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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Sectarianism, Hate & Fear: How Hariri’s List Is Fighting Beirut Madinati

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

As a rule of thumb in the Lebanese political scene, you should know you’re doing something right when all kinds of political groups from all across the political spectrum rally against you and fight you in the dirtiest of ways, slogans and rhetorics.

The “Byerte” list, translating to the Beirutis List, with its slogan “Keep Beirut For Its People” was Hariri and the political establishment’s choice for the upcoming municipal elections on May 8th. Of course, the slogan “Keep Beirut For Its People” is nothing more than a simple variation of the equally xenophobic, horrific political rhetoric rising around the world today, championed by people like Donald Trump. If they had the audacity, they might as well run with “Make Beirut Great Again” and be done with it.

The fact of the matter is no area in the country is exclusive to “its people,” and certainly not the capital which houses 50% of the Lebanese population.

Of course, those politicians had no problem with making sure all investment is placed in Beirut only while forgetting other regions entirely. Those politicians had no problem spending billions of dollars in post war restoration that belonged to the whole country to rebuild Beirut’s heart, making it heartless in the process.

They also had no problem in entertaining the idea of taking Beirut’s trash to places like Akkar. Clearly, keeping Beirut for Beirutis does not extend to their garbage.

Those politicians had no problem as well in championing policies over years to make Beirut not remotely affordable to its own people, unless we now have plans to nationalize GCC citizens.

Those politicians had no problem in making sure Beirut sunk in garbage and stunk of its smell, of its streets being the scene of fights and death that happened not even 8 years ago – ironically on the day the elections are supposed to happen.

I can go on and on, but the epitome of it all is in the fact that Hariri isn’t from Beirut to begin with. Say hi to Saida for me, why don’t you?

Horrifying slogans aside, the Future Movement and the rest of political groups in that list are rallying people in the only way they know how: fear and sectarianism.

Behold a Hariri supporter’s latest magnum opus on Facebook:

Hariri list Beirut 2016

It’s precisely rhetoric like this that shows how despicable and afraid those in governance can get, in order to instill this sense of fear and hatred in those who support them, by getting them to fabricate silly, redundant and baseless arguments in order to main a status quo that just doesn’t work.

Omar Chebaro is not alone. Many Beiruti Sunnis as well as other sects or party enthusiasts entertain the notion that opposing Hariri’s list would be unwise simply because it means falling out of rank at a time when doing so is not in the better interest of their sect. What I heard repeatedly goes along the lines: “you can’t be secular in a sectarian environment.”

This is not a justification to support Hariri’s list of “same old same old” at a time when people are dying, suffocating, and getting poisoned from that same old same old. It is in municipal elections that you can stand up to those who have taken you for granted and whose entire message is not one that’s based in the future but in a past rooted in bigotry and brainwashing.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, Beirut Madinati is not the list of Civil Marriage. A list running for Municipal Elections cannot enforce Civil Marriage, regardless of what its candidates believe regarding that issue.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, Beiruti Madinati will not set Beirut on the path to become a haven for sin. Walaw? Don’t be fooled by hateful messages whose only purpose is to get you to vote the way a party that has failed over and over and over again wants you to on May 8th.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, your vote on May 8th is really, very simple:

You can vote for trash. You can vote for the garbage filling your streets. You can vote for the smell that has made you vomit every day for the past 3 weeks. You can vote for the city in which you can’t afford to buy an apartment. You can vote for the city whose downtown you cannot even enter. You can vote for the roads congested with cars at any moment of any day. You can vote for poisoned water, poisoned food, poisoned air.

If you vote that way, you’d be voting for Beirut today, Beirut the city that is dying because of the policies of that who wants you to believe you have no other choice because you’re Sunni, or Orthodox, or from Beirut born and bred, keeping Beirut for its people, because its people are not all Lebanese.

Or you can vote to change things. You can vote to those who are not taking your vote for granted, but going to your neighborhood to ask you: what do you need? You can vote to those who have taken the time to write a 32 pages program for you, not someone asking you to vote for them just because you should.

On May 8th, the choice couldn’t really be simpler. I hope you choose those who are good, not those who make you afraid of wanting better.

When Lebanon’s Trash Becomes International, But We Are Too Busy Kissing Saudi Arabia’s Ass

Don’t call it brain dead.

Congrats Lebanon, we have made the international news cycle once more, the first time this year and hopefully the first of many.

No, it wasn’t about that viral Facebook fake-pictures-filled post proclaiming the beauty of God’s gift to Earth. I can hear your hearts break all the way here.

What made us international is actually old news to us. It’s so old in fact that not only does nobody care anymore, but the hype surrounding the issue has disappeared with each vanishing garbage bag stashed away in one of Lebanon’s valleys or on random roads, snaking around curves like white rancid rivers. Out of sight, out of mind – Lebanon style.


There is a bright side to the ordeal, however. Even our garbage bags look nice. They’re white, snow-like, built into winding rivers or towering pyramids.

Say hi to Buzzfeed.

Say thank you to CNN.

Wait for the upcoming onslaught from other outlets as well in the next few days. We are making it big. Aren’t we all proud?

Except, of course, this is *obviously* not the image of the country:

img_2545

I mean it’s always someone else’s fault, never ours collectively.

Putting lipstick on a dead pig level: Lebanon.

Is anything happening regarding the garbage crisis? Not really. Our government is busy doing other things, or just one thing to be exact: kiss Saudi Arabia’s ass like no country has missed another country’s ass before.

This past week, our government convened for SEVEN straight hours to discuss one item on their agenda: how to formulate a paragraph to please Saudi Arabia in order not to face their wrath manifesting in them not giving us money anymore, beggars-style.

I don’t think our government has convened for a total of 7 hours discussing the garbage crisis, or any other Lebanese crisis for that matter, over the last several months.

Live Love Saudi Arabia.

This past week, Saad Hariri decided to launch a petition across the country in order to show Saudi Arabia that Lebanon loved it so, akin to our country giving them a big fat political blowjob.

No politician cared enough to act about the garbage crisis, or any other crisis, since it started. Have we ever had a “Loyalty to Lebanon” petition circle around the country before?

Live Love Saudi Arabia.

This past week, minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi quit to protest the Lebanese stance towards Saudi Arabia’s recent embassy attack, first and foremost, and to a lesser extent protest the handling of Michel Samaha’s case. It took their reference country being seemingly offended for some ministers to resign.
Months after the garbage piled up on our streets, months after protests of hundreds of thousands… No other minister resigned or was even fazed by the notion of needing to resign.
This past week, Lebanese politicians of all kinds of kinds had something to say about Saudi Arabia. Even those that opposed KSA politically were at loss about what to do.
This amount of political maneuvering has not occurred not only with the garbage crisis, but with out presidential vacuum issue as well.

Live Love Saudi Arabia.

There comes a point where an entire country begging for absolution from another entity for the sake of money, for the sake of empty Arabism, for the sake of useless politics when that country’s capital is drowning in trash becomes not only humiliating but also insulting.

This is where we are today: a country sinking in garbage, but whose priority is how low it can go to its knees. But please, by a all means, don’t call it brain dead.

Let’s keep loving Saudi Arabia.

0.3% of Lebanese Own 50% of Lebanon

Lebanon isn’t a country where population studies are omnipresent. However, given the data that the country has, Credit Suisse, in their yearly report on Global Wealth, has managed to paint a picture on how things in this country actually are.

The report dates back to October 2014, and frankly I am surprised that these numbers did not cause a stir and were not discussed. The report, at 160 pages, can be found here. Perhaps no one noticed the info, so here they are:

At an estimated population of 4.37 million, Lebanon’s wealth is estimated at $91 billion. That actually constitutes 0% of global wealth. How anticlimactic.

When it comes to the Middle East, and despite the reputation we get of being oil-rich, things are similar: Saudi Arabia has an estimated wealth of $653 billion, which ends up as roughly 0.2% of global wealth. Qatar, and all our shoukrans, has $200 billion, which is 0.1% of global wealth. The UAE is at $461 billion, and 0.2%. Meanwhile, Israel has an estimated wealth of $843 billion, translating to 0.3% of global wealth.

All of these numbers look flimsy compared to the United States’ $83708 billion, constituting 31.6% of world wealth.

Keep in mind that – with the exception of Israel and the United States – Credit Suisse considers the data for Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries to be poor in quality. However, I highly doubt that any estimations are overly erroneous in any way or that the margin of error they are admitting to will change the findings considerably.

But this isn’t the story. We all know the country has money. Recent leaks out of Switzerland placed the country at #11 in total customers at their banks and #12 in total deposits within the few months whose data was actually leaked. We’re 10452 km2. That’s a lot (link).

The story is in how that money is actually divided on the 4.3 million Lebanese living here.

Out of all those $91 billion, 0.3% or approximately 8000 people of the estimated workforce according the study own about half (48% to be exact), which is approximately $44.6 billion. Meanwhile, 99.7% of Lebanese own slightly more than half at $46.4 billion.

To put those numbers in perspective, Credit Suisse employed a criteria called the Gini score. The score, according to Wikipedia, is essentially a “measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income distribution of a nation’s residents, and is the most commonly used measure of inequality.”

Lebanon’s Gini score is 85.6. a score of 85.6 places Lebanon 6th worldwide in terms of wealth inequality behind Ukraine, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Seychelles and Russia.

The story doesn’t end here. Even among those 0.3%, there are disparities. That 0.3% basically any Lebanese who has an estimated wealth above $1million. But who actually owns most of the country? The answer is two families: The Hariri and the Miqatis.

Forbes Lebanese Billionaires Miqati Hariri

According to the Forbes latest list of billionaires, there are 6 Lebanese on the list whose ranking ranges from 530 worldwide to 1478. Two of those 6 are the Miqati brothers. The other 4 are the Hariri brothers, including former PM Saad Hariri. Their cumulative wealth is estimated, according to Forbes, at $12.6 billion. This is 30% of the total wealth owned by those 0.3% of Lebanese – except it’s owned by just 6 men.

This isn’t to say that the Hariris and Miqatis do not deserve their wealth. The Miqatis started and ran a telecom empire. The Hariris started and ran a major contracting company in Saudi Arabia. Good for them.

The problem with these numbers is the other side that they portray. About two thirds of the Lebanese population (64.6%) have an estimated wealth of less than $10,000. Such numbers indicate massive poverty in the country, and yet I was unable to find substantial studies apart from one that was recently done by the UN about Tripoli.

In numbers, (link) the UN found that 57% of Tripoli’s families struggle to reach an acceptable standard of living, while 26% are considered extremely deprived. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that things are similar in other regions beyond Beirut.

To the background of this massive poverty is the 0.3% who owns 50% of the country’s wealth, and those 0.3% happen to include most (if not all) of our politicians. Aoun is in it. Geagea is in it. Our MPs and ministers are probably part of those 8000 people too. There are no estimates of the wealths of Lebanese politicians if their last name isn’t Hariri or Miqati, but one assumes they are not middle class folk who are going by paycheck to paycheck.

Of course, it only makes sense that money brings influence, and then influence brings power. A politician’s job in Lebanon isn’t only to legislate but to “provide” for the voters. This is how democracy works here.

The problem with those 0.3% (not all of them obviously) being those running the country is that the country’s policies over the years have not served to close the gap or make those 64.6% with little to no wealth slightly better off. The Gini coefficient clearly shows as much. The country’s policies have not aimed at improving education, providing economic opportunities (for instance, a 1 million m2 zone in Tripoli to bring in international technology has been on hold over sectarian causes for the past 6 years) or making living standards better. Those 0.3% do not get how things are for the 64.6%, the people they’re in contact with once every 4 years for that pre-electoral paycheck. And honestly, there’s no reason for them to get it. And yet our MPs and ministers wanted to increase their salaries?

Meanwhile, the Lebanese population who happens to be of the third that has wealth above $10,000 is pre-occupied with selfies, porn stars, bananas and Kardashian-like reality TV shows because those are what matters.

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.

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.

Beirut Hotel – Movie Review

Beirut Hotel Movie Poster
I finally watched Danielle Arbid’s infamous Beirut Hotel, the Lebanese movie that has spurred a huge controversy back in November due to it being banned from Lebanese theaters. The reason I took time to watch it is twofold: one because I hadn’t heard of any good responses towards it. And two because I didn’t want to waste my time on a movie whose trailer made it look cheesy and whose hype was only generated by the simple fact that everything forbidden is usually wanted.

Upon watching Beirut Hotel, I can say for myself that my initial thoughts about the movie were perfectly on point – and no, this is not a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Zoha (Darine Hamze) is a sultry singer, more often than not out of tune, at one of Beirut’s bars. The purpose of her singing is not to please the ear as it is to please the eye and Zoha knows this perfectly well. She then meets an enigmatic French man named Mathieu (Charles Berling) with whom she has a late night talk, including informing him of the bar she sings at, before going back home, after a late night kiss of course.

Soon enough, Mathieu is infatuated by Zoha and starts following her around, which she finds creepy (as well as charming). So she storms into his hotel room the following day and before you know it, the anger subsides and turns into sex. But Mathieu may not be the lawyer he claims he is. And with a man wanting to exchange information about Hariri’s assassination for safe-haven in France, things will get messy. Add to that Zoha’s husband (Rodney Haddad) who can’t seem to let her go.

All of this may sound interesting. But trust me, the script is as cheesy and useless as it gets. Remember when Zoha tells Mathieu where she works? Well, when she storms into his hotel room the following day, she actually asks him how he knew where she worked – that is before they sleep together.

In fact, the Darine Hamze sex scenes in the movie are so out of place you can’t but feel they’ve been put there solely for the reason of making an uneventful movie talk-worthy, along the lines of: “There is a moment where Darine Hamze’s breasts show” – cue in thousands of Lebanese who are shocked that a Lebanese actress actually went there.

It is here that I have to commend Darine Hamze for the guts it took her to bare it all in this movie, be it through the various sex scenes or through the obvious sexual appeal she conveyed. She may be the only “good” thing about Beirut Hotel. It’s sad that what she does comes off as forced in the movie.

If Beirut Hotel had been let be – not made into a big media frenzy because of the Hariri plot line it contained, the movie would have crashed and burned at the Lebanese box office because, whether we like to admit it or not, most of us are very cautious when it comes to Lebanese movies. We only watch them when word of mouth is substantial enough to convince us to spend the ticket money on them. Word of mouth would have failed Beirut Hotel, as it should. The movie which takes Beirut’s name not only shows the city in a negative light, I was more than often surprised to see this is the Lebanese capitol we all cherish, coupled with a silly storyline that grasps at straws to become eventful.

2/10