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.

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The Best Way To Start an Electoral Campaign in Lebanon

It was May 2012 and I had a death in the family. This necessitates being in church for a lot of time which I normally spend just being “there,” not really useful and not able to leave because that’s a big no-no.

Part of Christian funeral “traditions” is the family of the deceased getting flower arrangements that will be put on the grave once the funeral and the burial are done. If the deceased is part of a bigger establishment, they get a flower arrangement from there as well. If the deceased was active politically or have politically active offspring, they get a flower arrangement from their corresponding politician of choice.

And sometimes, there are flower arrangements which leave you baffled as to who that person is. As I said, it was May 2012 and as I screened the flowers, I noticed a name that didn’t seem familiar to me: Sandrella Merhej.

I asked around and almost no one knew who she was – until I ran into a staunch FPM supporter who said the main attorney was on Fayez Karam’s treason case.

Fast forward a few months later, to December 2012, and another death in the family. And there it was – the infamous Flower Cross:

Sandrella Merhej FPM Batroun Elections 2013

 

The key difference between December and May 2012 is that the arrangement which everyone found odd and strange back then now made sense. She wasn’t a stranger anymore – she had become a household name. She didn’t use social media. She didn’t inundate everyone with ads.

It only involved a bouquet. Sandrella Merhej had actively kickstarted an electoral campaign with her doing absolutely nothing.

 

She doesn’t have to be present at the funeral as many other politicians do. I bet she doesn’t even know who the people who died are. Odds are she has some sort of deal with a local florist to send an arrangement to every single funeral in the whole district. As a result, very few are those across Batroun today who don’t know who Sandrella Merhej is.

They have no idea where she stands on some key issues. They probably don’t know yet where she stands politically. But she’s in a much better place, reputation-wise, than where Gebran Bassil and Antoine Zahra were in 2005, when they were both running for the first time.

People love it when politicians, or politician-wannabes in Sandrella Merhej’s case, acknowledge their sadness during funerals. It makes them feel relevant and actually gets them to think that politician truly cares about their strife and that he – or she – are not just there for electoral purposes.

I personally couldn’t care less if a politician attends a funeral of a person I cherish or not. But I’m the exception. In fact, many people in Batroun hold it against Antoine Zahra that he doesn’t do funerals. Many won’t be voting for him precisely because of that. I find it sad that voting – or not voting for someone – revolves around them making the time to attend something they’re not even supposed to attend when there are so many other things that could stop them from voting for a politician.

But I digress.

Today, Sandrella Merhej’s name is a frontrunner to be on the FPM ticket with Gebran Bassil. She fits the bill – she comes from one of Batroun’s towns at a higher altitude – the poor thing has to go against Boutros Harb. A lot of people now know who she is. And by the looks of it, she is a staunch FPM member. A three in one combo? Apparently so. Of course, her nomination is not set in stone. There are other names being jumped around but out of them all, she might be the most interesting: a newcomer, who was relatively unknown less than a few months ago. Now everyone knows her name.

Whether she will win or not, however, is an entirely different story. Entre nous, the chance of her ticket winning in my district is dismal at best – almost nonexistent actually.

Batroun’s Politicians – Antoine Zahra, Boutros Harb, Gebran Bassil – Are A Big Fat Failure

It is customary for Lebanese politicians to pay their condolences when someone who has affiliations with their party passes away. That was the case a few weeks ago when a relative of mine died. Don’t worry, the story isn’t about politicians taking the family’s place during the funeral.

Gebran Bassil, arguably Lebanon’s most hated minister, came over to my hometown which lies at a mere 6 km from the main city of my district Batroun in order to offer his sincere condolences to the deceased’s family. Yes, I have Aounists in the family, however shocking that may sound. As he sat with the family in our Church’s hall, both his drivers (one drives him, the other is a decoy) were busy smoking outside. I overheard the following conversation:

– Man, did you see this fucked up road?

– Yes I did.

– Did you tell Gebran about it?

– To be honest, sta7eit menno (I was too shy to tell him).

The main road of the Batroun district which spans from the city to my hometown has been in total ruin since June. By total ruin I mean: breaking your car every single time you go up and down the hill, potholes that spring up out of nowhere, four attempts to fix it so far that have all been an absolute and utter failure, newer asphalt of such bad quality that a drizzle suffices to rip it off from the road. And the list goes on.

This started when an ambitious project to lay down sewage and water pipes started. Of course, both projects had different contracting companies so they dug on different sides of the road. Sewage went in the middle, water went on the side. We also had a third contractor to supposedly fix the road once the work was done. If that’s not a waste of our taxpayer money, I don’t know what is.

This isn’t a post about the project which I believe is a must in the 21st century. This is about Batroun’s three main politicians: its two MPs Antoine Zahra of the Lebanese Forces, Boutros Harb who is apparently now an independent (insert insane laughter) and its one minister Gebran Bassil of the Free Patriotic Movement.

Our three politicians should theoretically use this road very often. It is 1) the only way into the main and big villages of the district (Ebrine, Douma, Tannourine) and 2) the way home for both Zahra (Kfifan) and Harb (Tannourine). Haven’t they heard that the situation has become unacceptable? Or are they waiting until our cars have gone to the repair shop twenty three times before they decide to do something about it, perhaps around April or May, just in time to cash in on those votes?

I’m not even sure my district’s politicians know about the road. They sit in the back of their luxury cars with their dark tainted-windows, totally oblivious to the massacre their overpriced car is going through. They go about their business, shake a few hands, have their asses kissed a few times and then head back to Beirut to their fancy mansions where the woes of their district don’t haunt them.

The least I can expect from my district’s politicians is to care about the people of their district first and foremost as the place that may or may not vote them back in come June 2013. If they’re not aware of the situation of their district’s main road, what does that say about them?

Future TV has already visited the area to document the road’s current state and interview a few people in the hopes they’d pin it all on Gebran Bassil. What Future TV doesn’t know, however, is the following: the fact that the Batroun’s caza main road has fallen into the state of disrepair that I will show you in a few without any of the district’s politicians caring is a reflection on 1) how big of a failure they are, 2) how little they care about us outside of our electoral votes and 3) how little they are willing to work if it doesn’t bring immediate rewards.

Accountability is key. If we, the newer generation isn’t critical of how things are run around our own neighborhoods, what do we leave to those on whom the ship has sailed? I refuse to have my first time voting be nothing more and nothing less than a sheep being taken to a ballot.

I, Elie Fares,hereby proclaim that I will not be voting for any of these three politicians come June if the road is not fixed. As an influencer, I will also do my best to strip all three of them from as many votes as I can. I’m sure this article will reach party officials that have been taking my vote for granted for far too long now. Therefore, consider this: kaleim youssal.

These are the untouched & unaltered (except for size reduction) pictures that I took with my iPhone while driving back home yesterday:

Batroun Road Lebanon - 1 Batroun Road Lebanon - 2 Batroun Road Lebanon - 3 Batroun Road Lebanon - 4 Batroun Road Lebanon - 5 Batroun Road Lebanon - 6 Batroun Road Lebanon - 7 Batroun Road Lebanon - 8 Batroun Road Lebanon - 9 Batroun Road Lebanon - 10 Batroun Road Lebanon - 11 Batroun Road Lebanon - 12 Batroun Road Lebanon - 13 Batroun Road Lebanon - 14 Batroun Road Lebanon - 15 Batroun Road Lebanon - 16 Batroun Road Lebanon - 17 Batroun Road Lebanon - 18

The "fixed" part of the road is a hole in itself as evident by the mini-stream flowing through it

The “fixed” part of the road is a hole in itself as evident by the mini-stream flowing through it

Batroun Road Lebanon - 20 Batroun Road Lebanon - 21 Batroun Road Lebanon - 22 Batroun Road Lebanon - 23 Batroun Road Lebanon - 24 Batroun Road Lebanon - 25 Batroun Road Lebanon - 26 Batroun Road Lebanon - 27 Batroun Road Lebanon - 28 Batroun Road Lebanon - 29 Batroun Road Lebanon - 30 Batroun Road Lebanon - 31 Batroun Road Lebanon - 32 Batroun Road Lebanon - 33 Batroun Road Lebanon - 34 Batroun Road Lebanon - 35 Batroun Road Lebanon - 36 Batroun Road Lebanon - 37 Batroun Road Lebanon - 38 Batroun Road Lebanon - 39 Batroun Road Lebanon - 40 Batroun Road Lebanon - 41 Batroun Road Lebanon - 42 Batroun Road Lebanon - 43 Batroun Road Lebanon - 44

Lebanon’s 2012 Picture of the Year

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The above picture is worth a few thousand more than that – but don’t worry, I won’t write them.

Antoine Zahra, LF MP of the Batroun Caza, sporting a Palestine solidarity scarf… on his trip to Gaza. Who knew there would come a day when such a sentence would actually be written?

As they say “3ish ktir, betchouf ktir.” I personally don’t know what to make from March 14th visit to Gaza. On one hand, some see it as an act of solidarity, on another hand others see it as absolutely useless act of propaganda.
I’m leaning more to the latter but people already think I’m overly negative lately so good on March 14th for going there.

However, Antoine Zahra, it seems, is sticking it to whoever is saying the LF hate all Palestinians. Now cue in those reminding the world of the “atrocities” the LF have done during the civil war because that is entirely the point here.

In short, for so many reasons, I guess it’s fair to assume the above picture cannot but be Lebanon’s 2012 picture of the year – by far.