Let’s Make Tripoli Great Again

Tripoli lebanon

Around 3 weeks ago, many of us had one thing on our minds: Beirut’s municipal elections and how the independent civil movement list Beirut Madinati would do against the agglomeration of all political parties in power.

We had high hopes, not for them to win, but for a good showing that would cause a ripple in Lebanon’s political stagnation. Beirut Madinati delivered. For many, that may have been the end of Lebanon’s municipal election talk, but it’s far from the case.

Today, it’s time we turn our attention towards a city that needs it much more than Beirut, a city that has the potential that Beirut does but is entirely forgotten, assumed to be a sectarian haven of extremism and is ruled by billionaires with a feudal mentality who see its streets as nothing more than sectors for their taking.

Today, we need to talk about Tripoli and the vote the city is coming to this Sunday on May 29th.

To put things in perspective, let’s talk facts:

–   Tripoli is the 2nd biggest city in the country.

–   It’s home to around half a million people, the majority being Muslim Sunnis.

–   It’s home to the richest man in the country, Najib Miqati. He has been a prime minister two times.

–   It is one of the oldest cities in the country, and has the biggest old souk in Lebanon, far bigger than Jbeil’s or Saida’s. The old Souk has fallen into disrepair.

–   The port of Tripoli, once one of the region’s most important ports when it comes to trade, has fallen way behind and is now a shell of what it used to be.

–  The previous municipality that ruled Tripoli over the past 6 years came about from an agreement between the different political parties of the city, notably the Future Movement, Safadi and Miqati. It was the worst municipal board the city has ever seen, from their worries about banning alcohol ads in the city at a time when the city was being ravaged by war, to them letting the reputation of their city become, slowly and surely, that of a city no one should visit.

–  Tripoli is Lebanon’s poorest city, with around 30% of its people living in severe poverty. The Bab el Tebbaneh neighborhood is, according to all UN-led research, Lebanon’s poorest. The area didn’t even have a functional school at a certain point a couple of years ago.

–  Tripoli has one of Lebanon’s highest unemployment rates, especially when it comes to its youth, despite it having relatively high education levels given its proximity to many universities. Latest statistics place that number at around 36%.

The reality is much more horrific than to be summarized by a few bullet points. And, as they’re used to, Lebanon’s political establishment is trying to take over the city once again for 6 years by coming together against all of the other component’s in the city in an attempt for self-preservation.

After an uphill climb and very tough negotiations, Miqati and Hariri managed to come up with a list of 24 candidates, of various backgrounds, to try and keep the municipal board. Those 24 people have nothing to do with the previous board, but as the famous saying goes: “Insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Is it fair for Tripoli and for us as Northerners to have our capital stay the way it was for the next 6 years? Stagnation is not different from falling back.

Hariri and Miqati’s list, “For Tripoli,” is faced by three other lists. The first: “Tripoli’s Decision” is backed by Rifi, and has the highest chances of breaking into the municipality. The second: “Tripoli Capital” is backed and headed by former MP Mosbah el Ahdab and has 13  other people from various backgrounds, most of whom are from the civil society. The third list is: “Tripoli 2022” and has four candidates from the civil movement.

On Sunday, May 29th, the people of Tripoli have a real chance at taking their city back from the clutches of those who haven’t known but how to cause it harm for the past 6 years. It’s time to say that their unity only serves their own interests and not the interests of our city. It’s time to say that enough is enough, that the city needs a mayor who’s worried about its youth than about stupid beer ads, that the city needs people with a vision, people who want to give its people healthcare, a better reputation, education, people who want to make Tripoli great again.

The need to vote against those that turned Tripoli into a war zone couldn’t be higher. For that reason, this blog endorses the list “Tripoli Capital” along with the four members of “Tripoli 2022” for the municipal board as well as the candidate for “Citizens within a State” because they’re a combination that has the most potential to set the city on a path that befits it. This makes my endorsed list a set of 19 individuals.

A few days ago, Tripoli became the first Lebanese city to have a bike lane. The potential is there. The city can become a capital for the North and the country again. The city can be the great city it once was again. I hope its people see the potential in them and their hometown and act on it.

 

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Why Voting for “Beirut Madinati” Is Of Vital Importance To Get A Better Lebanon

Beirut Madinati May 8th vote

The first lesson we are taught back in our school’s civics class was the following: you, as a citizen, have rights and duties. Voting is a combination of both – it is the only way for you to hold those in power accountable.

We, as Lebanese, haven’t had the chance to hold those in power accountable for more than half a decade now. Starting this Sunday, and for a month, is our chance to do so.

Beirut Madinati is running against the “Beirutis List,” an agglomeration of 24 candidates that represent every single party in power. Yes, every one of them. The Tashnag are there. The Hanshak are there. The FPM and LF, in their new found love in a hopeless place, are there. Berri and the Future Movement are also there.

The Future Movement, which had up until a month ago accused Hezbollah of being the party behind killing their founder and Saad’s father, is now in bed with those same people in Beirut, not that that would stop them from using Rafik Hariri’s memory in all kinds of vote sympathy mongering.

The FPM which was a few months ago calling the Future Movement “Lebanon’s ISIS” is now in bed with them as well. All for one single reason: to kill a movement for the people, by the people, asking for change.

The reason why it is of VITAL importance to give your vote for Beirut Madinati on Sunday is to say that the current situation as is will not be tolerated anymore. As the saying goes: voting for it “zayy ma hiye” will keep the situation “zay ma houwe.” Their electoral tactics are zayy ma hiye: intimidation, fear, hate and sectarianism. 

Voting for Beirut Madinati is not a vote for a simple municipal election. It is our chance as a country, through Beirutis, to vote against the establishment that has been screwing us for years. It is our chance to say enough is enough. It is our chance to challenge the entire political establishment that is united in trying to bring us down, again, and our chance to start reclaiming our country, starting with its capital.

If you’ve forgotten, let me tell remind you of the situation you’re living in:

– The city of Beirut currently has no water. It’s only May, and it’s still raining. I literally bought water yesterday to be able to shower. I see this becoming a worse pattern as summer rolls by.

– The city of Beirut is stinking of garbage. Its people are going to hospitals with all kinds of respiratory problems because of the smell. The pollution because of the garbage crisis will take years to resolve.

– Many of the youth of Beirut not only don’t live in Beirut anymore, but have left the country, as is the case with many Lebanese, for better opportunities. Hashtag My Dubai. Maybe we should just keep calling Dubai Madinati instead so el sheikh Saad ma yez3al?

– The city’s Centre, Nejmeh Square, is currently off access to its people and all Lebanese. Why? Because our parliament that is not even working is present there. Spoiler alert: foreigners are allowed to enter.

– You, as Beiruti and Lebanese, are always under the mercy of whichever politician you have the displeasure of encountering. If you’re on the road driving and you come by one of their convoys, they will run you over to move ahead. It is the way things are when entities feel they are always above reproach.

– You, as Beiruti and Lebanese, are worth nothing more than $100 on Election Day for your politicians.  They don’t care about planning for a better future for you and your children. They only care about you voting for them on Election Day.

– The situation is so comically sad that clubs in the country are being forced to close the day before each mohafaza votes, which happens to be on the day those places make the most money: on Saturday. The system doesn’t even know how to function without killing your livelihood.

– The political establishment has worked tirelessly to sell your land to the highest bidder, to ban you from going to the beach that is your public property, to wall off Raoucheh from its people to turn it into a construction site, to destroy your heritage.

– The political establishment has made your economy such a mess that your child is born with $15,000 in debt.

– The political establishment has made your reality in such a way that you and your children are limited by where you are born, the sect you are born into, who you know, and how much money you have.

– The political establishment has not been able to give you a president. It’s been two years. It has stolen your right to vote two times so far to keep itself in power. It has not managed to come up with a decent electoral law.

– The political establishment tried to KILL you in August when you protested against their trash. They were not even sorry.

– The political establishment funds its own wars, as was the case in Tripoli, and you’re the last of their concerns. It takes tax money out of you but gives you nothing in return but hell.

Do you want to keep the status quo as it is? Do you want to give the politicians that have been ruining your life a free pass for more years to come? Do you want them to keep running unchecked, aware that no matter how horrible they are, no matter how badly they treat you, no matter how little a bug they see you, no matter how many times you curse them over the years, they can count on you falling in line when it counts, on Election Day?

Say no to keeping the country braindead, and vote Beirut Madinati.

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.

Meet The Candidates Of Beirut Madinati

Beirut Madinati Candidates

Beirut Madinati, the independent and refreshing campaign overtaking the Beirut political establishment, has just announced its list of candidates for the upcoming Municipal elections of the city, set to be held on May 8th.

As I wrote yesterday, the work to get to this list at hand was not, in typical Lebanese fashion, a who’s who along the echelons of a political party. It was more than 80 active participants in the movement gathering and discussing for months on ends the wide array of possibilities that they could offer the city. The result is as follows: a list that is equally men and women, 12 members each, representative of all the city’s neighborhoods and communities, and consisting of people who have made a name for themselves in their respective domains.

Not only is the list equally balanced between men and women, but 6 out of 24 are considered of the youth group, 16 are middle aged candidates and 2 are seniors. Compare this with an average age of more than 60 in our cabinet, and the contrast is striking.

The candidates are as follows:

Ibrahim Mneimneh: president, architect and urban planner (Mazraa).

Tarek Ammar: vice president; He’s the CEO of a researching company with over 16 years of experience in the field. (Achrafieh).

Iman Ghandour: Private sector worker, former deputy head of the “IC alumni association,” member of the board of many festivals around Beirut and Lebanon (Bashoura).

Mona Hallak: Architect, Executive committee member of the Association for the Protection of Sites and Old Buildings in Lebanon. Was an activist in the protection of Rawcheh movement and the reason behind “Maison Barakat” being saved. (Mazraa).

Rana Khoury: Advertising creative director and a board member of the Samir Kassir Foundation (Bashoura).

Nada Doghan: Historian and member of the Civil Society. CEO of the Arab project “Kitab fi Jarida” in cooperation with UNESCO. (Msaytbeh).

May Daouk: Interior architect, supporter of Skoon and the Samir Kassir foundation, as well as activist for women rights in Lebanon. (Msaytbeh).

Najib el Dik: Head of the Beirut fishers associations in Ain el Mreisseh and former head of Beirut’s fisherman syndicate, (Minet el Hosn).

Marwan Al Taibi: Journalist, head of the “Al Yawm” newspaper and consultant (Bashoura).

Walid El Alami: Cardiologist who graduated from AUB, the University of Oklahoma and Baylor. He returned to Lebanon in 2012 and is part of the “IC alumni association.” (Ras Beirut).

Levon Telvizian: Architect, professor at the Lebanese University, was head of the urban planning program there. He’s currently an advisor for multiple development NGOs and works with UNESCO for housing in Lebanon. (Rmeil).

Yorgui Teyrouz: Phamacist and founder of Donner Sang Compter (Rmeil).

Abdul Halim Jabr: Architect and urban design expert, as well as part time university professor. Activist against the Fouad Boutros highway and in many other conservation fights in Beirut. (Msaytbeh).

Mark Geara: Real estate developer (Achrafieh).

Houssam Hawa: Agriculture engineer, AUB graduate with a Masters degree from Holland. Activist in many environmental causes. (Achrafieh)

Carole Tueini: Media sector, was an anchor on MTV before joining Disney MENA, where she eventually became an executive producer. (Achrafieh).

Amal Cherif: Art director and advocate for people with disability (Zkak al-Blat).

Nada Sehnaoui: an artist and painter, founding member of the Civil Center for National Initiative (Achrafieh).

Farah Kobeissy: Political science expert and human rights activist (Zkak al- Blat).

Ahmad Kaabour: Renowned singer, songwriter and composer (Mazraa).

Nadine Labaki: Leading Lebanese director, behind movies such as “W Halla2 la Wein” and “Caramel” (Achrafieh).

Maria Manok: Lower school head of division at Ahliyyah School (Msaytbeh).

Rita Maalouf: Expert in forensics, returned to Lebanon from the United States in 2008. She’s the first forensics expert in Lebanon’s Ministry of Justice. (Ras Beirut).

Serge Yazegi: Architect, urban planner and lecturer at ALBA (Achrafieh).

Good luck to these people on May 8th. Change is possible. Change needs you – if you can vote in Beirut – to go down to your precint on May 8th and choose those that have fought for you for years, choose those who know how it is to lead the city in the proper direction, choose those who are not the status quo.

Write down their names.

Beirut Madinati: Giving Meaning To The Municipal Elections & Hope For A Better Future

Beirut Madinati

Over the past several weeks, a true grassroots movement has been overtaking the streets of Beirut as a new movement trying to reclaim the city it calls home began its rise; Beirut Madinati was doing something that Beirutis hadn’t seen in a very long time, if ever: they were holding gatherings in different neighborhoods across the city to talk to the city’s own people about their woes, to tell them that we are not a Hariri-appointed list of people who believe they are entitled to your vote, we will work for it and this is us doing so.

Of course, the work of Beirut Madinati did not start when our Municipal Elections became an inevitability. Over the past years, the same supporters and people behind this robust youthful movement were orchestrating many of the protests we’ve all been supporting and advocating for. They called to have Horsh Beirut re-opened and succeeded in it being as such on Saturdays. They fought against the demolition of many of Beirut’s culturally important landmarks. They are fighting against the Fouad Boutros Highway that will destroy any remnant of Achrafieh as we know it.

Today, they are giving their fights a name and it is aptly called: Beirut, my city.

Giving Meaning To The Elections:

Over the past several years, the municipal elections of the city of Beirut were everything but “democratic.” The city’s key parties, mostly the Future Movement, appoints a list of the city’s candidates, without any inkling of equality, and that list ends up winning by near acclamation. No one stands a chance. Correction, no one stood a chance. Until now.

Beirut Madinati is a group of men and women, of all ages and backgrounds, fighting to reclaim the city they call home and let it become the place they know it can be. Their composition is breaking the boundaries of Lebanese politics itself. Instead of having only 3 women on the Municipal board, Beirut Madinati is reportedly submitting the candidature of 12 women – exactly half. One of those women is brilliant Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. One of the men nominated is Yorgui Teyrouz, the founder of Donner Sang Compter, the NGO that has saved thousands of lives since its inception.

The names of Beirut Madinati’s candidates have not been fully announced yet. However, the list was obtained not because someone is something up the echelons of a given party, without any consideration to that person’s qualifications, but through a rigorous process that involved more than 80 members of the movement. All opinions were heard. Even the head of municipality promised by that list will be an engineer because their plan needs someone with that background to implement it.

This is not the politics of Lebanon which has almost always emanated from the dark ages, but rather citizens of this city trying to do things the way they should be done: with a modern inclusive approach, and a futuristic look at how things need to be. Today, Beirut Madinati is giving meaning to Beirut’s municipal elections. They are giving us a choice.

Giving Hope To The City:

Beirut Madinati giving the people of Beirut the possibility of having a voice come May 8th does not come without them being aware of the responsibility that entails. As such, for the first time in years as well, the people of Beirut have a set of candidates who are running to work for a platform that is conceived through careful and scientific assessment of Beirut of 2016, with what they hope for Beirut to become by 2022 when their term ends.

The platform is divided into 10 main entities, which I will summarize below, but you can read the full 30 pages program at this link (click):

  1. Better public transportation to encourage people to rely less on private cars (today’s rates are 70%), and enable more use of bikes and walking, thereby reducing traffic substantially as well as pollution.
  2. Increase Beirut’s green spaces from 1 squared meter from person to at least 5 squared meters by 2022 with at least one public garden per local community.
  3. Work on decreasing the price of apartments in Beirut so they can become more affordable to its people. The average today is $570,000 per apartment.
  4. Start recycling programs in the city where garbage goes at rates of 90% to landfills, to a goal of 40% recycling by 2022.
  5. Protect Beirut’s heritage. No more random demolitions for buildings that hold value to the city’s past and history.
  6. Increasing the number of public libraries and community spaces available. The city currently has only THREE public libraries.
  7. Adjust taxation rates in the city to enable better equality and better job opportunities. 1 in 4 of Beirut’s youth are currently unemployed.
  8. Make governmental buildings in Beirut more eco-friendly.
  9. Improve health in the city by addressing the water pollution, monitoring its quality, and improving air quality by, for instance, removing the open air waste bins (those giant green Sukleen ones).
  10. Better training for municipality staff to better address concerns of citizens.

Not only will this program, if implemented, bring Beirut head on into the 21st century city it should be, but it would also boost the quality of life of millions of Lebanese who call the city their home, whether they actually vote there or not.

By bettering public transportation, access to the city becomes easier. You’d no longer need to spend ninety minutes in your car stuck at Nahr el Kaleb every morning. With less traffic, more people would find it easier to live in the suburbs or areas around Beirut, bringing real estate prices down. With better governance, citizens of the city would have better accountability. They’d know who messed up and how. It would no longer be the time for murky politics. The examples and ramifications are endless.

They are also running without politicians backing them. They rely on regular people like us for support and donations to keep their campaign going. So donate at the link (here) if you can.

Your Choice On May 8th:

I may not be a Beirut voter, but I’ll be damned if I weren’t going to use this platform to advocate for such a group. Winning is, obviously, Beirut Madinati’s goal but the showing they will have on May 8th, regardless of numbers, will be substantial enough to tell the entrenched Beiruti establishment that the city’s people are no longer subdued to the demented politics bringing about the same municipality over and over again, different people perhaps, but same useless agenda every time.

Your vote for Beirut Madinati on May 8th is telling those politicians that have taken you for granted over and over again that you are not just another number they can move and calculate however they please, but a citizen who knows he or she is entitled to a municipality that cares for their future and not to have its members gain a title, a source of income for their bottom line, and have this political party or that say they control the city and consequently you.

On May 8th, your vote as a Beiruti matters. Rise above the meaningless politics. Challenge the establishment. Set your city on the path that befits it. On May 8th, vote against the status quo and for a better future.