The Lebanese Electoral Law No One’s Talking About

Orthodox law here, orthodox law there. It’s all about the Orthodox law and the myth of its improvement of “representation.”
In the very narrow sense of things, the Orthodox Law makes sense given what the country is all about. Those who suddenly woke up and panicked about the law being sectarian: where were you living exactly?
You may not like what that sense is and you may be absolutely in love with it. In broader terms, however, the Orthodox Law is a disaster – not because it “improves” Christian power as some claim it will, but because it doesn’t really tackle the foundation of the issue which necessitated such a law to be present in the first place.

The problem with Christian representation in its current form in parliament is the following: democracy.

Let’s examine 3 different scenarios.

Caza A: has 40,000 Shiite voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Christians usually vote 50-50 between both politics camps. Shiite voters vote with about 90% for one camp. Half of the Christian voters feel their voice has been stripped.

Caza B: has 40,000 Druze voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Christian votes get divided almost equally. Druze votes are beyond one-sided. The Druze voter has now chosen for the Christian voter.

Caza C: 40,000 Sunni voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Repeat same scenario as in A or B.

The above scenarios are in play in Lebanon today in several districts of which I note:
– Aley: has 50,000 Christian voter who, the propaganda, goes cannot choose their own MP because of the Druze majority.
– Jbeil: has 10,000 Shiite voter whose votes make the election result look very lopsided while it isn’t.
– Zahle: A sizable Sunni population was key in the victory of whoever won in that area.

Don’t worry, I am not defending the Orthodox Law’s premise. The above examples are to illustrate the following:
The “problem” in Lebanon today isn’t that Christians are too few demographically or that they are given a greater voice in parliament than they should have or that their only solution is for a separation from everyone else in choosing their representatives. It is that there is a true democratic condition among Christian communities which is beyond nonexistent in all of the other sects in the country – and any electoral law which doesn’t lead to the growth of an opposition to the key leaders of each of the landslide-sects is not a law which can actually be used for a sustainable development of Lebanese society. This is nowhere near guaranteed with a law such as the Orthodox Law or any of the laws currently discussed.

Another major shortcoming that politicians seem to ignore in order to communicate the rhetoric of “defending Christian rights” is the following: how is it logical and acceptable for a Maronite voter in Akkar to vote for a Maronite MP in the deep end of the South? How can they fathom it is a “right” for the Sunni in Saida to vote for the Sunni MP of Tripoli? How is it logical for the Shiite in Tyre to vote for the Shiite MP of Hermel?

But there is a law that takes in consideration both regions and proper representation. It is a law which is not even discussed around the round tables of our MPs as they fight over their prospective seats in parliament: individual districts (El daweyer l fardiye): voters can vote for one MP in a small district of a few thousand voters.

To illustrate this, let’s examine a real life example: my district, Batroun, which has only two MPs – one of the fewest per district in Lebanon.

If my entire district is considered as only one electoral circumscription, the results are pretty well known: the current MPs will be re-elected. The votes coming in from the Mountains overtake whatever votes are coming from the Coast. If any third party candidate wants to run, they have to communicate their message – or try to at least – to over 60,000 voter. And parties rule by having a sizable base spread across the district which can vote for whichever candidate their party endorses.
Now with individual electoral districts, my district is split in half corresponding to each of the MPs it gets. The lesser number of voters per district means higher effect for those whose votes bordered on the irrelevant in a bigger district: the 1000 Sunni vote of Rasenhash and the 500 Shiite vote in Rashkida become something that whoever wants to run needs to win in order to have a chance at winning. By lessening the number of potential voters, any third party candidate will also have a higher chance at communicating their message to the voters. Instead of having an Antoine Zahra-Gebran Bassil face off in the coast and a Boutros Harb-Whatever face off in the mountains, we could have a three-way race with a viable alternative candidate. Said candidate may not win but at least people would have another option to vote for and express their disappointment with the current political establishment.
By decreasing the overall number of voters per circumscription, the bulk-voting effect of political parties is also decreased.

This electoral model, when applied to bigger and more diverse districts, leads to a more substantial weight for minorities, less effect for political parties and a room for centrists to take office.

Individual electoral districts, however, will never see the light of the day for the following reasons:
– It decreases Hezbollah’s influence by cutting his bases into pieces.
– Can you imagine the seizure Jumblat will have if this law is proposed and he won’t be able to get every single Druze seat in the Lebanese Republic? The only law he accepts is the law everyone refuses. They call this in Lebanese slang: “7ajar el dema.”
– The Future Movement will also lose a few MPs because of a decreased effect of the voters which constitute his base and an increased power of those who don’t.

The individual districts electoral law means that the current political establishment receives a drastic makeover. Do any of our politicians want this? Absolutely not. They preach about change, reform, proper representation. But anything that doesn’t bring them back to power with absolute certainty isn’t something they can accept.

True representation isn’t, in my opinion, sects voting for themselves and themselves alone. If Maronites vote for Maronites alone, how can we expect to accept Sunnis and Shiites voting for the president? If Sunnis vote for Sunnis alone, then why should the Christians and Shiites vote for the prime minister? If Shiites vote for Shiites alone, why should Christians and Sunnis vote for the speaker of the house?

A Maronite MP isn’t an MP that represents Maronites only. He is an MP who represents the voters of the district he comes from in order to transcend that and become a representative of the entire country and as such, it is shameful that an MP of a given sect who has to represent everyone has no chance of getting the votes of the other part of the country which he/she should represent.

Our votes as Lebanese of different sects are not and should not be confined to the sects that we are born into. It is saddening that some people want to summarize us with whatever’s written in the sect box of our IDs and are beyond convinced with this.

I refuse to be just another Maronite number.

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Insulting The Maronite Patriarch

I don’t believe Bechara al Raï’s visit to Syria was the devil incarnated as many seem to believe. He simply went there to hold Mass, believing his visit would actually get the Maronites of Syria to relax about their future. But it’s not all peachy. His visit is most probably not on his own accord. Odds are the Vatican had requested he visit Syria but I think Al Raï was more than itching to go down in history as the first Maronite Patriarch to visit Syria post Lebanon’s independence. The visit, in my opinion, is absolutely miscalculated and, if anything, showcases a seriously short foresight on his behalf as well – one that a person in his tenure should not have. Al Raï was simply too limited to see the repercussions of such a visit. The hidden meaning is far more serious than it being a simple religious visit.

The Syrian regime has, over more than 20 years, systematically persecuted the Maronites of Lebanon, be it politically or demographically or even socially. The Maronite Church stood against the regime countless times, effectively being the first catalyst that led to the regime’s army departing from Lebanon on April 26th, 2005. Bechara Al Raï’s stances have been far removed from the Maronite Church’s historical views towards the Assad regime. But how can a patriarch truly expect the first Maronite Patriarchal visit to Syria since 1943 be considered as a shallow affair of prayer seeing as it is visiting the country of a regime who did what it did to Lebanon’s Maronites? His visit was not to the regime, granted. But in a way, it is by extension. The Maronites of Syria sure deserve their patriarch to visit them – but not under current circumstances. The argument that Maronites all around the world deserve a patriarchal visit is something that the patriarch shouldn’t even touch to justify him going to Damascus. There are also Maronites in Israel. But that part is taboo.

The Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Raï’s visit has been, to say the least, extremely polarizing. Many were supportive of it as a step towards reaching out to the scared Maronites of Syria, few as they may be. Others were staunchly against it, characterizing the visit and its Mass as diabolical. Caricature drawings in Saudi newspapers were circulated:

Bechara el Rai Caricature Saudi newspaper Al Watan

The idea being discussed was the following: the Maronites will never do what the Sunnis did with the prophet caricatures or what the Shiites did when Hassan Nasrallah was portrayed on Basmat Watan. The argument goes that Maronites are “more civilized.”

Someone forgot to tune in during last week’s Maronite road barricades in support of the Lebanese army. So it’s not really beneath us as Maronites to block roads. After all, it is in these days.

The Caricature in Al Watan newspaper is definitely not acceptable but it’s not because it’s demeaning and offensive to Christianity. Al Watan newspaper did not, similarly to Danish newspapers, publish offensive pictures of holy Christian figures in order for the comparison between potential Maronite reactions, or lack thereof, and Muslim reactions to be valid.

Pretending as if this is the same caliber as the Muslim reactions to the prophet drawings, which in themselves were not acceptable, is quite frankly very silly. Patriarch Bechara el Raï is not Jesus. He is not a Holy person. He is a neo-politician-priest who did what many believe is a mistake. And it stops at that.

But it is not acceptable in any way whatsoever for a disgusting newspaper, Al Watan, which is published in a country like Saudi Arabia where freedom of speech does not exist, where they cannot – nor do they dare – criticize their own religious folk and their ruling class after which their country was named, where Christians are not allowed to practice their religion freely (even the Cross in the caricature was hidden), where women are kept on a leash, where liberties are suppressed and where human rights are unheard of to remotely have the right to criticize anyone in that way, let alone someone who does not affect their country in any way whatsoever.

I have to wonder, in what way does Al Raï’s visit to Syria bother Al Watan? It only shows exactly how silly that newspaper is – that they’d go after a religious figure who is probably unknown to the majority of Saudis just because he is one of the few religious figures in the region which they can attack. And it’s not because they hate Christians, as many seem to believe, which I would suppose might hold some truth. It’s because it gives them the illusion that they are free, that they can do this and face no repercussions. They thought wrong.

If this caricature had come out from a newspaper in a country known for its freedom of speech, such as Denmark – a place which dared to publish Mohammad caricatures – the discussion would have been totally different. If the pope receives such caricatures, then why not Raï? But Al Watan, with the demented theocratical country it operates in, publishing them is not and should not be tolerated. They only practice their freedom of speech when their bosses approve. When it doesn’t get on the nerves of its readers… when they address a population which lives far away in an issue that does not affect them in any way whatsoever.

They don’t dare to see that their own society has a multitude of issues that could be made into a caricature, starting with that sheikh who beat and abused his 6 year old daughter to death to the fact that women are now starting to learn how to drive after their gender has been voting for more than several decades in countries around the world. And that makes them cowards. It makes them not respectable as a publication or a newspaper or any form of media that wants to be read.

The best place for Al Watan is the trash bin.

Now let’s address our own Lebanese.

The Lebanese reactions towards the Saudi insult have not been much better although a Lebanese addressing the issue is definitely more acceptable than someone who comes from a country that doesn’t even know freedom of religion. The caricature, the visit and everything around it was milked politically like everything in the country nowadays. Anything that revolves in any way around defending Christians in this country serves as ammo for politicians from both sides to fire at each other, trying to create a firework display of Christian power to please the masses ahead of the parliamentary vote.

As the constant disk of those “bad Sunnis of Saudi Arabia attacking us poor Maronite minority in Lebanon” kept playing, some people were forgetting who was doing even worse than those Sunnis to the former patriarch Sfeir with insults that went from the belt down (“heida l batriark thayyaj” anyone?), to attacking his tenure, his position, his seat and his person. But that doesn’t count – because it’s only bad when a non-Maronite does it apparently.

You want to criticize the patriarch himself, as a person, fine by me. Feel free to criticize his political opinion, if any. Feel free to address his stance regarding social issues as much as you want. I think it’s healthy when religious figures are challenged in this country and no religious figure has probably been challenged as much as the Maronite patriarch, especially by his own people.

But there’s a minimum required respect for the seat the man occupies. The Patriarch is but a temporary filler for the head of the Maronite Church. Calling the patriarchy a patriarchy of disgrace is not acceptable. Calling the Mass that took place in Syria as diabolical is unacceptable. I am not saying religious figures – as men – are the ones that should never be criticized despite everything. I’m saying that the institutions that these figures represent have a minimum of respect that should be given to them, regardless of where you stand when it comes to the matters of faith or lack thereof.

When I read some Lebanese people calling the Maronite patriarchy a new prostitute for Al Assad, that to me – even as a non religious Maronite – is offensive because it not only attacks the patriarchy in its current form, it also attacks my forefathers of whom I cannot but be proud as they struggled through centuries of persecution against tyrants who were worse than Al Assad and I don’t mean this in the religious but in the historical sense.

Insulting the Maronite Patriarchy and patriarch is not exclusive to one sect or one political side. Everyone does it and pretends as if it’s not okay to do it. What many seem not to realize is that there’s a thin line between being critical and downright insulting, especially when it comes to such institutions, that we cross way too readily, most often on a whim. Criticizing the Maronite Church’s practices is definitely not and should never be a taboo. And I’ll be the first one to criticize some of the policies they might come up with, something which I have done many times before. However, a few questions need to be asked: did the patriarch’s visit to Syria really cause any harm among the Maronites here or there? No. Did it bruise our pride? Perhaps it did. But is that reason enough to insult the patriarchy, the patriarch and enable publications from countries that do not even know the basic concept of freedom to do the same? I hardly think so.

The Miserable Maronites of Lebanon

Today is the day when Maronites across Lebanon get a surge of pride on the memory of St. Maroun, the sect’s founder.

Throughout the day, if you were “lucky” enough to come from Lebanon’s bible belt and have a lot of deeply religious friends, you’ll be swamped with Facebook statuses and pictures to glorify the day. Many celebratory dinners will be held across the country as well. It is one of those occasions.

This is the day for Maronites across Lebanon to feel empowered and self-sufficient and whatever floats their boat when it comes to self glorification.

The truth, however, is that today – February 9th, 2013 – as Lebanon’s Maronites rise to a fake glory on the day of their founder, they couldn’t be more wretched.

I’ll start with yours truly.

I was born in a Maronite family whose dose of religiousness grew as I grew. I dabbled with religion. Sometimes I grew into it, more often than not I grew out of it. My lack of ignorance when it comes to what the sect box on my ID contains led many to label me as a Christian extremist. I didn’t mind it.

But today, the only thing Maronite about me is probably what’s written next to my name on the voters list. It’s not about lack of faith. It’s not about atheism. It’s about a state of utter disgust with the social aspect that “my” sect has become and what it has made me, by default, in the process.

Today, Maronites in the country are forced to live in fear. I don’t think our fears are in any way justified. Do you know what’s the only reason that justifies us living in fear? It’s because Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea said we should be afraid.

The former told us we should panic from the impeding rise of Islamists in Syria and behold, Maronites across the land started gearing up for the apocalypse.

The latter has shoved the threat of Hezbollah’s weapons down our throats, making it a constant fixture in our daily lives, that the only thing we see as we go about our lives normally now is weapons. Illegal weapons everywhere.

Whenever our major “Maronite” politicians tell us to do something, we do it. Not because we want to – but because there’s an inherent conviction among the majority of Maronites that those leaders know best. Our critical thinking capacities are not just dismal, they are becoming non-existent.

Case in point? The electoral law. How many Maronites support the Orthodox Gathering Law? I suppose they are a lot. Are those Maronites truly convinced by the law? I doubt but they don’t know they’re not really convinced.

All they know is that their political reference came out in support of the law and gave them a set of arguments for them to wrap their heads around. Fast forward a few days later and the whole idea is now sitting comfortably in their brains, equipped with a full arsenal of conviction as if it was there for months. And then try to tell them otherwise. Try to ask any Maronite today about which law they see best and their answer will be what their politician of choice told you. Go on, try it.

We are a people that has become so weak that we can’t even stand up to the horrendous and absolute lack of qualification that flow from every single “Maronite” politician today.

Today, the road leading up to the main villages of my district has fallen into a serious state of disrepair. I wrote about it before (link) and observed an interesting reaction regarding the issue. The LF’ers blamed Gebran Bassil for the road. The Aounists blamed the district’s two MPs. Both LF’ers and Aounists are joined by the fact that their cars are getting screwed whenever they want to drive on that road – but they can’t even get together to get it fixed because God forbid their holy politician of choice be the one to blame.

What’s worse is that we are more than utterly convinced that those politicians are sacred.

Try to tell a Aounist that Gebran Bassil or Michel Aoun are not the people that Jesus meant when He said “whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Try to tell a Lebanese Forces supporter that the “hakim” is not the saint they want him to be or that the Lebanese Forces are slacking off with how they’re handling things, letting themselves be dragged into quarrels revolving around those epic never-ending Christian rights.

Maronites have now been convinced that those “Christian rights” that our heads have been drilled with are truly what our politicians are after. The idea that “Christian rights” is simply a pre-electoral ploy to get our Maronite blood boiling before we go vote didn’t cross anyone’s mind. If our politicians are truly concerned for our rights, then why haven’t they done something about it already? If our politicians are truly convinced about the army, then why do all their statements drip with unprecedented hypocrisy? If our politicians truly care about our well-being in this country then why haven’t they actually done anything to improve it?

The answer is quite simple: because we have the memory span of a fish. If they don’t do it a few months before the elections, we won’t remember come the time to vote.

We get carried away with useless rhetoric of people who couldn’t care less about our interests and eventually transform that rhetoric, in our heads, to scripture. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon today that their rights are of having hospitals and schools, not about commanding the country again, and you might as well have committed some form of higher treason. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t feel threatened at every waking moment of your life and you might as well have been committed to an asylum. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon today that those big bad Muslims are not really out there to get us at every kink in the road and you will get inundated with a slew of swear words against their “prophet.”

And while a lot of Lebanon is trying to go past the civil war mentality, many Maronites still live in it. Many are even proud of it. If you, as a Maronite, were born after the end of the civil war then your opinion is irrelevant. Their “struggle” during the civil war makes them experts and it turns you into a non-sensical nobody. They fail to see how living in 1975 when it’s 2013 is not only pathological, it’s also sickening. They fail to see that using the civil war to attempt to score points when it’s been over for 23 years is not only not healthy but downright despicable. They live in the past and revel in the fact that they do so.

So between living in constant fear, pretending as if we actually have political free will and getting swept away with dreams of a Maronite utopia, we have become a people that are beyond miserable at life in Lebanon. How many of us as Maronites will have the guts to actually stick it to all our politicians who are actively terrorizing us come election day? Not many. How many actually see those politicians as such? Well, considering I’ve been exposed to people who are voting for certain politicians because they “asked about them” during one of their electoral visits, I daresay I wouldn’t be going on a limb if I said not many. How many of us won’t be happy when, one day after the election’s results are out, our politician of choice proclaims to represent the Christians – especially Maronites – of Lebanon?

The reality is that with how we are being forced and forcing ourselves to live, our standards have gone down dramatically. Our religious extremism is rising exponentially and we can even fathom justifying it. We cling to the glories of days that are past in order to feel relevant in the present. We gloat about the president having to be Maronite by law because it gives us some form of security. We hyperventilate in joy whenever someone tells us they believe Maronites are the reason Lebanon exists. We pretend as if nothing is absolutely wrong in our communities, in our mentalities. We pretend as if all the blame is to be put on everyone else because they are the root of all problems in this country.

This is your yearly dose of a reality check.

My angry rant is also easily applicable to other sects in Lebanon. Because everyone is miserable. However, the moment someone from outside any sect criticizes it, people get offended. Even those who claim not to be sectarian. My prerogative, as a Maronite, is that I get to criticize how my sect has become, at least socially, all I want. And if this angers you, then I’m more than glad I hit a nerve.

Happy St. Maroun day.

Let’s Talk About The Rights of Lebanese Christians

Lebanese Christians are worried nowadays about their constitutional also known as God-given rights of having a firm grasp on political power again. They want to vote for their half of parliament, they want to restore the powers of the president, they want to be the tipping balance between the ongoing Shia-Sunni feud.

They want their right to their “former” glory.

This “need” to feel more relevant politically stems from a conviction that’s rising among Christians lately that their presence in Lebanon is threatened.
I have no idea where they get these ideas from to be quite honest. Even if Islamists end up ruling Syria, even if the devil himself ends up ruling Syria, their presence in the country is not threatened one bit by those bad Muslims, especially not the Muslims of Lebanon who, whether we want to admit it or not, share our same woes.

While admittedly the past 23 years have been quite harsh on this section of the Lebanese population and some things need to be fixed when it comes to their status in Lebanon especially when it comes to political representation, is political isolation really the solution for the Lebanese Christian predicament? Is our politicians counting the number of Christian voters across the country really in our interest?

Are our rights as Christians really only summed up in us wanting to vote for 50% of an arguably stillborn parliament with members who don’t care about said rights to begin with outside of electoral-sectarian-fuel purposes? What is better for us as Christians, to vote for 64 useless parliament members without any qualifications just because of their “services,” their “name,” or their “political affiliation” just because it’s our “right” or to vote for less than 64 but actually qualified parliament members?

I find it ironic that Lebanese Christians want everyone to accept that the country’s president is one of them to rule over everyone else. But they can’t fathom how everyone else (Muslims) can get to choose a few of their MPs.

But I digress.

Is it my “right” as a Maronite from the North to choose the Maronite MP of Jezzine, an area I’ve never ever visited? Is it the right of a Maronite from Jezzine to choose my MP in the North just because he’s Maronite?
What does an MP’s sect have to do with guaranteeing rights? Why does an MP’s sect automatically means that person represents me? Does that restore our rights? Or does it violate them even more? Is an MP’s sect an automatic indication of their will to work, of their qualifications?

Is this how we get proper representation? Is this how we get “our rights?” Are “our rights” only summed up by having an MP from our corresponding religion represent us?

But yes, we, as Christians, do have rights that need to be accepted and acknowledged. We have the right to:

Better roads: this (click here) is the current state of the main road in Batroun. It is my right as a Lebanese citizen first and foremost and as inhabitant of the region to have a decent road for my car. My Christian Maronite representatives are not providing me with this.

Healthcare: how many decent hospitals do we have across the country? I can name three or four. And they are all in Beirut. Fact of the matter is most “Christian” areas have shortages in the healthcare system while it is our “right” to have a decent system to take care of us. I’ll take this even further: how many Christians in Lebanon cannot afford hospitalization due to rising costs? Isn’t it our “right” for a universal healthcare system to take care of us? I don’t see any “Christian” MP advocating this.

Electricity: here comes the broken record again. Isn’t it our right in the 21st century to have more than 12 hours of electricity per day? Isn’t it our right not to have to pay two electricity bills per month just because our “Christian” ministries can’t even do a good job?

Water: Beirut and Lebanon’s roads were flooded last week with water from the biggest storm to hit the country in years. A few days later, we were out of water. Is that acceptable? Isn’t it my “right” not to have water shortages in a country that’s arguably beyond rich in the substance?

Internet: Don’t we, as Christians, have the right for decent Internet access in the 21st century? Shouldn’t we have access to speeds that don’t die whenever it rains, whenever it heats, whenever anything odd happens? Shouldn’t we have the right for a better infrastructure that’s installed and provided to us without corruption, without political propaganda and surely without us having to overpay for it?

Security & Military Wings: Who among our “Christian” MPs is really working to boost security in this country? Who among our already-voted representatives can truly ensure our right for safety, our right not to become collateral damage due to some explosion somewhere? Who among our politicians is ensuring that some families don’t have military wings to threaten other people with?

Wasta: isn’t it also my right to have the same chances for employment, for university admissions, for a proper life as the sons and daughters of our “Christian” MPs and ministers? Isn’t my right not to have to worry about being excluded from something I’m more than qualified to get into just because some other candidate knows someone who pulled some strings for him or her?

Women: shouldn’t our Christian women be given the right to pass on the nationality to their children? Don’t they have the right to a state that protects them from abuse? Don’t they have the right for civil regulations that protect their rights?

State of Law: isn’t it my right as a Christian to expect the non-smoking ban to be applied everywhere, not to have our tourism police in a deal with restaurants to violate the ban? Isn’t it my right as a Christian not to worry about people violating every single form of driving laws, of every single law known to man in this country? Don’t I have the right to live in a lawful state?

You know what’s the interesting thing about our “Christian” rights? They’re also the rights of those “Muslims” that we love to hate. They have the same rights in this country as we do. And they need their rights as much as we need ours.

We blame Lebanon’s Muslims of being blinded and of voting in sectarian ways to the same parties without any convincing reason. But it seems we have forgotten that we aren’t voting for reforms and qualifications as well, but to people who give us the same sense of belonging, the same sense of safety – to the same people who offer us a service a couple of days before elections and then forget about us for four years before they give us the allusion of fighting for “our rights” when the going gets tough.

Is it our Christian “right” to have a bigger say in our representatives? Perhaps so. After all, this is how Lebanon is made up. But it is our duty to have our say in these representatives count – in making sure that these representatives advocate for our rights as much as the rights of others who are not “of us.”

It is our right not to live in fear all the time. It is our duty not to blindly allow our politicians to make us afraid of everything else all the time.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians today isn’t the growing extremism around them, it’s the absolute neglect that they get from those representatives that we already voted for which leads us to leave the country and lose hope in it.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians are national policies which lead to the impoverishment of most of Lebanon while the focus is on making only select places more cosmopolitan. The latter areas become more liberal. The former areas fall into extremism and poverty and we panic about those “big bad Muslims” of Akkar and Bab el Tebbane being after us.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians today isn’t that we don’t vote for a full list of 64 Christian MPs. It is our mentality towards our own country: we have changed from people who founded the Greater State of Lebanon to people who just want their share of this country and the hell with everyone else.
And that, my fellow Christians, isn’t how we get our rights back.

Let’s Talk About Lebanon’s 2013 Elections: The Orthodox Gathering Law

One can argue that the French mandate was the root of Lebanon’s sectarian system. Its goal was to make a country that serves as a safe-haven for Maronites, with an edge in parliament seats and in governing powers. The sectarian divide in power reflected upon the people over the years. Blame the French? Blame everyone I guess.

Growing sectarianism and a feeling of injustice among sections of Lebanon’s population led to the Lebanese Civil war which culminated in the Taef agreement. The agreement took away most of the president’s powers, rendering him a near-puppet in a growingly tense political scene, and equalized between Christian and Muslim representation in parliament, despite the case not being so demographically.

Subsequently, a Syrian-led Lebanese regime managed to fragment Christian communities even more. The demographics, due to constant persecution, low birth rates and high immigration rates of Christians, continued to become even more lopsided. As it stands, Lebanon’s population is 60% Muslim and 40% Christian. That’s on a good day of statistics.

The problem with a skewed demographic, however, with an equally split parliament is that many of the minority’s seats cannot be chosen by said minority, regardless of what that minority is. This wouldn’t be a problem in a place where majorities and minorities didn’t view themselves as such: I have the power of numbers, therefore I rule over you.

That’s how the idea for an Orthodox Gathering Law came to be: the power that Christians lost over the years “must” be recuperated. And that should be done despite Christians not having the power of numbers anymore.

Here’s what’s given about the Lebanese situation today:

  • There’s no such thing as a Lebanese social fabric.
  • There’s no such thing as national unity – it only exists in the wildest fictive ideas of those who live in their own Lebanon-utopia
  • There’s no hope to achieve a state of national unity under current circumstances.
  • The biggest obstacle towards national unity isn’t regional (i.e. coming from different cazas across the country) but sectarian.
  • Sects always feel threatened by different sects in the country.
  • Sects are already more or less isolated and with rising bouts of extremism.

Apart from a minority in the Lebanese population, people identify with their sects first and foremost. They are more inclined to feel sympathy towards another person’s strife if that person is from their corresponding sect. It’s sickening, definitely. It’s horrible, you bet. But it’s the way things are. To fix this, you need to fix sectarianism.

You can’t fix sectarianism by forcing secularism upon people. You can’t tell a country with many who associate the current political system with being “religious” that the country is now secular which they will undoubtedly believe is also correlated with atheism. Off with their heads! No, the change towards secularism has to be gradual just as Lebanese gradually but surely became a sectarian state. People need to leave behind their sect-survival instincts in order to adopt a more global approach towards how they vote, towards how they act regarding others who are different from them, towards how they perceive those who are different.

For instance, here’s a little experience that I observed firsthand recently.

As news of Hay el Sellom in Beirut being flooded broke out, I saw two drastically different reactions in front of me. In my own little piece of the Lebanese Bible belt, people asked: Are those Shia? If they are, then ma3le (it’s okay). On the other hand, as Lebanese journalist commented on those people of Hay el Sellom’s grave violation of the law in where they built their houses, half of Twitter’s Shias, who tend to be on the more liberal side, were up in a fit.

Sectarianism is there – even among those who claim not to be sectarian.

As it stands, Lebanese people vote in a “to be or not to be” mantra. This needs to change. They are voting as such because:

  • Christians are made to fear wilayat al Fakih and those bearded Islamists.
  • Sunnis are made to fear the Shia weapons.
  • Shia are made to fear everyone being after their weapons.
  • Druze are made to fear anyone trying to breach their tightly-knit community.
  • Minorities are made to fear everyone else.

As this article is heading, you might believe this is in defense of the Orthodox Gathering law. If you had asked me a few days ago where I stood regarding that law, I would have told you this: Based on the current way that Lebanon is run, given the country’s state and fabric, the Orthodox Gathering Law makes sense. The way I see it, it doesn’t increase sectarianism and it might help, if sects stop feeling threatened, to get people to vote based on accountability which is very needed in this country. On the long run, if sectarian parties can no longer fuel people in a sectarian way then maybe – just maybe – that would help with things.

But that was a few days ago.

The MPs going on and on about how the Orthodox Gathering Law is unconstitutional and how it’ll increase sectarianism and whatnot are full of it. The only reason they are panicking isn’t because they want to keep the idea of Lebanon being an example of non-existent co-existence intact. They want to have their own behinds saved from the chopping block of a law that most probably wouldn’t vote them in again. Our MPs – all of them – are only seeking out a law that ensures they return to power. It’s as simple as that. The discussion isn’t about the country’s sake, it’s about their own personal interests.

Today, when I think about the Orthodox Gathering Law, I am not on the fence, I am against it. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s a must to tackle the growing “injustice” towards Lebanese Christians, whatever that may be. It’s not because it is demographically incorrect as it gives Christians more weight than they’re supposed to have. It’s not even because it’s sectarian in principle. It’s not because it makes it harder for centrists to break in. It’s not because it drowns out a secular minority that can’t identify with it.

I am against the Orthodox Gathering Law today for very simple reasons:

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have the prerogative of having a law tailor-made for my sect and have it applied to all other sects as well? Don’t other Lebanese sects have woes as well? Don’t they have “minorities” whose voices are also drowned out by a Christian majority somewhere?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, consider myself to be the only sect in this country who has rights eaten away and who needs some “justice” restored?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have to vote only for people who correspond to my sect without knowing if those people share my worries or if they’re even aware of the issues that I want to vote for? Does a person from a certain sect running for office automatically mean that person is knowledgeable of the issues that their sect faces? No.

My problem with the Orthodox Law today is simply that it tells me that I, Elie E. Fares, a Maronite Christian (on paper) from the mountains of North Lebanon, should have a problem in having a Sunni or a Shia or a Druze or a Catholic or an Orthodox or a Jew or a Alawite or an Ismailite or a Syriac or an Evangelical or an Armenian or whatever sect a person belonged to have a say in a parliament member that represents them all, not just me.

I believe that what the Orthodox Law is telling me is unacceptable. But I’m a Christian minority in thinking so. Most Maronites and Christians, especially some of our politician who double as Christian saviors-wannabes, want you to believe that what I believe is wrong. They are telling you that their way is the only way for you to get your rights. They want you to believe that if Christians don’t elect every single Christian-designated MP, then they’re being persecuted.

The Orthodox Law isn’t the way we get back our “rights.” We get back our rights by voting to people who can fight for those rights without turning it into a media propaganda as they kickstart their 2013 election prospects. We get back our rights by actually knowing what our rights are. And let me tell you, those rights aren’t Lebanon’s Christians selecting half of its parliament all by themselves.

So as our politicians play a game of chess with each other, you know what your rights are according to some of them? You only have the right to be afraid of everyone else all the time. You only have the right to believe you are persecuted all the time – that those big bad Sunnis and Shia and Muslims are after you all the time. Welcome to the state of mass paranoia. And we just can’t live like that – not as Christians, not as Muslims, not as Lebanese and we can’t allow laws that are based on our paranoia as Christians rule the entire country.

Lebanon Described in 1982

I’m currently reading the book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman, in which he tells parts of his stay in Beirut between 1979 and 1984, as our civil war raged on.
While some parts so far are not entirely correct or too autobiographical to be generalized, the read is very interesting to say the least.

The excerpt I’m quoting is the most interesting part of the book so far. What rang true in 1982 still resonates today – and Friedman has to be commended for having the mind to see it, especially as an American Jewish outsider whose stay in Beirut was nothing more than an experiment.

“The real problem with the Lebanese today is that they have gotten too good at this adapting game—so good that their cure and their disease have become one and the same. The Lebanese individual traditionally derived his social identity and psychological support from his primordial affiliations—family, neighborhood, or religious community, but rarely from the nation as a whole. He was always a Druse, a Maronite, or a Sunni before he was a Lebanese; and he was always a member of the Arslan or Jumblat Druse clans before he was a Druse, or a member of the Gemayel or Franjieh Maronite clans before he was a Maronite. The civil war and the Israeli invasion only reinforced this trend, dividing Lebanese into tighter-knit micro-families, or village and religious communities, but pulling them farther apart as a nation”

This goes well with a previous description from over 140 years ago. Some things look like they’ll never change.

An Economic Boom Coming Batroun’s Way?

I was sent this report, saying that the Maronite League is bringing an economic zone to Batroun, which will help in creating over 3000 jobs for the region.

The Maronite League will announce next week a plan to establish a new special economic district in Batroun. A primary feasibility study has been performed for the project.

The location of the new district will be defined through a draft law already sent to Parliament, said a senior member of the Maronite League. The project will include businesses involved in soft industries, including ICT firms.

Businesses located within the zone will benefit from special services, facilities, and incentives, such as tax exemptions and discounts on NSSF subscriptions for employees.

“We aim at creating incentives for local and foreign companies to come and invest here, instead of taking their investments to other countries, such as Dubai or Qatar,” the Maronite League member said.

The district is expected to generate some 3,000 job opportunities. According to the source, businessmen involved in the Maronite League have expressed their willingness to move their offices into Batroun. “Over 100 companies are expected to have offices in the Batroun special economic district.”

A similar special economic zone has been announced earlier this year for Tripoli.

If this news turns out true, it would drive one of Lebanon’s more needy areas lightyears forward and would help its citizens stay home instead of moving to other Lebanese areas or even abroad in order to find jobs. This might signal a hidden demographic motive for the Maronite League in one of Lebanon’s biggest Maronite regions. Personally, I don’t really care seeing as this is such a positive sign for the region and they should be commended for doing something that very few, including the Lebanese state, have even considered before.

I’m pleased that this project won’t have a political stamp on it. We won’t get MPs or MP wannabes telling us how we should be eternally grateful for them bringing 3000 jobs to the district when they ask for our votes next year.

Another positive attribute is the fact that this is the first time such a massive project has been undertaken outside Beirut and its suburbs, which might help shift the way things are done in this country away from the deep conviction of: “Beirut & neighbors first and foremost. Almost everywhere else in Lebanon doesn’t matter.”  And with relatively short commute times for the regions around Batroun, the project’s reach will extend beyond Batroun.

I’m interested in knowing where the project will be built and I hope it’ll take environmental factors into consideration in keeping the pristine aspect of the region relatively intact or at least let it not turn into another disaster like Chekka. But pristine doesn’t bring food to the table.

Some other non-Maronite League projects involving the area include turning the Tobacco control headquarters into a branch for the Lebanese University as well as building a centralized Official High School for the entire caza in Ebrine, which seems to have been buried in a bureaucratic mess, the Batroun-Tannourine highway which seems to have stalled in its final stretch, not to mention the sewage and water networks project which has basically made our driving a living a hell with the serious lack of efficiency in the contractor the Lebanese government hired.

Add to all of this studies indicating that some of the highest amounts of oil and petrol may be found off of Batroun’s shores, the area will witness a lot of development in a short period of time. Well, it’s about time.