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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But no more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When The FPM Is In Full Blown Despair: Assaad Thebian Did Nothing Wrong

If you had any doubt that the FPM is a politically bankrupt party, now’s the time to be certain of it.

If you had any doubt that their website, Tayyar.org, was worse than the garbage filling our streets, today is the day when this becomes clearer than day.

Today, the FPM is in full blown crisis mode.

The Free Patriotic Oxymoron wants us to vote for a president. But they couldn’t even vote for their own one because their boss was too afraid his lovely son in law wouldn’t be their chosen one.

Today, the Free Patriotic Hypocrisy wants to reform and change the country, but they’ve been in power since 2005 and haven’t done any of that. 24/24 electricity in 2015? Wait while I go fix the generator.

Today, the Free Patriotic Whatever wants you to see how they’re secular, but their only rhetoric is about Christian rights, also known as the biggest load of bullshit of the year.

They want you to think they’re against the government, but they just happen to be part of it. They want you to think they’re against parliament’s mandate extension, but they just happen to have the biggest parliamentary bloc today.

*More orange applause here.*

And today, because the FPM is so scared of the #YouStink movement, because they’ve seen how a non-partisan, secular movement managed to get WAY more people than the 500 they got on their streets in their BIG revolt for Christian rights, they are after one of the organizers of the YouStink movement, Assaad Thebian.

For reference, this is Aoun’s latest excursion:

Aoun Protest

And this is the YouStink protest:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 1

How? By digging up old Facebook statuses of his in which he makes jokes about Christianity.

How? By doing what Aounists do best, look at other people’s “mistakes” while utterly and irrevocably ignoring exactly how demented their ranks have become.

How? By basking in the glories of hypocrisy under the veil of Christianity. Haven’t you heard? Aoun is the next coming of Jesus, y’all!

The following are the Facebook posts that offended the FPM so much:

And because there’s nothing more I’d love to do now than to figuratively bash their rhetoric into oblivion, let’s remind the Lebanese masses exactly how hypocritical, deluded and – forgive them Father for they have sinned – blasphemous they are.

1) #IlsSontCharlieWHeik:

Here is Gebran Bassil pretending that he’s the Foreign Affairs Minister of a First World Country, caring for Freedom of Speech and whatnot at the Charlie Hebdo rally to support the victims of the very horrendous crime that took place in Paris earlier this year:

Assaad Thebian FPM Gebran Bassil Charlie Hebdo

Except clearly freedom of speech is only allowed when it’s not practiced in Lebanon and where pretending we care about it gives our country a good name. All formalities, as you know, because as it is with the FPM words always speak louder than actions.

These are the covers that Gebran Bassil was defending while in Paris, note that they offend both Christianity and Islam, in a way much MUCH worse than Assaad Thebian ever did, but who cares, right?

2) I kneel in front of you, Oh General:

When Gebran Bassil was made president of the FPM, he started his new promotion with a very enticing speech addressing his father-in-law, mentor Michel Aoun. In it he said, and I translate loosely: “Oh general, you leader and mentor and companion, I kneel in front of you along with my compatriots so you could bless us.”

So let me get this, Aoun was giving up on becoming president so he decided to become Jesus? In the name of the Father, His Son in Law, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Yes, that sounds about right.

This wasn’t the first time Aounists turned their leader into God.

3) Aoun in the Heart of Mary:

A few weeks ago, MP Nabil Nicolas, who was the first to rush down to Martyrs’ Square a few weeks ago and support the #YouStink movement, posted a picture on his Facebook account of his leader, Aoun, in the heart of the Virgin Mary. No further comment needed:

Nabil Nicolas Michel Aoun

4) They Tried to Hijack #YouStink, But Then Changed Their Mind:

If you also needed more examples on how hypocritical these FPM leaders are, only look at their attempts to hijack the #YouStink movements under the guise that it’s echoing their demands. Yes, right.

First was this tweet by Gebran Bassil:

Gebran Bassil Tweet August 22 Protest YouStink

Then Nabil Nicolas tried to join the protests. Then minister Elias Abi Saab tried to join the protests as well. The nerve that these people have.

Then Gebran tweeted again:

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 8.34.10 PM

Then they decided the movement was not something they wanted to get involved in. I guess they realized, about a month later, that the movement was against them too.

5) Attacking The Patriarch:

And because we’re digging up stuff from a past long-gone by now, why not dig up something from the FPM’s past? Something like video footage of them attacking the Maronite Patriarch and Bkerki simply because they didn’t agree with Bkerki’s stances?

People in glass houses should not throw stones.

The FPM Doesn’t Just Stink, It Reeks:

Attacking Assaad Thebian is the FPM’s desperate attempt at getting whatever supporters it has left to rally behind the only thing they can use: religion. When your political message fails, when you become so desperate, when you become absolutely dumb-founded by a reality in which you do not matter, you go back to what you know, and the only thing the FPM knows is hate, hypocrisy, and enticing religious tension.

This party’s people saw fitting to scroll down a person’s PERSONAL Facebook page and dig up posts from over a year ago in order to score a few points on a non-partisan and secular movement simply because they felt threatened. Stalkers much?

What’s outrageous here isn’t Assaad Thebian’s personal opinion on religion, which he is 100% entitled to have, on his personal Facebook page, to his friends, but the fact that someone took the effort to make sure and invade his privacy, post these opinions for everyone to see and then have a lawsuit filed against him.

If only I had the financial resources to sue Nabil Nicolas or Gebran Bassil for blasphemy.

Christianity By Name, Never By Action:

This new breed of Christians, as exemplified by those outraged by Assaad Thebian’s Facebook statuses, are exactly what is wrong with Christianity today. They are those people who proclaim to be Christian just for the fun of it, but when it comes to practice, they are as far from it as it can be. Christianity is not only an ID categorization, but a way of life. Don’t tell them I told you this, though.

In between the “bedde nik kess emmo la Assaad Thebian” comments (what did his mother every do to you?), and the various responses that don’t only verge on hate, but fall precariously into the sectarian trash talk that the FPM has long been practicing, this is “Christianity” exemplified:

What would Jesus do? He’d slap them across the face, that’s what he’d do.

The Difference Between Us And You:

And here lies the biggest difference between us, those supporting the #YouStink movement in all our forms and colors and religious affiliation or lack thereof, and you. We do not follow a leader, we follow a cause. We are not protesting for someone. We are protesting because this country needs us to protest, because it is our national duty to stand up to the shit that your leader and his friends have gotten us into over the past 10 years.

Assaad Thebian is not a figure that defines the #YouStink movement, he is a figure of the movement. He is entitled to his opinion, and I will defend his right to that opinion in the face of hypocrites and anyone who thinks he should not have an opinion that trespasses on their belief system.

You? Well, you are people who are called after a person’s last name. You are people who are now wondering if your name should be changed to your new leader’s last name. You are followers not to a cause, but to a figure. You move the way that figure sways. You don’t have an ideology, you have a new god to worship.

Between us an you, the only people committing blasphemy are you.

When Beirut Was At Its Most Beautiful In Years

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 1

Beirut is its most beautiful when it’s alive. Over the past few years, it hasn’t been that way. No, parties at Skybar (RIP) don’t count.

Beirut is not beautiful when it’s a strange land to its people. It’s not beautiful when its center is always empty, when its heart is devoid of its people, when it’s forcibly maimed beyond recognition. No, Beirut is not beautiful when it doesn’t have us, when it’s full of flags that are not of the country which it represents.

On August 29th, 2015, Beirut not only had us, but it had enough of us to make it the most beautiful it’s been in years. Yesterday evening, Beirut was gorgeous. It was our own city finding its voice again, finding its calling again, finding its own identity again.

Beirut is nothing without its streets that should be filled with people. Yesterday, we filled its heart. Beirut is nothing without a beating center. Yesterday, Martyrs’ Square was beating in tachycardia. Beirut is nothing without us. Yesterday, we were Beirut.

Over 100,000 people gathered yesterday in Martyrs’ Square to say enough is enough. They chanted against the system. They chanted for their rights. They chanted with every ounce of voice they had in them for the causes they believed in.

This is how beautiful Beirut was:

 

And people had their hands intertwined to signal unity:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 25

The people also brought posters.

Some, like my friend Racha’s poster, were hilarious:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 10

She’s going to kill me for this going viral.

Youssef Nassar, inspired by Elissa’s now famous Twitter gaffe, brought out the big guns:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 21

#Best #Concert #Ever! #With #My #Besties.

My friend Izzie, meanwhile, compared our ruling class to her dog, “Funny.” Obviously, they wouldn’t amount to how adorable her puppy is:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 14

Pop culture also made an appearance in the form of “Game of Thrones.” What do our politicians have in common with Jon Snow? You guessed it:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 7

That wasn’t the only Game of Thrones-inspired poster around:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 24

Pop culture made another appearance in the form of a “Fifty Shades” pun:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 4

The whole “I kneel in front of you oh General” line that Bassil delivered recently now has an entirely different meaning.

And since we’re a very competitive country, our politicians had their report card released. Needless to say, it’s not very flattering:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 8

Because this protest was a BIG deal, Myriam Klink made an appearance:

By Ralph Aoun.

By Ralph Aoun.

But Klink will probably NOT approve of the content of this poster, zico zico and all:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 16

And because no protest in this country happens without foreign approval, this protest was under the auspices of North Korea. Thank you Pyong Yang!

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 9

Some people brought figurative coffins with them to bury the system that has been killing us for years:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 12

Some made jokes about our security forces:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 20

Some were not as polite:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 6

But at least they have good calligraphy.

This time around, Berri got a few jabs:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 13

Others, and this is the poster that resonated with me the most, wanted to remind everyone of how much we’ve lost being submissive to this system for the past several years, and how many innocent lives paid the price. May all the children of Tripoli rest in peace:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 5

 

And here are a few more:

All of this happened to the backdrop of the most ironic poster of them all:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 9

Beirut is its most beautiful when its people are this free, when they are this creative and when they finally find their voice that has been forcibly silenced for years, at times when we thought such a thing wouldn’t happen.

Yesterday’s protest was the BIGGEST manifestation of secular, non-partisan but very politically driven individuals in the history of the country. If August 29th leads to results in the coming few days, this protest will go down in history as another form of Beirut Spring, in the heart of a country that has long shown democracy to the region.

This post is not about what should have happened, what should happen next and what is expected of this movement. This is about how beautiful and glorious our sight was, and how beautiful we made Beirut in the process.

Cheers to everyone who made Beirut great again. Cheers to those who sang, and chanted and shouted. Cheers to hopefully saying one day: “I was there.” Cheers to us.

How Lebanon’s Politicians Are Threatened By The #‏طلعت_ريحتكم‬ Movement

Over the past month, the most energetic and momentum-ful youth movement this country has seen over the past of the past few years was born and they called themselves طلعت ريحتكم or YouStink.

That movement was born because a portion of the Lebanese society, one that has a functioning head above its shoulders and one that can see through the whole spectrum of our politicians’ bullshit, was sick of the status quo that’s forcing every single Lebanese today, except a select few, to live in utter misery, in a state of non-existent rights and… in their own garbage. You’ve all seen those pictures.

That non-political movement has its only purpose to challenge a system that has gone for so long unchallenged and to expose the corruption that is so well-rooted in all our politicians that they’d rather let the country sink in garbage than threaten their bottom line. And that is scaring our politicians shitless.

The Future Movement:

When the protests started, the FM accused them, via its TV station Future TV, of being nothing more than “workers of the resistance,” which is to say that this movement against the trash crisis of which the FM and its corruption were central players for years is nothing more than a product of the imagination of Hezbollah.

The FM thought that such rhetoric would suffice to resonate with its crowds. Perhaps it did with some. But when it didn’t, the FM’s minister tried to divert attention from the protest by arresting a protestor who was “threatening the Sunni legacy” in the country by fighting for his right by suing the Sunni orphanage for sexual abuse and painting it as a threat to that minister’s well being. Oh well.

Michel Aoun:

In between his quest to reclaim Christian rights and to get himself to presidency and his son in law as army commander, Michel Aoun was also very upset that his very, very failed protests were, well, an utter failure and had security personnel oppose them.

To make a point, or lack thereof, he asked in a press conference the armed forces to go and cut roads and whatnot to the YouStink protesters.

The Kataeb:

Some Kataeb MPs, plenty as they are, considered the protesters in the YouStink movement to be “ridiculous,” or to use the arabic word for it “سافهين.” I guess so says the party that voted for the grandson of their founder to be their head after having his father be the head for so many years?

Hezbollah:

Hezbollah’s minister Hussein El Hajj Hassan asked Lebanese media to decrease and stop covering the YouStink protests. I guess Hezbollah’s reps think that protests against the government and establishment of which they are part, highlighting their grave shortcomings are a big no-no. Tell that to the FM please.

March 14’s General Directorate:

In their meeting, they accused the movement of being part of Hezbollah’s brigade, which is why I suppose anyone would want to oppose this government or the Lebanese establishment as it stands. The meeting also asked the government to hold its own in the face of such protesters.

And On 19/8/2015:

The following are a few pictures of what’s happening right now in Riad el Solh square, against the protesters of the YouStink movement:

When they went down to Riad el Solh today, the protesters of the YouStink movement found themselves faced with a full on onslaught by the Lebanese armed forces who hosed them with water, prevented them from protesting as the cabinet convened to discuss the garbage crisis.

The government failed, yet again, to find a solution today and postponed the problem, again, to a subsequent date. It must be so hard for our politicians to find a solution where they all get money from the handling of Beirut’s garbage. Hashtag: the tough life of a Lebanese politician who’s never satisfied financially.

So naturally, our government failing was met with wide arrests in the ranks of the protesters. Director Lucien Bou Rjeili, who recently did more work than the entirety of our political establishment in the Bab el Tebbeneh-Jabal Mosehn issue by coming up with a play bringing people from both regions together for the first time (link), was arrested.

Activist Assaad Thebian was also arrested; Imad Bazzi, known for his blog Trella.org, was injured and transferred to a nearby hospital. Activists Waref Sleiman and Hassan Shamas were also arrested.

The protesters were then threatened by our those armed forces to be arrested and referred to military court for further management, because this is how we function in Lebanon: people protesting for their fundamental civil liberties get a military trial. And we pretend we’re a democracy.

Not only have our politicians failed in the simplest form of governance and that is sorting our garbage, but they’ve also failed in maintaining a country with the minimum amount of liberties of being able to speak, of not feeling threatened to oppose, of not being beaten up and hosed down when we speak up.

How different is this government from those of the Syrian occupation period when protesters were arrested and threatened for simply protesting? It’s not.

Today, the heroes of Lebanon are those protestors in Riyad el Solh. To the country’s politicians, the most fitting thing to say is this:

11863225_1011379968895224_5433722513749259595_n

The Date of Lebanon’s 2013 Elections

The minister of interior affairs Marwan Charbel has just announced the date of Lebanon’s 2013 parliamentary elections.

We will be heading to the polls in order to perpetuate the current status quo on June 9th. The entire country will be voting on that day and the ministry is apparently done with election preps according to the 1960 law, which was employed in 2009: the law that everyone is against but no one is willing to change.

According to the 1960 law, each caza in Lebanon is its own electoral district.

However, the minister said that if Lebanon’s political parties agree on another electoral law, the date might be postponed by a few weeks. So for all matters and purposes, June 9th it is.

Political parties will start booking those plane tickets for our expats in 3…2….

The “Democracy” of a Libyan Mercenary

Even as they buried their dead, there was absolutely no mercy for the people of Libya.

Colonel Gaddafi defines democracy as a combination of two Arabic words: Demo and Cracy. The meaning ultimately becoming: to stay on chairs. This man has been the Libyan president for forty years and it doesn’t look like he’s satisfied. He’s killing his people left and right, solidifying the notion of an iron-fist rule.

The brutality of the Libyan Revolution is the worst one yet. More people have died in the events that started unfolding one week ago than all of the Egyptian casualties in their two weeks revolution. Gaddafi is hiring mercenaries to gun down his own people, which makes it harder for them to get the voices across. The mercenaries simply don’t care about the point of the protests. They want to get paid, a rumored £18,000 sum.

And to make things worse, it looks like the media has simply lost interest after the Egyptian revolution succeeded. It seems as if Libya is simply the lesser country out of all the ones currently trying to get change going and therefore, we’re getting the least coverage of events from there. We hear that about 200 people gunned down in one day, more than 1000 wounded, descriptions of massacres… but for all we know, it could be even worse.

I will not go into the politics of it. I do not understand Libyan politics and I do not intend to say I do. In the matters of what is going on today, the way you view things is very, very simple. What is happening in Libya today is unacceptable on a basic human level. But what really hurts is that some higher-order governments simply don’t care. They side with the Libyan government, ultimately not caring about the lives being lost, to conserve their economic advantages, represented by the oil reserves Libya has.

Gaddafi wants to fight to the last bullet to stay in office. His son warned of “rivers of blood” if the protests continue. I cannot really come up with the words to describe how big of an abomination this statement is, except that the people of Libya are courageous. How many of us would go to the streets knowing that there’s a high chance we might die? They know they could die but they still protest against a brutal creature who is not a man, for man has a conscience and a man with a conscience cannot do these things.

Courage is the ultimate virtue. It is the ability to go into a battlefield to stand up for your beliefs knowing that you might not come out alive. It’s standing up for what you believe in in spite of fear. And the people of Libya do that. In what I believe is becoming a revolution overdose in the Middle East, I am, today, the most compassionate with the events going on in Libya. So today, I invite everyone to let the word out that they need whatever help they can get.

There is not much we can do individually, but I believe our collective effort can bring forth great things. I am not inviting you to become activist, but taking stands is what life is all about. And Libya needs you to take a stand – with it – today.

Gaddafi, therefore, becomes not only lesser than a man, lesser than a creature. He is a mercenary like the ones he his hiring. A mercenary who is not worthy of his country, not worthy of the concept of democracy and I believe 68 years of life are more than enough for a man like him.