Batroun & Keserwan Fighting Over Gebran Bassil

Let’s call it the war of pre-electoral billboards like you’ve never seen before: two regions, many kilometers apart, fighting over the same man with fiery reformative, empowering, pride-filled slogans.

As I was driving back home to Batroun last Saturday, I was surprised to see a Keserwani-centric propaganda for Gebran Bassil all over the bridges stretching across the highway.

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan - 1

Thank you Ismail Sakalaki for the picture

The question couldn’t not ask itself in my head: Is Gebran Bassil running in Keserwan this time around?

It made electoral sense for him to do so seeing as his chances in our home district are next to nil, something even people from his entourage agree on.

But something didn’t add up. Why would I have to answer several polls over the past few months about elections in Batroun in which he was presented as the main candidate for the March 8 side of Lebanon’s political spectrum? Aren’t those polls run by political groups who want to test out how the wind in a certain region is blowing?
And why would Gebran Bassil be doing electoral visits across Batroun to many households and villages over the past few months if he doesn’t intend to run there?

The Keserwani posters seem to have a deeper rumor around them. Let’s call it schmoozing galore. According to this article (link), the posters are the attempt of a Keserwani MP to kiss up to the FPM’s leader in order not to kick him off his prospective list in the region. And you thought our politicians couldn’t be that desperate?

Batroun, however, wouldn’t accept this Keserwani schmoozing, regardless of who did it or why it was being done in the first place. So à la “bring it, b*tch,” we started our own gebranophile campaign across our highway.

Batroun is proud of its son’s energy:

Batroun Gebran Bassil Keserwan - 6

Whenever you land, your ministries become essential:

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan - 3

Electricity, oil, water, dams… energy without limit:

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan - 2

We’ve lived and seen the dams in Batroun:

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan -

Gebran Bassil is a red line. Point à la ligne:

Gebran Bassil Batroun Keserwan - 5

If only billboards translated to ministerial actions or governmental projects, we’d be one first-world country by now. If political marketing blitz translated into votes, Gebran Bassil would have been in parliament now.

But as it goes in this country, the supplies of any kiss-up material, especially leading up to elections, begin to run dangerously low due to the huge demand. Who’s willing to bet that a counter campaign will be run to discredit any possible accomplishments advocated by this campaign? You know it will only be a matter of time.

So where will Gebran Bassil run? I guess the answer is quite simple: who cares about Batroun when Keserwan, the self-proclaimed heart of Lebanon’s Maronitestan, is vying for you?

As for me, I’m enjoying the billboard cat-fight. Sorry Keserwan, I’m going to side with my home-turf on this. I’m biased like that. Batroun FTW.

Gebran, why don’t you stay?

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Racist Lebanese Municipalities or National Policy Against Syrians?

My uncle was shot and killed 14 years ago today, March 26th 1999.

His killer’s name was Tony Rouhana. He was from my hometown, Ebrine. He was Lebanese. He was an active wartime member of one of North Lebanon’s well-known parties. They call themselves “Marada.”

May 2008. My mom enters our house and finds a hooded-man there. She shouts and runs after him. He was going through her jewelry. He makes a quick escape through our window. A couple of weeks later, his identity is known. He is also from my hometown. A Lebanese. He was only reprimanded – never arrested. Why should they ruin his future?

March 2013. A member of our municipality has his motorcycle stolen by a gang from Tripoli. They chase the thief, are on the phone with our security forces at all times, but are unable to catch him. The theft happened in broad daylight at noon. You can check more details here.

March 2013. I’m sitting with my family as we bid farewell to my uncle who was going back to his home in the United States after a short stay. We hear the sound of a four-wheel drive rolling by. They say it’s our municipality policeman’s new car. Why was he driving around at 10:30 pm?
Because my hometown, Ebrine, is now enforcing a curfew on Syrians. I expressed outrage and was told I oppose things way too often, way too much.

No, my town is not, like other places, hiding behind the shroud of “foreigners” when they mean one thing and one thing alone. There are no fliers being posted around the place. There are no banners to welcome you with the news. It’s all under the radar, hoping it would go unnoticed: a subtle regulation that won’t affect my life because I am Lebanese, from Ebrine and there’s absolutely nothing bad that I can do.

I didn’t want to write about this issue until I made sure it wasn’t simply townspeople gossip. I went to the municipality and asked. They confirmed. Their explanation? We got an order from the ministry of interior affairs recently to organize the Syrians inside our town and to have them listed – as per orders of Lebanon’s intelligence. They didn’t say anything about a curfew but, believing I was worried about the Syrians in my town, they went on further: “you don’t have to worry. A curfew was enforced on Syrians. The policeman is also patrolling the streets from 8 pm till 12 am. The town will stay safe.”

How beautiful and reassuring is that? I should look into extra safety measures against Ethiopians, Egyptians – basically anyone whose skin color or clothing style is too inappropriately poor for my taste.

I also find it hard to believe that such an order would come from the ministry of interior and would go unnoticed everywhere, especially that Marwan Charbel, our current minister of interior affairs, said municipalities who enforce curfews are committing illegal acts (link).

So which is it? Is our government or entire Lebanese administration, now that we don’t have a government, relying on vigilante justice in Lebanese municipalities to regulate the Syrian influx in the country? Are all our municipalities and circumscriptions now limiting the movement of “foreigners” just because the situation in the country is worrying?

Last time I checked, it wasn’t Syrians who were fighting in Bab el Tebbane and Jabal Mohsen nor were the Syrians fighting in May 2008 when all hell broke loose in Beirut.

Should the Syrians in Lebanon be regulated? Sure. Is their influx worrying? I think so. But turning their forced stay here into that of people living in an emergency nation will help things how exactly?

Let’s call it a temporary fix – a plug in a collapsing dam.

Do we have a lot of Syrians in my hometown? Frankly, I don’t see any huge numbers that were not there in 2008, 1999, etc. We are not that affected. Those Syrians are renting apartments here, buying stuff from the shops that even our townspeople don’t go to anymore (going to buy groceries in Batroun is much cooler. They get to use a trolley and pay 10,000 in gas in the process). And yet, somehow, those new Syrians are now posing such a big security threat that our municipality decided to do something for the first time since it was formed in 2010.

Our municipality, which left our roads go as the below pictures show, for over 2 months, which didn’t say anything and even sent a thank you letter for Gebran Bassil (who in all fairness was later outraged and called them out on it) is acting out, protecting us, making us feel safe, as part of a developed country. What’s worse is that this could possibly be some form of national policy.

Roads Ebrine Batroun Roads Ebrine Batroun - 3 Roads Ebrine Batroun - 4 Roads Ebrine Batroun -2

Tripoli’s Gang of Thieves & Lebanon’s Police

A friend of mine parked his motorcycle yesterday in front of a house he was visiting in my hometown only to hear the engine ignite a few minutes later.

He ran outside and saw a stranger driving his bike away. He frantically tried to chase him but there was no car. He was fortunate enough to have a family member be in Batroun at the time of the theft. That person immediately called the police hotline 112 as he chased the motorcycle driver on the Lebanese highway.

The police informed him that he was not allowed to ram his car into the motorcycle and that he should let them know where he was driving at all times. So he told them when he passed the Mseilha Citadel. He told them when he passed Chekka. He told them when he passed Anfeh.

He kept his phone to his ear and spoke to the policemen on the other end thinking or maybe hoping that they’d do something. Slightly south of Tripoli, at the Punto Alto side street, the biker disappeared.

The drive from Batroun to Tripoli took about 20 minutes during which the police was more than informed about the chase taking place. And they still didn’t set up an impromptu checkpoint on the highway to stop the thief, which we would all agree is not highly unusual given their Beiruti practices at random hours of the A.M.

As a result of our super qualified policemen, the $7000 motorcycle is now in the hands of some gang in Tripoli who, I’m sorry to disappoint you, is not made up of Syrian nationals.

How do I know this? Well, the plot thickens.

During the past week, more than eighteen similar motorcycles were stolen in the coastal Batrouni town of Kfaraabida which many of you know for its beaches and Pierre & Friends. The police were, obviously, informed of the grand theft. After all, we were talking about eighteen motorcycles. But they obviously didn’t do anything about it.

However, not all of those motorcycles remained stolen. Some people whose bikes had been taken away got in contact with people in Tripoli who had contacts in those gangs. They set up an exchange: a decent sum of money for their motorcycle. So they kind of purchased back their bike.

The man whose bike was stolen went on the same route. He hasn’t gotten back his bike yet but he’ll know soon enough if there’s a chance to retrieve it or if it has already been shipped to Syria.

Of course, this isn’t new when it comes to our police. A few years ago, my physician uncle woke up in the middle of the night in our Achrafieh apartment to a ruckus in the street. He went to the balcony to see someone breaking into a store at the base of our building.

My uncle’s knee-jerk reaction was to call the cops. A few attempts later, a sleepy person replied and asked my uncle to call again if the thief came back. Because that obviously makes perfect sense. So as the thief filled up his car with whatever he could find in that store, there was nothing my uncle could do. What if the thief had a knife or a gun? It’s not our job to do what policemen should have been doing at that point.

I don’t expect anything from our policemen. Maybe a checkpoint that actually serves a tangible purpose. Or trying to intercept one of those money-for-bike exchanges so maybe, just maybe, we could feel safer. Until then, which should be until forever, hide your cars, hide your bikes, hide your precious belongings. It’s the wild wild west over here. But no matter what you do, don’t call the cops. It’s only 1) a waste of your time, 2) a waste of your precious minutes and 3) another thing to make you infuriated and angry.

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.

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.

The Blinded Fools of Lebanon

Don’t you find some Lebanese reactions to things in this country overly odd?

I can somehow fathom some religious extremists taking it to the streets in order to protest the murder of their religious leaders even though I’m against it.
I can somehow fathom political militia groups blocking roads to get a boost in tactical power even though I’m definitely against it as well.

What I can’t fathom is how some people can be more than convinced that the best way to stand up for the Lebanese army is to block the road for everyone else and create a new mess for the army to clean up.

You try to tell them so. They say you’re not patriotic. I guess we can say now we’ve heard it all in this country.

Do you want to support the Lebanese army and have the urge to show it? How about you do so in productive ways like – say – enroll? But weren’t you the same people, like me, praying and crossing every single digit in your body so they cancel that mandatory army enrollment by the time you turn eighteen?

Those barricades blocking roads in support for our army are a mere pre-election political ploy and people eat them up. Politicians, notably Christian ones, can’t wait to come on TVs and point fingers and say: See those? Those are the people you shouldn’t trust. See us? You should vote for us all the time because with us the army is always protected.

The truth, though, couldn’t be farther away from that notion.

For instance, the people of my district, Batroun, decided that – similarly to the people of Sarba – they were going to block the highway yesterday in solidarity with the army and both its new martyrs Pierre Bechaalani and Ibrahim Zahraman.
I have to ask the people of my district one simple question: where was all this army love when one army man of our own, Samer Hanna, was gunned down and murdered like a dog, his killer never to see a jail cell?

Oh wait. What was Samer Hanna doing flying over parts of Lebanon?

Where was this fear for the army’s sake when people like Francois el Hajj, who defended the entire country during the clashes of Nahr el Bared uttering his infamous sentence: they either come out of that camp in body bags or in handcuffs. was blown up to little pieces?

Hold up again. What business was it for Francois el Hajj to snoop around?

Wasn’t the army threatened back then too? Is it truly us supporting our army when we are 1) hypocritical about it, 2) not knowing we are hypocritical about it and 3) not even knowing how to support the army?

Our army has been taught a few lessons over the past few years.

Chapter one: Samer Hanna – the South is off limits.
Chapter two: Francois el Hajj – the army is only allowed a very limited leeway.
Chapter three: The Sunni Mufti – parts of the North are off limits.
Chapter four: Pierre and Ibrahim – Arsal is another no-no.

Between chapters one, two, three and four, our politicians had differing opinions. Some of their supporters, who never see themselves as blinded because God forbid their politician of choice ever make a mistake, had differing opinions as well.

The army man who died in chapter one cannot compare to those who died in chapter four. And vice versa.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: emotional upheaval towards the army in this country is an auction. Fools are those who actually fall for it – and fools are many. Because the blood of Samer Hanna doesn’t serve some people politically so it’s never – ever – mentioned.

But I will never forget that man and how some politicians who can’t wait to flaunt army love today were the first ones to dismiss his murder a few years ago.

And who’s the victim always in this? Our army. So you support him by blocking roads and feel good about it because your twisted imposed logic tells you so. Because protesting against those “extremists” by doing exactly what those “extremists” do is not extremism and terrorism at all.

The fact of the matter is “justice” in this country is only applied to those who are weak. So when our army barges into Arsal to capture those killers and justifiably so, I really hope someone out there remembers that there are other army killers out there and that there are army martyrs who are now forgotten, who didn’t have roads blocked for their sake and whose blood has gone cheaper than dirt.

Rest in peace Samer Hanna. Every day of hypocrisy, especially from the people of your region, is another nail in your coffin.