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.

Lebanon’s Is The 8th Worst Country In The World For Women Rights

Earlier today, Lebanese minister of internal affairs Nouhad el Machnouk gave an impassioned speech celebrating International Women’s Day in which he proclaimed Lebanese women are not that far behind compared to their male counterpart in the country, something that no other country in the region has achieved. In coming to that conclusion, Machnouk was in part reliant on the fact that Lebanese women were named among the world’s sexiest.

Congrats Lebanese ladies, your value is now directly correlated to your rack and how tight-clad your skirts are. Cue in the applause.

I’m sure this comes as no surprise for a governing body that is as disenchanted and disenfranchised from the population it’s governing as Lebanon’s governments, both current and past. The garbage on our streets is proof enough for that. 

The thing about Lebanon, however, is that it is the center of multiple international studies, as are most countries around the world, especially when it comes to the gender gap and women rights. Among those international studies is one carried out by the World Economic Forum, which was published in mid November 2015. 

That study’s findings can be summarized in the following infographic by LA Times’ Priya Krishnakumar:

Gender Gap worldwide

This puts us on a shameful list of countries where the gender gap is so severe that the term second sex does not delineate an other-hood but rather inferiority. We are 8th in the worst countries in the world when it comes to equality between men and women, adding it to another worst-of-list for us to be “proud” of.

Happy international women’s day my fellow Lebanese.

Our women can’t pass on our beautiful citizenship to their children, but what matters is that they can wear whatever they want (if their male family members deem it appropriate).

Our women have single-digit representation in a triple-digits parliament, but what matters is that one of those representatives is stunning (and would make a healthy argument to being on that sexiest countries list).

Our women’s wages are always inferior to their male counterparts in the country, but what matters is that those men have no problem spending the money on those women (because financial independence is so passé).

Our women’s participation in the workforce is inferior to their male counterparts in the country, but what matters certainly is those women’s job as housewives, bringing up generations (of children whose girls grow up to be just like their mothers and whose boys grow up just like their fathers).

Our women can get beaten to death legally at the hand of their spouse with no legal protection against that domestic abuse, but what matters is obviously for that man to remain the dominant figure in that household, his word never repeated twice.

Faced with such a reality, some of us Lebanese will look at that list and say: but Saudi Arabia isn’t there. Women can’t even drive there. Yes, because looking up to Saudi Arabia is obviously the best way for our society to move forward. There’s more to women rights than getting behind the wheel of a car.

If our governing bodies think that the entirety of Lebanese women is summarized by the touristy reports they see about Mar Mkhayel on a Saturday night, it’s our duty as Lebanese to be aware that our country extends beyond its party streets.

I hope Lebanon ends up on the other part of that infographic one day. Such a drift will not happen if we don’t all contribute to putting our women forward. These upcoming municipal elections, encourage your mothers and sisters to run. Encourage all our women who are so excellent at what they do to propagate their excellence onto a bigger medium. Mentalities need to change, and that is the best way to do so.

Until then, less Nouhad el Machnouk empty propaganda, and more reality please. Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.

Congrats Lebanon, We Have The World’s 9th Worst Passport

Oh so close. We almost dropped out of the top ten this year, but no such luck.

After all the hassle secondary to our General Security deciding out of the blue that a good bunch of the country’s passport would no longer be functional, it’s safe to say that apart from that useless bureaucracy, very minimal improvement has occurred to the state of our travel document over the past year. After all, how could it given that the only semblance of governance we get is when Saudi Arabia is upset at us?

Henley & Partners, the world’s leading Citizenship research consultancy firm, published their yearly report about passport strengths – the same one that gets us upset every year – and we’re at #96 when it comes to the worst passports of the world, in a list that tops at #104 with Afghanistan. We share the #96 spot, which translates to the 9th worst passport in the world with Bangladesh, Congo and Sri Lanka.

The bottom 10 is as follows:

  1. Afghanistan,
  2. Pakistan,
  3. Iraq,
  4. Somalia,
  5. Syria,
  6. Libya,
  7. Sudan, Palestine, Nepal, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran,
  8. Kosovo, South Sudan, Yemen,
  9. Bangladesh, Congo, Lebanon, Sri Lanka,
  10. Burundi, North Korea, Myanmar.

Meanwhile, a slew of European and American countries top the list with passports that give them access to more 170 countries visa-free. We are allowed access to 39.

The highest ranking Arab country is the UAE at #38 with a passport that grants them visa-free entry to 122 countries. The highest ranking regional country, however, is Cyprus at #17 with 159 visa-free country, bolstered by the fact it’s in the European Union. Our enemy to the South, meanwhile, comes in at #25 with around 147 countries its citizens can enter without a hassle.

The situation is not that bleak, however, because our passport rank has actually gone up from last year, mostly because a bunch of countries fell below us such as Syria, South Sudan and Iraq:

Lebanon Passport

We have, however, gained two more visa-free countries to travel to in the past year, up to 39.

There’s nothing more indicative about how being born somewhere is detrimental to your “worth” as a person as the hierarchy behind passports, a yearly reminder that if you happen to come from a place that is not Europe, not America, and not completely in the good graces of either of those two entities, your worth is inherently lower.

But that’s not the full explanation behind how low our passport and citizenship ranks. This rank is a reflection of the unstable political situation in a country that hasn’t had a president in almost two years and doesn’t seem like it will have one anytime soon, hasn’t managed to vote for a parliament in over 1000 days, has garbage piling up on its streets, has one of the most incompetent ruling classes to exist, has a militia roaming its lands with the ability to shake the country up at will (as in protests because of a caricature on a TV show).

Look at the UAE. A few years ago, they had only access to 64 countries without visas. In 2016, their citizens can visit double that number. Why so? Because their ruling class – new-age dictators and whatnot – have a clear vision for a future that enables their citizens to be the best version of themselves (within the limited freedom confines offered of course). We can make fun all we want of how fake Dubai is, of how silly it is to have a “Happiness” minister, but the fact remains that not only are Emiratis leagues above us now, they are also in an upward trajectory while we slumber in our lower ranks content that we have real snow and not a fake slope built inside a Dubai mall.

United Arab Emirates Passport

What can we do to fix this?

We need to be more aware citizens. We can’t bury our heads in the glories of days past and pretend that is a representation of our present. When the time comes to vote, we shouldn’t go back to what we know thinking it’s what we need – we need to see that there are alternatives to the parties that have been ruining our lives for years. As long as our politicians keep getting a blank space from us to do whatever they want, they’ll be content with keeping a status quo that enables them and disables us, including a passport that forces everyone to stay put – unless they were lucky enough to have a second one on the side to use at will.

 

When Lebanon’s Trash Becomes International, But We Are Too Busy Kissing Saudi Arabia’s Ass

Don’t call it brain dead.

Congrats Lebanon, we have made the international news cycle once more, the first time this year and hopefully the first of many.

No, it wasn’t about that viral Facebook fake-pictures-filled post proclaiming the beauty of God’s gift to Earth. I can hear your hearts break all the way here.

What made us international is actually old news to us. It’s so old in fact that not only does nobody care anymore, but the hype surrounding the issue has disappeared with each vanishing garbage bag stashed away in one of Lebanon’s valleys or on random roads, snaking around curves like white rancid rivers. Out of sight, out of mind – Lebanon style.


There is a bright side to the ordeal, however. Even our garbage bags look nice. They’re white, snow-like, built into winding rivers or towering pyramids.

Say hi to Buzzfeed.

Say thank you to CNN.

Wait for the upcoming onslaught from other outlets as well in the next few days. We are making it big. Aren’t we all proud?

Except, of course, this is *obviously* not the image of the country:

img_2545

I mean it’s always someone else’s fault, never ours collectively.

Putting lipstick on a dead pig level: Lebanon.

Is anything happening regarding the garbage crisis? Not really. Our government is busy doing other things, or just one thing to be exact: kiss Saudi Arabia’s ass like no country has missed another country’s ass before.

This past week, our government convened for SEVEN straight hours to discuss one item on their agenda: how to formulate a paragraph to please Saudi Arabia in order not to face their wrath manifesting in them not giving us money anymore, beggars-style.

I don’t think our government has convened for a total of 7 hours discussing the garbage crisis, or any other Lebanese crisis for that matter, over the last several months.

Live Love Saudi Arabia.

This past week, Saad Hariri decided to launch a petition across the country in order to show Saudi Arabia that Lebanon loved it so, akin to our country giving them a big fat political blowjob.

No politician cared enough to act about the garbage crisis, or any other crisis, since it started. Have we ever had a “Loyalty to Lebanon” petition circle around the country before?

Live Love Saudi Arabia.

This past week, minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi quit to protest the Lebanese stance towards Saudi Arabia’s recent embassy attack, first and foremost, and to a lesser extent protest the handling of Michel Samaha’s case. It took their reference country being seemingly offended for some ministers to resign.
Months after the garbage piled up on our streets, months after protests of hundreds of thousands… No other minister resigned or was even fazed by the notion of needing to resign.
This past week, Lebanese politicians of all kinds of kinds had something to say about Saudi Arabia. Even those that opposed KSA politically were at loss about what to do.
This amount of political maneuvering has not occurred not only with the garbage crisis, but with out presidential vacuum issue as well.

Live Love Saudi Arabia.

There comes a point where an entire country begging for absolution from another entity for the sake of money, for the sake of empty Arabism, for the sake of useless politics when that country’s capital is drowning in trash becomes not only humiliating but also insulting.

This is where we are today: a country sinking in garbage, but whose priority is how low it can go to its knees. But please, by a all means, don’t call it brain dead.

Let’s keep loving Saudi Arabia.

Geagea and Aoun’s New Love Fest: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun

In a widely predicted move, LF leader Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun came out with a political understanding yesterday that saw the former supporting the latter for Lebanon’s presidency, after about 33 failed attempts at electing a president and 30 years of the same practiced politics.

Lebanon’s Christian field was predominantly supportive. After all, the whole burying the hatchet fest that we saw on TV was done because Christianity, and Christians sure love seeing #TeamJesus in all its glory on Lebanese TV.

The Good:

We can now say that on January 18th, 2016, after around 30 years of feud, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun finally saw eye to eye in something. A more zealous response would be: LET THEM KNOW NOW THAT CHRISTIANS WILL NEVER BE PUT ASIDE AGAIN, etc. But that’s not really the case.

It’s good to see a semblance of unity occur regardless of what that unity might mean. It’s good to see Geagea and Aoun talk things out.

But.

The Bad:

Many think that this move was visionary. The fact of the matter is it’s nothing other than reactionary to Saad Hariri nominating Sleiman Frangieh for president a few weeks ago. The only disturbance in the presidential race, protracted and dull as it was, was Saad Hariri’s deal back in November-December. That disturbance became the catalyst behind both the FPM and the LF’s deal today in order to “reclaim” their constitution-given Christian right.

How good can a move made in reaction and spite be, rather than it being foreseeing and contemplative, especially in the grand picture of Lebanese politics that not only requires foresight to navigate its murky waters? Why don’t you refer to Jumblat for that?

What this move does is not elevate the level of politics that Geagea and Aoun are practicing. It’s not a good thing that Lebanon’s Christian community is now practicing the same kind of tribal politics that the country’s other factions do. By “uniting,” Geagea and Aoun moved from their failed politics on a national level to failed politics on a sectarian level.

Yes, they were Christian leaders first and foremost, many of their policies had inter-sectarian tendencies. How will they move from here? Not in that way, clearly.

The move also comes to the backdrop of a 10 point agreement that the two forged over the past 6 months. It reads as follows:

Geagea Aoun Agreement

The agreement’s key points then are the following:

  • No use of weapons in case of conflict,
  • Supporting the Lebanese army in governing the entirety of Lebanon’s territories alone,
  • A Switzerland-esque foreign policy to get the country to avoid struggles,
  • Supporting UN resolutions,
  • A new electoral law.

Sure, those headlines are all wonderful, and looking at them with no critical thought warrants giving their alliance a second thought. But you can’t not be critical of Lebanese political talk, and the question therefore becomes: how will they do them?

The difference in ideology between Geagea and Aoun is not only related to their Civil War days: the two were supremely divergent even in times of “peace.” They have not agreed on an electoral law other than the Orthodox Law, and even that agreement was more about whose balls are bigger rather than it being done with political wisdom. They have not agreed on which kind of foreign policy they see best for the country. They have not agreed on which way is best to actually get the army to be the only rightful security force in the country, and how to implement all kinds of UN resolutions (hinting at ridding Hezbollah of its weapons).

Alliances need to have a minimum of common ideology. Establishing them just for the sake of common interests in the short run will prove, in the long run, to be detrimental, especially when it affects an entire community (in this case Lebanon’s Christians).

Is this how Christian rights are restored? By making Lebanon’s Christians more exclusive rather than inclusive? By making them more sequestered? By thirding the country instead of keeping it halved? By turning Christians from the entity that governed Lebanon’s dichotomy to another destabilizing agent in an unstable country?

Ignoring the differences that these two presented to Lebanon’s Christian community is the first step towards removing any semblance of democracy from that community. Difference is not to be feared in political contexts. Disregarding it is what’s scary.

The Ugly:

Geagea and Aoun made peace. But I have to wonder: what kind of peace?

They’re making the kind of peace that requires us to bury our heads in the sand, like the perpetual ostriches that our Lebanese existence has made us into; the kind of peace that does not deal with the past requiring such a peace to be made in the first place, effectively making it a recipe for impeding disaster.

The argument goes: other factions have done these peace making deals before, and as such Christians doing it should be celebrated. Making peace is good. But is it?

Is the peace made by Lebanon’s other war factions actual peace? The idea of making peace invokes stability. Is the country stable? Is making peace in spite of history not through it, as all those other factions have done, putting the country on the right path towards healing post our civil war?

I look around and see people from different sects still hating each other, still worried about the intentions of one another. I look around and see a political discourse that still gets those who have supposedly made up after our civil war to fear each other.

What kind of peace are they talking about then?

There are things that are a little too late, and this is one of them. Where was the common interest of Lebanon’s Christian community 30 years ago when these two were actively working on canceling each other out, when their wars tore apart Christian communities and left thousands of victims in their wake?

Yes, this is not the time to bring up war-time memories, but healing only starts with remembering.  Would there have been a need for such a “deal” to be made in 2016 had those two actually cared about the community they’re panicking about today back in the 1980s?

Peace cannot be made by those who only know war.

The Uglier:

I’m afraid to inform you my fellow Lebanese that this “alliance” does not, in any way, affect your life as a Lebanese in the ways that actually matter.

It will not bring you electricity.

It will not fix your garbage crisis.

It will not make your internet faster so you can stream Netflix.

It will not increase your minimum wage.

It will not make your passport worthwhile.

It will not stop the “SSSS” checks on your boarding passes and “random” checkups in airports.

It will not stop ISIS.

It will not extract the oil from our fields.

And, ironically, it does not even guarantee that a president be elected.

Our Lebanese reality cannot be changed when the same people who have been practicing their failed politics over us for 30 years start practicing their politics together.

The Funny:

To end this on a happier note, I can’t but share a few of the lighter tones with which some Lebanese handled the news, in the joke that this actually is:

The Stunning History Behind Ras Beirut’s Endangered “Red House”

Nestled in the heart of Hamra, on Abdel Aziz street leading to Bliss Street, is a house most of us passed by without noticing until very recently. Its red window tiles always caught my eye in the days when I used to frequent that area, but their history was never evident. Isn’t that the story everywhere in Beirut though? You pass by these gloriously beautiful old houses, sigh at their dismal prospects in a city that cares less about its history and more about its bottom line and just continue about without giving a second thought at the times and stories those walls inhabit.

Let me take you on a journey across Hamra’s Red House.

One Of The Oldest Houses in Ras Beirut:

The Red House is comprised of two stories, the first of which was built in the late 1700s, along with a small kitchen above it to consitute the first part of the second story which was later continued in the 1800s by the Rebeiz family, which was back then one of the main Orthodox families of Ras Beirut and a prime owner of much of the land upon which Hamra today is built.

The story of the Rebeiz family dates back to as far as the house they lived in: they came to Hamra around 400 years ago and slowly made their way up the echelons of society, buying land from the well-renowned Druze Talhouk family. Together with the other prominent Bekhazi family, they became forces to be reckoned with in their area. Their names became synonymous with Ras Beirut, and vice versa.

The Red House has housed many generations of the Rebeiz family, but its most prominent were two women: Samira and Marie Abdo Rebeiz, both of whom were widows who lived in the house in the early 20th century, and it is them that made the house the beacon of Ras Beiruti elite life.

Pioneering Matriarchs Of Ras Beirut’s Political Ring:

Marie ABdo Rbeiz

Marie Abdo Rebeiz was unfortunate enough to find herself a widow with two sons: Michel and Georges, at a very young age. Her plight was also shared by her cousin Samira Rebeiz who lost her husband at the tender age of 25, and was left with four children to take care of.

Marie Abdo then invited her cousin, whose inherited property had been taken by the rest of the Rebeiz family for fear of her remarrying out of the family, to live with her in Hamra’s Red House, along with her four children, in the “newer” upper story part of the house.

The two women co-existed quite well and their children grew up around each other. Michel, Marie Abdo’s son, still lives in the bottom floor of the house to this very day. Georges later became a prominent cardiologist in the area and has 3 children who currently inherited the house after their father’s passing a few months ago.

Marie Abdo and Samira, however, were extremely powerful women. They were so powerful in fact that they  had a major role to play in the dynamics of Beirut’s political life around that time: it is the Red House that became a reference for many of Ras Beirut’s elite politicians, of differing sects, in order to truly have a shot at whatever position they coveted: Marie Abdo and Samira were important electoral keys to the women of the area, the extended Rebeiz family and its 3000+ votes at the time. They kept a garden next to the house, cooked for their neighborhood and hosted many gatherings for the women of the region.

Among the politicians whose careers were majorly influenced by this house are Habib Abi Chahla, one of country’s independence heroes, Bahije Takieddine, Saeb Salam – father of current PM Tamam Salam, Sami el Solh and Fawzi el Hoss, all of whom became MPs or PMs at a later point in their careers. Their descendants tell tales, even today, at how important that house was to their fathers.

Louis Armstrong Visited Too:

Louis Armstrong

During his visit to Lebanon in the 1960s, Louis Armstrong, one of they key figures in Jazz music, visited the Red House. He was brought to Lebanon by one of Samira Rebeiz’s sons, Georges Rebeiz, who founded Caviar House and Prunier. That son wanted to introduce Armstrong to the house that built him.

It Survived The Civil War:

The house also made it relatively unscathed through the Lebanese civil war. Its tenants refused to vacate the house for the many militias that demanded it, and through a stroke of luck was left militia-free.

After the end of the civil war, its main tenant Samir Rebeiz, a well known conservationist and restorative architect with an impressive portfolio, who is currently vacating as per a court order, made sure to restore the part in which he lived to the best of his capacities. You can see from many of the pictures at the beginning of this post how relatively well-preserved the house is.

The current tenants even made it a yearly affair to repaint the windows with their characteristic red color, as I was told by Paola Rebeiz, a well-known Beiruti socialite and fashion consultant.

A Rebeiz Family Feud:

Over the past few days, the imminent threat to Hamra’s “Red House” got activists and Beirut’s heritage preservation groups to try and save the house. In their attempt to do so, a potential family feud between the Rebeiz family was unearthed: one between the descendants of Samira and Marie Abdo.

Helene Rebeiz, one of the three people who recently inherited the house after the passing of Marie Abdo’s son Georges, had the following statement:

Helene Rbeiz Red House Beirut Hamra

Samir Rebeiz, who has been living in the house for years, was doing so under Lebanon’s ancient and outdated renting laws, which effectively mean that tenants pay minimal amounts to their landlords and evicting them is near impossible.

When asked about this, Samir Rebeiz refused to make a statement and simply said: “I am leaving this house. I’ve done everything I can to maintain it, and my conscience is clear.”

When I visited, the house was being vacated. Everything Samir owned was being tucked away in boxes, leaving empty rooms and hallways.

The court order requiring Samir Rbeiz to vacate the premises mentioned that the owners wanted to demolish. It is unknown, however, which real estate mogul is interested in the property.

Heritage Trumps Money:

The fate of the house will be decided tomorrow in Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture which will determine whether the house fits the criteria to be considered a national heritage site, protecting it in theory from demolition.

In my opinion, the relevance of a family feud over this house’s fate is not important. We are not interfering in Rbeiz family matters when we give an opinion on the subjective worth of a property at the heart of their feud.

What is constant, regardless of all the other variables, is that this house is a jewel at the heart of Beirut that should be preserved regardless.

It is one of the last remnants of true Lebanese architecture of the area.

It is so preserved that Lebanon’s archeological committee warned against its demolition.

It is a representative of the history of its region and of its country.

It would be such a shame to let all of this go and replace it with yet another concrete block that can bring people millions, but rob them of their identity and heritage.

Beirut is a city that is being maimed every day by the construction robbing it of its flair, of its character, and turning it into yet another one of those plots of lands made up of concrete jungles. This house stands defiant to the progressive and purposeful de-Beirutification of Beirut. Let’s not ruin that too.