From America, I’ll Be Voting For Kollouna Watani… And So Should You

In around a month, I’d have been what Gebran Bassil would like to call a “mountasher” for exactly one year. In a few days, this very same mountasher will be driving around 70 miles north of Philadelphia, to a smaller city called Easton where a big Lebanese American population resides. In one of Easton’s hotels, I will be casting my first ever ballot for Lebanese parliament.

On that ballot, for the North 3 district encompassing Batroun (my home district), Bsharre, Koura and Zgharta, I will be giving my vote to the brave list of independents who are trying to fight the status quo of political parties. On Sunday, April 29th, my ballot will be in favor for Kollouna Watani. And so should yours, be it that day or on May 6th back home.

I left Lebanon nearly 11 months ago. Leading up to my decision to leave were years during which I used this blog to vent about the many shortcomings that life in Lebanon entailed.

I’ve written about the garbage crisis, the government suppressing protests. I’ve written about their attempts at censorship, the horrible roads, horrifying internet, dying infrastructure, rising racism, disgusting homophobia, and xenophobia. I’ve written about young men being gunned or knifed down in the streets with next to no repercussions. I’ve written about our people dying left and right because they lack the most basic of necessities that any person in 2018 should have.

The common denominator to most of my blog posts that complained about the situation was always the same: Lebanon’s ruling class, in its varying forms, that turned the country into the rotting state it is today. Lebanon’s politicians, to varying degrees, have failed the country.

The Lebanon that I left is a country that doesn’t have constant electricity, and water supply despite having the resource aplenty. It’s a country where internet is mind-numbingly slow, where the security situation is as precarious as it can be. It’s a country whose passport is essentially worthless, where the system is so dysfunctional this is our first election in 9 years and where we stayed without a president for well over two years. It’s a country where homophobia, xenophobia and racism are a political tool, a way of life and rampant infestations.

The Lebanon I left is a country whose capital drowned in garbage for months, and whose garbage crisis has yet to be resolved. The Lebanon I left is a place whose second city Tripoli was ravaged for years with conflict because the city’s politicians were at odds, effectively killing the city’s reputation and straining its fragility. The Lebanon I left is a place where we are forcibly impoverished, starved, left without jobs and basic human rights… so that one day they can dangle those very things they’ve deprived us of, right in front of our eyes, and entice us to give them our trust again.

But no more.

I left for a reason. That reason is because the country I called home for most of my adult life so far was not offering me the prospect of the future that I knew I deserved. I was lucky and priviliged enough to have had the chance to leave, many others do not.

The famous Lebanese saying goes: إلي بجرب المجرب بكون عقله مخرب – if you try something you’ve tried before and failed, your mind is rotten. Many people my age back home are unemployed, struggling with the country they’ve grown up in, the same country that has been ruled by more or less the same political class since before the civil war. We’ve tried them enough.

Our parents have struggled enough to give us the best life that they can in a country that has made sure that process was as hard as possible for them. They’ve tried doing that enough.

Our entire system has made sure to bring us down whenever we tried. It has made sure to enable our politicians, while disabling the people at every venture, and every corner. In Lebanon, the system is not for the people, and by the people; it’s for our politicians and their henchmen – it’s their world and we’re just living in it, but no more.

Some of you may have had a parliament member provide you with basic human necessities: a job, for instance. That’s not their job. Their job is to provide you with a country where you wouldn’t need them for a job.

Some of you may be offered money to vote for this person or that come election day. I cannot judge. But there’s a reason why this tactic works – it’s because they’ve made sure you need them to the point where a few hundred dollars every few years is a treasure in your eyes.

Some of you may have family or relatives who are involved with this party of another. Some of you may even have parents who’ve asked you to vote for this person or another. In that polling booth, you should know that your choice is yours alone and it should be without any other person’s opinion of what they think you should or should not do.

I can go on and on about the situation back home, and what it lacks. But today, I stand before a very easy choice. On one hand, I am being spammed by a certain minister running in a region, on a phone number he got because of the expat data that was leaked. On the other hand, my region has a candidate named Layal Bou Moussa who is personally handing out her flyers to passing cars, holding town halls to discuss her electoral program.

On one hand, I have the choice to try out the same status quo that’s been in my area for years. On the other hand, I have the chance to vote for change. Is the prospect scary? Perhaps. Will the change I want to vote for win? Doubtful. But every vote counts. Saying that giving those independent candidates our votes is a waste because they’re not going to win is amplified when it’s not only you who’s saying that, but thousands of others… and then you end up voting for the reason you think no change is possible anyway.

Dear Expats – there’s a reason you left. Remember it on April 27th and 29th.

Dear Lebanese friends, family, and readers back home – there’s a reason you’ve been reading this blog for years, there’s a reason you’ve been complaining about el wade3 l 3am for the past 7 years. There’s a reason why the country is what it is today. Remember that on May 6th.

Remember that those candidates who are spreading fake news, fear, using money to buy votes, using scare tactics to get votes before the elections will probably be worse after elections are over. Remember that those people pretending to care about your votes before the elections will not give a rat’s ass about them after. Remember that this decision will be yours to bear for the next four years.

As for me, on April 29th, in that small city in Pennsylvania, USA, I know what I’ll be voting for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a full list of the candidates, click here.

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

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

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

Other notable female candidates running are:

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

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

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

 

How To Make Sure You Can Vote In The 2017 Lebanese Parliamentary Elections

In theory, on May 21st, 2017, Lebanon will be voting for a “new” parliament for the first time since June 2009. It is our duty as citizens, therefore, to make sure that nothing stands in our way from making sure we hold our MPs accountable, to the best of our capacities given the law they are tailoring to make sure they return to power.

In order for you to be an eligible voter in Lebanon, you must be over 21, have no felonies on your judiciary record and, subsequently, have your name be listed on your hometown’s voters register. Every year, on February 10th, the Lebanese ministry of interior publishes all of Lebanon’s voting lists for voters to access them and make sure they are listed correctly.

As such, it’s our duty at this point to make sure that our names are not listed incorrectly or with missing data that could prevent us from voting on Election Day.

Case in point, during last year’s municipal election, I was a representative at the polling station for my father who was running for “mekhtar,” and we faced more than a dozen of voters who had their voting rights challenged because of mistakes in the government’s voting list.

All of this could be prevented by us being diligent.

Step 1: Go to this website (click).

Step 2: Click on القوائم الإنتخابية.

Step 3: Go to your proper mohafazat, caza, and village. Then select your sect as well as gender and sift through the document for your registry number.

If you find any mistakes in your registration, head to your hometown’s mekhtar with your ID. They would fill out a paper that you’d take to your caza’s “ma2mour l nfous” for them to fix your registration information. The whole process takes minutes, and the deadline is March 10th.

It’s our right as citizens to vote and hold those who have taken away our right to vote two times now, and hopefully not a third time, accountable. Let’s not let some silly mistake in our registration be enough reason for some political representatives at our polling place to challenge that right.

Vote For “A Separate State of Mind!”


Overwhelming success! Celebrity endorsements! Awesome blog! You don’t believe me? Well, check these out:

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Well, not quite. The above tweets are not real. But they could have been. Am I right?

Ok, I’ll take my antipsychotic pill now.

Anyway, this blog is nominated for “Blog of the Year” and “Best News Blog” – I know, I know – at Beirut’s Social Media Awards. I’d appreciate your support.

  1. Go to www.smabeirut.com
  2. Log in with either your Facebook or Twitter account
  3. Vote for “Separate State of Mind” in the first two categories. You can only vote once so be careful to choose right! Voting happens by clicking on the “vote” button next to my blog’s picture (that of a brain).
  4. Tell your friends.
  5. Come back here to receive your cyber hug.

This is how your screen turns once you’re successful:

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Thank you awesome readers!

 

Roum Catholic? – The First 2013 Elections Ad

The ministry of internal affairs has started its preparatory campaign for the 2013 elections by telling people to check their name on the voters lists before March 10th, which I told you to do a few days ago (link).

As part of its attempt at getting the Lebanese voter to feel more involved, especially that it pertains to bureaucratic stuff most people don’t want to feel concerned with, they have launched the following funny ad, which plays on the different types of Lebanese people who might be “violated” by errors on the lists:

The last 2 seconds of the ad are beyond hilarious, which is probably what might get some people to go to this website (link) and check if their name is correctly listed.

And if you thought the Roum Catholic part is far-fetched, just check out this screenshot (link) from the lists of my hometown.

PS: They are brothers.

Check Out Lebanon’s 2013 Voters Lists

We may not have an electoral law yet but our elections will happen regardless. And despite many of us saying that we won’t vote now, come June (or July if there’s a slight delay), we will all be heading to the polls to cast our votes.

The ministry of interior affairs has just published the lists of the 2013 elections eligible voters (لوائح الشطب ) and speaking from experience, it’s always better to check if your name is there or if there’s any mistake in advance in order to avoid any surprises come election day.

1 – Go to the website (here). It doesn’t support firefox so make sure you’re using Safari or Chrome or – God forbid – Internet Explorer.

2 – Go to the “voters list” section (القوائم الإنتخابية) and choose your mohafazat.

Lebanon Voting Elections 2013 - 23 – Next, choose your district. In my case, it’s Batroun.

Lebanon Voting Elections 2013 - 34 – Choose your village. Ebrine, in my case.

Lebanon Voting Elections 2013 - 45 – Choose your gender and sect.

My town has Sunnis. Unacceptable.

My town has Sunnis. Unacceptable.

The list corresponding to the sect, gender and town you chose will then be made available. If you are an expat who registered at an embassy, your name will have a remark indicating that you have chosen to vote abroad:

Lebanon Voting Elections 2013 - 6

If you’re not an expat, locate your name and make sure it doesn’t have any mistakes in your birthdate, father’s name, mother’s name or even your own name:

There's me

There’s me

I personally had a problem with my mother’s name on the list which missed one dot, making her name totally different. I spoke to the mokhtar about it but he dismissed it as irrelevant and didn’t fix it. Remembering a story when a friend of mine was not allowed to vote by some political observers because his mother’s name was wrong on the list, I didn’t let it go and while giving fingerprints for my new ID at my district’s Serail, I asked to have my mother’s name fixed and it was.

Don’t worry, fixing anything wrong with your registration is not a hassle. Just have some form of identification with you, an ID or a recent ikhraj eid, and head to your nearest “ma2mour l noufous” and they’ll be more than glad to sort things out.

As an example, a relative whose name appears on the list for the first time this year has her mother’s name all wrong. If she hadn’t checked the list, she wouldn’t have known that and she would have been not allowed to vote come election day. Another friend, who’s my age, doesn’t even have his name registered yet. Seeing as the lists are readily available online till March, it is our duty to make sure that human errors do not keep us from voting.

What Would Miss Lebanon Rina Chibany Do If The World Ended Tomorrow?

Miss Lebanon Rina Chibani Miss Universe 2012

Well, she’s not that ambitious. It seems our Miss Lebanon Rina Chibany enjoys the simple things in life. And they’re way too simple if you ask me. But hey, at least this is not as disastrous as the previous ones we got. Who could forget Rahaf Abdallah?

However, it seems her chances at Miss Universe are decent. She may not win but she is definitely turning heads. She’s been getting a lot of votes (you can vote here) and critics seem to love her. I really hope she accomplishes something at that pageant – the country needs something like this to keep it busy.