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.

 

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Sectarianism, Hate & Fear: How Hariri’s List Is Fighting Beirut Madinati

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

As a rule of thumb in the Lebanese political scene, you should know you’re doing something right when all kinds of political groups from all across the political spectrum rally against you and fight you in the dirtiest of ways, slogans and rhetorics.

The “Byerte” list, translating to the Beirutis List, with its slogan “Keep Beirut For Its People” was Hariri and the political establishment’s choice for the upcoming municipal elections on May 8th. Of course, the slogan “Keep Beirut For Its People” is nothing more than a simple variation of the equally xenophobic, horrific political rhetoric rising around the world today, championed by people like Donald Trump. If they had the audacity, they might as well run with “Make Beirut Great Again” and be done with it.

The fact of the matter is no area in the country is exclusive to “its people,” and certainly not the capital which houses 50% of the Lebanese population.

Of course, those politicians had no problem with making sure all investment is placed in Beirut only while forgetting other regions entirely. Those politicians had no problem spending billions of dollars in post war restoration that belonged to the whole country to rebuild Beirut’s heart, making it heartless in the process.

They also had no problem in entertaining the idea of taking Beirut’s trash to places like Akkar. Clearly, keeping Beirut for Beirutis does not extend to their garbage.

Those politicians had no problem as well in championing policies over years to make Beirut not remotely affordable to its own people, unless we now have plans to nationalize GCC citizens.

Those politicians had no problem in making sure Beirut sunk in garbage and stunk of its smell, of its streets being the scene of fights and death that happened not even 8 years ago – ironically on the day the elections are supposed to happen.

I can go on and on, but the epitome of it all is in the fact that Hariri isn’t from Beirut to begin with. Say hi to Saida for me, why don’t you?

Horrifying slogans aside, the Future Movement and the rest of political groups in that list are rallying people in the only way they know how: fear and sectarianism.

Behold a Hariri supporter’s latest magnum opus on Facebook:

Hariri list Beirut 2016

It’s precisely rhetoric like this that shows how despicable and afraid those in governance can get, in order to instill this sense of fear and hatred in those who support them, by getting them to fabricate silly, redundant and baseless arguments in order to main a status quo that just doesn’t work.

Omar Chebaro is not alone. Many Beiruti Sunnis as well as other sects or party enthusiasts entertain the notion that opposing Hariri’s list would be unwise simply because it means falling out of rank at a time when doing so is not in the better interest of their sect. What I heard repeatedly goes along the lines: “you can’t be secular in a sectarian environment.”

This is not a justification to support Hariri’s list of “same old same old” at a time when people are dying, suffocating, and getting poisoned from that same old same old. It is in municipal elections that you can stand up to those who have taken you for granted and whose entire message is not one that’s based in the future but in a past rooted in bigotry and brainwashing.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, Beirut Madinati is not the list of Civil Marriage. A list running for Municipal Elections cannot enforce Civil Marriage, regardless of what its candidates believe regarding that issue.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, Beiruti Madinati will not set Beirut on the path to become a haven for sin. Walaw? Don’t be fooled by hateful messages whose only purpose is to get you to vote the way a party that has failed over and over and over again wants you to on May 8th.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, your vote on May 8th is really, very simple:

You can vote for trash. You can vote for the garbage filling your streets. You can vote for the smell that has made you vomit every day for the past 3 weeks. You can vote for the city in which you can’t afford to buy an apartment. You can vote for the city whose downtown you cannot even enter. You can vote for the roads congested with cars at any moment of any day. You can vote for poisoned water, poisoned food, poisoned air.

If you vote that way, you’d be voting for Beirut today, Beirut the city that is dying because of the policies of that who wants you to believe you have no other choice because you’re Sunni, or Orthodox, or from Beirut born and bred, keeping Beirut for its people, because its people are not all Lebanese.

Or you can vote to change things. You can vote to those who are not taking your vote for granted, but going to your neighborhood to ask you: what do you need? You can vote to those who have taken the time to write a 32 pages program for you, not someone asking you to vote for them just because you should.

On May 8th, the choice couldn’t really be simpler. I hope you choose those who are good, not those who make you afraid of wanting better.

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.”

Lebanese Christian Egoism

Fake-sympathy.

That’s what many Lebanese Christians express to news that touch upon other parts in the country but not them. Of course, it’s not necessarily an attribute to that part of Lebanese society. I’m sure all other sects indulge in the act of caring while not really caring.

But when it comes to Christians in Lebanon, we take this act to a whole new level as we glorify ourselves in the process.

Here’s a conversation that took place this morning which I was lucky to observe. Let’s call the three characters Elie, Georges and Joseph.

Joseph: did you hear that Beirut was up in flames last night?
Georges: really? What happened?
Joseph: two Sunni sheikhs were beaten up and roads were cut as a result.
Elie: I heard Sunni militants beat up people of other sects as well with the army standing there looking.
Joseph: I don’t expect otherwise.
Georges: Do you know which areas were affected?
Elie: You know, typical West Beirut.
Georges: Meaning?
Joseph: Enno, shi matra7 honik. Ass2as, Verdun, whatever.
Elie: Aslan mannon sha3b tarsh… The whole country is screwed because of them.
Joseph: 100%. You would never see such a thing with us.
Georges: Yeah, thank God we can actually think for a change.

The Elie in question is not me – I had to put it out there because some people like to call me an Islamophobe. Fa ktada l touwdi7 .

Many Lebanese Christians actually think they are outside of the current debacle in the country, or as it is commonly known the Sunni-Shia feud, simply because they are better people, they know better, they are more educated and are simply above such petty acts.

The civil war, which was partly caused by Lebanese Christians clinging to the power the French gave them against every thing (that’s not to say others wouldn’t have done the same), was a pure act of civility from the part of the Christians.

But wait. The Civil War is behind us, they’d say. We are better than that now, they would explain.

I’d like to see this Christian civility that they often speak of when somehow we’re thrown in the midst of any Lebanese conflict. With the presence of the mentalities similar to those of Elie, Georges and Joseph what “civility” are we talking about?

The most prevalent thing in our societies today is a severe bout of egomania. You know what they say: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And we’re all big with nothing but emptiness inside – the fall is going to be one beautiful thing to behold.

Ahmad el Assir’s Money Sources

I recently read an article about the financial means of Sunni extremist cleric Ahmad el Assir. After all, those weapons (that he doesn’t have) and the growing support he is garnering are not coming out of nowhere, despite his support arguably remaining very minimal across Lebanon, even among Sunnis despite what many want you to believe.

The article in question talks about where Mr. Al Assir is getting his money and the list is the following:

  • Qatar with input reaching the hundreds of thousands of dollars, through Beirut’s international airport and under the coverage of a member in the Lebanese cabinet. I want to know who.
  • Fadel Shaker. I regret buying that sporadic album I gave my mom on Mother’s Day way back when Fadel Shaker filmed music videos about love and with women.
  • Rashed Shaaban, owner of “Amir Rashed” restaurant and the uncle of one of the Islamists apprehended as a suspect in the assassination of Francois el Hajj.
  • The infamous “Kaak Abou Arab” shops.
  • Shawarma Abu Bahij in Saida
  • There are other sources which you can check at the link but these are the ones that seem familiar to me.

    Ahmad el Assir’s phenomenon isn’t “unusual” given the current situation in Lebanon. It doesn’t mean that this phenomenon is acceptable and I, for one, won’t support it in any way, even indirectly.

    That’s not to say those that those Al Assir speaks out against are better. They’re more dangerous than what he will ever become and he’s an irrelevant entity in comparison. But isn’t that how they all begin?

    I can’t do anything about Qatar. They have so much money they’re about to start using it as toilet paper. But I can stop going to Kaak Abou Arab and do what I can, 1000LL at a time.

    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.

    Insulting The Maronite Patriarch

    I don’t believe Bechara al Raï’s visit to Syria was the devil incarnated as many seem to believe. He simply went there to hold Mass, believing his visit would actually get the Maronites of Syria to relax about their future. But it’s not all peachy. His visit is most probably not on his own accord. Odds are the Vatican had requested he visit Syria but I think Al Raï was more than itching to go down in history as the first Maronite Patriarch to visit Syria post Lebanon’s independence. The visit, in my opinion, is absolutely miscalculated and, if anything, showcases a seriously short foresight on his behalf as well – one that a person in his tenure should not have. Al Raï was simply too limited to see the repercussions of such a visit. The hidden meaning is far more serious than it being a simple religious visit.

    The Syrian regime has, over more than 20 years, systematically persecuted the Maronites of Lebanon, be it politically or demographically or even socially. The Maronite Church stood against the regime countless times, effectively being the first catalyst that led to the regime’s army departing from Lebanon on April 26th, 2005. Bechara Al Raï’s stances have been far removed from the Maronite Church’s historical views towards the Assad regime. But how can a patriarch truly expect the first Maronite Patriarchal visit to Syria since 1943 be considered as a shallow affair of prayer seeing as it is visiting the country of a regime who did what it did to Lebanon’s Maronites? His visit was not to the regime, granted. But in a way, it is by extension. The Maronites of Syria sure deserve their patriarch to visit them – but not under current circumstances. The argument that Maronites all around the world deserve a patriarchal visit is something that the patriarch shouldn’t even touch to justify him going to Damascus. There are also Maronites in Israel. But that part is taboo.

    The Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Raï’s visit has been, to say the least, extremely polarizing. Many were supportive of it as a step towards reaching out to the scared Maronites of Syria, few as they may be. Others were staunchly against it, characterizing the visit and its Mass as diabolical. Caricature drawings in Saudi newspapers were circulated:

    Bechara el Rai Caricature Saudi newspaper Al Watan

    The idea being discussed was the following: the Maronites will never do what the Sunnis did with the prophet caricatures or what the Shiites did when Hassan Nasrallah was portrayed on Basmat Watan. The argument goes that Maronites are “more civilized.”

    Someone forgot to tune in during last week’s Maronite road barricades in support of the Lebanese army. So it’s not really beneath us as Maronites to block roads. After all, it is in these days.

    The Caricature in Al Watan newspaper is definitely not acceptable but it’s not because it’s demeaning and offensive to Christianity. Al Watan newspaper did not, similarly to Danish newspapers, publish offensive pictures of holy Christian figures in order for the comparison between potential Maronite reactions, or lack thereof, and Muslim reactions to be valid.

    Pretending as if this is the same caliber as the Muslim reactions to the prophet drawings, which in themselves were not acceptable, is quite frankly very silly. Patriarch Bechara el Raï is not Jesus. He is not a Holy person. He is a neo-politician-priest who did what many believe is a mistake. And it stops at that.

    But it is not acceptable in any way whatsoever for a disgusting newspaper, Al Watan, which is published in a country like Saudi Arabia where freedom of speech does not exist, where they cannot – nor do they dare – criticize their own religious folk and their ruling class after which their country was named, where Christians are not allowed to practice their religion freely (even the Cross in the caricature was hidden), where women are kept on a leash, where liberties are suppressed and where human rights are unheard of to remotely have the right to criticize anyone in that way, let alone someone who does not affect their country in any way whatsoever.

    I have to wonder, in what way does Al Raï’s visit to Syria bother Al Watan? It only shows exactly how silly that newspaper is – that they’d go after a religious figure who is probably unknown to the majority of Saudis just because he is one of the few religious figures in the region which they can attack. And it’s not because they hate Christians, as many seem to believe, which I would suppose might hold some truth. It’s because it gives them the illusion that they are free, that they can do this and face no repercussions. They thought wrong.

    If this caricature had come out from a newspaper in a country known for its freedom of speech, such as Denmark – a place which dared to publish Mohammad caricatures – the discussion would have been totally different. If the pope receives such caricatures, then why not Raï? But Al Watan, with the demented theocratical country it operates in, publishing them is not and should not be tolerated. They only practice their freedom of speech when their bosses approve. When it doesn’t get on the nerves of its readers… when they address a population which lives far away in an issue that does not affect them in any way whatsoever.

    They don’t dare to see that their own society has a multitude of issues that could be made into a caricature, starting with that sheikh who beat and abused his 6 year old daughter to death to the fact that women are now starting to learn how to drive after their gender has been voting for more than several decades in countries around the world. And that makes them cowards. It makes them not respectable as a publication or a newspaper or any form of media that wants to be read.

    The best place for Al Watan is the trash bin.

    Now let’s address our own Lebanese.

    The Lebanese reactions towards the Saudi insult have not been much better although a Lebanese addressing the issue is definitely more acceptable than someone who comes from a country that doesn’t even know freedom of religion. The caricature, the visit and everything around it was milked politically like everything in the country nowadays. Anything that revolves in any way around defending Christians in this country serves as ammo for politicians from both sides to fire at each other, trying to create a firework display of Christian power to please the masses ahead of the parliamentary vote.

    As the constant disk of those “bad Sunnis of Saudi Arabia attacking us poor Maronite minority in Lebanon” kept playing, some people were forgetting who was doing even worse than those Sunnis to the former patriarch Sfeir with insults that went from the belt down (“heida l batriark thayyaj” anyone?), to attacking his tenure, his position, his seat and his person. But that doesn’t count – because it’s only bad when a non-Maronite does it apparently.

    You want to criticize the patriarch himself, as a person, fine by me. Feel free to criticize his political opinion, if any. Feel free to address his stance regarding social issues as much as you want. I think it’s healthy when religious figures are challenged in this country and no religious figure has probably been challenged as much as the Maronite patriarch, especially by his own people.

    But there’s a minimum required respect for the seat the man occupies. The Patriarch is but a temporary filler for the head of the Maronite Church. Calling the patriarchy a patriarchy of disgrace is not acceptable. Calling the Mass that took place in Syria as diabolical is unacceptable. I am not saying religious figures – as men – are the ones that should never be criticized despite everything. I’m saying that the institutions that these figures represent have a minimum of respect that should be given to them, regardless of where you stand when it comes to the matters of faith or lack thereof.

    When I read some Lebanese people calling the Maronite patriarchy a new prostitute for Al Assad, that to me – even as a non religious Maronite – is offensive because it not only attacks the patriarchy in its current form, it also attacks my forefathers of whom I cannot but be proud as they struggled through centuries of persecution against tyrants who were worse than Al Assad and I don’t mean this in the religious but in the historical sense.

    Insulting the Maronite Patriarchy and patriarch is not exclusive to one sect or one political side. Everyone does it and pretends as if it’s not okay to do it. What many seem not to realize is that there’s a thin line between being critical and downright insulting, especially when it comes to such institutions, that we cross way too readily, most often on a whim. Criticizing the Maronite Church’s practices is definitely not and should never be a taboo. And I’ll be the first one to criticize some of the policies they might come up with, something which I have done many times before. However, a few questions need to be asked: did the patriarch’s visit to Syria really cause any harm among the Maronites here or there? No. Did it bruise our pride? Perhaps it did. But is that reason enough to insult the patriarchy, the patriarch and enable publications from countries that do not even know the basic concept of freedom to do the same? I hardly think so.