What Beirut’s Election Results Tell: Lebanon Can Hope For Change

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

This post was written with Ramez Dagher from Moulahazat

As promised earlier, this is the more detailed look at how Beirut voted, beyond the surprisingly great outing of the civil movement Beirut Madinati’s list, which even though it didn’t get actual seats, still has plenty to celebrate.

It is important to note that in the most optimistic of cases, the chances for any list other than the list of the political parties to win was next to zero. No this isn’t retrospective analysis. 

Despite the context of the trash crisis, rising corruption, overall voter discontentment, parliament extending its mandate twice, etc… the math of the Beirut electoral equation was never in favor of any non-political movement: the division of districts, the system, demographics, the sectarian propaganda – The Bierteh list had tried to attract voters – especially Christian ones – by proposing a 50-50 Christian/Muslim list, although Beirut Madinati had also kept the same quota.

So no, the cards were not the best that could be given for Beirut Madinati, or any other movement for that matter, simply because those cards were being played on a table that served only one side: the political establishment.

As a result of all of the above, the loudest of voters on Sunday was the low turnout.

20% Voted:

This is not a historically low number. In 2010, 18% of Beirutis voted. Beirutis simply do not vote in Municipal elections, and only do so at slightly higher numbers in parliamentary ones: 33% in 2009.

This is due to many factors. Voter learned helplessness is an important one, but so is the feel that there really isn’t a contest to begin with further increasing the sense of voter apathy. 

33% voted in 1998, the first election since the Civil War, and the lower turnout since should be enough to tell you how much people lost faith.

Many partisan voters were also not willing to vote for the “zayy ma hiye” list but did not want to break lines.

Achrafieh El Bidayi:

Beirut Madinati won the Beirut 1 district with around 60% of the vote, a blow to the rallying calls of Christian parties in the area for their supporters to vote for the Bierti’s list. The 60% figure is not only exclusive to the mostly-Christian Beirut 1, but is also applicable to the Christian vote in the rest of Beirut.

This doesn’t mean the weight of the LF and FPM combined is 40%. Many LF and FPM leaning voters voted for Beirut Madinati more against Hariri, but it sets the precedence that politically affiliated people can go beyond their affiliations and vote in a way that breaks what they were instructed to do.

Boycotts from the bases of the FPM, LF, and Kataeb were also there on election day, as a sign of disagreement with the recent choices of their parties: The FPM electorate isn’t a fan of Hariri; the LF base isn’t a fan of an alliance with the FPM, and the Kataeb aren’t fans of anything.

This lack of enthusiasm was probably one of the causes of the lower turnout in Christian polling stations.

The context of such a vote, however, is probably not sectarian as is circulating. Achrafieh is one of Beirut’s higher socioeconomic areas, with higher income and education rates. You’ll probably see a similar phenomenon in the higher socio-economic districts of Beirut III. Those residents are more likely to vote for issues such as reform, transportation and trash sorting. Those are also the voters that are the less afraid of change.

Many if not all of Lebanon’s parties count on clientelism to widen their electoral base. In higher socio-economic echelons, the reliance of the electorate on the mainstream parties is less.  Those voters don’t need their political parties in the neo-socialist way that most parties in Lebanon function. In Achrafieh, for example, the LF and FPM do not provide medical services, free education, job opportunities for Achrafieh voters as much as other parties in other districts, so throughout the years, the electorate managed to develop an independence from traditional Christian parties.

The Example Of Tariq El Jdide: Anyone Can Be Reached

Sectarian talk is terrible, but is a necessary evil until the political system is not one where people go and vote in segregation based on how they pray. If you crunch Beirut’s numbers, you will end up with a rough figure of around 30% of the Sunni vote not going to Hariri.

This is probably as important, if not more, than BM winning 60% of the vote in Beirut 1.

I don’t believe we can call this a dissent from the Future Movement yet, but it is a continuation of the gradual and progressive Sunni dislike of the way Saad Hariri is running things, even with his rise of popularity after his return.

The reason the Future Movement won is not because voters are “sheep.” It’s because the Future Movement, through various governmental policies, has forced the people of many Sunni areas to always remain in need for their intervention to get the basic necessities that should be a right for every Lebanese citizen, which many in other areas have access to without needing their political parties: do not cut the hand that feeds you.

The political framework of the elections is important. They come at a time when Sunnis in Lebanon feel increasingly threatened by being categorized as potential-Islamists, to the background of a party in power fighting for a regime they do not approve of in Syria.

The need to not break rank was never greater. They may not approve of Hariri, but this was not the time to show it, and yet 30% did. The situation in the country is not one where sects have the prerogative to show cracks in their facade, or have we forgotten how Christians have also forced a seemingly unbreakable veneer over the past few months as well?

All of this makes the 30% figure of Sunnis who did not vote for Hariri all the more impressive and courageous. It’s the kind of percentage that breaks taboos.

Moving Forward:

The election’s overall results are telling. In Beirut I, the LF representative Elie Yahchouchi and the FPM’s Traboulsi lead their allies in the FM by around 800 votes (of around 6500 the list got). In Beirut II, with its important Shia and Armenian electorate, almost all of the winning candidates from LB are in the 9000 votes region. One candidate however, Amal’s representative, stands out as having 10000 votes. In the third district, Yahchouchi and Traboulsi are 5000 votes behind the FM’s candidates.

The difference between the first and the last of list is around 8000 votes for LB, and 3000 votes for BM. In other words, most of those who voted BM did not make major changes to their lists (“tochtib”) and were convinced with almost all of BM’s candidates, while the base of every single party in power was modifying the names.

That is the biggest proof that the ruling coalition is unstable, and that in 2017, even a minor split between the parties in power can lower that 60% and give way to an independent breakthrough. Check the results here.

But now is time to look ahead.

Our voting process needs to be modernized. 36 hours to go through Beirut’s voting results is a disgrace. There are no excuses.

The rhetoric we need to adopt should never call those who do not vote the way we want sheep or other varieties of animals. It is demeaning, and not any different than the system we want to change. Such horrific name-calling only alienates voters from your platform. The core of democracy is one where many will not vote the way you find is best.

Our rhetoric should also be more inclusive, and less elitist. Our bubble in which we believe our paradigm of Lebanese politics is scripture is exclusive to the people that are reached by our message, but the bulk of voters exist outside of that bubble. We need to be aware that what we know and believe is true doesn’t translate to others and work on reforming our message to make it holistic.

This means that calls to divide Beirut into smaller districts just because Achrafieh voted one way and Tariq el Jdide voted another are horrifyingly xenophobic. Beirut is a city that is 18 km2 with 500,000 voters only. It is too small to be divided. We need policies to bring people together, not segregate them into separate cantons.

Accomplishing so starts by championing policies to better the conditions of all Beirutis, especially those that exist in impoverished areas. Beirut Madinati did not, for instance, campaign as much as it should have in Tariq el Jdide.

Political parties in the country keep people at bay by keeping them afraid and hungry. Keep them as such, and they remain at their mercy. The first step in breaking this political hegemony is to make them need their political parties less: advocate for better schools, better and more comprehensive healthcare, fight economic inflation, raise the minimum wage, adopt a better taxing scheme, etc…

Such measures, however, cannot be done by simply complaining on Facebook. Modernizing our elections isn’t only about getting electronic voting machines, but also about having an electoral law that is fitting of the year 2016. The only law that can work to represent all different sections of Lebanon’s society is a law based on proportional representation. If such a law were adopted, for example, Beirut Madinati would have obtained 9 seats out of the available 24 on Sunday.

Proportional representation, as proposed during a cabinet meeting in 2010 tackling the municipal electoral law, is one of many reforms, such as electing the mayor directly from the people, and a 30% women quota, that are napping in parliament. The establishment is making it harder, but that shouldn’t mean that pressure should stop.

We also need to realize that, despite disagreeing with them, political parties are not going away. If we are to leave a mark, we have to find a framework in which we organize into a party that can compete better in elections, in politics and do so in unity: one of our biggest failings in this election was having like-minded people run on two different lists.

Today, we should be cautiously optimistic at what the future holds. Change in Lebanon is not a sudden process. It’s a tedious affair that needs planning over many years. Start planning for 2017’s parliamentary elections today and 2022’s municipal elections yesterday. Do not despair, and most importantly, always challenge the status quo regardless of how comfortable you are in it.

 

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Geagea and Aoun’s New Love Fest: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun

In a widely predicted move, LF leader Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun came out with a political understanding yesterday that saw the former supporting the latter for Lebanon’s presidency, after about 33 failed attempts at electing a president and 30 years of the same practiced politics.

Lebanon’s Christian field was predominantly supportive. After all, the whole burying the hatchet fest that we saw on TV was done because Christianity, and Christians sure love seeing #TeamJesus in all its glory on Lebanese TV.

The Good:

We can now say that on January 18th, 2016, after around 30 years of feud, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun finally saw eye to eye in something. A more zealous response would be: LET THEM KNOW NOW THAT CHRISTIANS WILL NEVER BE PUT ASIDE AGAIN, etc. But that’s not really the case.

It’s good to see a semblance of unity occur regardless of what that unity might mean. It’s good to see Geagea and Aoun talk things out.

But.

The Bad:

Many think that this move was visionary. The fact of the matter is it’s nothing other than reactionary to Saad Hariri nominating Sleiman Frangieh for president a few weeks ago. The only disturbance in the presidential race, protracted and dull as it was, was Saad Hariri’s deal back in November-December. That disturbance became the catalyst behind both the FPM and the LF’s deal today in order to “reclaim” their constitution-given Christian right.

How good can a move made in reaction and spite be, rather than it being foreseeing and contemplative, especially in the grand picture of Lebanese politics that not only requires foresight to navigate its murky waters? Why don’t you refer to Jumblat for that?

What this move does is not elevate the level of politics that Geagea and Aoun are practicing. It’s not a good thing that Lebanon’s Christian community is now practicing the same kind of tribal politics that the country’s other factions do. By “uniting,” Geagea and Aoun moved from their failed politics on a national level to failed politics on a sectarian level.

Yes, they were Christian leaders first and foremost, many of their policies had inter-sectarian tendencies. How will they move from here? Not in that way, clearly.

The move also comes to the backdrop of a 10 point agreement that the two forged over the past 6 months. It reads as follows:

Geagea Aoun Agreement

The agreement’s key points then are the following:

  • No use of weapons in case of conflict,
  • Supporting the Lebanese army in governing the entirety of Lebanon’s territories alone,
  • A Switzerland-esque foreign policy to get the country to avoid struggles,
  • Supporting UN resolutions,
  • A new electoral law.

Sure, those headlines are all wonderful, and looking at them with no critical thought warrants giving their alliance a second thought. But you can’t not be critical of Lebanese political talk, and the question therefore becomes: how will they do them?

The difference in ideology between Geagea and Aoun is not only related to their Civil War days: the two were supremely divergent even in times of “peace.” They have not agreed on an electoral law other than the Orthodox Law, and even that agreement was more about whose balls are bigger rather than it being done with political wisdom. They have not agreed on which kind of foreign policy they see best for the country. They have not agreed on which way is best to actually get the army to be the only rightful security force in the country, and how to implement all kinds of UN resolutions (hinting at ridding Hezbollah of its weapons).

Alliances need to have a minimum of common ideology. Establishing them just for the sake of common interests in the short run will prove, in the long run, to be detrimental, especially when it affects an entire community (in this case Lebanon’s Christians).

Is this how Christian rights are restored? By making Lebanon’s Christians more exclusive rather than inclusive? By making them more sequestered? By thirding the country instead of keeping it halved? By turning Christians from the entity that governed Lebanon’s dichotomy to another destabilizing agent in an unstable country?

Ignoring the differences that these two presented to Lebanon’s Christian community is the first step towards removing any semblance of democracy from that community. Difference is not to be feared in political contexts. Disregarding it is what’s scary.

The Ugly:

Geagea and Aoun made peace. But I have to wonder: what kind of peace?

They’re making the kind of peace that requires us to bury our heads in the sand, like the perpetual ostriches that our Lebanese existence has made us into; the kind of peace that does not deal with the past requiring such a peace to be made in the first place, effectively making it a recipe for impeding disaster.

The argument goes: other factions have done these peace making deals before, and as such Christians doing it should be celebrated. Making peace is good. But is it?

Is the peace made by Lebanon’s other war factions actual peace? The idea of making peace invokes stability. Is the country stable? Is making peace in spite of history not through it, as all those other factions have done, putting the country on the right path towards healing post our civil war?

I look around and see people from different sects still hating each other, still worried about the intentions of one another. I look around and see a political discourse that still gets those who have supposedly made up after our civil war to fear each other.

What kind of peace are they talking about then?

There are things that are a little too late, and this is one of them. Where was the common interest of Lebanon’s Christian community 30 years ago when these two were actively working on canceling each other out, when their wars tore apart Christian communities and left thousands of victims in their wake?

Yes, this is not the time to bring up war-time memories, but healing only starts with remembering.  Would there have been a need for such a “deal” to be made in 2016 had those two actually cared about the community they’re panicking about today back in the 1980s?

Peace cannot be made by those who only know war.

The Uglier:

I’m afraid to inform you my fellow Lebanese that this “alliance” does not, in any way, affect your life as a Lebanese in the ways that actually matter.

It will not bring you electricity.

It will not fix your garbage crisis.

It will not make your internet faster so you can stream Netflix.

It will not increase your minimum wage.

It will not make your passport worthwhile.

It will not stop the “SSSS” checks on your boarding passes and “random” checkups in airports.

It will not stop ISIS.

It will not extract the oil from our fields.

And, ironically, it does not even guarantee that a president be elected.

Our Lebanese reality cannot be changed when the same people who have been practicing their failed politics over us for 30 years start practicing their politics together.

The Funny:

To end this on a happier note, I can’t but share a few of the lighter tones with which some Lebanese handled the news, in the joke that this actually is:

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 a Lebanese MP Thinks His Political Leader Is God

The above title is not made up by The Onion and is not, as it sounds, satire.

I had just got back home from hospital to find that the news all over is about another Aounist protest.

Ironically, the first thing I saw was a doctor shouting into the microphone: “this is the people *points at himself and other protesters* who are being impoverished!” (Imagine this in high voice for bravado). He was wearing a Ralph Laurent polo and flashing a Rolex to the camera.

Poor doctor. *giggles.*

The camera then flashed tointerview a girl who, unlike her friends, was not fully-clad orange. Hey, she’s still better than Gebran Bassil’s orange Ray-Bans. I guess millions don’t buy good taste. That girl, when asked why she was protesting today said the following: “I’m not Aounist but I’m protesting for my country today!”

She’s not Aounist. *giggles.*

So where was the little demoiselle last Saturday when there was an actual protest to reclaim her country’s rights, a protest beyond the confines of familial politics, narrow-mindendess and sectarian bigotry?

*crickets.*

I figured listening to such rubbish at the end of a long day was not how I intended to end the day so I turned off my TV and reverted to my best friend, also known as my laptop, for company. I wrote a little post about some hilarious new Instagram account taking the Lebanese internet by storm (link) and then I browsed Facebook.

It was funny at first. Have you seen Gebran Bassil, our minister of foreign affairs, making his big fashion statement?

Bassil FPM protest

I kept on going hoping for better material. Big mistake.

Nabil Nicolas, currently a member of Lebanon’s parliament with the Change and Reform bloc, decided to contribute as well to the megalomania taking over the country, so he shared a picture and hence our title.

Behold a screenshot of his post:

Nabil Nicolas Michel Aoun

This confuses me on so many levels that I have to ask: is Michel Aoun Jesus? Is his actual father God and the universe doesn’t want us to know? What is he doing inside Mary?

It’s sad that any person sinks to this level of ridiculousness. What’s even sadder is that the person in question is a Lebanese MP, in charge of running the country, and who’s apparently more pre-occupied with how best to kiss up to his political leader.

Nabil Nicolas is an example of those we’ve entrusted to run the country and who’ve failed miserably. And in case you need more examples, in times like these, as to how bad they’re failing, worry not for they will deliver, and here he is.

I’m not religious. I’m not offended by this picture and I don’t care about its content. But I love how such a “Christianity-offending” picture is coming from the personal Facebook account of an MP of the Lebanese party that, today, claims to be spear-heading the fight for Christian rights by fighting to elect a president with only one viable option and to get a commander of the army with one viable option, both of which happen to be either that party’s leader or his son in law.

This is not about Christian rights for those are besides the point at this point. This is about absurd politicians who think their leader is God, about their followers who think their politicians are the disciples of God and who believe in every word that they say without critical thought.

Such people are those with whom we are sharing the country. Such people are governing us and making sure we remain in the ditch hole we’ve been living in for years, and who will remain here for years to come.

Then, because Facebook pissed me off, I reverted to Twitter where I saw the following:

Lebanon FPM protest ISIS FM

Isn’t this hilariously sad? Doesn’t it put Nabil Nicolas’ Facebook post into perspective?

These are times when people think a politician fighting tooth and nail to get his son in law to power is a politician fighting for their rights as they drown in garbage.

These are times when politicians upload pictures proclaiming their leaders to be God and 172 blindly click “like” because monkey see, monkey do.

These are times when people in the country think a moderate Sunni is ISIS just because they were told to think as such.

These are times when people think their rights are aptly defended by someone who wants nothing other than power and swallow it like sugar pills.

In such a context, Nabil Nicolas is not an abnormality but is the norm. And the brain-washing machine goes woosh.

Update: they also believe in creationism.  

 

Why #ThankBassil Backfired

Yesterday night, Nicolas Sehanoui decided to take his twitter presence and use it in support of another minister in his now-defunct cabinet. The minister he decided to support was Gebran Bassil, one of the FPM’s more polarizing figures. Mr. Sehanoui figured that tweeting some of Bassil’s “achievements” in the ministry of energy and water with the hashtag #ThankBassil would get people talking.

Well, people got talking alright. But it wasn’t good at all. Instead of the hashtag turning into something positive to light Gebran Bassil’s future electoral days, no pun, it became a space for people across the twitter spectrum to express their true sentiment regarding the minister. Saying those sentiments weren’t nice would be an understatement: people are still making fun of that hashtag today, almost 24 hours later.

Many FPM supporters cannot fathom how people can’t get past their prejudice agains this man and look at his achievements. But the reasons for that are actually quite simple. Let me try to list them:

1) Gebran Bassil is simply unlikeable. This is common knowledge among Batrounis, even those in the FPM circle. Many of the level-headed FPMers I’ve spoken to admit that any other “choice” for a battle-candidate in the region would get more votes. Why’s that? Because Gebran Bassil isn’t held in the best regards among those in the FPM, despite what they try to show, and he is not liked enough to get the votes of those who are politically “independent” in the region. Case in point? He lost twice. Another case in point? Even in Michel Aoun’s Christian hayday, he barely managed to get a majority in the caza. Nicolas Sehanoui, for instance, shares Gebran Bassil’s views. But he is likeable enough to get me to maybe consider voting for him. I don’t vote in Achrafieh so there’s that.

2) What is the source of said-achievements? It’s easy to categorize everyone on Twitter as a blind supporter of political parties here and there. Many actually are. But you know what’s also interesting about Twitter? It’s a space for many Lebanese who are fed up to express that sentiment. I am one of those people. I have no problem acknowledging when someone has done a good job. What I have a hard time doing, however, is to believe rhetoric that comes from political sources that have an agenda behind each word they blurt out: every number, every syllable, every point.

3) Have you seen some of those “achievements?” One example that comes to mind is the oil achievement. Am I supposed to be grateful and eternally thankful to Gebran Bassil that Lebanon has oil, something which many of us have known for years and years now? For reference, digging sites were set up in my Batrouni hometown in the 1970s for that matter. Or how about all those dams whose projects have been around since 1960? Are all the achievements non-sensical? Perhaps not. But I don’t trust any Lebanese politician enough to give them blind thumps up.

4) Why should I be thankful to anyone again? I’ve said it before in this article (link) but I don’t want to ever be thankful to any politician whatsoever for doing what they are theoretically required to do, regardless of how well they do their job. If I see tangible improvement in a certain area, which I’m not seeing with Bassil so far, I point it out. If them doing their job is absolutely horrendous, Gaby Layoun comes to mind, then I’ll point it out as well. It is our duty as aware Lebanese people not to get carried away with political hype, especially if it comes pre-electorally, and be critical of what we hear and what politicians do. But never, ever, be eternally grateful for something someone should be doing regardless of what his or her predecessors did. Meaning: when I start practicing medicine, please don’t be eternally grateful for me curing you when you are paying me to do it.

5) Does it even make sense for politicians of the same political party to start thanking each other for their accomplishments on social media? What’s next, have Gaby Layoun thank Minister Sehanoui next week and have minister Bassil thank Layoun the week after that? How is ministerial twitter love-fest remotely acceptable?

6) If you’re from Batroun, you’d know that Gebran Bassil is being paraded around these days almost everywhere. Thank you Gebran Bassil posters are literally everywhere across my region (pictures). Why’s that? Because the man is going around the country, to every single place his ministry has started a project, to make sure the project gets affixed to his name forever. Why is he doing that in the first place? Because he knows he won’t be going back to the ministry next time and he doesn’t want his “achievements” to be affixed to anyone else’s name. Two questions can be asked here: Did he take “accomplishments” from previous ministers? And isn’t #thankbassil another extension of the media frenzy?

7) Last but not least, if you’re from Batroun as well, you’d remember a little book that was also distributed across the region in 2009 ahead of the parliamentary elections to list Gebran Bassil’s achievements. Sounds familiar, right? Well, that little book was not only trashed, it was torn apart by criticism because it was so bloated and full of achievements that were not simply true. That little book was one of the reasons Gebran Bassil lost the elections in 2009. If you’re not from Batroun, now you know.

I met Gebran Bassil a while back at my hometown’s local church hall as he paid his respect to a deceased relative. He is very good friends with my aunt who was his classmates all through school days. He was more receptive to me than I was to him. He even joked that I wasn’t “apparently with them.” I laughed as he tapped me on the shoulder to tell me it’s okay.

For the record, I don’t think he’s a bad man. On the contrary, he seemed quite friendly and I wouldn’t mind having a chit-chat with him sometimes away from all the townspeople who couldn’t wait to touch his holy suit. We might end up at each other’s throat but that’s fine.

However, I do think he is a grating politician. Is he corrupt? Perhaps he is. I can tell you about the old houses being traded around Batroun or  the aquifer water well permits being handed out to people as easy as saying A. But he is definitely not the worst and most corrupt of politicians to roam this country. Batroun has better examples to give to that. Kolestone, anyone?

It all boils down to what Twitter user @MWNader said yesterday: You can buy ministries but you cannot buy chemistry.

Refer to Fouad Sanioura for further details.

Let’s Talk About Al Ebra2 El Mousta7il (الإبراء المستحيل)

“Have you read Al Ebra2 el Mousta7il?” One of my FPM relatives asked me a few days ago, a smile spreading across her face like a three year old on Christmas Eve.
“Nope. Have you?” I replied.
“Not yet. But man, I can’t believe how anyone would fathom being with Hariri after it!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll read it when part 2 is released.”

Part 2 is currently in the works as a reply to part 1.

FPMers are having a field day with a recently released book from their MPs, mainly Ibrahim Kenaan which revealed “for the first time ever” some secrets about the Hariri era in Lebanese politics. You can buy the book for $8 at any bookstore. It has more tables in it than a Certified Public Accountant would like to handle and its purpose is more than clear: serve as pre-electoral political propaganda, as is their right.

They have begun to use the term “ebra2ihom al mousta7il” to categorize the Future Movement on their Facebook pages and political websites.

My premise isn’t about the book’s content. It’s about the point behind the book. Who among us does not know that the Hariri era of politics was riddled with corruption? Well, if you don’t now you do. And if you don’t think it did, then your conviction borders on the delusional.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Hariri was the only person running the show from the 1990 to 2005, his government not having any other participant, and ask the following: don’t FPM ministers have their own “ebra2 l mousta7il” from 2005 onwards?

A Western company is suing Gebran Bassil for the way he handled one of the many bids that pass under his ministry. Isn’t that corruption?
The following link portrays severe transgressions of Minister Bassil and Layoun (minister of culture) in Batroun, which MTV is currently investigating, whereby the ministry of culture takes over old Lebanese houses for a very cheap amount of money, gets Gebran to renovate them and sell them for massive amounts. Or how about the diesel scandal that took place last year?

We can also talk about minister Layoun’s disgusting practices in the minister of culture, from allowing the demolishing of the Roman hippodrome to the Phoenician port to many of Beirut’s old houses, including Amin Maalouf’s. How about we look at Layoun’s wealth before and after him taking on the mantle of the ministry?

The aforementioned transgressions are based on a few minutes of research here and there that I, a blogger who doesn’t register on our politicians’ radar, was able to pull off.

FPMers will dismiss this previous link immediately based on its source, as will those who are against the FPM will dismiss their book because their source is very political.

Al Ebra2 Al Mousta7il is not a book for the Lebanese masses because you can’t offer one side of the corruption story in Lebanese politics and expect people who differ from you politically to take you seriously. I will not read Al Ebra2 Al Mousta7il because, despite keeping an open mind (most of the time) to different scenarios in the country, I know for a fact that the other side which the book doesn’t portray, obviously, committed transgressions that may or may not be as severe as the side the book does, in fact, portray. But that’s not the point.

The point is that every single political party in this country has, upon reaching power committed corrupt acts. The point is that blaming the entire country’s financial and economic problems, through a book such as Al Ebra2 Al Mousta7il on one single politician and his party, however corrupt that politician was, is illogical and non-sensical.

Al Ebra2 Al Mousta7il is a book that will get those who support the FPM to support the party even further without even reading the book. Let’s be honest, most FPMers won’t read it and will count on their politicians telling them what the book contains. Those who are against the FPM will dismiss it as nonsense. And come election time, no one will really remember it.

And the merry goes round.

Hariri was corrupt, sure. But Hariri was not the only one who’s corrupt. People with glass houses should not throw stones. Everyone has their own ebra2 al mousta7il.

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.