A Record 111 Women Are Running For Parliament in Lebanon’s 2018 Elections

As Lebanon’s 2018 elections go on in full swing, a total of 976 candidates have presented to the Ministry of Interior affairs as of the deadline at midnight on March 6th. Of those, 111 candidates are women.

There are two ways to look at this. 111 candidates being women is essentially only 11.37% of the total number of candidates. Yes, the percentage may be dreary, but back in 2009 – the last time we actually had parliamentary elections – only 15 women had run, from a field of over 702 candidates. That’s nearly 2%, an abomination by all measures.

So instead of saying that 111 candidates being women is not good enough, I choose to celebrate the milestone of having that many women run. It’s the highest number since El-Taef agreement, and will only be just a stepping stone for future elections to come.

This year’s elections has the highest number of candidates ever recorded. The previous record was 702, in 2009. There were 484 candidates in 2005, 545 in 2000, 599 in 1996 and 408 in 1992, the first election after the Taef agreement. Prior to the Lebanese civil war, with less seats in parliament, the most candidates that had run was 366 in 1972.

The reason these elections have had a higher influx of candidates in general is the new election law at hand: it allows more representation to entities of the electorate that had been diluted away previously. Even Lebanon’s political parties are fielding candidates in districts that they had not been competitive in. For instance, the Lebanese Forces and FPM have candidates in the deep south and the Beqaa-Hermel districts. More importantly, however, a good chunk of those candidates are people from Lebanon’s civil society who had fought tooth and nail over the past few years against the limitless corruption of those in power.

Interestingly enough, a quarter of Lebanon’s current parliament members are not running for re-election. The most notable of those is probably former prime minister Fouad Sanioura, who held the Sunni seat in Saida since 2009. Many simply didn’t stand a chance at defeating a challenge in the shuffling of proportional representation.

While 111 women running for parliament is an achievement in itself, it shows – yet again – that Lebanon’s political parties have failed in further strengthening the political might of this core demographic in the Lebanese population. Remember the days when they were talking about women quotas? Even their most conservative of quotas is higher than the number of women candidates that are running, and definitely higher than the ones they will have on their list.

For a full list of the candidates, click here.

It’s up to us, therefore, to make sure we have as many new and fresh faces in parliament as possible. As an expat in the United States, I will vote on April 29th. My district – Batroun – has the least number of candidates running in the entire country: only 10 candidates are running for 2 Maronite seats. Of those 10 candidates, a phenomenal journalist, lawyer, and friend named Layal Bou Moussa is hoping to make a dent in the Lebanese political sphere.

It is without hesitation, therefore, that I say my preferential vote will be going to her this year. She has proven over and over again to be a loud voice for all the oppressed. As a reporter for New TV, she’s exposed corruption of those in power. It’s time we give her a chance, every one else in my district has been in power in one way or the other since at least 2005. Enough is enough. On April 29th, I’m with her.

There’s a lot to say about the chance that people from Lebanon’s civil society have to get to parliament. But if we all belittle their chances and either not vote or vote for political parties instead, then we’ll be falling into the same rabbit hole we’re never going to get out of. It’s worse when there are accomplished candidates running in our districts that need our votes.

Other notable female candidates running are:

  • Paula Yaacoubian for the Armenian seat in Beirut’s 1st district,
  • Joumana Haddad for the Minorities seat in Beirut’s 1st district,
  • Jessica Azar – MTV journalist – for the Greek Orthodox seat in Metn,
  • Sethrida Geagea for the Maronite seat in Becharre,
  • Gilberte Zouein running for the Maronite seat in Keserwan,
  • Maya Terro running for the Sunni seat in Chouf,
  • Sandrella Merhej running for the Maronite seat in Baalbek,
  • Lina Mokhayber running for the Greek Orthodox seat in Metn,
  • Raghida Dargham running for the Druze seat in Beirut’s second district,
  • Michelle Tuein running for the Greek Orthodox seat in Beirut’s first district, among others.

How many of those candidates will end up in parliament is yet to be determined, but the mere fact that since the last time we’ve held parliamentary elections, the number of Lebanese women willing to throw in their hat into the figurative political scene has grown by more than 700% is telling. Maybe this time, we can actually get more than 4 women out of 128 members of parliament.

The next deadline in the election process is to submit lists. Candidates cannot run on their own anymore, and as such they need to be part of bigger lists that are running candidates to their district. This is because the new electoral law adopts proportional representation, which will make voting not as simple. The following is a neat video by the Lebanese Forces about how the law work. Yes, it’s a political party’s video, but no it’s not partisan in its information:

 

Lebanese Parliament Is Going To Extend Its Term A 3rd Time. We Last Voted In 2009. It’s 2017. Bass Hek.

Make sure you download this blog’s iOS app to stay up to date! (Link).

They want you to be busy with Myriam Klink, while they ignore the fact they should have come up with an election law 8 years ago.

They want you to be busy with their attempts to make you poorer, while they ignore the fact that they are demolishing the deadlines for the parliamentary election coming up this May.

They want you to be overwhelmed with all the hurdles they throw at you, so you are too preoccupied from standing up to the neo-dictatorship they’ve turned this country into by being so incompetent, so horribly bad, and so disgustingly unfit to serve you as citizens.

They want to blind you with them ordering delivery from apps, and bicycle lanes to feign modernity.

They want to fool you with biometric passports thinking we’re going up.

They want you to be grateful they’ve maintained stability, grateful that you have them, as they take us as citizens for granted every single day.

So here’s our wake up call:

We have not voted for parliament since 2009.

The last time Lebanon went this long without elections was when we had a civil war. This time, there’s no war. There’s simply horrendous incompetence and corruption and utter disregard for the constitution and our rights.

People of my generation have never ever cast a vote for parliament. I can’t even hold my politicians accountable because they don’t let me under the guise of “fair representation.” Here’s a news alert for you, our disgusting politicians: representation will never be fair if, you know, elections are never held in the first place.

And parliament will extend its mandate for the third time in a row, because they can’t agree on an electoral law, because they don’t care about agreeing on a law in the first place, because us having the basic right to vote is the least of their concern.

But please, Lebanon, if they ever let you vote, just don’t vote for them?

Arabs Should Look In The Mirror Before Criticizing Trump’s Travel Ban


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Over the past few days, I watched Americans old and young protest against their president’s travel ban. It was a sight to behold – those people who were taught all their lives to fear Arabs, Muslims and to have all kinds of negative connotations with them were standing up for human decency.

The protests haven’t been exclusive to the United States. London and other European cities have had their own share, culminating in an fiery discussion between British PMs about Trump and his policies.

Meanwhile in the Arab world, crickets.

Not a single Arab country had anything to say about the ban. They couldn’t even muster the guts to stand up with their own. I guess that whole “Arabism” theme is only nice when used from Arab Idol and The Voice podiums.

What some countries did was the exact opposite: Kuwait fortified travel bans against 5 Muslim countries, including Syria. The top Emirati diplomat came out in support of the travel ban. And these moves are not without context.

The two Arab countries that have taken the most refugees are Jordan and Lebanon with 1 million and 1.5 million officially registered refugees, respectively. Gulf counties, all of which are not affected by Trump’s ban despite them being the biggest exporters of Islamic terrorism, have taken in a total of zero.

As a side note, that is also the exact same number of Americans that have been killed by terrorist attacks from the countries Trump has banned, while the number is 2500+ from the Gulf countries that he has not banned and who haven’t taken in any refugees.

In fact, Gulf countries have made their visa requirements for other Arabs so disgusting that no one dares speak up against it. I personally have no intention to ever work or live there, so I suppose I can speak up.

KSA has increased its visa price to $1200 for Lebanese nationals in an attempt to curb the number of Lebanese coming in for work, and as a political retaliation at the country not giving it the blowjobs it always needs.

The UAE has made it near impossible to obtain work visas for it as well, and depending on the Emirate you’re applying to work in, you could be rejected entirely despite having proper paperwork. Moreover, the UAE has made it near impossible for Syrians whose families are in the country to get visas to visit; case in point: a Syrian friend of mine who was born and raised there couldn’t go see her family since moving to Lebanon for university studies, but was able to get a 2 year US visa (prior to the ban).

The UAE’s situation doesn’t stop there. They’ve been systematically targeting people for deportation based on their religious affiliation. If the Lebanese state had any decency, they’d publish the list of Shiite nationals who were deported just for being Shiites.

As mentioned above, Kuwait has enforced a visa ban on 5 Muslim countries, including Syria. But this isn’t new for Kuwait. In fact, the country is known for its derision of foreigners coming in, however they are, except if they are Westerners of course.

As a Lebanese, I need a visa to enter every single Arab country even if for a visit except Jordan and Syria. The rest of those countries don’t have a straightforward process either and for some of them, I have to provide the same papers demanded by the US or Schengen visas. And my country isn’t better either. Yes, we have 1.5 million to 2 million refugees, which is probably more than what the country can handle granted, but few are those who are happy with having the refugees here and see them as anything more than a burden in the best of cases or treat them with all the xenophobia they could muster on average.

In fact, it might be hard to believe but Lebanon has strict visa requirements toward certain countries as well. For starters, the criteria we’ve enforced towards accepting Syrians in are hell. Many are turned away at our borders because they can’t tick off the checklist from hell we’ve started to enforce a few years ago. We also enforce inhumane visa requirements on countries we deem as “lesser.” Refer to how Deepa Dermasiri, Malek Maktabi’s New Year Eve gut-wrenching story, couldn’t get a visa to come see her daughter in Lebanon and passed away before she was able to.

What’s worse, the story doesn’t just stop with visas. While Americans protested against a ban that doesn’t even affect most of them, has there been any protests in the places we come from? In the grander scheme of things, has there been protests against the horrendous visa requirements we have for each other to begin with?

Do Lebanese dare to speak up against the rules the Emirati government humiliated them with? Or Saudi visas? Or any Arab visa?

Do we even stand up for minorities in our countries? When was the last time we had protests for some parts of our societies that were oppressed? When did Muslims have mass protests for the persecuted Christians in some Arab countries? When did we have mass protests for women rights? LGBT rights? KSA has Muslim only roads. Just saying.

Yes, those of us who stand up are courageous because it’s so difficult to do so in the first place, but the rest are complacent and satisfied. With what? Religion, money, lack of education… you name it.

Yes, Trump’s ban is all kinds of messed up. But then again, aren’t we all kinds of messed up too? Let’s take a hard look in the mirror at how we treat each other before panicking about how others are treating us, because the fact of the matter is: we treat other Arabs worse than Trump could ever do.

So thanks to the Americans protesting for us. You’re greater than even I thought you were.

To The Americans Fighting The #MuslimBan, A Middle Eastern Thank You


Dear Americans standing up for human decency,

Thank you.

As I saw the thousands of you gather around airports in the country, chanting against a ban that sees only hate, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how wonderful you are as people who care about others who are being targeted for things out of their control, for standing up to those of us who are weakened across the world.

To the protestors who stormed city squares and airports in a completely spontaneous manner because they couldn’t sit by and be complacent to such injustice, thank you.

To the translators offering their tongues and time to people whose voices have been taken away from them, thank you.

To the lawyers and the ACLU offering everything that they can give to those who have nothing to offer back, thank you.

To the army veterans, whose chests are adorned with Purple Hearts, standing at airports because this isn’t what they fought for, thank you.

To those who have defied their parents, friends and comfort zones to stand up for what’s right, thank you.

To the employers making sure their employees know their workplace is a place of inclusion, not exclusion, thank you.

To the hospital program directors who are making sure to reassure residency applicants, that are needed by America so, that their programs don’t look at country or race or visa status, thank you.

To the celebrities whose views have been chastised for so long, who have painted their bodies and advocated from the most watched podiums for those whose entire lives have been uprooted because of a signature, thank you.

To the taxis of New York, who risked their livelihoods for humanity, thank you.

To those applauding at airports as detainees were let free, for bringing tears to our eyes for your solidarity, thank you.

To the American companies, like Starbucks and Lyft, who want to hire refugees and are standing against oppression, thank you.

To the conservatives who voted for the man causing this, and who are now shell-shocked about what is taking place and refusing to stand by it, thank you.

To the Republicans who are not represented by this man and who refuse to partake in this, thank you.

To the Christians in America who know their religion is about love and acceptance, who know that Jesus wants them to turn the other cheek and not cower away in fear, thank you.

To the wonderful Americans who are spending their days and nights and all their free time shouting to whoever could listen that there are values in this world that are more important than politics, thank you.

To the ones who see us as people, not as baggage with frightening connotations in societies they don’t understand, people who should be given the same chance at a better life that their ancestors got, thank you.

Over the last few days, you have shown us an America that is, truly, a beacon of hope for the world, and hope is the weapon that scares those who feed on hate the most: to know that despite everything that they do, there will still be people who will not stay silent or complacent or succumb to fear.

I’m typing this today on a New York subway, in awe of what you are accomplishing and humbled by the outflow of compassion you are showing people you’ve ever met, that you’ve been taught all your life to fear and believe they only want what is bad for you. 

The freedom which you are exercising is the embodiment of the foundations your great country was built upon, that which entrances anyone who sees it, that which welcomes in all the weary, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses waiting to breathe in that same freedom.

You are showing us every day that, in a world overtaken by darkness, that ideals can overturn tyranny and that it is okay to still hope in the face of such atrocities.
To paraphrase J.K. Rowling: “[hope] can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Thank you for shining bright. 

 

To Burkini Or Not To Burkini: The Ages Of Men Deciding What Women Should Wear

When it comes to cultural assimilation, many parts of Europe have not been exemplary in the way they’ve dealt with the many minorities that have sought their land as refuge over the years, but none more so than France, whose problem with people who are lesser-white than the average they’re used to goes back to the time where it occupied much of Northern Africa and contributed to a mass exodus of people from those areas to serve as cheap labor for their home country.

The immigrants that flocked to France challenged the French about what it was to be as such: what is the French identity? What makes France as it is? How do we integrate such diversity into what we already know and take as scripture? Needless to say, the French model failed miserably.

Instead of integrating the laborers in French societies, they were settled along metropolitan areas with other destitute French, close enough to work but far enough from being part of actual French society, further widening the divide between “authentic” French and otherwise. Social programs, a hallmark of the French political system, also contributed to further encourage the differences between both population groups, further making the grounds for discrimination more fertile.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that in the France of today, and similarly to the African American situation in the United States, French jails have a much higher population of North African-origin inmates than of any other population, relative to their proportion of the general French populace.

As the French general public failed to grasp the fundamental problem at hand, the political rhetoric started to mirror the growing dismay from those immigrants. From having the French symbol “La Marianne” in a veil on the cover of Le Figaro, to tell people that France would become Muslim in 30 years, to people like Jean Marie Le Pen painting those immigrants as violent, uncontrollable, and who breed like rabbits.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that in 2004, the French state decided to ban the public use of the veil, much to the outcry of many Islamic and human rights group who saw the move as a gross encroachment on the rights of those women. The argument back then was that France, being a secular state, did not tolerate any signs of religiosity. The underlying tone, however, was that this secular state with an Christian undercurrent would not tolerate an apparent Islamization in its PR.

The rift between “immigrants” – French like everyone else but always viewed as lessers – and French continued to grow through the years, between attacks on Charlie Hebdo, to the terrorist attacks that overtook Paris and Nice, to the increasing rise of the Front National. Today, the clash of culture is taking place in a different way: French statesmen want to ban a conservative swimwear colloquially called the “Burkini” – a term merging both Burka and Bikini – in their attempt to preserve the semblance of the “liberated” image of France.

Introduced in Australia by a Muslim woman who tried to merge her religious and Australian lives, the piece of clothing soon became global. With the French bans, many people are purchasing them around the world in solidarity. The outcry against the French ban is deafening. The question of the matter, however, is why would such a ban be conceived in the first place?

This is a continuation of the French problem in trying to assimilate different parts of what makes France as it is into a modern identity that is holistic and inclusive. The French revolution slogan “equality, liberty, brotherhood” seems to only be applicable as long as you fit within the code of such a statement.

The ban is equal part Islamophobic and an attack on a woman’s freedom of expression. Would French police arrest a nun, for instance, who is wearing her religious clothing on a beach just because she is covered up? Would they arrest a swimmer clad in their sport clothes? Would they arrest any woman whose clothes attire conflicts with what they deem acceptable enough to fit within the narrowing, rather than broadening, confines of French culture of 2016?

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The ban of the Burkini can be summarized as follows: men trying to impose a dress code on women who have already had a dress code enforced on them by men elsewhere who view their chastity as directly proportional to how much skin they cover up, never knowing that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t in the skin that is exposed or not, but rather in the minds that look at that skin in the first place.

Before Arabs and Muslims can be upset about France banning Burkinis, ins’t some introspection into what is happening in our own backyards warranted? How many of our cultures and countries coerce our women into covering every inch of them, whether they want to or not? How many of our cultures and countries treat women as second rate citizens just because they were not born men, limiting them with what those who were born men believe those women should be entitled for? How many of our cultures and countries have made women feel insecure just by walking down the streets with eyes that ravaged their bodies regardless of how covered up they were?

How many of our cultures and countries have stopped women from even going to the beach for fear of being viewed as nothing more than meat? How many of our cultures and countries have made wearing the hijab, and consequently items of clothing such as the burkini, as an indication of the woman wearing them – whether she wants to or not – essentially being a better person than the woman who decided not to? The fact of the matter is that women are more prone to be sexually harassed on our beaches, whether they were wearing a Burkini or a bikini, than in the beaches of France, even if they’re wearing nothing.

Tackling the abhorrent rise of Islamophobia in France cannot therefore occur without looking inside our own homes for once. Do we allow our women to wear whatever they want without conferring moral judgement on them for doing so? Do we give our women the freedoms that we believe they are being robbed of in France or elsewhere? Do we not pass judgement on those women who decide to go to the beach wearing a Bikini just because they felt like it, categorizing them as everything we believe women should not be?
The answer is no.

The resources France is putting into banning the Burkini are completely unnecessary. It’s a legislation that has become a farce: that of armed police officers assaulting decent women at the beach to strip them of their clothes. By coercing them out of a Burkini, the French state is doing to those women something that’s as bad as forcing them into one in the first place. It’s unfortunate that while standing as such a crossroads, France and the rest of Europe decide to make a U-turn rather than advance further into creating an environment where women can be free to choose whether they want to wear a Burkini or not. Instead, you have a bunch of men deciding they know, once more, what women want and what they should do. When ISIS tells Muslims they’re nothing but second class citizens in the West, one wonders, when does the West realize that its practices play right into ISIS’ hand?