The Humiliation of Entering The United States As Arab

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he takes the stage for a campaign event in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he takes the stage for a campaign event in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

I was rejected the US visa for the first time when I was fifteen. I remember standing there, in front of the Embassy Consulate, unsure as to why I was being shut away, as just a young boy, from spending a summer abroad with his family. I was told I didn’t have an “extended enough travel history,” because as you know most 15 year olds have probably been around the world.

Ten years later, after months of back and forth with the Embassy and papers flowing in and out, I was finally given a visitor’s visa for 5 years on my third try, routine for Lebanese citizens who were granted the document as far as I know. A few months later, I visited the United States of America for the first time ever.

On my second visit, the border control officer said his system “couldn’t process” me, so I was taken into another room where, an hour and another interrogation later, I was permitted entry to come into the US to do my medical residency interviews. This happened again on my third entry, with longer waiting times. Entering the US has been the most invasive thing to my being, and I’ve survived medical school.

It’s also what has been happening to many of my colleagues and friends: doctors, scientists, researchers, humans. Just because they were unfortunate enough to be born in countries that are not worthy of enough of having their citizens treated with the minimum of human decency. I can tell you stories about physicians who were kept in those rooms for four hours, waiting for who knows what. It’s never easy to sit there and not know what’s going to happen to you, just because you dared seek entry of a foreign country that you’ve already been thoroughly vetted to be given a visa to.

This process that we go through every time we want to come here, that we know we have to willingly subject ourselves to in order for us to visit New York or some monument or even see some extended family is, apparently, not “rigorous” enough.

Today, on my third visit, with the news of president Donald Trump stopping visas and entries from countries he doesn’t like and even though my country isn’t on the list, I’m the most scared and the most unwelcome I’ve felt in a country whose history celebrates its diversity and its enabling of people from all kinds by giving them a chance at making it.

Not if your kind is Arab.

You’ll read plenty about illegal immigrants, but the fact of the matter is the United States scares me too much for me not to abide by its laws. It’s not about how it cracks down on illegals or how it’s managed to change the course of my region for centuries to come. It’s about how humiliated I’ve felt every single time I’ve applied for that visa.

Many of you wouldn’t think twice about the notion of a “tourist visa.” To most of you, the term is as foreign as that of the person demanding it, but every single time we apply for one – be it for the United States or any other country – we have to subject ourselves to the most rigorous of checks, be ready to provide every form of documentation imaginable. Just for a visit.

And this isn’t rigorous enough.

For a refugee to be granted entry to the United States, they must first apply through the UNHCR, which conducts its own interviews and documentation collection process. Those selected for re-settlement in the United States have their files referred to the State Department which puts the refugee through screening by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI and DHS. More anti-fraud agencies come into play later as well as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services (USCIS), which interviews the refugees, fingerprints them, and runs those fingerprints through the FBI, DHS and Department of Defense.

If a refugee passes through all of that, they are given health screenings to make sure they’re not bringing in any diseases to the US, while being enrolled in cultural orientation classes as they wait, while their information is checked constantly against terrorist databases. On September 15th, 2016, the US House of Representatives also voted to add further screening steps that require the FBI director to sign off on every single refugee.

Over the past 15 years, the United States, also the world’s third largest country in size and population, has re-settled only around 780,000 refugees.

And this isn’t rigorous enough either.

The fact that my friends have to be told by their employers not to go home for fear of their visas not getting renewed, and have their families not be able to visit them because someone out there is so afraid of them existing is 2017’s reality for many. But we can’t say anything about it, because it’s their country and we’re just parasites in it.

Growing up, America was always a place of hope for me. It was from where, as a kid, my relatives visited with gifts. It was the place from which, growing up, my favorite musicians, series and movies emanated. It is the place, today, that I’m working diligently as a graduated physician to come train in. Today, that place gives me anxiety, just for coming from a certain country in a region whose entirety is on a blacklist, knowing that the most illegal thing I’ve done in my life was break speeding limits.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that selective targeting is never a good thing nor does it build better societies nor does it contribute to the betterment of countries. After all, isn’t one of the most shameful events in American history were the Japanese internment camps around World War II?

With every passing day of Trump’s presidency, and at this rate it is daily, America’s image is getting distorted. Perhaps that is what those who voted for him want: for it not to remain a country of inclusiveness, and become a walled – literally? – state. But it’s also my belief that no country can ever truly be great through hate, fear, the refusal of anything that is different and the denigration of a people. A few decades ago, Anne Frank and her family were denied American visas. How many Anne Franks will be refused away because of fear today?

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A List Of Major World Leaders That Passed While Lebanon Has Nabih Berri

nabih-berri

With the United States getting Trump *shivers* as their new president, and regardless of what one would think of the new administration (if you need help, it sucks), transition of power and changing politicians is a sign of a healthy democracy (at least until the new face of democracy cancels it out).

So to celebrate our version of democracy, I felt like putting the stagnation of the Lebanese political system in perspective with how the World Leaders have changed while Nabih Berri remained where he is.

USA:

5 presidents: George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump.

France:

4 presidents: François Mitterand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Francois Hollande.

UK:

5 PMs: John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May.

Germany:

3 Chancellors: Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Shröder, Angela Merkel.

Italy:

11 PMs: Giulio Andreotti, Giuliano Amato (2 non-consecutive terms), Carlo Ciampi, Silvio Berlusconi (3 non-consecutive terms, Lamberto Dini, Romano Prodi (2 non-consecutive terms), Massivo D’Alema, Mario Monti, Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi, Paolo Gentiloni.

Canada:

6 PMs: Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau.

Australia:

6 PMs: Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd (2 non-consecutive terms), Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcom Turbull.

Russia:

3 presidents: Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin (2 non-consecutive terms so far), Dmitry Medvedev.

And for fun – Lebanon:

4 presidents: Elias Hrawi, Emile Lahoud, Michel Sleiman, Michel Aoun.

8 PMs: Omar Karami (2 non-consecutive terms), Rafic Hariri (2 non-consecutive terms), Selim Hoss, Rachid Solh, Najib Miqati (2 non consecutive terms), Fouad Sanioura, Saad Hariri (2 non-consecutive terms), Tammam Salam.

I’m just saying.

Dear Lebanon, Your Dignity Has More To Worry About Than a Facebook Status

A few days ago, a Lebanese journalist named Bassel Al Amin wrote a Facebook status that saw him thrown in jail. You’d never hear of such a sentence in any “civilized” country around the world, regardless of the content of said Facebook status, but here we are.

amin-1

It translates to:

“The shoe of the Syrian refugee and worker and citizen is worth more than your Republic, your cedar, your Lebanon, your right-wing, independence, your government, history, revolution, and presidents. Do you get it?”

Many journalists and activists have risen up to defend Al Amin with the hashtag: A status is not a crime. Of course, many others have also taken up the anti-Al-Amin camp with their proclamation, such as MTV in this piece of theirs, that – and I quote:

“We are faced with a segment of the population that wants to say what it pleases, whenever it pleases. It’s a segment that is completely in refusal of everything and doesn’t hesitate to insult our nation and express an opinion that should never ever transgress on the dignity of our country and our citizens. And even if what Al Amin wrote expresses the opinion of some people, then those should relinquish their Lebanese nationality.”

Let’s put it out there. What Al Amin said is nauseating. You can criticize anything you want about the country in any way that you like, and if you read my blog you’d know there’s nothing I like more than that, but I find that reverting to insults or derogatory rhetoric to get a point across takes away of the point you are making.

That said, let me put this out there as well: it is Bassel Al Amin’s right to say whatever he wants to say about anything that he wants, Lebanese Republic and presidents and politicians and botany, and still not be thrown in jail because of it.

The moment we start to limit what we are allowed and not allowed to say, we give our government and every censorship bureau out there a more than open occasion into further limiting the scope of what we can say in absolute terms. How long would it be, if we stay silent about the arrest of a Lebanese citizen because of a Facebook status, before our own statuses and tweets and even words on the street that we say to friends become the subject of lawsuits or arrests because someone with political or legal muscle decided they were “offensive” or “illegal?””

MTV may not like this, given their categorization of our segment of the population as one that wants to say “whatever it wants whenever it pleases,” but that is actually our right. I am supposed to be able to say whatever I want, whenever I want, and however I want, and you, MTV and those who believe in what it has said, are just supposed to deal with it in the multiple of ways that you can do so with, beginning with actually debating what I have to say and not stringing up poetic language to show people how my opinion or even my formulation of an opinion is a horrific act.

Lawyers across the country have agreed that Bassel Al Amin’s words are not, in fact, legal. However, a law existing does not mean the law is right. To note, Lebanon’s penal code has article 522 which allows a rapist to be absolved of his crime if he marries the woman he raped. The Lebanese penal code also has article 534 which bans “sexual acts contrary to nature,” an article that was used quite proficiently by Lebanon’s authorities on some occasions to arrest LGBT people.

The arrest of Al-Amin is also as hypocritical as it can get. A few years ago, Jean Assy, a prominent FPM supporter, went on a Twitter tirade against the former (then current) Lebanese president Michel Sleiman, leading to his arrest – albeit for very limited time. Gebran Bassil, son in law and politician galore of current Lebanese president, tweeted the following back then:

gerban-bassil-tweet

Perhaps tweeting and Facebooking is only a crime when it touches upon your president or your own political party?

This whole talk about national “dignity” being represented in the most mundane of things – tweets, statuses, what have you – reminds me of a debate the United States was having when I was there a few days ago.

When Donald Trump (cringes) tweeted (cringes again) that he was going to prosecute and/or take away the American nationality from everyone who burned the American flag, the US was divided. What was a fact, regardless of what Trump and his supporters wanted, was that the burning of the American flag was a protected act under the first amendment of the United States constitution, which guaranteers freedom of expression, therefore turning the burning of a flag – arguably one of the highest insults to a country – as an expression of freedom of speech.

Lebanon, we have a long way to go.

But for those who are worried about their dignity as Lebanese because of a Facebook status, let me remind you of the following:

  1. You do not have 24/7 electricity,
  2. You do not have access to water all the time,
  3. Your internet sucks,
  4. Your security situation is as precarious as it can be,
  5. You need a visa to go to almost anywhere,
  6. Your passport is the most expensive around the world,
  7. You have not voted for parliament since 2009,
  8. You stayed without a president for more than 2 and a half years, after a president that needed more than 8 months of void to be elected,
  9. You literally live in garbage,
  10. Your women can – as of the writing of this post – be raped and then proposed to and everything becomes okay,
  11. Your women cannot pass on their citizenship to their children, something that many of you wholeheartedly agree with,
  12. Your women can be victims of domestic abuse without repercussions.
  13. Your LGBT population’s existence is considered “illegal,”
  14. Your roads are in disrepair,
  15. Your infrastructure is near non-existing,
  16. Many see the country’s worth as contingent upon the well being of their religious sect,
  17. Censorship bureaus decide what you get to be exposed to depending on their whims,
  18. Not having a national budget since 2005?
  19. Your politicians – read Wiam Wahhab – having militias,
  20. The country having militias to begin with,
  21. You getting “SSSS”‘ed at airports just because you’re Lebanese,
  22. You getting secondary interrogations before entering countries even after you’re given a visa because you’re Lebanese,
  23. Smugglers and criminals being arrested and then freed a short while later because you need them to buy cheap phones,
  24. Your very last public beach in Beirut will soon become a resort,
  25. Your entire coast – your public property – is something you need to pay to access (refer to this for comparison),
  26. Your forests are subject to “accidental” fires but their wood ends up in your fireplaces anyway,
  27. Your governmental facilities are among the world’s most corrupt,
  28. You consistently rank among the countries with the least faith in their politicians… but keep on voting for them anyway,
  29. You put curfews for foreigners depending on where they come from,
  30. Your political class is basically warlords.

But yes, please tell me more about how our dignity was irreparably insulted by a Facebook status?

How To Best Handle The Upcoming Michel Aoun Presidency

michel-aoun-president

I’m counting my blessings about 20,000 times a day that when Lebanon *finally* gets a president I won’t be there to see it. It’s sad in a way, that after two and half years of void I wouldn’t be there for the happy ending. But then again, who’d wanna be there for this happy ending?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that Michel Aoun will be a bad president. All presidents are useless and he won’t be any different, as the past two president-less years have shown us. But oh my god can you imagine the gloat of Aounists over the next twenty three years?

So here I am, seven time zones away, and still worried about the ripple that that will cause and I’ve come up with the best way to deal with the inevitable happening on Monday.

1) What To Do With Your Aounist Friends on Facebook:

If your Facebook friends are as enthusiastic as mine, they’d have already started posting countdowns, pictures, glorious Facebook status about all the glory that’s going to come to the country on Monday. And if you’re anything like me, you’d definitely have a pack of motilium or some even stronger zofran sitting next to your laptop at all times because nausea.

Of course, it’s going to get worse from here until Monday which is just two days away. So here’s a tip:

  • If you have <5 friends on Facebook who are supportive of this move, just unfollow them and practice EXTREME vigilance because they tend to find a way to have their stories pop up on your timeline anyway.
  • If you have >5 friends on Facebook who are supportive of Aoun becoming president, delete Facebook off your phone, take your precious phone away, put it in a box, bury it in a pint of trab l arz yalli aghla men l dehab, set up food in a bunker and huddle there until 2022.

2) What To Do With Your Aounist Friends on Twitter:

While there’s an unwritten rule among Facebook users that one would not post countless statuses per day, and as such Facebook has slightly more restraint, the same does not exist on Twitter. As such, there are no guidelines for how to best handle your Aounist friends on Twitter except deactivating your account until 2022.

3) OTV:

With their lord and savior Michel Aoun becoming president, it’s also best to forget that there is an orangy TV station by the name of OTV ever existing. As Mawtoura aptly noted, their programming for the next 6 years will consist of the following:

  • Morning Mass,
  • National songs,
  • Calls to congratulate Aoun on the presidency,
  • Aounist songs,
  • Documentaries about the great Samir Geagea, etc…

It’s best to avoid this, or have xanax present at all times as well.

4) Forget About Anghami:

Here’s a scoop for you: Nancy Ajram and Assi Hallani have teamed up to do a song for Michel Aoun already. It’s not because they’re Aounists but because when anyone becomes president, everyone else just dies at the opportunity to start licking their ass. #LiveLoveLebanon.

Of course Nancy and Assi will probably not end up being the only two people who have songs out for Aoun. Expect Elissa to have a song out a certain point too, because that’s how things work. And there’s just so much of Michel Aoun being rhymed with “kon” that you can take.

5) Brace Yourself For The Onslaught Of Positive People:

Some people may not be Aounists but as it is in Lebanon, there is an overly positive populace that keeps on seeing the best in everything and I just don’t know how. Well, those people are bound to get slightly more annoying now as they are given one extra reason to be falsely optimistic about things in the country.

The earliest symptom of this will be a wider onslaught of #LiveLove across the globe.

6) What To Do With Your LF friends:

They probably don’t know what to do with themselves so it’s best to ignore their existence for now pending further development. Many of them aren’t happy though, so just pass them some of the xanax from point #4?

7) Hezbollah *shivers*:

While Hezbollah spent the last two years trying NOT to get Aoun elected, expect them to make sure everyone and their mother and their grandmother and their deceased original ancestor to know they’ve done *everything* they can to make sure the outcome on Monday took place.

It’s bullshit, certainly, but people are going to buy it anyway.

The criteria for Hezbollah fans on your social media platforms is much more stringent though. Just bury your phone and go live in a monastery in Qadisha already. There is no other way.

8) Avoid Driving:

I expect Lebanese roads are now flooded with billboards, posters, banners and mannequins celebrating the rise of Aoun. Even those that didn’t like him now do.

I expect those posters and banners to contain some of the most poetic Arabic written since Al-Mutannabi. A few Bible verses will be thrown in there as well because, why the hell not? Isn’t this the second coming of Jesus?

So if I were you, I’d just stay home until the first decent rain comes around and rips those things right off.

9) Almaza will have an ad:

They always do. This is not gonna be any different, and they’re beginning to get annoying but this will annoy you the most, so move to Colonel Beer. #ElieRecommends.

10) Prepare To Explain To The World That We’re Voting For An 80 Year Old As President:

I was literally asked yesterday who’s gonna be president. When I said Michel Aoun, the person asking me was surprised and asked: Isn’t he old?

And the fact of the matter is he is. When John McCain was running for president in 2008, he was 72 and his age had lots of people worried. We are now getting a president who’s as old as John McCain is today. Isn’t that exciting?

So what’s the best way to handle people who want to criticize our country for voting geriatrics this time around? You can: a) tell them to suck it, b) tell them enno yo2berne mshabshab, c) tell them l mouhem l so77a, d) Michel Aoun does not age, age Michel Aouns.

Bonus: Bref, sigh:

In the grand scheme of things, the worst thing to come of Aoun’s presidency won’t be him as president. It’s how annoying his supporters will be until the end of his term. There will be no major changes to the country. Hariri will be PM. They will tailor an electoral law to help them win. Frangieh and Geagea will be presidents the next two cycles. The political situation will not find a magical solution that suddenly sees our garbage off the streets and the country off to the right direction. This is just a perpetuation of the current status quo, with the people who made the status as such and well, who the hell cares anyway?

It’s just so sad. *downs ten lexotanil pills.*

Why Donald Trump Is Probably Part-Lebanese

donald-trump

With each passing day leading up to America voting on November 8th, there’s a growing conviction that gets reinforced in my head, and that is that the Republican bigot and racist nominee cannot but have some part of him be Lebanese. It’s just the way it is, no genetic testing needed. And this is why.

He’s a politician who hates women:

From statements about him just grabbing women “in the pussy,” to making women feel inadequate about the fact they get their period, to calling a former Miss Universe “Miss Piggy” for gaining weight, to believing that pregnancy is a nuisance for his business, to him believing that sexual assault in the military is obviously logical because the two genders are mixed.

The examples are endless. This link (here) is just a brief summary of some of them.

Of course, while such statements are absolutely horrifying for Americans (even though around 43% of them still want to vote for him), they are only second nature to us as Lebanese. How could they not when we’ve got full blown MPs who think women should be blamed for being raped?

He’s racist:

He’s gonna build a wall, a wall that will be so YUGE!, and who’s gonna pay for that wall? SYRIA! Oh wait. Never mind. Had a little mix up there.

From his anti-Mexican statements, to his overall anti-anything-not-American-Blonde-and-White rhetoric, to turning a blind eye to KKK members campaigning for him, to questioning if Barack Obama was born in the United States, the examples are also – once again – endless.

Not to say that *all* Lebanese are racists, but man, those refugees are just ugh! And can you imagine sharing a pool with a maid? What is this, Colonial Africa? And what’s to say about our minister of foreign affairs? Of course he’s right about not wanting to give Syrians or Palestinians who marry Lebanese women the precious Lebanese nationality. America has KKK, we have 961.

He doesn’t pay taxes and is proud of it:

When interrogated by Hillary Clinton at the first presidential debate about his taxes, alluding to him not paying them, Trump replied: “that makes me smart.” A few days later, the New York Times risked legal action to leak part of his tax returns showing he didn’t pay anything for over 18 years because of being able to manipulate the American tax code like a pro.

His Republican aids came to his rescue. Rudy Guliani turned him into a “genius” for doing what he did, saying that that alone made him more capable to lead the country than “a woman” (refer to point #1).

Americans (not the 42% still voting for him at least) were outraged. Gasps were reportedly heard among undecided voters being used as focus groups during the debate at his tax statements. How could he get Americans (again, not those 42%) to feel like they are “less smart” for actually contributing to their country?

In this side of the world, however, Donald Trump not paying his taxes doesn’t make him smart at all. It makes him just another regular Lebanese. Income tax? What is that again? Electricity Bill? They don’t even dare enter my neighborhood to collect man. Water? Meh, it’s not like they’re gonna cut me off anyway. VAT? Haha, I’ll buy using my foreign passport. 😉

He hates Muslims:

He wants to ban Muslims – all 1.6 billion of them – from entering the United States because a small faction of them, numbered at less than 10,000 individuals worldwide, are terrorizing people.

When his statements were demolished by Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of United States Army Captain Humayun Khan who gave up his life saving his fellow soldiers, Trump’s response was not to apologize, but to allude to Ghazala not speaking to her being an oppressed Muslim woman.

The memory of her son was still, years later, too much for her to bear to address the entirety of the United States.

In these parts of the world, the hate of others for being of a different religion on both sides is existent, albeit not applicable to everyone thankfully. The deeper you go in the Lebanese Bible or Quran belts, the more engrained is the mentality that those who pray differently are to be feared. It takes a lot to break out of that.

He lies about everything all the time:

Global warming is a Chinese hoax, he tweeted a few years ago. Flash forward to September 2016 and he denied he ever said it. He supported the War on Iraq. Flash forward a few years later and he denies he ever did.

He comes up with one lie after the other, believes them, and refuses to be fact-checked. Wasn’t it about 90 seconds before he dropped his first lie at the first Presidential Debate?

His Lebanese brethren practice this dogma to the letter. Fact checking is irrelevant here. If it’s my opinion, then it’s a fact and you better deal with it, Lebanon-style.

His top advisor is Lebanese:

Walid Phares – no relation, thank God – is one of Donald Trump’s top advisors and councils him on a lot of issues, notably foreign affairs. Phares’ personal history is relevant for being a Lebanese Forces officer during the Civil War, and leaving to the United States while still retaining his “Christians are better than everyone else because they are Christians” mantra (read point #4).

During the 1980s, Phares, a Maronite Christian, trained Lebanese militants in ideological beliefs justifying the war against Lebanon’s Muslims. Justified back then, perhaps and debatable, but he hasn’t left that mentality behind. He was also a main contributor to the planning behind the Sabra and Chatila massacres.

Birds of a feather flock together, Lebanon style?

Fails at so many things, brags anyway:

From failed universities, to failed steak ventures, to hotels driven to the ground, his career hasn’t exactly been the beacon of bright light that his father’s “small loan” of $14 million kickstarted.

That hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from making sure that everyone and their mother knew that:

  1. He had money,
  2. He has made money,
  3. He has bought stuff with his money,
  4. He can buy more stuff with that money,
  5. He has money,
  6. He will have more money,
  7. The time it took you to read this list has seen him make even more money,
  8. This is a random number on the list because money.

In Lebanon, one may be starving but one would never ever dare show it. One must always buy the fanciest of clothes, go to the most expensive clubs and pretend that life is nothing but instagram-rich-perfect 24/7. Then you go home and decide water is enough for dinner (Evian if with friends, tap if at home alone). Or when you’ve barely made it through your bachelor degree but call yourself a doctor anyway.

A Final Word:

America, 42% is a lot. Wake up.

Lebanon, this doesn’t apply to every one of us, but many have such traits let’s not beat around the bush, as do most of our politicians. Let’s get rid of them like America will (hopefully) get rid of our export to them?

What Beirut’s Election Results Tell: Lebanon Can Hope For Change

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

This post was written with Ramez Dagher from Moulahazat

As promised earlier, this is the more detailed look at how Beirut voted, beyond the surprisingly great outing of the civil movement Beirut Madinati’s list, which even though it didn’t get actual seats, still has plenty to celebrate.

It is important to note that in the most optimistic of cases, the chances for any list other than the list of the political parties to win was next to zero. No this isn’t retrospective analysis. 

Despite the context of the trash crisis, rising corruption, overall voter discontentment, parliament extending its mandate twice, etc… the math of the Beirut electoral equation was never in favor of any non-political movement: the division of districts, the system, demographics, the sectarian propaganda – The Bierteh list had tried to attract voters – especially Christian ones – by proposing a 50-50 Christian/Muslim list, although Beirut Madinati had also kept the same quota.

So no, the cards were not the best that could be given for Beirut Madinati, or any other movement for that matter, simply because those cards were being played on a table that served only one side: the political establishment.

As a result of all of the above, the loudest of voters on Sunday was the low turnout.

20% Voted:

This is not a historically low number. In 2010, 18% of Beirutis voted. Beirutis simply do not vote in Municipal elections, and only do so at slightly higher numbers in parliamentary ones: 33% in 2009.

This is due to many factors. Voter learned helplessness is an important one, but so is the feel that there really isn’t a contest to begin with further increasing the sense of voter apathy. 

33% voted in 1998, the first election since the Civil War, and the lower turnout since should be enough to tell you how much people lost faith.

Many partisan voters were also not willing to vote for the “zayy ma hiye” list but did not want to break lines.

Achrafieh El Bidayi:

Beirut Madinati won the Beirut 1 district with around 60% of the vote, a blow to the rallying calls of Christian parties in the area for their supporters to vote for the Bierti’s list. The 60% figure is not only exclusive to the mostly-Christian Beirut 1, but is also applicable to the Christian vote in the rest of Beirut.

This doesn’t mean the weight of the LF and FPM combined is 40%. Many LF and FPM leaning voters voted for Beirut Madinati more against Hariri, but it sets the precedence that politically affiliated people can go beyond their affiliations and vote in a way that breaks what they were instructed to do.

Boycotts from the bases of the FPM, LF, and Kataeb were also there on election day, as a sign of disagreement with the recent choices of their parties: The FPM electorate isn’t a fan of Hariri; the LF base isn’t a fan of an alliance with the FPM, and the Kataeb aren’t fans of anything.

This lack of enthusiasm was probably one of the causes of the lower turnout in Christian polling stations.

The context of such a vote, however, is probably not sectarian as is circulating. Achrafieh is one of Beirut’s higher socioeconomic areas, with higher income and education rates. You’ll probably see a similar phenomenon in the higher socio-economic districts of Beirut III. Those residents are more likely to vote for issues such as reform, transportation and trash sorting. Those are also the voters that are the less afraid of change.

Many if not all of Lebanon’s parties count on clientelism to widen their electoral base. In higher socio-economic echelons, the reliance of the electorate on the mainstream parties is less.  Those voters don’t need their political parties in the neo-socialist way that most parties in Lebanon function. In Achrafieh, for example, the LF and FPM do not provide medical services, free education, job opportunities for Achrafieh voters as much as other parties in other districts, so throughout the years, the electorate managed to develop an independence from traditional Christian parties.

The Example Of Tariq El Jdide: Anyone Can Be Reached

Sectarian talk is terrible, but is a necessary evil until the political system is not one where people go and vote in segregation based on how they pray. If you crunch Beirut’s numbers, you will end up with a rough figure of around 30% of the Sunni vote not going to Hariri.

This is probably as important, if not more, than BM winning 60% of the vote in Beirut 1.

I don’t believe we can call this a dissent from the Future Movement yet, but it is a continuation of the gradual and progressive Sunni dislike of the way Saad Hariri is running things, even with his rise of popularity after his return.

The reason the Future Movement won is not because voters are “sheep.” It’s because the Future Movement, through various governmental policies, has forced the people of many Sunni areas to always remain in need for their intervention to get the basic necessities that should be a right for every Lebanese citizen, which many in other areas have access to without needing their political parties: do not cut the hand that feeds you.

The political framework of the elections is important. They come at a time when Sunnis in Lebanon feel increasingly threatened by being categorized as potential-Islamists, to the background of a party in power fighting for a regime they do not approve of in Syria.

The need to not break rank was never greater. They may not approve of Hariri, but this was not the time to show it, and yet 30% did. The situation in the country is not one where sects have the prerogative to show cracks in their facade, or have we forgotten how Christians have also forced a seemingly unbreakable veneer over the past few months as well?

All of this makes the 30% figure of Sunnis who did not vote for Hariri all the more impressive and courageous. It’s the kind of percentage that breaks taboos.

Moving Forward:

The election’s overall results are telling. In Beirut I, the LF representative Elie Yahchouchi and the FPM’s Traboulsi lead their allies in the FM by around 800 votes (of around 6500 the list got). In Beirut II, with its important Shia and Armenian electorate, almost all of the winning candidates from LB are in the 9000 votes region. One candidate however, Amal’s representative, stands out as having 10000 votes. In the third district, Yahchouchi and Traboulsi are 5000 votes behind the FM’s candidates.

The difference between the first and the last of list is around 8000 votes for LB, and 3000 votes for BM. In other words, most of those who voted BM did not make major changes to their lists (“tochtib”) and were convinced with almost all of BM’s candidates, while the base of every single party in power was modifying the names.

That is the biggest proof that the ruling coalition is unstable, and that in 2017, even a minor split between the parties in power can lower that 60% and give way to an independent breakthrough. Check the results here.

But now is time to look ahead.

Our voting process needs to be modernized. 36 hours to go through Beirut’s voting results is a disgrace. There are no excuses.

The rhetoric we need to adopt should never call those who do not vote the way we want sheep or other varieties of animals. It is demeaning, and not any different than the system we want to change. Such horrific name-calling only alienates voters from your platform. The core of democracy is one where many will not vote the way you find is best.

Our rhetoric should also be more inclusive, and less elitist. Our bubble in which we believe our paradigm of Lebanese politics is scripture is exclusive to the people that are reached by our message, but the bulk of voters exist outside of that bubble. We need to be aware that what we know and believe is true doesn’t translate to others and work on reforming our message to make it holistic.

This means that calls to divide Beirut into smaller districts just because Achrafieh voted one way and Tariq el Jdide voted another are horrifyingly xenophobic. Beirut is a city that is 18 km2 with 500,000 voters only. It is too small to be divided. We need policies to bring people together, not segregate them into separate cantons.

Accomplishing so starts by championing policies to better the conditions of all Beirutis, especially those that exist in impoverished areas. Beirut Madinati did not, for instance, campaign as much as it should have in Tariq el Jdide.

Political parties in the country keep people at bay by keeping them afraid and hungry. Keep them as such, and they remain at their mercy. The first step in breaking this political hegemony is to make them need their political parties less: advocate for better schools, better and more comprehensive healthcare, fight economic inflation, raise the minimum wage, adopt a better taxing scheme, etc…

Such measures, however, cannot be done by simply complaining on Facebook. Modernizing our elections isn’t only about getting electronic voting machines, but also about having an electoral law that is fitting of the year 2016. The only law that can work to represent all different sections of Lebanon’s society is a law based on proportional representation. If such a law were adopted, for example, Beirut Madinati would have obtained 9 seats out of the available 24 on Sunday.

Proportional representation, as proposed during a cabinet meeting in 2010 tackling the municipal electoral law, is one of many reforms, such as electing the mayor directly from the people, and a 30% women quota, that are napping in parliament. The establishment is making it harder, but that shouldn’t mean that pressure should stop.

We also need to realize that, despite disagreeing with them, political parties are not going away. If we are to leave a mark, we have to find a framework in which we organize into a party that can compete better in elections, in politics and do so in unity: one of our biggest failings in this election was having like-minded people run on two different lists.

Today, we should be cautiously optimistic at what the future holds. Change in Lebanon is not a sudden process. It’s a tedious affair that needs planning over many years. Start planning for 2017’s parliamentary elections today and 2022’s municipal elections yesterday. Do not despair, and most importantly, always challenge the status quo regardless of how comfortable you are in it.

 

CNN Compares Donald Trump & US Republican Presidential Nominees To Lebanese Politicians

In a recent feature on CNN, while discussing the GOP field, a reporter compared the bickering taking place between the four GOP nominees in their debates to that which takes place between Lebanese politicians, while featuring that infamous clip of live chair fighting on MTV.

For reference, the bickering between US GOP nominees was basically about the following topics:

  • Donald Trump’s hand size and consequentially his penis,
  • The extent to which Islam hates America,
  • A wide array of racist remarks against Arabs, Latinos and African American,
  • Calling each other names such as “Little Marco,”
  • Accusing each other of vote rigging,
  • Fighting on who loves Jesus and God more, repeating “to god be the glory” so many times without anyone noticing that’s literally English for “Allahu Akbar,”
  • And, in broader terms, how to make America great again by making America more paranoid, less inclusive and much more xenophobic.

Dear American voters, if you want to know how horrible of a field of candidates you have vying for the top office in your country, know that having them compared to Lebanese politicians should be a wake up call to you, because that must be the highest incompetence honor never to wish upon anyone.

Trust me on this, we have one of the most dysfunctional governing systems in the world and you don’t want that. Our politicians have gotten our country to drown in garbage for over 8 months now with no resolution in sight. Our politicians have failed to elect a president for almost two years no, with no resolution in sight either. Our politicians have taken our constitutional right to vote two times so far, with no near election in sight. Our politicians have failed to manage almost every single national crisis that has plagued this country.

So congrats to you, my dear Americans, for managing to get, in 2016, candidates that are straight out of 1943.

And congrats to our politicians who have become so disgraceful that they’re now a point of comparison to a horrific array of American presidential hopefuls, the most prominent of whom is getting the entire world and many Americans to panic about how inevitable he seems to be. But hey, at least those Republicans haven’t thrown chairs at each other… yet.