on the lebanese elections, or a parliament of civil partition

in blue is written future movement (leader of the march 14 coalition) and the orange sperm represent Aoun's FPM
in blue is written future movement (leader of the march 14 coalition) and the orange sperm represent Aoun's FPM

so big surprise. march 14th/mutaqbal won the lebanese elections. my friends in lebanon either boycotted the elections or they voted for march 8th/opposition. while in many ways this is a big disappointment, in other ways there is a silver lining as my dear friend rami pointed out: the looming economic crisis created by sa’ad hariri will now force him to clean up the mess he has made of lebanon rather than forcing the opposition to that dirty work. historian fawwaz traboulsi offers some great analysis into the lebanese elections prior to the event on kpfa’s “voices of the middle east and north africa.” you can click here to listen to the interview with historian bishara doumani. unfortunately, like the lebanese media, lebanese bloggers are just as sectarian and so it is necessary to read quite a bit of various sources to get a sense of where things stand. here are a few qifa nabki, angry arab, friday lunch club, mxmlsm. my friend matthew cassel has some interesting photographs (like the one below) and commentary on his blog.

green t-shirt translation: "eat my dick" (march 14th victory rally)  (image matthew cassel)

but my favorite writings came from two of my dear friends, one of whom voted yesterday. here is an excerpt of rania’s reflection on voting:

I voted today. I have a purple smudge on my left thumb to prove my “participation in this civil responsibility,” as it is called. (And, contrary to what Ziad Baroud said, the purple smudge does not last a few weeks. It lasts as long two hand-washes and one hot shower.)

i drove up to the Zahle region yesterday to avoid the anticipated traffic, but it seems that most folks from Beirut had already left on Friday, so there was no traffic. Less traffic than a usual week-end. On the way there, I saw a handful of cars with orange flags, a few with yellow flags, and another handful with Lebanese flags. Yes, the Lebanese flag itself had morphed into a representative of a particular party.

This morning, I followed Saad Hariri’s instructions: I woke up early, had coffee, then breakfast, and then voted. I made sure not to vote on an empty stomach. By the time I had my breakfast, it was around 11 am, and I walked down to the small school in the village with my uncle, my uncle’s wife, and a friend from another district who was so repulsed by these elections that she opted out of even a blank vote. The mood in the school was easy going. Representatives — actually, no — volunteers from the political parties were enjoying themselves in the school courtyard. Lots and lots of orange. A bit of blue. A bit more red. And a bit of black shirts with red letters. And two, yes, two men with t-shirts declaring themselves to be “friends” of the candidate from the Lebanese Communist Party.

There was only one small entrance into the school. (And this same entrance was also the only exist.) At the bottom of the 8 steps of the entrance stood an ISF officer.

“One christian male,” he yelled. “We have room for one christian male. One Christian male!”
Inside the school, the village was divided not alphabetically by family, not numerically by identification number (’raqm el sijil’), but rather, by sectarian denomination.

For the first time in my life — and hopefully for the last time — I walked according to the sectarian affiliation of my birth. I was disgusted. In voting for representatives — or, more accurately, in voting against those I don’t want to represent me more than the others — the government was reminding me, yet again, that my affiliation is first to this arbitrary sectarian affiliation, an affiliation that I had rejected all my life.

Inside this small, little-used school, I walked to the end of the hallway to await my turn in the small classroom. The ISF officers inside the school were frustrated at the levels of noise, and at the constant ‘hellos, stop by for coffee afterwards’ greetings.

I walked into the voting booth, after some 30 minutes, and found a small room filled with witnesses.
“Your name?”

“Rania Rifaat el-Masri” I said.

“Rania Rifaat el Masri” he said and I heard my name echoed a few times as the witnesses each checked off my name from the list of constituents.

“Are votes written in red ink acceptable?” I asked.

“No.”

“Use my blue pen,” one election-staffer suggested.

“No, use my blue pen,’ said the ISF officer at the door.

I wondered: what if I had not asked? Would that small white sheet on which I had carefully written 7 names have been rejected? How many small white sheets with red ink would be rejected?

I walked into the covered voting booth and heard someone in the room say, “ah, it seems she will cancel out of a few names. “tshaTeb”.’ In that little blue voting booth was listed the names – and the sectarian affiliations – of each candidate. There was also a bunch of small, square blank white sheets. But no pen or pencil inside. Because I felt that all would be happier if I were to hurry up, I did not take my time reading each name and contemplating the list. I pulled out the three tiny – truly tiny – sheets of paper that each political coalition had given me (one from “Zahle bel ‘alb’, another from ‘ketlet zahle el sha3bieye’ and one from the LCP with only the name of the LCP candidate and with space – allegedly – to write in the other 6 names.) Truly – the coalition’s sheets are teeny. Anyway, I put those teeny sheets away, and wrote my own list, put that small sheet of paper in the envelope, and walked out.

Walking out of the small school, I squeezed by way out of the still crowded entrance/exit. My friend – Perla – had tried, unsuccessfully, to engage opposition political party supporters into conversation. But, they refused. “We don’t talk politics today,” they told her.

The drive back to Beirut was just as uneventful as the drive to el-Bekaa on Saturday.

Contrary to some rumors, some restaurants and cafes in Beirut are open. Perla and I were looking for those open places since both our kitchens are empty. I had been envisioning living off wine and chocolate – all that I have in my kitchen – until Monday evening.

Now, in my apartment in Beirut, I hear Ziad Baroud congratulating Lebanese on the elections, considering that these elections were “in this part of the world.” How wonderful to hear patronizing and orientalist comments made by our Minster of the Interior! (On a technical note, he also said that 58% voted, 20% more than 2005, and most voted in the first two hours.)

I listen to the news now. Following the latest vote-counts. For this evening, I want to put aside my rationality, I want to ignore that whoever wins, the difference will not be grand for this country. Most of the seats have been already been selected, chosen by the coalitions. On the resistance front, there is a difference between the two coalitions. However, on the domestic agenda, all sides have only small differences, quite small. All support the neo-liberal economic agenda – but to varying degrees. All are sectarian – to varying degrees.

I would be all the more excited were there real domestic differences between the two coalitions, particularly if one were of a socialist, secular agenda.

But, for now and for tomorrow, I shall put all those thoughts aside and simply look upon these elections as many other seem to do: to see which color shall win, the orange or the blue, with a bit less excitement than I followed the Soccer World Cup, the Italian or the Brazilian.

And, more fundamentally, I am hoping to see a few losses in these elections.

Good-bye Seniora? Good-bye Murr? Good-bye Fatoush?

and here are rania’s reflections as the results came in late last night:

What do these results tell us?

Seniora, a man who has shown this country (further) economic ruin, who failed to even present a strong face for Lebanon during the July 2006 war, a man who barely knows Saida, has won in Saida. Why? Money.

Zahra, a man who fought in the civil war, who killed in the civil war, has won in Batroun.

And then we have more people who have won on the sole reason that their relative was killed. Nayla Tueni – what does she have to offer other than her father’s memory? (hmm – kind of like Saad Hariri). And Nadim?

And then in Zahle, could it possibly be that Zahle has chosen a man who is one of the grandest and most corrupt thieves, a man who has $4 million on purchasing live lions to decorate his palace, a man who is known for destroying Lebanon’s mountains with his illegal quarries while he was Minister of Tourism, could it be that Zahle has chosen the worst candidate – Fatoush – again?

What does it mean when people are willing to sell their votes?

What does it mean when people are willing to close their minds and allow their bodies to be filled with fear? What does it say about them when they so easily accept scare-tactics about fellow Lebanese? To have such levels of fear, there has to be high levels of ignorance.

And here in lies a larger problem. What kind of a country do we have when we continue to look upon ourselves as a bunch of sects forced to live alongside each other, forced to “co exist” – this destructive rhetoric of “ta-ya-ush”? What kind of a country do we have when we continue to live for the short-short-short term, continue to look upon our history as one of defeat, – ‘hayda lubnan, ma beyet ghayar’, when too many leaders fail to present real programs and real visions (not all, but too many): we have a country whose citizens – wait, we have no citizens, only sects — are more willing to sell their vote to the highest bidder. And what about the political tourism? All those thousands of people that took that free ticket and visited Lebanon and supported their ticket-giver and then turned around and left? What country are they building? A hotel or a country?

The struggle continues.

Or, perhaps, it will begin anew.

wait: i entitled this post “Lebanon’s elections” – but where these elections really Lebanon’s – or where they also Saudi and US and all those other governments that continue to spend millions upon millions of dollars – all in terrible ways

an interesting analysis from Fadi Youssef

“the problem is that people look up to Hariri as an idol as someone who was able to make money which they want to do themselves so they vote for him, the son or the father, voting for the rich person they want to be. To be able to make money, they are willing to sell their souls. Every Lebanese dream of leaving this country and comeback loaded with money. Every Lebanese dreams of leaving this country and comeback loaded with money. It’s our concept of colonialism. It’s a part of our chauvinism”

and here is dear rami’s analysis after the results came in (he boycotted the elections):

The results of the Lebanese elections are out. March 14 won by a comfortable margin. I had predicted this win, but I didn’t think they would win by such a margin. However, the real winners of the Lebanese elections were:

1. Sectarianism. Electoral turn-out was very large because people voted in small districts dominated by one sect. It is likely that people felt that this scale of elections represents them better. In other words, voting for one’s sect is more important than voting for one’s nation.

2. Money. Sectarian money showed that it can really sway elections. Massive amount of money was spent on the electoral campaigns, on buying votes and on flying people in so that they can vote fpr one group or another. On a per capita basis, this must be one of the most expensive election ever. Just like Lebanon’s debt: one of the highest on a per capita basis.

3. Inherited parliamentarism. A large number of “political families” are represented in this parliament: Frangieh, Karameh, Gemayyel, Murr, and the newest addition: Tuwayni, a family which in record time has sent 3 generations to the parliament.

4. Ultra liberal economics. Both sides subscribe to this creed, but the March 14 people have a more formal, structured approach to its implementation. Rough days ahead for the poor.

Now it is all wait and see: will the winners invite the other side, especially the Shi`a block, to take part in the cabinet? Will they give them veto power as in the last government? What will the role of the President, who aligned himself with the March 14 in Jubayl and lost in his own district, be? Will he get the veto power in government? Will the new government avoid the issue of disarming Hizbullah or will it raise it again? How will this be done? To what extent will it allow itself to be manipulated by regional and global powers such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the US, who have been actively promoting March 14? Things might totally get out of control if wrong steps are taken. After all, as As Safir put it, the elections re-created the type of Parliament that brought Lebanon to Civil War in 1975. They called it: the Parliament of Civil Partition.

but at least you gotta be entertained by the various election campaign images that matthew blogged and remarkz blogged a few of them as well.

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