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.