Kollouna Watani’s Joumana Haddad & Paula Yacoubian Are Now Parliament Members

Update: Somehow, since the writing of this post Joumana Haddad ended up losing. No comment.

On a more than depressing electoral day, a glimmer of hope that started two years ago with Beirut Madinati in Beirut –  1 translated into both Joumana Haddad and Paula Yacoubian becoming parliament members tonight, the first two ever civil society candidates to enter Lebanese parliament.

Joumana Haddad’s win for the minorities seat also makes her the first openly atheist member of Lebanese parliament, and possibly the entire Middle East, where atheism is still considered a crime in many countries.

The win of Kollouna Watani in Beirut – 1 comes at the heel of very poor turn out almost uniformly throughout the country. In fact, depressingly enough, the win of Kollouna Watani is because turnout in Beirut – 1 was the poorest in the entire country, a shame when you take in consideration that the last time we voted was 2009.

Both Joumana and Paula deserve their win. They worked tremendously over the past several months to raise their profile, scream for the change they want, and they did not take any vote for granted as many political parties seem to have done.

Change for the country started in Achrafieh, even if on the overall this election leaves me with a tinge of disappointment.

What I discovered today, after voting for Kollouna Watani last week in North 3, and then having all the Civil Society lists not even make the count on TVs because they were thrown into irrelevant is that 1) we live in a bubble, and 2) I don’t think our fellow Lebanese really want the change that we want this country to have.

To be sitting in front of my computer thousands of miles away and be utterly flabbergasted at how people just didn’t care was mind-boggling. Why was I, the Lebanese who already left, more interested in how things went than those who stayed? This sense of apathy, this mind-numbness that we’ve all exhibited is just sad, and it’s quite literally across the board, across all parties, across all regions.

And yet, I was proud of my hometown giving nearly as many votes for Layal Bou Moussa as they did to the Kataeb candidate, and proud that my candidate was the top candidate on the Kollouna Watani list in North 3. Those 90 votes in Ebrine are worth hundreds in my eyes.

Today, the Lebanese people are tired everyone and everything, that’s what these elections have shown. From the poor performance of El 3ahd’s lists, to even the performance of civil society lists outside of Beirut 1. Today showed that even our pleas for change were not enough for most of the Lebanese population to go and do something about it.

Some had their reasons, I bet. But others just sank in the complacency of thinking things will always be the same. This abhorrent freak of an electoral law, whose sole purpose it seems is to have Gebran Bassil become a representative for Batroun, didn’t help either. For the record, #NotMyNeyeb.

Instead, we settle for cheering for the least of evils. We go back to basics, but I did what I can.

A bunch of good people made it to parliament today, as well. Of those, I mention Ziad Hawat – the former Mayor of Jbeil who turned his city into a top Lebanese destination. I also mention Antoine Habchi whose victory in Baalbak-Hermel was truly the other highlight of these elections. A lot of women made it to parliament today as well, other than Paula and Joumana. The list includes Sethrida, Bahia el Hariri, and Inaya Ezzedine in the South. Hopefully even more female candidates will end up as winners once the tally is done.

On the other hand, Jamil el Sayyed who was the right hand of Syria’s occupation of the country, and whose real place is in jail, also gained a parliament seat thanks to the Shiite duo whose electoral performances truly strengthened the nature of the thoughts they’re perpetuating in the country. Their “either you’re with us or you’re a traitor” mantra, their “it’s your religious duty to vote for us” slogans are cancerous.

Another thing that today showed is that, when you try to have “modern” laws the least you can do is provide a modern voting experience. Everyone was complaining about how slow the process was, something I had spoken about last week here:

And yet, despite that no measures were made to make sure that people didn’t stand in lines for hours to cast a vote. We needed more booths at each polling place, the process has to be streamlined, and more importantly the law had to be explained to the average voter much more efficiency. But then again, it’s been nearly 8 hours that they’ve closed the polls and we don’t even have results yet.

Setting aside the romance, today Lebanon’s civil society has managed to get only about 20-30,000 votes across the entire country. This is not enough. And I frankly don’t know where to go from here. Perhaps the work of Joumana and Paula will get people to wake up to what they should be demanding of traditional parties, which puts more pressure on them.

Or perhaps we’re just too far gone as people, too entrenched in our ways to really learn that this candidate who’s providing us with a job today only does so because their policies deprived us of jobs for years, or that this candidate giving us food or money today is doing that because they made sure we were poor and starving leading up to that point.

Today, I’m proud of the choice I made. I don’t regret it at all, even if it’s going to be taken out of their equations, thrown into a bin never to be looked at again. And I hope that me going beyond my traditional party lines is proof that we can all do it if we believe that we deserve the changed country that befits us.

Tousbi7oun 3ala watan. Or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But no more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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