Neither Aoun Nor Geagea Is Defending Lebanese Christian “Rights”

Preamble:
The following is what the LF, FPM, Kataeb and Marada agreed upon in Bkerke:

“The parties convening have decided not to run based on the 1960 law and consider the law at hand as one that consecrates the injustice towards Christians. The parties convening have also agreed on the need to take a firm stance against the 1960 law in fear of having this law forced as a reality when the nomination window is open. It is also important to affirm that this law is rejected and is non-viable as a reference to run for elections.”

The electoral reality today:
As the nomination window for the 1960s law closes, the ministry of interior has tabulated 706 nominees, which contain more than 20 candidates for each of parties that agreed upon the above preamble. Talk about “not running” and taking a stance against the “unjust” law at hand.

Let’s talk electoral laws:

This isn’t the only part as to why these politicians are doing a terribly bad job but it’s the most current and as such deserves being dissected in grosso modo to draw a frame for the discussion.

Michel Aoun started out against the Orthodox Law and supportive of the law proposed by the government (13 districts with proportional representation). He later on switched stances to support the Orthodox Law because other Christian parties jumped on the bandwagon (the LF were the first to support this law publicly), effectively becoming the law’s main defender despite him fully knowing that the law will never, ever see the light of the day. If by some miracle the Christian consensus around it were to make it to parliament, the law wouldn’t pass the president. And if the president ended up signing it, the constitutional council might have probably found it unconstitutional. Aoun knew this and knew it well. He also knew that the only reason he was getting support from Hezbollah over the law was because Hezbollah didn’t lose any Shiite seats with it and would use it to boost him among Christians, not because they are deeply concerned for the rights of Christians. He also knew that the support Nabih Berri gave the law was lukewarm at best. That’s why he kept his options open and gave us another electoral option: one proportional representation district. All other laws were rejected, as was obvious by his party’s practices and as is their right.

Samir Geagea started out with the neatly-cut 50 district laws which makes sure his party gets a majority in parliament. When that law received no outside support, he switched to the Orthodox Law and became a prime defender of that law… until he hit the roadblack set forth by his allies regarding the law and for a while it seemed he was taking on the Future movement and Jumblat by marching on with the Orthodox Law. At one point, Geagea’s breathing space came in the form of a Bkerke agreement to put the Orthodox Law on hold and to find a law that brings more consensus. So he effectively killed off the Orthodox Law and started running a campaign against it, only to be “surprised” by an anti-Geagea campaign from FPM supporters and a bishop who obviously went beyond his jurisdiction. Shouldn’t they stick to masses and baptism?

The problem with Christians and the electoral law is two-fold.

  1. In the most optimistic of scenarios, we are 40% of the voting population which has to vote for 50% of parliament.
  2. Lebanese Christians are the only sectarian component of Lebanese society which have a true form of “democracy” whereby despite their numbers, the 50-50 division between Aoun and Geagea renders them meaningless.

Parliamentarian representation has two components as well. Let’s call them a horizontal and a vertical factor. The horizontal factor is an MP’s sect and the vertical factor is his region. The Orthodox law tackles one but not the other. The question, therefore, asks itself: How is Aoun defending “my” electoral rights when he supports a law he knows will not pass and when the other law he supports is one that basically makes “my” vote irrelevant (not that I personally care), effectively not allowing me to make the decisive choice in ANY of the Christian MPs?

And how is Geagea defending “my” electoral rights when his support of electoral laws is almost always apparently contingent upon what his allies believe is best, despite his best attempts not to make it look that way? And how is it defending “my” rights to be a staunch supporter of a law one day and have your media work staunchly on portraying it the “best” for “Christian rights,” effectively convincing most Christians of this, only to trash it when the wind blows differently?

How are both Geagea and Aoun defending “my” rights when they both refused a Kataeb proposal of personal electoral districts which effectively fixes the two-fold problem I have presented earlier? How are they defending “my” rights when the probable reason of their refusal is because personal districts limits their parties’ influence? How are they defending “my” rights when they don’t really care for “my” parliamentarian representation as much as their parliamentarian share?

I Liked Geagea:

I would be lying if I said my mind doesn’t lean one way in the Aoun-Geagea dichotomy. There’s nothing wrong in supporting any of these two men. In fact, I personally believe that between 2005 and 2010, Samir Geagea had a near parcours-sans-faute in Lebanese politics. His discourse was Lebanon-centric. He was moving his party away from the common misconception (at least back then) that it was a Christian party by the Christians for the Christians. They even actively worked to kill off the Lebanese Forces typical symbol of that cut cross. But not today.

Nowadays, the discussion of both men is as Christian-centric as it gets. The more Christian-centric one of them gets, the more Christian-centric the other goes. And I may be a minority in thinking this but I really don’t believe “my rights” are best served in the rhetoric being spewed by both men and their supporters all over the place and even some priests and bishops.

“My” rights are also not served, in my opinion, when the rhetoric being employed is one that is only leading to increase the divide in the country and not work towards trying to fix things. When Aoun completely ignores the fact that his ally Hezbollah is fighting in support of the Syrian army in Al Qusayr, how is that defending “my rights?” How is it defending “my” rights when a politician such as Aoun is completely silent, effectively supporting, the practices of Hezbollah in defending an army and a regime whose main purpose was to destroy my rights as a Christian in Lebanon for years and years? How is it defending “my” rights when the only arguments used on the matter are ones revolving around Jabhet el Nusra and the rise of Sunni extremism while completely ignoring the equally dangerous Shiite extremism and political brainwashing at hand?

On the other hand, how is it “right-defending” for Geagea to completely ignore the rise of the Ahmad el Assir phenomenon or at least not actively work towards decreasing it? What about is his silence regarding the Future Movement’s involvement in fueling the Syrian crisis with his support of the rebels? What about his silence on the Lebanese Sunni extremists who are entering the fights in Syria in support of one of the sides, effectively becoming the same version of Aoun on the other side of Sunni-Shia divide?

Both Aoun and Geagea are taking parts in the Sunni-Shia problem that Lebanon is facing today and their parts are not healthy, not even in the least. Instead of making Christians a form of link between those two components of Lebanese society, our politicians are working on getting those components further apart with their near-blind support of whatever they do and whatever they commit to. It’s not in our best interest as Christians to take either position from the Sunni-Shia struggle at hand. It’s not in our best interest to take the sides we’re taking. It’s also not in our best interest to stand on the sidelines and cheer. The best way to fight for “our” rights is to take the right stance at the right time. At the current time, that stance is the following: get the parties involved not to drag the Syrian war into Lebanese territory, which will lead to more degradation of Christian rights.

A Lack of Vision?

With Aoun coming out against the extension of parliament’s mandate (at least until now) and Geagea possibly announcing his stance in a few hours, I have to wonder: are our politicians truly out of imagination or resources to succumb to the status quo this way? And how is it defending “my” rights when, in one way or another, they both don’t take the fight the long way home and contribute to transforming this country from a growing democracy to a growing dictatorship? That’s the only way really to categorize our parliament extending its mandate for itself.

Is there any guarantee that, in case parliament extends its mandate for two years, our politicians will actually reach a new electoral law? No.

Is there any guarantee that, in case parliament extends its mandate for two years, the security situation will become better enough to hold elections? No.

Why not, for instance, ratify the 1960 law in the following way: divide Akkar in two districts, bring the Maronite seat of Tripoli to Batroun, move a few seats from Beirut 3 to Beirut 1, move a few seats from West Bekaa (where 20% of the population is Christian and gets 4 seats out of 6) and put them somewhere else?

Why not run elections based on that ratified 1960 law, upon which Christians might be able to choose around 50 of their representatives, with an agreement to have parliament work day in and day out in order to reach an electoral law after which it dissolves and we hold new elections? It even has the same guarantees as the extension scenario.

The democratic process in this country has to be upheld. Any talks about modifying it because (insert any form of non-viable argument) does nothing to defend “my” rights as a Lebanese first and foremost.

People Like Us:

I believe or at least I hope that this sentiment is shared by many Lebanese Christians today. It baffles me how Lebanese politicians somehow believe they talk on behalf of every single Lebanese when there are people like us who don’t agree with almost any of their practices nowadays.

I, for one, believe no one represents me today and I kindly request them all to back off “my rights.”

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The Lebanese Electoral Law No One’s Talking About

Orthodox law here, orthodox law there. It’s all about the Orthodox law and the myth of its improvement of “representation.”
In the very narrow sense of things, the Orthodox Law makes sense given what the country is all about. Those who suddenly woke up and panicked about the law being sectarian: where were you living exactly?
You may not like what that sense is and you may be absolutely in love with it. In broader terms, however, the Orthodox Law is a disaster – not because it “improves” Christian power as some claim it will, but because it doesn’t really tackle the foundation of the issue which necessitated such a law to be present in the first place.

The problem with Christian representation in its current form in parliament is the following: democracy.

Let’s examine 3 different scenarios.

Caza A: has 40,000 Shiite voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Christians usually vote 50-50 between both politics camps. Shiite voters vote with about 90% for one camp. Half of the Christian voters feel their voice has been stripped.

Caza B: has 40,000 Druze voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Christian votes get divided almost equally. Druze votes are beyond one-sided. The Druze voter has now chosen for the Christian voter.

Caza C: 40,000 Sunni voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Repeat same scenario as in A or B.

The above scenarios are in play in Lebanon today in several districts of which I note:
– Aley: has 50,000 Christian voter who, the propaganda, goes cannot choose their own MP because of the Druze majority.
– Jbeil: has 10,000 Shiite voter whose votes make the election result look very lopsided while it isn’t.
– Zahle: A sizable Sunni population was key in the victory of whoever won in that area.

Don’t worry, I am not defending the Orthodox Law’s premise. The above examples are to illustrate the following:
The “problem” in Lebanon today isn’t that Christians are too few demographically or that they are given a greater voice in parliament than they should have or that their only solution is for a separation from everyone else in choosing their representatives. It is that there is a true democratic condition among Christian communities which is beyond nonexistent in all of the other sects in the country – and any electoral law which doesn’t lead to the growth of an opposition to the key leaders of each of the landslide-sects is not a law which can actually be used for a sustainable development of Lebanese society. This is nowhere near guaranteed with a law such as the Orthodox Law or any of the laws currently discussed.

Another major shortcoming that politicians seem to ignore in order to communicate the rhetoric of “defending Christian rights” is the following: how is it logical and acceptable for a Maronite voter in Akkar to vote for a Maronite MP in the deep end of the South? How can they fathom it is a “right” for the Sunni in Saida to vote for the Sunni MP of Tripoli? How is it logical for the Shiite in Tyre to vote for the Shiite MP of Hermel?

But there is a law that takes in consideration both regions and proper representation. It is a law which is not even discussed around the round tables of our MPs as they fight over their prospective seats in parliament: individual districts (El daweyer l fardiye): voters can vote for one MP in a small district of a few thousand voters.

To illustrate this, let’s examine a real life example: my district, Batroun, which has only two MPs – one of the fewest per district in Lebanon.

If my entire district is considered as only one electoral circumscription, the results are pretty well known: the current MPs will be re-elected. The votes coming in from the Mountains overtake whatever votes are coming from the Coast. If any third party candidate wants to run, they have to communicate their message – or try to at least – to over 60,000 voter. And parties rule by having a sizable base spread across the district which can vote for whichever candidate their party endorses.
Now with individual electoral districts, my district is split in half corresponding to each of the MPs it gets. The lesser number of voters per district means higher effect for those whose votes bordered on the irrelevant in a bigger district: the 1000 Sunni vote of Rasenhash and the 500 Shiite vote in Rashkida become something that whoever wants to run needs to win in order to have a chance at winning. By lessening the number of potential voters, any third party candidate will also have a higher chance at communicating their message to the voters. Instead of having an Antoine Zahra-Gebran Bassil face off in the coast and a Boutros Harb-Whatever face off in the mountains, we could have a three-way race with a viable alternative candidate. Said candidate may not win but at least people would have another option to vote for and express their disappointment with the current political establishment.
By decreasing the overall number of voters per circumscription, the bulk-voting effect of political parties is also decreased.

This electoral model, when applied to bigger and more diverse districts, leads to a more substantial weight for minorities, less effect for political parties and a room for centrists to take office.

Individual electoral districts, however, will never see the light of the day for the following reasons:
– It decreases Hezbollah’s influence by cutting his bases into pieces.
– Can you imagine the seizure Jumblat will have if this law is proposed and he won’t be able to get every single Druze seat in the Lebanese Republic? The only law he accepts is the law everyone refuses. They call this in Lebanese slang: “7ajar el dema.”
– The Future Movement will also lose a few MPs because of a decreased effect of the voters which constitute his base and an increased power of those who don’t.

The individual districts electoral law means that the current political establishment receives a drastic makeover. Do any of our politicians want this? Absolutely not. They preach about change, reform, proper representation. But anything that doesn’t bring them back to power with absolute certainty isn’t something they can accept.

True representation isn’t, in my opinion, sects voting for themselves and themselves alone. If Maronites vote for Maronites alone, how can we expect to accept Sunnis and Shiites voting for the president? If Sunnis vote for Sunnis alone, then why should the Christians and Shiites vote for the prime minister? If Shiites vote for Shiites alone, why should Christians and Sunnis vote for the speaker of the house?

A Maronite MP isn’t an MP that represents Maronites only. He is an MP who represents the voters of the district he comes from in order to transcend that and become a representative of the entire country and as such, it is shameful that an MP of a given sect who has to represent everyone has no chance of getting the votes of the other part of the country which he/she should represent.

Our votes as Lebanese of different sects are not and should not be confined to the sects that we are born into. It is saddening that some people want to summarize us with whatever’s written in the sect box of our IDs and are beyond convinced with this.

I refuse to be just another Maronite number.

Let’s Talk About Lebanon’s 2013 Elections: The Orthodox Gathering Law

One can argue that the French mandate was the root of Lebanon’s sectarian system. Its goal was to make a country that serves as a safe-haven for Maronites, with an edge in parliament seats and in governing powers. The sectarian divide in power reflected upon the people over the years. Blame the French? Blame everyone I guess.

Growing sectarianism and a feeling of injustice among sections of Lebanon’s population led to the Lebanese Civil war which culminated in the Taef agreement. The agreement took away most of the president’s powers, rendering him a near-puppet in a growingly tense political scene, and equalized between Christian and Muslim representation in parliament, despite the case not being so demographically.

Subsequently, a Syrian-led Lebanese regime managed to fragment Christian communities even more. The demographics, due to constant persecution, low birth rates and high immigration rates of Christians, continued to become even more lopsided. As it stands, Lebanon’s population is 60% Muslim and 40% Christian. That’s on a good day of statistics.

The problem with a skewed demographic, however, with an equally split parliament is that many of the minority’s seats cannot be chosen by said minority, regardless of what that minority is. This wouldn’t be a problem in a place where majorities and minorities didn’t view themselves as such: I have the power of numbers, therefore I rule over you.

That’s how the idea for an Orthodox Gathering Law came to be: the power that Christians lost over the years “must” be recuperated. And that should be done despite Christians not having the power of numbers anymore.

Here’s what’s given about the Lebanese situation today:

  • There’s no such thing as a Lebanese social fabric.
  • There’s no such thing as national unity – it only exists in the wildest fictive ideas of those who live in their own Lebanon-utopia
  • There’s no hope to achieve a state of national unity under current circumstances.
  • The biggest obstacle towards national unity isn’t regional (i.e. coming from different cazas across the country) but sectarian.
  • Sects always feel threatened by different sects in the country.
  • Sects are already more or less isolated and with rising bouts of extremism.

Apart from a minority in the Lebanese population, people identify with their sects first and foremost. They are more inclined to feel sympathy towards another person’s strife if that person is from their corresponding sect. It’s sickening, definitely. It’s horrible, you bet. But it’s the way things are. To fix this, you need to fix sectarianism.

You can’t fix sectarianism by forcing secularism upon people. You can’t tell a country with many who associate the current political system with being “religious” that the country is now secular which they will undoubtedly believe is also correlated with atheism. Off with their heads! No, the change towards secularism has to be gradual just as Lebanese gradually but surely became a sectarian state. People need to leave behind their sect-survival instincts in order to adopt a more global approach towards how they vote, towards how they act regarding others who are different from them, towards how they perceive those who are different.

For instance, here’s a little experience that I observed firsthand recently.

As news of Hay el Sellom in Beirut being flooded broke out, I saw two drastically different reactions in front of me. In my own little piece of the Lebanese Bible belt, people asked: Are those Shia? If they are, then ma3le (it’s okay). On the other hand, as Lebanese journalist commented on those people of Hay el Sellom’s grave violation of the law in where they built their houses, half of Twitter’s Shias, who tend to be on the more liberal side, were up in a fit.

Sectarianism is there – even among those who claim not to be sectarian.

As it stands, Lebanese people vote in a “to be or not to be” mantra. This needs to change. They are voting as such because:

  • Christians are made to fear wilayat al Fakih and those bearded Islamists.
  • Sunnis are made to fear the Shia weapons.
  • Shia are made to fear everyone being after their weapons.
  • Druze are made to fear anyone trying to breach their tightly-knit community.
  • Minorities are made to fear everyone else.

As this article is heading, you might believe this is in defense of the Orthodox Gathering law. If you had asked me a few days ago where I stood regarding that law, I would have told you this: Based on the current way that Lebanon is run, given the country’s state and fabric, the Orthodox Gathering Law makes sense. The way I see it, it doesn’t increase sectarianism and it might help, if sects stop feeling threatened, to get people to vote based on accountability which is very needed in this country. On the long run, if sectarian parties can no longer fuel people in a sectarian way then maybe – just maybe – that would help with things.

But that was a few days ago.

The MPs going on and on about how the Orthodox Gathering Law is unconstitutional and how it’ll increase sectarianism and whatnot are full of it. The only reason they are panicking isn’t because they want to keep the idea of Lebanon being an example of non-existent co-existence intact. They want to have their own behinds saved from the chopping block of a law that most probably wouldn’t vote them in again. Our MPs – all of them – are only seeking out a law that ensures they return to power. It’s as simple as that. The discussion isn’t about the country’s sake, it’s about their own personal interests.

Today, when I think about the Orthodox Gathering Law, I am not on the fence, I am against it. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s a must to tackle the growing “injustice” towards Lebanese Christians, whatever that may be. It’s not because it is demographically incorrect as it gives Christians more weight than they’re supposed to have. It’s not even because it’s sectarian in principle. It’s not because it makes it harder for centrists to break in. It’s not because it drowns out a secular minority that can’t identify with it.

I am against the Orthodox Gathering Law today for very simple reasons:

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have the prerogative of having a law tailor-made for my sect and have it applied to all other sects as well? Don’t other Lebanese sects have woes as well? Don’t they have “minorities” whose voices are also drowned out by a Christian majority somewhere?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, consider myself to be the only sect in this country who has rights eaten away and who needs some “justice” restored?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have to vote only for people who correspond to my sect without knowing if those people share my worries or if they’re even aware of the issues that I want to vote for? Does a person from a certain sect running for office automatically mean that person is knowledgeable of the issues that their sect faces? No.

My problem with the Orthodox Law today is simply that it tells me that I, Elie E. Fares, a Maronite Christian (on paper) from the mountains of North Lebanon, should have a problem in having a Sunni or a Shia or a Druze or a Catholic or an Orthodox or a Jew or a Alawite or an Ismailite or a Syriac or an Evangelical or an Armenian or whatever sect a person belonged to have a say in a parliament member that represents them all, not just me.

I believe that what the Orthodox Law is telling me is unacceptable. But I’m a Christian minority in thinking so. Most Maronites and Christians, especially some of our politician who double as Christian saviors-wannabes, want you to believe that what I believe is wrong. They are telling you that their way is the only way for you to get your rights. They want you to believe that if Christians don’t elect every single Christian-designated MP, then they’re being persecuted.

The Orthodox Law isn’t the way we get back our “rights.” We get back our rights by voting to people who can fight for those rights without turning it into a media propaganda as they kickstart their 2013 election prospects. We get back our rights by actually knowing what our rights are. And let me tell you, those rights aren’t Lebanon’s Christians selecting half of its parliament all by themselves.

So as our politicians play a game of chess with each other, you know what your rights are according to some of them? You only have the right to be afraid of everyone else all the time. You only have the right to believe you are persecuted all the time – that those big bad Sunnis and Shia and Muslims are after you all the time. Welcome to the state of mass paranoia. And we just can’t live like that – not as Christians, not as Muslims, not as Lebanese and we can’t allow laws that are based on our paranoia as Christians rule the entire country.

Maronite Church Land Forcibly Taken By Mayor of Lassa, Jbeil to be Given to Shia Mosque

The tensions in the Jbeil town of Lassa continue to surface. After an episode involving Hezbollah communication and whatnot, it has transpired that the town’s mayor, Issam Al Meqdad, started taking 5000 sqm of land owned by the Maronite Church to give them to the nearby Mosque, considering the land as belonging to the Shia “Waqf” of the town.

When the Patriarchal envoy to the region, Chamoun Aoun, found out, he contacted the Maronite Church in Jounieh and notified policemen who rushed to the town but couldn’t do anything. MP Michel Aoun was notified of what was happening. He found the affair very peculiar and notified Jbeil’s MP Simon Abi Ramia to pursue the matter further.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Lassa, with whom the policemen couldn’t do anything, still firmly believes that the land is not for the Maronite Church – even though they legally own it – but for the Mosque.

Now one cannot but wonder, what more do some entities in Lebanon need to do to prove ownership of a land? Is it not enough that they have the deed? Is it not enough that they paid for it? Is it not enough that it has been there and for years and years?

5000 sqm may sound like not much for many people but this is not the first time this happens and by the looks of it, it won’t be the last. This land was not bought or sold. In order for the Maronite Church to sell land, it needs authorization from the Vatican who most probably wouldn’t approve such a transaction. This land is being simply stolen – there’s no other word for it.

And the sadder part is we can’t do anything about this but watch. At least that’s what we did when land was being taken in the same way in other locations in Lebanon.

Moussa el Sader is Dead. Officially?


For years, supporters of Shiite imam Moussa el Sader had hoped he’d still be alive more than thirty three years after he went missing in Libya on August 31st, 1978.
Al Akhbar is reporting today that documents received by Lebanese government from Libya confirm that Moussa el Sader had died at the beginning of the previous decade due to diabetes complications.

In more details, the imam was taken to the Abou Slim prison in 1997 where he was put in solitary confinement. He started experiencing ailments because of his diabetes but his guards refused to give him treatment. As a result, the imam died soon after.

Al Qaddafi refused to have him buried. So he turned his cell into a fridge, akin to the one used in morgues, and guards were set up for the cell for more than a decade – until the recent Libyan revolution started.
On August 22nd, 2011 when Tripoli fell to the rebels, the Abou Slim prison was heavily bombarded. Moussa el Sader’s cell was destroyed as a result of the bombing and his body was subsequently taken out, along with the other dead people.
Some had reported seeing a man’s body with a cloak and turban being taken out of the premises.

Current efforts to search for the body are underway. The most plausible of scenarios is that the bodies taken out of the Abou Slim prison were buried at known locations due to their rapid decomposition. These sites will be soon excavated to maybe find the body of the imam and return it to Lebanon.

Moussa el Sader founded the political movement “Amal.” He was known for his calls for interfaith dialogue and his constant championing for co-existence among all Lebanese factions.
It’s sad to see his ideology so distorted by the current form of the political movement he started.

Many of us were more than certain the imam was dead. But it is only natural for people to seek closure. Hopefully the certainty of his death brings that to those who need it.