Lebanon Protests: It’s Too Late To Believe Any of These Politicians’ Promises

(Picture via Anis Tabet).

Nata2 badri, as my mom would say.

72 hours have come and gone. Aoun, Berri and Hariri have finally come out of their weekend long slumber to unveil their country saving plan… and they think we’re actually going to believe them this time.

The plan that Hariri unveiled today is offensive to every single Lebanese who had to suffer through their corruption for years. This so-called plan is an insult to the intelligence of the millions who have been starved over the years, and who were protesting in the streets over the last 4 days.

It’s ridiculous that it took millions of us protesting across the world for them to *finally* succumb and cut down on their salaries, on their benefits, on long standing black holes that siphoned public funds into their pockets.

What Hariri and the rest of Lebanon’s ruling class believe is that they can continue to fool people with the same empty promises they’ve given for years. If it was *this* easy for them to enact these changes, why hadn’t they enacted them months ago when they were scrambling to come up with a budget for a country that functioned without one for decades?

It’s because they’ve taken our silence for granted. It’s because they assumed they can do whatever they wanted to this people and get away with it. But that stops now.

No Mr. Hariri, your empty promises don’t fly here. Just look at workers at Future TV and Saudi Ogeh were promised for years, none of which was ever fulfilled.

No, these empty reforms don’t address the root of the problem which is that these same politicians who have failed to reform anything for decades cannot suddenly see the light and decide to enact much needed change.

No, switching one way for these politicians to steal money to programs called Elinor and Elissar is not reform. This is just another name for theft.

It’s too little too late for empty statements masquerading under the guise of change to be effective. We should be better than to believe such empty words.

I really hope that years of lies are enough to have us believe that more lies can never be truths.

Stay tuned, Lebanon. The revolution continues.

The Weekend When Tripoli Was The Icon of Lebanon’s Protests

I’ve been writing about Tripoli so frequently on this blog, not only because I loved that city, but because the preconceptions that many Lebanese had of it – mostly out of biased media whose job was to alienate fellow Lebanese from the Northern capital.

Those preconceptions varied from “tripoli is where ISIS is” to “there’s nothing to do there anyway.” Many Lebanese that I know have started their third decade of life without having visited the city.

As Lebanon ends its third consecutive day of massive protests, the like of which the country has never seen, one thing is abundantly clear, regardless of what amounts from the revolution: Tripoli has finally gotten its chance to show its true color to everyone, and it did so out of the sheer will of its own people.

From its world famous Fayha Choir singing a cappella, to Marcel Khalifeh going to this city to sing at a protest, to them turning the infamous “se7et l nour” to not one, but TWO full blown raves, to thousands of them singing the national anthem at the top of their lungs, to their world famous sweets maker Hallab giving away 10,000 knefes, to its people baking manakeesh for the protesters for free. Tripoli was the highlight of Lebanon’s protests as it tore down stereotype after stereotype that was thrown at it for years.

Each of those moments was so fantastic to behold there isn’t a person I know who wasn’t taken aback by them. But I was not surprised, nor were the people who knew what this city was capable of.

Think about how gigantic a step it is for a DJ to be blasting techno music from a rooftop into a square that has been associated with Islamists for years, as thousands of people bopped their heads and threw their hands up for life.

Think about how enormous of a step it is for this city who has been taken for granted by the countless politicians that have claimed it to tell every single one of them to fuck off.

This northern city is representative of the Lebanese spirit like nothing else. It’s been brought down so many times. It hasn’t even been a decade since it had a war that few outside of the North cared about. It suffered through years and years of harmful propaganda – sometime by the same media of current ruling parties… and still it rises.

From the middle of New York, to all those in Tripoli who showed the city in the best light possible, you’re all amazing. Thank you.

Lebanon Burned. And Now It May Rise

My heart broke two days ago when I saw my home country burn, quite literally, in front of our eyes. As firefighters and regular people alike risked their lives to save our forests and homes from turning to ashes, it seemed fitting that a country whose course was scorching earth culminated that way.

The fire was literal and figurative. The trees burned, but so did people’s savings. The shrubs erupted, but so did people’s patience. Homes burned, and so did the fragile foundation on which the semblance of the Lebanese state remained.

As the government botched yet another aspect of its job towards its citizens, as people died trying to save each other from the fire while our politicians watched, it felt like we were turning into the ashes from which the Phoenix that this country has been likened to can finally be reborn.

They raised taxes. We took it in.

They didn’t collect garbage. We took it in.

They didn’t provide security and didn’t protect our currency. We took it in.

They didn’t provide for our children and elderly. They broke our social fabric. We took it in.

They cultivated divide and hatred. We swallowed it in.

They turned us into expats. They killed us. We took it in.

And then we rise.

You can call it the WhatsApp revolution. You can call it what you want to. But whatever the name may be, what is happening across Lebanon today is exactly why a part of me will love that country.

It’s that moment where enough became enough. When the raised taxes, the higher fuel prices, the lack of electricity and water and decent internet, the lack of security, the depreciation of citizenry all culminated in what may be lebanon – finally – rising.

It’s that split second in which thousands of my people can gather on the streets to cry for their rights.

It’s that kick that that feisty Lebanese woman can deliver to an armed officer threatening her.

It’s that middle finger that a protester gives to a politician who has taken his support for granted.

It’s that anger at years during which those very politicians have turned living in Lebanon into an actual hell.

It’s the years in which they failed to provide what constitutes the essentials of basic human decency.

It’s that Sunni in tripoli who is finally tired of Hariri.

It’s that Shia in Nabatieh who tore down the picture of Nabih Berri. It’s that Christian in Mount Lebanon who finally told Gebran Bassil to shove it.

Those chants in the streets, the party flags torn up, the politician pictures burned down could all point to a new dawn for a country who has been needing daylight for so long.

Yes I am wary. I had hope when I still lived in Lebanon and we protested the garbage crisis. I had hope even before then when I was a teenager and part of the millions who took it to martyr’s square on March 14th. But my Lebanese experience has trained me not to get my hopes up sometimes. Yet this time seems different.

There’s another air to how the protests are. This is the first time we’ve seen this level of anger and angst, perpetuating across the political and sectarian spectrum, uniting people I’d never thought could be united.

This is the first time their attempts at attacking the validity of the protests has completely failed, and conversely fueled their legitimacy.

Today, I have hope for my country. I’ve never had this much hope since I was 15 years old, on March 14th. I have hope that finally Lebanon may rise, and become the country we deserve to have.

To all of those in the streets fighting for everyone’s rights, you are heroes. Thank you for the good fight, we are humbled by your bravery.

In the 3ahd of Business Deals: Money Can Get You A Lebanese Citizenship, But A Lebanese Mother Can’t

Can you hear that? The sound of every supporter to the current ruling Party in the country scrambling to find every excuse under the sun to justify the latest naturalization law that was passed by their president? It reeks of principles, I’d say.

A couple of days ago, news of a naturalization decree signed by the president surfaced. The decree gave 350+ people the Lebanese nationality. Many of those people happen to be Arab businessmen. A few of those who were given the Lebanese nationality belong to the Maronite Diaspora attempt at reclaiming it for those of Lebanese origins.

The backlash has been swift. As have been the abhorrent defense of the decree by blind supporters of the political parties that brokered it. It even got to the point of an OTV reporter saying that the Lebanese nationality isn’t “that important” so we shouldn’t care.

In a way, she’s right. We have one of the world’s worst passports, worst economies, highest corruption rates, and horrid policies. I would know, I’ve been an emigrant from that country for nearly a year now and I can feel – day by day – how lacking my country is in every facet that I appreciate in being away. But that’s not the point.

The point is that our nationality should not be a mere business deal, given to whoever pays most money. It should not be a back room deal coming right at the heel of parliamentary elections, and it should definitely not be an article 49 in disguise, essentially bypassing Lebanon’s Supreme Court annulling such a decree from our national budget.

What makes this decree even worse is the fact that it has not been published anywhere, it’s the fact that piecing together the names of those who have been given the Lebanese nationality is essentially a puzzle, and that requests to get the full decree from the president’s office are finding deaf ears. If they have nothing to hide, then why are they working so hard at hiding it?

Some of the names that have been naturalized, according to Facebook posts circulating around, are entities that have been essential to the Syrian regime over the years.

Yes, there should be a path to citizenship for non-Lebanese. It is silly that the only way people can become citizens in this country is for a president to decide to make them so, or for them to be married to a Lebanese man or have a Lebanese father. There should be a way for a people who contributed to Lebanese society in a substantial way to be granted to have a way to become more integral parts of this society.

What this new decree does is further solidify the injustice that is ingrained in Lebanese society when it comes to the very foundation of it.

Any person born to a Lebanese mother can’t become Lebanese, but a Syrian nationalist that is loved by some politician can. My cousin’s children, for example, can never become Lebanese even though their mother is, just because their father is American. Our country shows us once again that money trumps our women.

In a time when the mere thought of a Lebanese woman becoming equal in passing her nationality as a Lebanese man is met with racism, sectarianism, and endless backlash from the ruling class, we show our women again and again that they don’t matter.

Furthermore, a person born and raised all their life in Lebanon to non-Lebanese parents can never become a citizen. But a business man from Jordan who needs the citizenship for possibly some financial purposes can. But yes, it’s all fairness and unicorns and happy thoughts.

It’s not about demographics. It doesn’t even matter how many of those naturalized are Christians, that is not the point. 400 people won’t cause a population change. But it’s the principle behind laws that are passed in the dead of the night, without appropriate scrutiny, revision, and assessment.

I hope the MPs and politicians that are against such a decree work on at least trying to block it. I’m looking at you Lebanese Forces and Kataeb blocs – you have enough MPs now (or at least one of you does) to do so.

Hezbollah’s Culture of Death Attacks Nadine Labaki’s Triumph at Cannes

You would think that a Lebanese director becoming the first Lebanese and Arab female director to win big at Cannes would be a cause for celebration.

You would think that Nadine Labaki’s important win at Cannes for her newest movie Capharnaüm would be a cause of pride in all Lebanese, regardless of who they are and where they come from.

You would think the above two statements would be a given any day, in any country, but in the country of Hezbollah, the pride and celebration of other people in the country are entities they are not okay with.

It all started yesterday when Manar Sabbagh, an Al Manar reporter, tweeted the following:

Her tweet, calling Lebanese people celebrating Nadine Labaki’s win “the sons of Phoenicia,” ridiculing them and belittling them in the process, telling them that there’s no reason to be proud of Nadine Labaki’s accomplishment because of the superiority of the deaths of Hezbollah militants in Syria.

The opium of the resistance is pretty high in this one, it seems. How the hell does a movie about mistreated children, child brides, illegal workers and a Lebanese director winning at Cannes somehow turn into an existential crisis for Hezbollah members who are so pressed about the populace not being eternally at their ass adorning them with kisses? Einstein needs to be resurrected to figure it out, I bet.

Not only is Nadine Labaki’s latest movie devoid of Israeli influences, references, anything that is related to that entity that must not be named, but her entire win at Cannes literally has nothing to do with anything that Hezbollah pertains to. And yet here we are. In this culture of death that they are entrenching the country in, the space that they are leaving for people who want to celebrate such moments – few as they are – is becoming as narrow as possible.

Alas, it doesn’t end there.

Today, Hezbollah deputy Nawaf el Moussawi decided to pitch in as well:

With a play on words, he says that when the going gets tough, the only thing that protects us is our weapons, and by “our” he means the weapons of his party, the same weapons that were – at many points in the past 10 years – used against the very same Lebanese citizens they said they wanted to protect, and those weapons that were taken to war in Syria, to protect a tyrant who killed and decimated Lebanese people over thirty years of his and his father’s rule over our country, to “protect” us from groups that are best friends with that tyrant.

No, I am not thankful for that, nor am I grateful.

Today, this culture of death and treason that is being perpetuated by entities like Manar Sabbagh and Nawaf el Moussawi is a cancer plaguing Lebanese society, bolstered by the fact that few are willing to tell them enough is enough, and supported by hundreds of thousands of their militants who when told go, they go.

This culture of death, where a Lebanese director is ridiculed, her achievements miniaturized, where those celebrating her are described in condescending terms, is a slippery slope until these people turn the country – and they are well underway – into a country that only resembles them.

This culture of death sees an insult in a director telling the story of a Syrian refugee that was rendered as such by the very same regime they’re fighting for. It sees in art an affront to the limitations they believe are enough for everyone. It sees in their own perception of what matters as the only marker for everyone else to judge and be judged. Hell no.

Today, it is more important than ever to stand up to the rhetoric that is propagated by the likes of Manar Sabbag and Nawaf el Moussawi. The two visions we want for our country cannot be more at odds.

We want art, cinema, achievements, celebrations of humane causes, highlighting of human struggles, attempts to advance our country forward, not bring it back to whatever the Ayatollah expects.

Nadine Labaki, we are proud of you and of what you have done.

No, Gebran Bassil, Ne7na Meghterbin

Gebran Bassil – our esteemed minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigrants – wants to change the name of the ministry he is heading from that dealing with Immigrant affairs, to – what I would assume translates as: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora. In Arabic, the change goes from Meghterbin to Mountashirin.

The change, it seems, is Bassil’s attempt – in his ever lasting effort to gain a parliament seat in my home district (which he will get with this freak of an electoral law they’ve come up with) – to indicate to us, Lebanon’s immigrants at large, that our identity is Lebanese.

As if we have forgotten.

We may have left the country, dear sir, but the attempt to wash away the very hard decision of us deciding to pack up everything and leave will not be accepted. The mere fact that you think I need to be reminded of my Lebanese identity is insulting.

I have not forgotten that I have not seen my parents in months. I have not forgotten that I couldn’t be next to my grandfather as he drew his dying breath. I have not forgotten that I am missing out on Celine and Yasmina growing up. I have not forgotten that I have not seen my best friends and have not been in their lives for almost a year.

I have not forgotten that I will be missing out on Celine and Simon’s baptisms. I have not forgotten that I haven’t hugged my grandmothers in what feels like an eternity. I have not forgotten that I haven’t seen my brothers in months either.

And yet, here we are.

What makes me Lebanese is them. It’s what I’ve left behind and I remember every single day of being ten thousand miles away, as I get glimpses of what I’ve left behind over WhatsApp voice messages.

No, you do not get to sugar coat me being away from home.

I have also not forgotten the country you and your friends made me leave. In the time I’ve been here, America has offered me more – and I’m not even their citizen – than what my own government has in over twenty seven years of being its citizen.

America has offered me well-paved roads. You haven’t.

America has offered me a well-paying job. You haven’t.

America has offered me fast internet, water that doesn’t die off on me, electricity that I can rely on, gas that doesn’t break the bank to buy, accessibility that cannot be replaced, and prosperity that cannot be priced.

America has offered me a place in which I can build my own home, without worrying about tomorrow might bring. You haven’t.

What have you offered?

You’ve offered a country where everyone has a militia, where you don’t succeed based on your qualifications but based on who you know, where half of people my age are struggling to find a job, where corruption is our modus operandi, where the most basic of human requirements are not provided to me.

But please, do remind me that I’m Lebanese. Remind me of how I can’t go on vacation anywhere without needing two hundred and fifty different pieces of paper to have them consider me for a visa. Remind me of how you and your friends have turned the country’s reputation into a shithole. Remind me of all that baggage that I’ve willingly left behind – just because you need my vote, I suppose.

You think we wanted to leave. No one wants to leave their home, and everything that they’ve known their whole life. But you’ve made me do so.

I have not forgotten why I left. I thank the heavens each day that I took that decision. And it won’t really matter what you name your little useless ministry, at least for me.

Come April 29th, Lebanon’s voting immigrants – please choose wisely. And on May 6th, I hope the Lebanese populace back home remembers that their sons and daughters are immigrating for a reason.

A Record 111 Women Are Running For Parliament in Lebanon’s 2018 Elections

As Lebanon’s 2018 elections go on in full swing, a total of 976 candidates have presented to the Ministry of Interior affairs as of the deadline at midnight on March 6th. Of those, 111 candidates are women.

There are two ways to look at this. 111 candidates being women is essentially only 11.37% of the total number of candidates. Yes, the percentage may be dreary, but back in 2009 – the last time we actually had parliamentary elections – only 15 women had run, from a field of over 702 candidates. That’s nearly 2%, an abomination by all measures.

So instead of saying that 111 candidates being women is not good enough, I choose to celebrate the milestone of having that many women run. It’s the highest number since El-Taef agreement, and will only be just a stepping stone for future elections to come.

This year’s elections has the highest number of candidates ever recorded. The previous record was 702, in 2009. There were 484 candidates in 2005, 545 in 2000, 599 in 1996 and 408 in 1992, the first election after the Taef agreement. Prior to the Lebanese civil war, with less seats in parliament, the most candidates that had run was 366 in 1972.

The reason these elections have had a higher influx of candidates in general is the new election law at hand: it allows more representation to entities of the electorate that had been diluted away previously. Even Lebanon’s political parties are fielding candidates in districts that they had not been competitive in. For instance, the Lebanese Forces and FPM have candidates in the deep south and the Beqaa-Hermel districts. More importantly, however, a good chunk of those candidates are people from Lebanon’s civil society who had fought tooth and nail over the past few years against the limitless corruption of those in power.

Interestingly enough, a quarter of Lebanon’s current parliament members are not running for re-election. The most notable of those is probably former prime minister Fouad Sanioura, who held the Sunni seat in Saida since 2009. Many simply didn’t stand a chance at defeating a challenge in the shuffling of proportional representation.

While 111 women running for parliament is an achievement in itself, it shows – yet again – that Lebanon’s political parties have failed in further strengthening the political might of this core demographic in the Lebanese population. Remember the days when they were talking about women quotas? Even their most conservative of quotas is higher than the number of women candidates that are running, and definitely higher than the ones they will have on their list.

For a full list of the candidates, click here.

It’s up to us, therefore, to make sure we have as many new and fresh faces in parliament as possible. As an expat in the United States, I will vote on April 29th. My district – Batroun – has the least number of candidates running in the entire country: only 10 candidates are running for 2 Maronite seats. Of those 10 candidates, a phenomenal journalist, lawyer, and friend named Layal Bou Moussa is hoping to make a dent in the Lebanese political sphere.

It is without hesitation, therefore, that I say my preferential vote will be going to her this year. She has proven over and over again to be a loud voice for all the oppressed. As a reporter for New TV, she’s exposed corruption of those in power. It’s time we give her a chance, every one else in my district has been in power in one way or the other since at least 2005. Enough is enough. On April 29th, I’m with her.

There’s a lot to say about the chance that people from Lebanon’s civil society have to get to parliament. But if we all belittle their chances and either not vote or vote for political parties instead, then we’ll be falling into the same rabbit hole we’re never going to get out of. It’s worse when there are accomplished candidates running in our districts that need our votes.

Other notable female candidates running are:

  • Paula Yaacoubian for the Armenian seat in Beirut’s 1st district,
  • Joumana Haddad for the Minorities seat in Beirut’s 1st district,
  • Jessica Azar – MTV journalist – for the Greek Orthodox seat in Metn,
  • Sethrida Geagea for the Maronite seat in Becharre,
  • Gilberte Zouein running for the Maronite seat in Keserwan,
  • Maya Terro running for the Sunni seat in Chouf,
  • Sandrella Merhej running for the Maronite seat in Baalbek,
  • Lina Mokhayber running for the Greek Orthodox seat in Metn,
  • Raghida Dargham running for the Druze seat in Beirut’s second district,
  • Michelle Tuein running for the Greek Orthodox seat in Beirut’s first district, among others.

How many of those candidates will end up in parliament is yet to be determined, but the mere fact that since the last time we’ve held parliamentary elections, the number of Lebanese women willing to throw in their hat into the figurative political scene has grown by more than 700% is telling. Maybe this time, we can actually get more than 4 women out of 128 members of parliament.

The next deadline in the election process is to submit lists. Candidates cannot run on their own anymore, and as such they need to be part of bigger lists that are running candidates to their district. This is because the new electoral law adopts proportional representation, which will make voting not as simple. The following is a neat video by the Lebanese Forces about how the law work. Yes, it’s a political party’s video, but no it’s not partisan in its information: