We need to come to the realization that we share this country with people who do not exist in the same framework that we believe everyone exists in.
May 8th should be our wake up call to pop that bubble and reach out to the people in Tarik el Jdideh, Mazeraa, and other Beirut areas that were not supportive of the change we want to ask them: what do you need? how could we be there for you?
It starts by not calling them sheep. It starts by understanding that them voting in the way that they did is much more complicated than just them being “followers.” Understanding their pain, their woes, their daily struggles which are entirely different than yours is the radical shift we need into making the change we saw stick, and take it to higher levels.
Until next time.