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.

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The Most Sectarian Ad On Lebanese Television

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

Here’s the ad:

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

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

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

You didn’t expect that now, did you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Man, did you see this fucked up road?

– Yes I did.

– Did you tell Gebran about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The October 13th Coward

“They knew it was a martyrdom mission,” he said on a recent talk show. “Those army men knew they were going there to die for their country.”

And that’s what happened on October 13th.

They all died. All of them. Except him. I guess this certain martyrdom mission has somehow eluded him. I guess declaring he’d stay to fight regardless of consequences was a marketing sham – he sure is a pro at those. Some of the bodies of those men who died for our country twenty three years ago were poured down under the concrete of the ministry of defense. Others were never returned to their families.

Some families still have hope that their sons would come back. They still have hope that somehow they escaped the atrocities of that day. Some of them hope their loved ones are sitting in a jail in the country of the army that killed them, praying for a resolution. Some mothers still run to the door whenever they hear footsteps. And it’s all because of him.

I can attest though that Paris is a very nice place to live in. If my government is willing to send me there, I’d go willingly. No questions asked. So I wonder how anyone would think a decade’s stay in Paris is punishment. My idea of a punishment is rotting in jail, getting tortured by a foreign army in a prison cell on their territories, not seeing your family ever again.

But I may be too morbid when it comes to punishments. Maybe the Parisian weather, under the Eiffel Tower, at Montmartre and passing by les Champs-Elysées, is really harsh, especially for older individuals.

And then he has the decency to commemorate the memory of those men every year. And he has the decency to speak on their behalf while he’s figuratively sleeping with the people that killed them. Defending them. Telling everyone that the regime that massacred those men whose only fault was to believe that their commander would stay with them is something that we can trust. Telling everyone that this regime is something that will protect us.

And he also has the decency to call himself the protector of Christians in Lebanon. The only form of official protection that they’ve ever gotten. An army general. Little does he know that he’s single handedly terrorizing Christians daily and bringing them down by setting up the scenarios that he conjures up like a magic spell: be afraid. Be very afraid. They’re out there to get us. He’s on a mission: demoralize the Christians until the only solution they see is his. Bring them down. Tear their spirit apart. He’s always been good at that.

Paranoia is not treatable in old age.

Those conjured up scenarios are always in full swing – even when it comes to the memory of martyrs whose deaths are on his hand. The latest is him accusing his bonafide political rivals of causing their deaths. Add that to the thesaurus definition of political bankruptcy. If you can’t beat them in a political debate in 2012, start telling lies that infringe upon morals and convictions the way you see please and the way some people would more than gladly believe.

After all, isn’t it of the qualities of those rivals to kill and kill and kill? When the shoe fits, why not make them wear it?

It is sad that a civil war event of the magnitude of what took place on October 13th becomes yet another opportunity for him to use as a platform to make himself into a victim, an innocent saint whose only fault was trying to make things right, of being never wrong.

The bodies of the army’s martyrs that died on the day are already decayed under the concrete. Their souls are shrieking for justice, for retribution against their killers. But that’s something they will never get from him as he plays cards with their killers, laughing over their fates over a cup of coffee whilst thinking about what he’ll be lying about the day their anniversary rolls around.

Here’s to more October 13th of cowardly hypocrisy.

The Christian Delusion of Hezbollah

It is the time of electoral calculations. Parties plan out their moves depending on the yield of votes those moves could get them in 2013’s parliamentary elections or according to the extent that those moves can help their allies.

With this point of view, many (click here) saw Hezbollah’s “peaceful” demonstration against the anti-Islam movie as a calculated strategical move to show Lebanese Christians that their alternative is better: i.e. the Islam they have to offer is superior to that of those who burn down fast food restaurants and, in a more global sense, attack embassies.

During the protest, several TV stations interviewed Hezbollah members who answered Hassan Nasrallah’s call. They all had one common thing to say: “This is our leader. We will not let anyone make fun of him and when it happens, we will answer.”
The leader they were referring to was obviously Mohammad. The leader that sentence also applies to is Hassan Nasrallah – the declaration can go both ways depending on who’s in a tough spot, so to speak.

And it is here that Hezbollah’s main Christian problem lies. Regardless of all the “peace” they advocate and promote, the mentality that they are ready to do anything for either their prophet or their leader puts off the majority of Christians in droves and equates them with the bad clumsy Sunnis who see in KFC a sign of the devil. I mean, have you seen those chickens?

The Christian side is divided into two main players. One tries to explain the rising Sunni extremism while attacking the hidden extremism of the Shiites. The other player totally forgets about the extremism that’s harbored with a signed document and flaunts what those other Muslims. The Christian supporters of each player will eat the rhetoric up. They will get into endless quarrels about those other bad Muslims. No one will convince the other.
So who’s at play? The “independent” Christian vote, little as that may be, who sees in both Hezbollah and the Sunnis that Hezbollah is trying to come off as different from as evils that need to be eradicated. It is the “independent” Christian vote that’s feeling increasingly threatened as a minority and is seeking reassurance.
His reassurance will not come at the hands of Hassan Nasrallah, regardless of what some politicians want you to believe. It comes at the hand of Christian leaders who have their most basic ideologies at war: we are not in danger vs we need a minority alliance to be safe.

The pursuit of Christian votes by Hezbollah for his sake and the sake of his main Christian ally is futile. Why? Because it plays on two fronts. One, the Lebanese voter – for anything non civil war related (because you know they all remember everything there is to remember about that event) – has a memory that spans a few seconds. By the time next June rolls by, no one, apart from the highly politicized individuals, would remember what the Sunnis did to KFC or the sublime demonstration of Hezbollah. The second front is for those who remember and they are not irrelevant few.

There are those who remember how a few years ago when Basmet Watan had a Hassan Nasrallah dummy on their show, all hell broke loose as riots started and subsequently the show was stopped for a month. There are those who remember how the May 2008 events went along. There are those who remember how Samer Hanna got killed and how powers shifted in 2011. And regardless of where those people stand politically from those events, they will always play into them being so cautious from Hezbollah that the fake smiles they give the party of god are just that: fake. Yes, even those who theoretically support said party.

The fact of the matter is the Christians in Lebanon are wary of its Muslims. They are wary of both of their short fuses when it comes to the matters that touch each sect. The staunchest FPM supporter despises Hezbollah as much as they dislike Hariri. The staunchest LF supporter will tell you in secret how he doesn’t like Hariri as well. The common thing among both teams? They go with the flow and hope that one day the side they put their money on turns out to be the better side. But deep down they both know that in the game of thrones in Lebanon, the Christian vote is a Christian matter and what other sects do will hold little to no significance.

So why did Hezbollah hold a protest against the anti-Islam movie so late in the anti-Islam auction game? It’s quite easy actually. Have you heard anything Syria related when the movie protests were taking place? And herein lies your answer.

Gebran Bassil is an Awesome Stand Up Comedian!

Poor Gebran Bassil!

Didn’t you hear? He hasn’t had electricity in his house for FOUR days! FOUR! Even his generator is busted. How unlucky can one get? You would think the other few million Lebanese have a worse electricity situation.

But no. Gebran has it worse than all of us.

In fact, he has it so bad that his wife had to go out with her friends because they couldn’t do a surprise birthday party for her at their house. He had to take care of the kids.

Such a great dad too!

And you know what’s worse?

He’s also a victim of the Summer wedding season. And he attended a wedding where the bride and groom, as well as those attending, were melting from the heat because the Church didn’t have electricity to turn on the AC.

Poor, poor Gebran Bassil. My heart is breaking. How can someone not sympathize with such candid awesomeness by the minister of energy?

And he’s got news, fellow Lebanese. The electricity situation is about to get worse. How many hours do you get it per day? 2? Make those 30 minutes. That should be enough, no?

Don’t blame Bassil for the electricity crisis. He’s providing much needed comic relief! Who needs A/C again?

And he’s got a request for you…. You need to take it down to the streets. Because he – and you – can’t tolerate this anymore.

7ayet l wazir se3be ya jame3a. 

Happy birthday to his wife! Alla ywaffe2 l 3ersein.

Click here and jump to 26:45.

Now in all seriousness, how can a minister fathom sharing such stories in a press conference about one of the most serious matters in the country and still be taken seriously?

There’s a limit to what you can say and, regardless of what you think about Gebran Bassil politically, sharing stories about his wife and weddings he’s invited to is not something you talk about. Never. Not even to illustrate a point.

He’s not the reason behind the electricity crisis? Sure. But his handling of it is so laughable that Gebran Bassil turns out to be quite awesome… at being a stand up comedian that is.

Nemr Abou Nassar who?

 

The Case of Lebanon’s History Book

As a Lebanese who has gone through our educational system, I’ve learned about Lebanon’s history in two separate grades: grade 9 and grade 12, as a preparation for the official exams that I, similarly to many other students, undertook come the month of June of that corresponding year. The difference in the material between grade 9 and grade 12 was literally nonexistent. We used the same book, same notes and discussed the same era all over again. It was as if our history stopped around 1946, when the French army left our country, marking their departure with a carved stone at the Nahr El Kalb valley.

The thing about writing history is that no matter who writes it, it will never be objective. Even the most objective of historians cannot have the history they write be absolutely devoid of a personal touch here or there, which, albeit subtle, can convey a different meeting altogether.

Recently, however, the talks about writing a history book for Lebanon that goes beyond the 1946 obstacle and into the 21st century was in the works. And for that matter, a governmental committee was appointed to discuss what was relevant and what was not.

The members of the committee are: minister Mohammad Fneish, minister Nicolas Fattouch, minister of education Hassan Diab, minister of culture Gaby Layoun, minister Ali Kanso, minister of health Ali Hassan Khalil, minister of justice Shakib Kartbawi, minister of information Walid Daaouk, minister of tourism Walid Abboud and minister of sports Faysal Karami.

In the case of this committee’s attempt at writing a history book for Lebanon, which will be later submitted to the Parliamentary Education committee for approval, their definition of objectivity is: write whatever you want, omit anything you don’t like and voila.

In the draft for this book, every single mention regarding Hezbollah addresses the party as the “Resistance” and glorifies all its struggles and conflicts with Israel, from the 1980s up till now.  On the other hand, minister Mohammad Fneish refused any mention of the March 14 “Cedar Revolution” and anything about the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. The book was also going to omit anything about the protest of the opposition in Beirut’s downtown for two whole years, including the May 7 incidences in Beirut.

In short, anything related to the mistakes Hezbollah did and anything that showed the Syrians in bad light in Lebanon was to be omitted, which is perfectly understandable coming from people like Ali Kanso and Mohammad Fneish, with them belonging to their correspondant political parties.

But what’s worse is a statement for FPM minister Gaby Layoun who said: “the March 14th “Cedar Revolution” is only but an illusion set by that camp.”

And that’s what’s truly horrifying. Set aside the fact that this committee is as one-sided as one-sided goes and ignore the absolute necessity of having at least a counter opinion regarding something as vital to Lebanon as its history book. If the FPM ministers are now ignoring something they were a vital part of and calling it an “illusion” then what can one expect from those who were vehemently against such the movement that got their Syrian BFFs out of the country?

If Hezbollah ministers did not want any reference to the struggles many Lebanese had to go through with regards to the Syrians, which has always been part of their hypocritical propaganda of Israel being our only enemy, when did the Syrian epoch become nonexistent for the FPMers too?

In simple pictures,

according to Mohammad Fneish, Ali Kanso and Gaby Layoun, who happen to be a ministers in:

Lebanon's current government

the following:

the Cedar Revolution

is as real as:

Harry Potter

I’m fairly certain such a draft for our history book will not pass. But you know what, even if it did, the thing about history is that it comes from more than one source. I don’t remember much of the history I was spoon-fed in grades 9 and 12. But I do remember what I lived through and I am writing about it. This blog, for instance, along with all its political content, will be here long after I’ve stopped blogging and long after I’ve even stopped existing. Well, try to censor that I guess.

What’s truly troubling, though, is how such a draft came to exist in the first place. What’s terrifying is that some minds can fully rationalize writing that draft. What’s absolutely frightening is that those minds are in absolute power.