In the 3ahd of Business Deals: Money Can Get You A Lebanese Citizenship, But A Lebanese Mother Can’t

Can you hear that? The sound of every supporter to the current ruling Party in the country scrambling to find every excuse under the sun to justify the latest naturalization law that was passed by their president? It reeks of principles, I’d say.

A couple of days ago, news of a naturalization decree signed by the president surfaced. The decree gave 350+ people the Lebanese nationality. Many of those people happen to be Arab businessmen. A few of those who were given the Lebanese nationality belong to the Maronite Diaspora attempt at reclaiming it for those of Lebanese origins.

The backlash has been swift. As have been the abhorrent defense of the decree by blind supporters of the political parties that brokered it. It even got to the point of an OTV reporter saying that the Lebanese nationality isn’t “that important” so we shouldn’t care.

In a way, she’s right. We have one of the world’s worst passports, worst economies, highest corruption rates, and horrid policies. I would know, I’ve been an emigrant from that country for nearly a year now and I can feel – day by day – how lacking my country is in every facet that I appreciate in being away. But that’s not the point.

The point is that our nationality should not be a mere business deal, given to whoever pays most money. It should not be a back room deal coming right at the heel of parliamentary elections, and it should definitely not be an article 49 in disguise, essentially bypassing Lebanon’s Supreme Court annulling such a decree from our national budget.

What makes this decree even worse is the fact that it has not been published anywhere, it’s the fact that piecing together the names of those who have been given the Lebanese nationality is essentially a puzzle, and that requests to get the full decree from the president’s office are finding deaf ears. If they have nothing to hide, then why are they working so hard at hiding it?

Some of the names that have been naturalized, according to Facebook posts circulating around, are entities that have been essential to the Syrian regime over the years.

Yes, there should be a path to citizenship for non-Lebanese. It is silly that the only way people can become citizens in this country is for a president to decide to make them so, or for them to be married to a Lebanese man or have a Lebanese father. There should be a way for a people who contributed to Lebanese society in a substantial way to be granted to have a way to become more integral parts of this society.

What this new decree does is further solidify the injustice that is ingrained in Lebanese society when it comes to the very foundation of it.

Any person born to a Lebanese mother can’t become Lebanese, but a Syrian nationalist that is loved by some politician can. My cousin’s children, for example, can never become Lebanese even though their mother is, just because their father is American. Our country shows us once again that money trumps our women.

In a time when the mere thought of a Lebanese woman becoming equal in passing her nationality as a Lebanese man is met with racism, sectarianism, and endless backlash from the ruling class, we show our women again and again that they don’t matter.

Furthermore, a person born and raised all their life in Lebanon to non-Lebanese parents can never become a citizen. But a business man from Jordan who needs the citizenship for possibly some financial purposes can. But yes, it’s all fairness and unicorns and happy thoughts.

It’s not about demographics. It doesn’t even matter how many of those naturalized are Christians, that is not the point. 400 people won’t cause a population change. But it’s the principle behind laws that are passed in the dead of the night, without appropriate scrutiny, revision, and assessment.

I hope the MPs and politicians that are against such a decree work on at least trying to block it. I’m looking at you Lebanese Forces and Kataeb blocs – you have enough MPs now (or at least one of you does) to do so.

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Hezbollah’s Culture of Death Attacks Nadine Labaki’s Triumph at Cannes

You would think that a Lebanese director becoming the first Lebanese and Arab female director to win big at Cannes would be a cause for celebration.

You would think that Nadine Labaki’s important win at Cannes for her newest movie Capharnaüm would be a cause of pride in all Lebanese, regardless of who they are and where they come from.

You would think the above two statements would be a given any day, in any country, but in the country of Hezbollah, the pride and celebration of other people in the country are entities they are not okay with.

It all started yesterday when Manar Sabbagh, an Al Manar reporter, tweeted the following:

Her tweet, calling Lebanese people celebrating Nadine Labaki’s win “the sons of Phoenicia,” ridiculing them and belittling them in the process, telling them that there’s no reason to be proud of Nadine Labaki’s accomplishment because of the superiority of the deaths of Hezbollah militants in Syria.

The opium of the resistance is pretty high in this one, it seems. How the hell does a movie about mistreated children, child brides, illegal workers and a Lebanese director winning at Cannes somehow turn into an existential crisis for Hezbollah members who are so pressed about the populace not being eternally at their ass adorning them with kisses? Einstein needs to be resurrected to figure it out, I bet.

Not only is Nadine Labaki’s latest movie devoid of Israeli influences, references, anything that is related to that entity that must not be named, but her entire win at Cannes literally has nothing to do with anything that Hezbollah pertains to. And yet here we are. In this culture of death that they are entrenching the country in, the space that they are leaving for people who want to celebrate such moments – few as they are – is becoming as narrow as possible.

Alas, it doesn’t end there.

Today, Hezbollah deputy Nawaf el Moussawi decided to pitch in as well:

With a play on words, he says that when the going gets tough, the only thing that protects us is our weapons, and by “our” he means the weapons of his party, the same weapons that were – at many points in the past 10 years – used against the very same Lebanese citizens they said they wanted to protect, and those weapons that were taken to war in Syria, to protect a tyrant who killed and decimated Lebanese people over thirty years of his and his father’s rule over our country, to “protect” us from groups that are best friends with that tyrant.

No, I am not thankful for that, nor am I grateful.

Today, this culture of death and treason that is being perpetuated by entities like Manar Sabbagh and Nawaf el Moussawi is a cancer plaguing Lebanese society, bolstered by the fact that few are willing to tell them enough is enough, and supported by hundreds of thousands of their militants who when told go, they go.

This culture of death, where a Lebanese director is ridiculed, her achievements miniaturized, where those celebrating her are described in condescending terms, is a slippery slope until these people turn the country – and they are well underway – into a country that only resembles them.

This culture of death sees an insult in a director telling the story of a Syrian refugee that was rendered as such by the very same regime they’re fighting for. It sees in art an affront to the limitations they believe are enough for everyone. It sees in their own perception of what matters as the only marker for everyone else to judge and be judged. Hell no.

Today, it is more important than ever to stand up to the rhetoric that is propagated by the likes of Manar Sabbag and Nawaf el Moussawi. The two visions we want for our country cannot be more at odds.

We want art, cinema, achievements, celebrations of humane causes, highlighting of human struggles, attempts to advance our country forward, not bring it back to whatever the Ayatollah expects.

Nadine Labaki, we are proud of you and of what you have done.

Nadine Labaki’s “Capharnaüm” Wins The Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Festival

What an accomplishment.

Nadine Labaki just became the first Lebanese director to win such a top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s the festival’s third highest prize.

After receiving a 15 minute standing ovation after its screening on Thursday, the film immediately became a front runner, at the heel of what some are calling “the best baby performance in the history of cinema.”

Capharnaüm, with its Lebanese and international release dates to be determined, tells the story of Zain, a 12 year old Lebanese child, who sues his parents for bringing him into the life they’ve given him: that of squalor, poverty, abuse, child brides, and lack of papers.

The reviewer for The Guardian called the middle section of the movie so ambitious that he doesn’t even know how Nadine Labaki pulled it off, calling the movie a favorite for the Best Foreign Feature Oscar as well for next year’s awards. Deadline, on the other hand, called the movie an instant foreign language Oscar front runner, believing the movie should even go beyond that category, the way Amour did in 2013.

With this movie, it seems Nadine Labaki has upped her game from the already high bar she set with her previous two features, and at this point it seems the sky is her limit. I cannot wait to see what this ingenious Lebanese director, the best in her generation, has to keep offering.

If anything, I hope that with movies like Capharnaüm, Lebanese moviemakers realize the importance of telling the stories that Lebanese society entails. Those are the kind of movies we should be making, as we touch on the wounds that plague our communities in our attempt to heal them.

Furthermore, the movie even features an Ethiopian refugee named Yordanos Shifera who’s been living in Lebanon without proper documents. That same actress has now been given the chance to walk the red carpet of an award winning movie in which she had a vital role. That’s amazing.

There’s already a scene circulating online from the movie, which you can watch here:

This is reportedly the opening scene of the movie.

Congrats Nadine Labaki. You made all of us proud, and I hope you keep receiving the accolades for your new masterpiece.

Kollouna Watani’s Joumana Haddad & Paula Yacoubian Are Now Parliament Members

Update: Somehow, since the writing of this post Joumana Haddad ended up losing. No comment.

On a more than depressing electoral day, a glimmer of hope that started two years ago with Beirut Madinati in Beirut –  1 translated into both Joumana Haddad and Paula Yacoubian becoming parliament members tonight, the first two ever civil society candidates to enter Lebanese parliament.

Joumana Haddad’s win for the minorities seat also makes her the first openly atheist member of Lebanese parliament, and possibly the entire Middle East, where atheism is still considered a crime in many countries.

The win of Kollouna Watani in Beirut – 1 comes at the heel of very poor turn out almost uniformly throughout the country. In fact, depressingly enough, the win of Kollouna Watani is because turnout in Beirut – 1 was the poorest in the entire country, a shame when you take in consideration that the last time we voted was 2009.

Both Joumana and Paula deserve their win. They worked tremendously over the past several months to raise their profile, scream for the change they want, and they did not take any vote for granted as many political parties seem to have done.

Change for the country started in Achrafieh, even if on the overall this election leaves me with a tinge of disappointment.

What I discovered today, after voting for Kollouna Watani last week in North 3, and then having all the Civil Society lists not even make the count on TVs because they were thrown into irrelevant is that 1) we live in a bubble, and 2) I don’t think our fellow Lebanese really want the change that we want this country to have.

To be sitting in front of my computer thousands of miles away and be utterly flabbergasted at how people just didn’t care was mind-boggling. Why was I, the Lebanese who already left, more interested in how things went than those who stayed? This sense of apathy, this mind-numbness that we’ve all exhibited is just sad, and it’s quite literally across the board, across all parties, across all regions.

And yet, I was proud of my hometown giving nearly as many votes for Layal Bou Moussa as they did to the Kataeb candidate, and proud that my candidate was the top candidate on the Kollouna Watani list in North 3. Those 90 votes in Ebrine are worth hundreds in my eyes.

Today, the Lebanese people are tired everyone and everything, that’s what these elections have shown. From the poor performance of El 3ahd’s lists, to even the performance of civil society lists outside of Beirut 1. Today showed that even our pleas for change were not enough for most of the Lebanese population to go and do something about it.

Some had their reasons, I bet. But others just sank in the complacency of thinking things will always be the same. This abhorrent freak of an electoral law, whose sole purpose it seems is to have Gebran Bassil become a representative for Batroun, didn’t help either. For the record, #NotMyNeyeb.

Instead, we settle for cheering for the least of evils. We go back to basics, but I did what I can.

A bunch of good people made it to parliament today, as well. Of those, I mention Ziad Hawat – the former Mayor of Jbeil who turned his city into a top Lebanese destination. I also mention Antoine Habchi whose victory in Baalbak-Hermel was truly the other highlight of these elections. A lot of women made it to parliament today as well, other than Paula and Joumana. The list includes Sethrida, Bahia el Hariri, and Inaya Ezzedine in the South. Hopefully even more female candidates will end up as winners once the tally is done.

On the other hand, Jamil el Sayyed who was the right hand of Syria’s occupation of the country, and whose real place is in jail, also gained a parliament seat thanks to the Shiite duo whose electoral performances truly strengthened the nature of the thoughts they’re perpetuating in the country. Their “either you’re with us or you’re a traitor” mantra, their “it’s your religious duty to vote for us” slogans are cancerous.

Another thing that today showed is that, when you try to have “modern” laws the least you can do is provide a modern voting experience. Everyone was complaining about how slow the process was, something I had spoken about last week here:

And yet, despite that no measures were made to make sure that people didn’t stand in lines for hours to cast a vote. We needed more booths at each polling place, the process has to be streamlined, and more importantly the law had to be explained to the average voter much more efficiency. But then again, it’s been nearly 8 hours that they’ve closed the polls and we don’t even have results yet.

Setting aside the romance, today Lebanon’s civil society has managed to get only about 20-30,000 votes across the entire country. This is not enough. And I frankly don’t know where to go from here. Perhaps the work of Joumana and Paula will get people to wake up to what they should be demanding of traditional parties, which puts more pressure on them.

Or perhaps we’re just too far gone as people, too entrenched in our ways to really learn that this candidate who’s providing us with a job today only does so because their policies deprived us of jobs for years, or that this candidate giving us food or money today is doing that because they made sure we were poor and starving leading up to that point.

Today, I’m proud of the choice I made. I don’t regret it at all, even if it’s going to be taken out of their equations, thrown into a bin never to be looked at again. And I hope that me going beyond my traditional party lines is proof that we can all do it if we believe that we deserve the changed country that befits us.

Tousbi7oun 3ala watan. Or not.

From America, I’ll Be Voting For Kollouna Watani… And So Should You

In around a month, I’d have been what Gebran Bassil would like to call a “mountasher” for exactly one year. In a few days, this very same mountasher will be driving around 70 miles north of Philadelphia, to a smaller city called Easton where a big Lebanese American population resides. In one of Easton’s hotels, I will be casting my first ever ballot for Lebanese parliament.

On that ballot, for the North 3 district encompassing Batroun (my home district), Bsharre, Koura and Zgharta, I will be giving my vote to the brave list of independents who are trying to fight the status quo of political parties. On Sunday, April 29th, my ballot will be in favor for Kollouna Watani. And so should yours, be it that day or on May 6th back home.

I left Lebanon nearly 11 months ago. Leading up to my decision to leave were years during which I used this blog to vent about the many shortcomings that life in Lebanon entailed.

I’ve written about the garbage crisis, the government suppressing protests. I’ve written about their attempts at censorship, the horrible roads, horrifying internet, dying infrastructure, rising racism, disgusting homophobia, and xenophobia. I’ve written about young men being gunned or knifed down in the streets with next to no repercussions. I’ve written about our people dying left and right because they lack the most basic of necessities that any person in 2018 should have.

The common denominator to most of my blog posts that complained about the situation was always the same: Lebanon’s ruling class, in its varying forms, that turned the country into the rotting state it is today. Lebanon’s politicians, to varying degrees, have failed the country.

The Lebanon that I left is a country that doesn’t have constant electricity, and water supply despite having the resource aplenty. It’s a country where internet is mind-numbingly slow, where the security situation is as precarious as it can be. It’s a country whose passport is essentially worthless, where the system is so dysfunctional this is our first election in 9 years and where we stayed without a president for well over two years. It’s a country where homophobia, xenophobia and racism are a political tool, a way of life and rampant infestations.

The Lebanon I left is a country whose capital drowned in garbage for months, and whose garbage crisis has yet to be resolved. The Lebanon I left is a place whose second city Tripoli was ravaged for years with conflict because the city’s politicians were at odds, effectively killing the city’s reputation and straining its fragility. The Lebanon I left is a place where we are forcibly impoverished, starved, left without jobs and basic human rights… so that one day they can dangle those very things they’ve deprived us of, right in front of our eyes, and entice us to give them our trust again.

But no more.

I left for a reason. That reason is because the country I called home for most of my adult life so far was not offering me the prospect of the future that I knew I deserved. I was lucky and priviliged enough to have had the chance to leave, many others do not.

The famous Lebanese saying goes: إلي بجرب المجرب بكون عقله مخرب – if you try something you’ve tried before and failed, your mind is rotten. Many people my age back home are unemployed, struggling with the country they’ve grown up in, the same country that has been ruled by more or less the same political class since before the civil war. We’ve tried them enough.

Our parents have struggled enough to give us the best life that they can in a country that has made sure that process was as hard as possible for them. They’ve tried doing that enough.

Our entire system has made sure to bring us down whenever we tried. It has made sure to enable our politicians, while disabling the people at every venture, and every corner. In Lebanon, the system is not for the people, and by the people; it’s for our politicians and their henchmen – it’s their world and we’re just living in it, but no more.

Some of you may have had a parliament member provide you with basic human necessities: a job, for instance. That’s not their job. Their job is to provide you with a country where you wouldn’t need them for a job.

Some of you may be offered money to vote for this person or that come election day. I cannot judge. But there’s a reason why this tactic works – it’s because they’ve made sure you need them to the point where a few hundred dollars every few years is a treasure in your eyes.

Some of you may have family or relatives who are involved with this party of another. Some of you may even have parents who’ve asked you to vote for this person or another. In that polling booth, you should know that your choice is yours alone and it should be without any other person’s opinion of what they think you should or should not do.

I can go on and on about the situation back home, and what it lacks. But today, I stand before a very easy choice. On one hand, I am being spammed by a certain minister running in a region, on a phone number he got because of the expat data that was leaked. On the other hand, my region has a candidate named Layal Bou Moussa who is personally handing out her flyers to passing cars, holding town halls to discuss her electoral program.

On one hand, I have the choice to try out the same status quo that’s been in my area for years. On the other hand, I have the chance to vote for change. Is the prospect scary? Perhaps. Will the change I want to vote for win? Doubtful. But every vote counts. Saying that giving those independent candidates our votes is a waste because they’re not going to win is amplified when it’s not only you who’s saying that, but thousands of others… and then you end up voting for the reason you think no change is possible anyway.

Dear Expats – there’s a reason you left. Remember it on April 27th and 29th.

Dear Lebanese friends, family, and readers back home – there’s a reason you’ve been reading this blog for years, there’s a reason you’ve been complaining about el wade3 l 3am for the past 7 years. There’s a reason why the country is what it is today. Remember that on May 6th.

Remember that those candidates who are spreading fake news, fear, using money to buy votes, using scare tactics to get votes before the elections will probably be worse after elections are over. Remember that those people pretending to care about your votes before the elections will not give a rat’s ass about them after. Remember that this decision will be yours to bear for the next four years.

As for me, on April 29th, in that small city in Pennsylvania, USA, I know what I’ll be voting for.

Nadine Labaki’s New Movie “Capharnaüm” Is Part Of The 2018 Cannes Festival Official Selection, First Lebanese Movie Since 1991

After Georges Nasser’s films “Ila Ayn” 1957, “Le Petit Étranger” 1962, and Maroun Baghdadi’s “Hors La Vie” 1991, Nadine Labaki’s latest “Capharnaüm” is chosen to be in the official competition at the 2018 Cannes Festival.

While the movie does not have a trailer yet, and neither do we have an official synopsis of what it is about, this is such an honor to bestow on this phenomenal Lebanese director whose previous two films were also critically acclaimed, with Where Do We Go Now winning the top prize at the Toronto Film Festival and being nominated for a Critics Choice Award in 2009.

Being part of the Official Selection at Cannes means that Capharnaüm  is in the running for the show’s top prize – the Palme D’Or – for best movie. Nadine’s previous movies were selected for a different, less prestigious subset, the “Un Certain Regard” selection.

Other movies that were selected along with Capharnaüm are:

  • Le Livre D’Image, dir: Jean-Luc Godard
  • Blackkklansman, dir: Spike Lee
  • Three Faces, dir: Jafar Panahi
  • Cold War, dir: Pawel Pawlikowski
  • Leto, dir: Kirill Serebrennikov
  • Lazzaro Felice, dir: Alice Rohrwacher
  • Under The Silver Lake, dir: David Robert Mitchell
  • Capernaum, dir: Nadine Labaki
  • At War, dir: Stephane Brizé
  • Asako I&II, dir: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  • Sorry Angel, dir: Christophe Honoré
  • Dogman, dir: Matteo Garrone
  • Girls Of The Sun, dir: Eva Husson
  • Yomeddine, dir: A.B Shawky
  • Burning, dir: Lee-Chang Dong
  • Shoplifters, dir: Kore-Eda Hirokazu
  • Ash Is Purest White, dir: Jia Zhang-Ke

The fact that Nadine Labaki is in the running against a legend such as Jean-Luc Goddard is an honor in itself.

I personally can’t wait to see Capernaum, and hope it’s as phenomenal as the honors it’s being bestowed indicate.

No, Gebran Bassil, Ne7na Meghterbin

Gebran Bassil – our esteemed minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigrants – wants to change the name of the ministry he is heading from that dealing with Immigrant affairs, to – what I would assume translates as: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora. In Arabic, the change goes from Meghterbin to Mountashirin.

The change, it seems, is Bassil’s attempt – in his ever lasting effort to gain a parliament seat in my home district (which he will get with this freak of an electoral law they’ve come up with) – to indicate to us, Lebanon’s immigrants at large, that our identity is Lebanese.

As if we have forgotten.

We may have left the country, dear sir, but the attempt to wash away the very hard decision of us deciding to pack up everything and leave will not be accepted. The mere fact that you think I need to be reminded of my Lebanese identity is insulting.

I have not forgotten that I have not seen my parents in months. I have not forgotten that I couldn’t be next to my grandfather as he drew his dying breath. I have not forgotten that I am missing out on Celine and Yasmina growing up. I have not forgotten that I have not seen my best friends and have not been in their lives for almost a year.

I have not forgotten that I will be missing out on Celine and Simon’s baptisms. I have not forgotten that I haven’t hugged my grandmothers in what feels like an eternity. I have not forgotten that I haven’t seen my brothers in months either.

And yet, here we are.

What makes me Lebanese is them. It’s what I’ve left behind and I remember every single day of being ten thousand miles away, as I get glimpses of what I’ve left behind over WhatsApp voice messages.

No, you do not get to sugar coat me being away from home.

I have also not forgotten the country you and your friends made me leave. In the time I’ve been here, America has offered me more – and I’m not even their citizen – than what my own government has in over twenty seven years of being its citizen.

America has offered me well-paved roads. You haven’t.

America has offered me a well-paying job. You haven’t.

America has offered me fast internet, water that doesn’t die off on me, electricity that I can rely on, gas that doesn’t break the bank to buy, accessibility that cannot be replaced, and prosperity that cannot be priced.

America has offered me a place in which I can build my own home, without worrying about tomorrow might bring. You haven’t.

What have you offered?

You’ve offered a country where everyone has a militia, where you don’t succeed based on your qualifications but based on who you know, where half of people my age are struggling to find a job, where corruption is our modus operandi, where the most basic of human requirements are not provided to me.

But please, do remind me that I’m Lebanese. Remind me of how I can’t go on vacation anywhere without needing two hundred and fifty different pieces of paper to have them consider me for a visa. Remind me of how you and your friends have turned the country’s reputation into a shithole. Remind me of all that baggage that I’ve willingly left behind – just because you need my vote, I suppose.

You think we wanted to leave. No one wants to leave their home, and everything that they’ve known their whole life. But you’ve made me do so.

I have not forgotten why I left. I thank the heavens each day that I took that decision. And it won’t really matter what you name your little useless ministry, at least for me.

Come April 29th, Lebanon’s voting immigrants – please choose wisely. And on May 6th, I hope the Lebanese populace back home remembers that their sons and daughters are immigrating for a reason.