Lebanon’s 2013 Elections Campaigns: Khlosna Ba2a

While politicians from Lebanon’s two main political camps bicker over an electoral law they can’t wait to disagree upon, the campaigns to kick off the 2013 election season have begun with “Khlosna Ba2a” – Enough is enough.

The main party behind the campaign is the National Dialogue Party (NDP), spear-headed by engineer and businessman Fouad Makhzoumi who’s a known philanthropist.

The campaign aims to show what I think the majority of Lebanese believe and it’s our utter disgust at the current situation of the country: corruption, immigration, violence, dismal economical prospects, lack of proper dialogue, entrenched sectarianism. And the list goes on.

While I believe that such campaigns, similarly to Take Back Parliament, should have been started a long time ago and not only a few months before the elections in order to rally people and have a functional grass-root movement to get their votes, it’s still nice to see that there’s at least potential for alternative candidates spread around the country who would run based on qualifications not based on how big their family is or how faithful to a corresponding party they are.

Either way, I believe that the coming few weeks will start seeing more electoral campaigns kicking off as the electoral law should – theoretically – be known by then. And I believe the least we can expect is interesting slogans. The least we can hope for is less “Sois Belle et Vote” this time around and more intelligent messages such as “Khlosna Ba2a.”

Here are the other ads in the campaign so far:

We’re sick of corruption and sectarianism. Enough is enough.

Our only option is dialogue. Enough is enough.

We want to stay in Lebanon. Enough is enough.

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The Most Sectarian Ad On Lebanese Television

OTV is currently running this Election Law promo ad in support of the “Orthodox Gathering Law” championed by the political party running OTV, the Free Patriotic Movement.

Here’s the ad:

I know firsthand that many people think this way – but to turn shameful political gossip that goes on behind closed doors into an ad that’s supposed to convince others of the same rhetoric is taking it way too far. This ad disgusts me.

But let me do what the ad does and say the following:

My name is Elie. I’m a Maronite from Batroun. At least that’s what my ID says *flashes new ID to the camera.* No matter what I do, I’ll be voting for Maronites. I don’t want to vote for Maronites only because I don’t believe they represent me.

You didn’t expect that now, did you?

There’s a fine line between proving a political point which I’m sure Aoun’s many MPs and politicians (à la son-in-law prodigy Gebran Bassil) are more than capable of doing and what the ad is all about. After all, part of the reason why I changed my opinion regarding the Orthodox Law (click here) was seeing an FPM MP named Simon Abi Ramia go on and on for ten minutes about how the Sunni vote is “killing off” Christians by drowning them out and choosing MPs that do not represent them. Such sectarian messages from MPs and TV promos such as the one in this post should not and will not be tolerated on any form of television.

Here’s a word for the politicians who believe that MPs selected by Sunnis do not represent me:

I, a Maronite Christian as we’ve already (and nauseatingly – because that’s a point that resonates apparently) established feel more represented by Nabil De Freige, Atef Majdalani, Samer Saadeh etc.. than by Assad Hardan or Emile Rahmeh.

You know what’s ironic? The FPM is supposed to be a “secular” party. At least that’s what my FPM-supporting friends kept shoving down my throat when I expressed discomfort with their party. “Oh you’re just being a Christian extremist” they said. “We embrace everyone,” they said.

The way I see it, the only thing the FPM is embracing lately with these disturbingly bad ads, with their horribly divisive rhetoric is a rising bout of Christian extremism. And Christian extremists today do not represent me.

Enjoy the ad by the only people in the country who care for your rights as Christians. Because, you know, Lebanon is made for you and no one else.

“Aux-armes, Chrétiens! Formez vos bataillons! Marchons, marchons! Qu’un sang impur (those darned Muslims) n’abreuve pas nos votes!” (this is a play on the French national anthem and translates to: to your arms, Christians. Form your battalions. Walk on, walk on so that impure blood doesn’t water down our votes.”) – this is the new slogan for the 2013 Elections.

Be ready for a lot of “we tried to restore your rights but THEY *points finger* didn’t let us” speeches over the next few months.

Let’s Talk About Lebanon’s 2013 Elections: The Orthodox Gathering Law

One can argue that the French mandate was the root of Lebanon’s sectarian system. Its goal was to make a country that serves as a safe-haven for Maronites, with an edge in parliament seats and in governing powers. The sectarian divide in power reflected upon the people over the years. Blame the French? Blame everyone I guess.

Growing sectarianism and a feeling of injustice among sections of Lebanon’s population led to the Lebanese Civil war which culminated in the Taef agreement. The agreement took away most of the president’s powers, rendering him a near-puppet in a growingly tense political scene, and equalized between Christian and Muslim representation in parliament, despite the case not being so demographically.

Subsequently, a Syrian-led Lebanese regime managed to fragment Christian communities even more. The demographics, due to constant persecution, low birth rates and high immigration rates of Christians, continued to become even more lopsided. As it stands, Lebanon’s population is 60% Muslim and 40% Christian. That’s on a good day of statistics.

The problem with a skewed demographic, however, with an equally split parliament is that many of the minority’s seats cannot be chosen by said minority, regardless of what that minority is. This wouldn’t be a problem in a place where majorities and minorities didn’t view themselves as such: I have the power of numbers, therefore I rule over you.

That’s how the idea for an Orthodox Gathering Law came to be: the power that Christians lost over the years “must” be recuperated. And that should be done despite Christians not having the power of numbers anymore.

Here’s what’s given about the Lebanese situation today:

  • There’s no such thing as a Lebanese social fabric.
  • There’s no such thing as national unity – it only exists in the wildest fictive ideas of those who live in their own Lebanon-utopia
  • There’s no hope to achieve a state of national unity under current circumstances.
  • The biggest obstacle towards national unity isn’t regional (i.e. coming from different cazas across the country) but sectarian.
  • Sects always feel threatened by different sects in the country.
  • Sects are already more or less isolated and with rising bouts of extremism.

Apart from a minority in the Lebanese population, people identify with their sects first and foremost. They are more inclined to feel sympathy towards another person’s strife if that person is from their corresponding sect. It’s sickening, definitely. It’s horrible, you bet. But it’s the way things are. To fix this, you need to fix sectarianism.

You can’t fix sectarianism by forcing secularism upon people. You can’t tell a country with many who associate the current political system with being “religious” that the country is now secular which they will undoubtedly believe is also correlated with atheism. Off with their heads! No, the change towards secularism has to be gradual just as Lebanese gradually but surely became a sectarian state. People need to leave behind their sect-survival instincts in order to adopt a more global approach towards how they vote, towards how they act regarding others who are different from them, towards how they perceive those who are different.

For instance, here’s a little experience that I observed firsthand recently.

As news of Hay el Sellom in Beirut being flooded broke out, I saw two drastically different reactions in front of me. In my own little piece of the Lebanese Bible belt, people asked: Are those Shia? If they are, then ma3le (it’s okay). On the other hand, as Lebanese journalist commented on those people of Hay el Sellom’s grave violation of the law in where they built their houses, half of Twitter’s Shias, who tend to be on the more liberal side, were up in a fit.

Sectarianism is there – even among those who claim not to be sectarian.

As it stands, Lebanese people vote in a “to be or not to be” mantra. This needs to change. They are voting as such because:

  • Christians are made to fear wilayat al Fakih and those bearded Islamists.
  • Sunnis are made to fear the Shia weapons.
  • Shia are made to fear everyone being after their weapons.
  • Druze are made to fear anyone trying to breach their tightly-knit community.
  • Minorities are made to fear everyone else.

As this article is heading, you might believe this is in defense of the Orthodox Gathering law. If you had asked me a few days ago where I stood regarding that law, I would have told you this: Based on the current way that Lebanon is run, given the country’s state and fabric, the Orthodox Gathering Law makes sense. The way I see it, it doesn’t increase sectarianism and it might help, if sects stop feeling threatened, to get people to vote based on accountability which is very needed in this country. On the long run, if sectarian parties can no longer fuel people in a sectarian way then maybe – just maybe – that would help with things.

But that was a few days ago.

The MPs going on and on about how the Orthodox Gathering Law is unconstitutional and how it’ll increase sectarianism and whatnot are full of it. The only reason they are panicking isn’t because they want to keep the idea of Lebanon being an example of non-existent co-existence intact. They want to have their own behinds saved from the chopping block of a law that most probably wouldn’t vote them in again. Our MPs – all of them – are only seeking out a law that ensures they return to power. It’s as simple as that. The discussion isn’t about the country’s sake, it’s about their own personal interests.

Today, when I think about the Orthodox Gathering Law, I am not on the fence, I am against it. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s a must to tackle the growing “injustice” towards Lebanese Christians, whatever that may be. It’s not because it is demographically incorrect as it gives Christians more weight than they’re supposed to have. It’s not even because it’s sectarian in principle. It’s not because it makes it harder for centrists to break in. It’s not because it drowns out a secular minority that can’t identify with it.

I am against the Orthodox Gathering Law today for very simple reasons:

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have the prerogative of having a law tailor-made for my sect and have it applied to all other sects as well? Don’t other Lebanese sects have woes as well? Don’t they have “minorities” whose voices are also drowned out by a Christian majority somewhere?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, consider myself to be the only sect in this country who has rights eaten away and who needs some “justice” restored?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have to vote only for people who correspond to my sect without knowing if those people share my worries or if they’re even aware of the issues that I want to vote for? Does a person from a certain sect running for office automatically mean that person is knowledgeable of the issues that their sect faces? No.

My problem with the Orthodox Law today is simply that it tells me that I, Elie E. Fares, a Maronite Christian (on paper) from the mountains of North Lebanon, should have a problem in having a Sunni or a Shia or a Druze or a Catholic or an Orthodox or a Jew or a Alawite or an Ismailite or a Syriac or an Evangelical or an Armenian or whatever sect a person belonged to have a say in a parliament member that represents them all, not just me.

I believe that what the Orthodox Law is telling me is unacceptable. But I’m a Christian minority in thinking so. Most Maronites and Christians, especially some of our politician who double as Christian saviors-wannabes, want you to believe that what I believe is wrong. They are telling you that their way is the only way for you to get your rights. They want you to believe that if Christians don’t elect every single Christian-designated MP, then they’re being persecuted.

The Orthodox Law isn’t the way we get back our “rights.” We get back our rights by voting to people who can fight for those rights without turning it into a media propaganda as they kickstart their 2013 election prospects. We get back our rights by actually knowing what our rights are. And let me tell you, those rights aren’t Lebanon’s Christians selecting half of its parliament all by themselves.

So as our politicians play a game of chess with each other, you know what your rights are according to some of them? You only have the right to be afraid of everyone else all the time. You only have the right to believe you are persecuted all the time – that those big bad Sunnis and Shia and Muslims are after you all the time. Welcome to the state of mass paranoia. And we just can’t live like that – not as Christians, not as Muslims, not as Lebanese and we can’t allow laws that are based on our paranoia as Christians rule the entire country.

Massive Land Sold in the Lebanese Keserwan Area, Near Harissa, To a Saudi Prince

Check out this post for more information about the sale.

View from the land sold

The area in question is called the Hill of the Cross (Tallet el Salib) and it was sold to Saudi prince Mokran Ben Abdel Aziz Abdul Rahman Al Saoud.

Tallet el Salib is a huge forest, rich in its flora and fauna. It contains many rare species of mammals and birds that use the millenary forest as shelter. As you can see from the above map, it overlooks the Mediterranean sea. It is in the region of Dlebta, close to Harissa.

The selling of this huge piece of land requires governmental approval to be fulfilled. MP Abi Nasr has said the Saudi embassy put pressure on the government and the Prime Minister in order to allow the transaction to proceed.

No matter how much we talk against this, when it comes to the powers at play in the matter of land purchases in Lebanon we stand powerless. Soon enough, the trees of the area will be cut down in order to make use of them. The winter of the area is especially harsh and wood for the fireplace is needed. The animal species of the forest will, therefore, disappear. And then the construction will start to turn whatever greenery that remains of the Harissa mountain into a massive concrete jungle. The people in the are won’t be able to afford housing in the newly built apartments. Those that can afford housing won’t have anything to do with the area.

Where were the other MPs of Keserwen when the deal regarding this land was being struck and tailored? They’ve already started their 2013 electoral campaign with bulletins on certain bridges in Jounieh. But when it comes to true work, instead of shouting up and down about how Christians are threatened and how they are defending “us,” there’s not much there.

I don’t see any of the Christians constantly worrying about losing foothold in Lebanon do anything when it comes to selling their land. In fact, they are more than glad to make a few millions, get out of the country, and nag about how they are losing influence. Hypocrisy much? You bet. But that’s how many Lebanese Christians have always been.

Where’s the Maronite Church which has been so worried about people selling the land in its regions of influence? Why doesn’t it help those that end up selling because they absolutely need to? Why doesn’t it stop those selling because of greed? Doesn’t it have enough money and influence to counter whatever offers and pressure the government is facing?

The situation is beyond despicable. I know this firsthand because the real estate market, even in my Batrouni hometown, has prices going through the roof and people coming from places you didn’t know existed to buy lands which you had previously thought useless. This is not paranoia. This is reality.

It’s high time those preaching stop doing so and start acting. I don’t have millions on me to help but if I were one of the billionaire Christians of Lebanon, I’d start splurging not on Maybachs and Maserattis but on the only reason we can call Lebanon home.

Why I’m Against Proportional Representation (Nesbiyé) in Lebanon’s 2013 Elections

One of the main debates going on in the country currently is regarding the 2013 electoral law, mainly whether to include proportional representation in it or not.

Politicians’ views are already diverging on the matter and they break down to the following:

– Walid Jumblat: Against. He wouldn’t be totally dominant over the Druze vote and would lose a decent amount of his influence.

– Saad Hariri: Against. While he’s not as affected by this representation-wise as Jumblat, his stance has varied from being supportive of proportional representation to against it solely because he wants to bring Jumblat to his side for the elections.

– Hezbollah: With. They get about 90% of the Shiite votes in elections, which is where they have candidates. 90% in the proportional representation law would give them all the seats with very minimal effect. It’s a win-win situation for them so why not demand Lebanon as one district with proportional representation to have bigger gains across the map?

– Michel Aoun: With. Why wouldn’t he approve of something that would make him benefit from all the votes of the party mentioned above?

– Samir Geagea: No idea. He has made arguments than can go both ways so his stance regarding this matter hasn’t been fully formulated yet.

One of my main problems with proportional representation is that it is thought of as the cure to our system when it is far from being the case. Many believe that applying “nesbiyé” in the 2013 elections will start decreasing sectarianism by having different people from certain sects getting representation.

In order to do that, the electoral districts being thought of are getting increasingly bigger. Some are even suggesting to make Lebanon one whole electoral district. The argument? This is the only political elections where the population gets to vote so why not get the whole country to vote for everyone?

The way I see it an MP is a representative of their corresponding region first and foremost. Increasing electoral districts to make “nesbiyé” work will not lead to better representation. Or is it “representation” only when certain parties that wouldn’t dream of a parliament seat get one even if they don’t represent the woes of a region? Does a citizen from Beirut know what are my concerns as a citizen from Batroun? I don’t think so. Do I know what are the concerns of my friend in the South? Absolutely not.

What gives me the right to choose their MP and them mine? The sake of national unity? Please.

And for those who believe districts should be medium-sized, say according to the mohafaza – what do people in Batroun know about what a caza like Koura needs? What do people in Zgharta know about the demands of people in Bsharre?

When during parliamentary sessions an MP talks about his district as his main focus, you know this is what they represent not the whole country as we so gullibly want to believe. And it is definitely their right. The whole idea that we, as a country, need everyone to vote for everyone in order to reach unity is non-sensical. You don’t see it happening anywhere else in the world that a country votes for all the MPs its parliament has.

Let’s talk about how practical applying nesbiyé would be. I, in Batroun, get 2 MPs. In the 2009 elections, the margin for those who won was 53%-47%, which in a nesbiyé-equipped scenario means that the result wouldn’t be 2-0 but 1-1. Is that a representation of the will of the caza? Definitely not. Of course, applying proportional representation means Batroun would be merged with other districts, which brings me back to the point I mentioned previously. In reality, most cazas don’t have an overflow of MPs they get to vote to.

It is here that I have to ask: what’s the point of people voting and giving someone a majority when everyone gets to power either way? When I vote for someone and against another person, that means I do not want that person to represent me. If the results of my district turn out to be in my favor and the person who lost ends up in office anyway, then what’s the whole point of elections to begin with?

Moreover, in the current state Lebanon is finding itself today, especially with armed parties swaying the balance of power, would nesbiyé truly be fair, as it’s alluded to be, for parties that don’t have weapons?

In the current form of sectarian Lebanon today, when all sects except Christians give a majority that cannot be contested to one specific party, wouldn’t proportional representation with bigger districts dilute the Christian vote to a point of irrelevance as we’ve seen, for instance, in the 2000 and 2005 elections in certain districts?

In a country where division is based on sects and regions, any law will be accused of increasing either tension. The 2009 law is blamed for increasing sectarianism. We say that because we love to hide and pretend as if our regions are not a mass aggregation of people from one specific sect when, in fact, the only reason we look at the 2009 law negatively is because the results it brought about was a collection of people who couldn’t rule to begin with and others who don’t know how to rule.

Just take a look at a map of Lebanon and you’ll see exactly how one-colored most regions are. This is a demographically situation, not an electoral one.

No, proportional representation is not bad, as some politicians are saying, because it increases Syrian influence in Lebanon. Proportional representation is bad because it’s so ill-timed it is nowhere near the solution it is made out to be. It can only possibly work with bigger circumscriptions, and everything aside, this is an inherent flaw that cannot be ignored. It can only work when the political system of the country is not a disproportionate sectarian representation to begin with. It can only work when the main parties that will make part of it have, at least, some varying degrees of equal influence. When not everyone is fundamentally on equal footing, you can’t have a law that equalizes them in voting booths.