Al-Qaa’s WikiLeaks Diaries During the Civil War

Qaa Suicide Bombing.jpg

Lebanese army soldiers patrol near the site where suicide bomb attacks took place in the Christian village of Qaa, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah

 

This is the 16th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

Monday was a sad day for Lebanon as eight suicide bombings killed five people and wounded more than 30 in the Lebanese border village of Al-Qaa. Even by Lebanon’s Syrian spillover standards, eight suicide bombings in less than 24 hours is a very tragic development and reminds us of the dark days of the Lebanese civil war: Sectarianism, the return of “self-security”, tensions vis-a-vis refugees, government failure, and border control issues. Which is why this month’s Wikileaks post is a compilation of several cables (I only kept the relevant parts to Al-Qaa) dating from the civil war era about the violence that used to happen there. The cables might be from a different era, the fighting might be between different groups than today, but some thing stays the same: Tensions lead to more tensions, more tensions lead to violence, violence only leads to more violence, and the political repercussions of violence are the same everywhere: In one of the cables, you’ll see that a Lebanese president was threatening to resign because of a massacre in Al-Qaa. How ironic is it that almost 40 years after that, Lebanese politicians are still bickering among themselves in the middle of  presidential vacancy while violence returns to that same village? Now more than ever, the Lebanese cannot fall into the trap of civil strife and cold-blooded violence. The Lebanese armed forces have to intervene more efficiently when such developments happen because self-security can quickly turn into civil war. Those suicide bombers wanted us to head into chaos  by causing panic, and almost succeeded. After all, who wouldn’t panic after eight suicide bombings?

TEMPERATURE RISES ONCE AGAIN IN LEBANON
1975 December 18, 13:45 (Thursday)
1975BEIRUT15337_b

(A) AFTERMATH OF SEBNAY INCIDENT (REFTEL) CONTINUES TO HAVE REPERCUSSIONS IN BEIRUT AND NEARBY AREAS OF THE SHOUF. ATTACKS AND COUNTER-ATTACKS WERE REPORTED IN AND AROUND BAABDA YESTERDAY AND INTO MORNING DEC 18. NEW AND SERIOUS ELEMENT IN SITUATION IS EXTENSION OF ACTIVE CONFLICT INTO SHOUF WHERE KAMAL JUMBLATT’S DRUZE ARE POWERFUL FACTOR. JUMBLATT’S PSP MILITIAMEN STAGED SEVERAL RETALIATORY ATTACKS ON CHRISTIAN CENTERS ALONG ROAD TO SOUK AL GHARB AND AT KAHALE AND ALEY AND ARE ON ALERT IN BEIRUT. ALL HOT SPOTS OUTSIDE EARSHOT OF EMBASSY EXPERIENCED AT LEAST SOME FIRING IN LAST 24 HOURS, ALTHOUGH TRUCE IN HOTEL DISTRICT APPEARS TO BE HOLDING AS OF 1300 HOURS DEC 18. NEW SPARK OR EVEN MOMENTUM OF STRIFE ELSEWHERE COULD CHANGE SITUATION AROUND CHANCERY INSTANTANEOUSLY. FIGHTING CONTINUES IN TRIPOLI WHERE OPPOSING ELEMENTS ARE SAID TO HAVE ENGAGED DEC 17 IN “TANK BATTLES” USING ARMORED VEHICLES TAKEN FROM SECURITY FORCES. IN BEQA, SHIITES ARE REPORTEDLY ON WARPATH AGAINST CHRISTIAN VILLAGES OF KAA AND RAS BAALBEK FOR ALLEGED CHRISTIAN PROVOCATIONS.

LEBANESE SITUATION: JULY 5, 1200 HOURS LOCAL
1978 July 5, 00:00 (Wednesday)
1978BEIRUT03720_d

ASKED ABOUT FAYYADIYAH, AYN AR-RUMMANEH, ASHRAFIYAH AND QAA INCIDENTS, CHAMOUN REPLIED “IF THESE EVENTS HAD NOT OCCURRED, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN TIME TO PUT AN END TO THE PRESENCE OF THE ARAB DETERRENT FORCES IN LEBANON. THE INCIDENTS THAT YOU HAVE EVOKED HAVE PRECIPITATED THE NECESSITY OF THE TOTAL EVACUATION OF THESE FORCES FROM LEBANON. THE LEBANESE MUST TAKE CARE OF THEIR PROBLEMS THEMSELVES.”

CHAMOUN VILIFIES THE PRESIDENT
1978 July 13, 00:00 (Thursday)
1978BEIRUT03917_d

1. SUMMARY: CAMILLE CHAMOUN HAS SENT AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT SARKIS, BOTH CRITICIZING THE PRESIDENT FOR THREATENING TO RESIGN AND IMPLYING HE HAS IN THE RECENT PAST ACQUIESCED IN THE “TYRANNICAL BEHAVIOR OF THE SYRIANS.” CHAMOUN WRITES, “I WILL NOT GO TO BAABDA, AND I WILL NOT TELL YOU TO GO AHEAD WITH YOUR RESIGNATION OR TO WITHDRAW IT.” BEIRUT PRESS HAS REACTED NEGATIVELY. END SUMMARY.

[…]

“AND THERE ARE SOME WHO SAY THAT YOUR RESIGNATION WAS IN PROTEST AGAINST THE TYRANNICAL BEHAVIOR OF THE SYRIANS (By “Syrians”, Chamoun means Syrian regime here) IN AL-QAA, RAS BAALBECK, JDEIDET AL-FAKIHA, AYN AR-RUMMANEH AND ASHRAFIYAH. “ASSUMING THAT THIS IS TRUE, IT WAS YOUR DUTY TO EXPLAIN THE SITUATION TO LEBANESE AND INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC OPINION AND TO DEMAND THE DEPARTURE OF THE DETERRENT FORCES, INSTEAD OF DEPARTING YOURSELF.

SITUATION IN LEBANON: CONVERSATION WITH MINISTER OF FINANCE RAPHAEL
1978 September 14, 00:00 (Thursday)
1978BEIRUT05373_d

6. HE AGREED THAT MARONITE MILITIAS REPRESENTED ONLY A MINORITY OF CHRISTIANS AND EVEN OF MARONITES BUT MISGUIDED SYRIAN ACTIONS HAD DRIVEN PEOPLE INTO THEIR ARMS. EVERYBODY WAS TIRED OF WAR AND THE EXACTIONS OF THE MILITIAS, BUT NO CHRISTIAN WANTED TO BE LEFT DEFENCELESS AGAINST THE SYRIANS, WHOM THEY DID NOT TRUST. IF THE SYRIANS HAD SHOWN RESTRAINT AFTER EHDEN MASSACRE, KATAEB WOULD HAVE FALLEN APART. THE SYRIAN MASSACRE OF CHRISTIANS AT QAA AND THE CEDARS AND THEIR BOMBARDMENT OF ASHRAFIEH HAD SAVED THE KATAEB FROM DISSOLUTION..

Did Ashraf Rifi’s Resignation inspire the Kataeb?

Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel announces the resignation of his party's two ministers from the Cabinet

Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel announces the resignation of his party’s two ministers from the Cabinet (Image source: The Daily Star / Hassan Shaaban)

This is the 22nd post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the months of May and June 2016.

Six months ago, Lebanon watched in denial as the biggest two Civil War enemies became frenemies. As Geagea endorsed his archrival Aoun for presidency and as the Christian marriage sealed an alliance between the biggest two Christian parties, everyone else panicked and started acting weird: Instead of trying to win Geagea back, Hariri decided to widen the gap with the LF even further by officially endorsing Frangieh for presidency. Jumblatt awkwardly re-endorsed Helou, and even speaker Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s most experienced political tactician, struggled to distance himself from endorsing the FPM’s leader (spoiler alert: he eventually succeeded. He always does). The mainstream media started with its predictions, but back then it was way too early to know the impact of such an alliance on the Lebanese political scene. This month, however, saw the very first major consequence of that deal: Kataeb ministers resigned from a government in which they had one of the biggest shares in modern history.

Where do you campaign?

On the 14th of June, two Kataeb ministers resigned from government following a decision by the party’s leadership to leave the executive power. For 12 months, the Kataeb had criticized the government’s handling of the trash crisis without resigning. Last summer saw almost all of Mount-Lebanon and Beirut drown in garbage, but ironically, no Kataeb minister had resigned back then – they just kept voting against the awful solutions the government kept drafting – refusing to put more pressure on the government by resigning, even as tens of thousands of demonstrators protested in disgust against the trash crisis and the trashy solutions the government kept proposing. According to the Kataeb propaganda back then, it was crucial for them to stay in government in order to keep the public informed of the deals happening on the Grand Serail’s table, to be the opposition from within the cabinet, to preserve coexistence in the absence of a president, to prevent Hezbollah and their allies from controlling the cabinet, and last but not least, to be the shield that guards the realms of men, for this night and all the nights to come (Just like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones).

The thing is, Mount-Lebanon as whole, as well as the city of Beirut, are irrelevant for the Kataeb’s electoral policies. The Kataeb party is one of the smallest parties in parliament, and its members/supporters are scattered throughout all the constituencies (mainly the Christian ones), where they form small, irrelevant minorities to the constituency’s main voters. In Beirut III, it’s the FM that dictates the electoral terms. In Beirut II, it’s the Muslim and Armenian parties. In Beirut I, it’s the Tashnag and the LF-FPM alliance (There is no way the Kataeb can get a majority with the previous three parties allied with one another). In the Chouf, it’s everyone but them. In Aley, it’s Jumblatt.  In Baabda, it’s again almost everyone but them (Aoun and Hezbollah won the district comfortably all by themselves in 2009). The same goes for Kesserwan, that the Aounists held against all odds for the past 11 years, even without the help of the Lebanese Forces – so you can imagine the possible scenario now that the LF are by their side.

8 seats = 8 reasons to resign

There is only one constituency where the Kataeb can challenge everyone else in it, and it’s the Metn with its 8 seats. It has more seats than the Christian regions of Beirut, and has more than 50% of the Christian seats of Northern Mount-Lebanon. The Metn is Lebanon’s biggest Christian constituency in terms of MPs, has a very small Muslim minority, and has 4 types of Christian seats (4 Maronites, 2 Greek Orthodox, 1 Greek Catholic, and 1 Armenian Orthodox). Also, (a very known) fun fact: It’s also Samy Gemayel’s home district. The past two years saw Gemayel Jr rise in popularity, and the latest municipal elections are the proof that he will be a force to be reckoned with in Lebanese politics in the years to come. He is becoming more popular by the day, but he isn’t getting popular fast enough. By June 2017, if the kataeb can’t at least win/compete all by itself in at least one Christian district, the FPM and the LF are going to ignore the Kataeb’s demands for concessions in all of the Christian constituencies and they’re going to take control of everything they can take control of. They will treat the Kataeb in the parliamentary elections the same way they treated Dory Chamoun in Deir El Kamar during the municipal elections. After all, one of the obvious non-official goals of the Christian wedding was to create a Christian duality when it came to national politics and to eliminate everything not related to the FPM and LF from the parliament. The LF no longer need the Kataeb to counter the FPM, the FPM never needed the Kataeb anyway, and the Future Movement, the Kataeb’s last ally – at least on paper – isn’t exactly on good terms with Gemayel – blame his remarks against sukleen and the CDR – and has a new Christian bro called Sleiman Frangieh.

The Metn remembers?

To sum things up, the phalangists need to secure 51% of at least one constituency’s voters or they’ll lose everything in 2017. And the only place where that might be possible is the Metn, and it’s a big might. The FPM and the Tashnag won the district both in 2005 and in 2007’s by-elections. In 2009, they did it again, and this time even without the help of Michel el Murr. True, Samy Gemayel – alongside Michel Murr – was the only non-FPMer to make it to parliament in the Metn in 2009, but those were the days when the LF were Kataeb allies. One can argue that the FPM and LF didn’t do so well in their Metn municipal campaigns, but the fact remains that in the Metn, six parties will dictate the rules of the game in 2017: The FPM, the LF, the Kataeb, the Tahsnag, the SSNP, and Michel Murr. This is where it gets complicated: The FPM is friends with the Tashnag, the LF, and the SSNP. The LF is friends with the FPM. The Tashnag is friends with the FPM and Murr. The SSNP is friends with the FPM. The Kataeb, on the other hand, is the LF’s “March 14 Christian rival” (If you still believe in this whole M8/M14 duality), is the SSNP’s historical rival, is the biggest Christian party not supporting the FPM’s Michel Aoun right now, and is less friends with the Tashang than the FPM. The only politician who might stand with them if they face an FPM-LF-Tashnag-SSNP alliance, is Michel Murr (because the FPM and the LF will also probably try to isolate him as well). To make things worse, Murr is even less reliable than Jumblatt when it comes to stable alliances.

In 2017, the Kataeb know that they’ll be alone, with no allies, in a very hostile electoral environment because of an electoral law that currently favors bigger parties / alliances and that tends to eliminate political minorities from being represented in their constituencies (the Kataeb are going to regret their opposition to proportional representation soon enough). According to the laws of Lebanese politics, once you’re totally outside parliament, you hardly ever make it back: Only few politicians have ever managed to make a comeback after losing all of their party seats. Gemayel can’t risk losing it all, not while he’s still rising. The only way he survives the FPM-LF wedding is by securing the Metn, and the easiest way to secure the Metn is by giving the Metnis the impression that the FPM wants to turn the caza’s coast into a dump while the Kataeb were ready to resign their biggest government share ever in modern history just to protest that.

Mother nature?

According to Kataeb discourse, their resignation was about preserving the Lebanese environment – they took similar stances when it came to the infamous Jannah Dam. But in truth, it’s really more than saving mother nature, helping the Lebanese animal kingdom and taking care of the fauna and flora. It’s about electoral survival: The Kataeb ministers didn’t resign when two entire Mohafazas were drowned in trash, and aren’t really eco-friendly in some of their other stances (see here for not-so-eco-friendly dumps, and here for not-so-safe-dams). While it isn’t as “double-standardy” as the other politicians’ stances, the Kataeb are treating the Metn differently for a reason, and the timing of the resignation just isn’t right since if it was really for eco-friendly reasons, it should have happened months ago, not just after an FPM-sponsored dam was going to be built in a Christian region and after dumping was going to resume in the Metn coast. Constitutionally, and according to article 27, every member of the Chamber shall represent the whole nation, and by the laws of common sense, the cabinet serves the entire country, so the Kataeb can’t really say that they can only defend Metni interests because Gemayel represents the Metn. The Kataeb’s officials in parliament and government serve the entire nation by law, yet in a very “clientelistic Lebanese mentality (found in all mainstream Lebanese political parties), they behaved differently when it came to the districts that matter to them electorally .The Kataeb want (need) re-election, and are maneuvering with eco-friendly reasons, which really shows you the level of desperation (no Lebanese politicians has ever done that).

(But on the bright side, that means a struggle for more forests and less trashy trash solutions, just so you don’t say that I’m cynical all the time :-P ).

Plot holes, plot holes

Another plot hole in the Kataeb’s maneuver is – like I mentioned earlier – that they convinced the Lebanese that they were the opposition from within the cabinet for the past two and a half-years, which is why they refused to resign time after time, especially that there was no Christian president in power. The biggest irony is that they eventually resigned anyway, for lesser reasons (trash crisis in Mount-Lebanon + Beirut > trash complication in the Metn), and in the middle of a debate on a Christian-Shiite rivalry in a Lebanese security apparatus, while there was still no president in power, and while being fully aware that the two caretaker ministers that will assume the Kataeb’s responsibilities in parliament are both Muslims. The Kataeb are definitely playing a long-term survival maneuver, and they’ll clearly let nothing stand in their way (this time, it’s Star Wars I’m quoting).

 Did they really leave?

What makes the Kataeb move look even more like a complicated professional maneuver than an eco-friendly move is the fact that while their decision to leave the cabinet was unquestionable since they officially submitted their resignation to Salam, one of the kataeb ministers who resigned, Sejaan Kazzi, also told the world that there has to be a president who accepts the resignations in order for their resignations to become official (which isn’t true…), as if (at least a part of) the Kataeb leadership wants to give the impression that it wants to leave without actually leaving the cabinet. With the amount of  anger from the party base and leadership regarding Azzi’s remarks (check this hashtag on twitter), it shows you how unconventional yet popular Gemayel’s move is: The last time a minister (not called Rifi) tried to resign because of a government policy, it was Nahas in 2011.

Plot twist: Ramzi Jreij is still out there

Oh, and there’s still Ramzi Jreij in the cabinet, who is pro-Kataeb but not officially Kataeb (so he wasn’t forced to resign by the Kataeb political bureau). In other words, what happens in the Grand Serail will not stay in the Grand Serail – at least not for now – as Ramzi Jreij should still report to Bekfaya every once in a while.

The rise and rise of Ashraf Rifi

I can go on for hours in this blog post about what Amal Bou Zeid’s win in Jezzine means, and overthink the awkward Machnouk comments about Frangieh’s presidency, but May was an electoral month, so nothing really counts, and three huge events are everything one needs to remember from these past 60 days of political chaos: The FM lost Tripoli to Ashraf Rifi and almost lost Beirut to Beirut Madinati, Robert Fadel resigned from parliament, and two Kataeb minsters left government.

The beauty of Lebanese politics is that although it seems that the three events aren’t connected with one another, they’re actually directly related: When Ashraf Rifi politically clashed with Salam and Hariri, and resigned from cabinet earlier this year, everyone saw it as political suicide. And that included myself: “Rifi […] signed with this move his mini-political death warrant“, I said back then. But the Tripoli strongman outsmarted us all. The timing of  his resignation, the causes of his resignation, as well as his political intuitions were so good that he actually managed to defeat – as an underdog, and all by himself – a  huge (HUGE) alliance made of three billionaires (Hariri, Mikati, Safadi), two former prime ministers (Hariri, Mikati), and the heir to the most prestigious political family in the North (Karami). Three years earlier, Rifi was not even a politician, and yet against all odds the list he supported won the municipal council of a city that has more than 8 MPs in parliament, and that victory was partly due to the context in which he resigned.

Inspired by a true story

By their resignation moves, Fadel (more on that in this blog post), as well as the Kataeb, are trying to appeal to their electorates in the same way Rifi did – via resignations in critical moments important to their electorates. Even Mikati tried to do the same strategy in 2013: Remember when he resigned months before parliamentary election because Rifi was isolated?

If a charismatic (in his region at least) newcomer/underdog/micro-Zaim can defeat three billionaires, two prime ministers, and the heir to Abdulhamid Karami, than Gemayel can do the same to the FPM, LF and SSNP in his home district. Two things seem to work in this country: Resignations and sectarianism. If you use both correctly, nothing stands in your way.

How much are you ready to risk?

And if you think about it, the government will be considered resigned the moment a new president is elected and isn’t currently doing much right now, so it shouldn’t be the end of the world even if the Kataeb give up their highest ministerial quota in Lebanon’s modern political history. The Kataeb’s maneuver is a risky gamble tough, especially if the presidential vacancy keeps on getting longer, but the Kataeb party has no choice but to give up its ministers in order to at least try to win more parliamentary seats in the next elections, or Sami Gemayel will soon be as influent as Michel Sleiman is right now. The Kataeb ministers had the perfect excuse/context to resign this June, and they did it smoothly, without making anyone feel it was a maneuver, literally advertising their move on every social media outlet there is (cc the hashtag mentioned earlier). Now we wait 12 months and see if the maneuver will succeed.

1960 or 2016?

The fun/weird part in this whole story is that Robert Fadel’s resignation meant that there might have been electoral redistricting in sight (with the possibility of transferring the Greek Orthodox seat from Tripoli to a wider Northern constituency under PR), while the Kataeb resignations mean that the Metn should remain unchanged in the next elections since the maneuver is adapted to the 1960 (2008) electoral law constituencies. This contradiction is the ultimate proof that even our politicians have no idea what’s happening with the electoral law debate.

757 days since the 25th of May (presidential vacancy). 1116 days since the 31st of May (parliamentary extension) .

Introducing the Robert Fadel Maneuver

Robert Fadel (Image source The Daily Star Mohamad Azakir)

Robert Fadel (Image source: The Daily Star/ Mohamad Azakir)

Wait, what? An MP resigned?

Yesterday, Tripoli’s Greek Orthodox MP, Robert Fadel, dropped a political bomb and announced that he was resigning from parliament, because the new Tripoli municipal council had no Christian representatives: “More than one essential component was absent or marginalized from the new municipal council,” Fadel said in an email statement.

True, 126 MPs should resign their seats as well since they weren’t elected and their presence in parliament is unconstitutional according to the constitutional council itself, but it should be noted that MP Fadel’s resignation is by far the perfect example of a Lebanese politician’s maneuver.

The context

With draft electoral laws being discussed in joint commissions once again – including talks of major changes, such as switching 60 or even 64 seats to proportional representation , bigger electoral districts might replace caza ones, and the Greek Orthodox seat might find his way to a larger PR district as a way to give the FPM-LF alliance a political win they can call huge while it’s actually not that relevant to the nationwide politics (although changing the law is extremely likely after the municipal elections almost overthrew every major politician in his “fiefdom” making proportional representation a risky prospect for everyone).

So in other words, there might not be a Greek Orthodox parliamentary seat in Tripoli in 2017 (It would be transferred to a greater North constituency with PR representation), and Fadel can no longer count on an alliance with the city’s politicians – No matter who they are (Mikati, Safadi, Karami, Hariri or Rifi). He’ll either have to run in a district that includes Zgharta, where he might face Frangieh, the strongest presidential candidate right now (or Frangieh Jr, the son of the next president in case that candidate makes it to Baabda) – good luck with that, or he’ll have to run in a district that includes Batroun. There, he’ll have to face Boutros Harb (or a successor), Gebran Bassil – the president of the FPM, and Antoine Zahra of the LF. Depending on the redistricting, he might run for a seat in the entire North governorate. And that means going against all of the above politicians.

Fadel had to face the fact that he was going to run against a presidential candidate or the son of a presidential candidate, or the son-in-law of a presidential candidate and the president of the biggest Christian party who also happens to be supported by the second strongest Christian party and a potentially very powerful independent candidate and local politician. To make things even worse, two of those politicians (Harb, Bassil) are currently in the cabinet.

So what did he do? He resigned, because there were no Christian members of the municipality in the city – in order to try and “win the hearts” of the Christian electorate of Batroun, Zgharta, and Koura, a year before general elections, while also making sure that it was almost impossible for anyone else to take his seat from now till June 2017. But the maneuver isn’t that simple.

The timing

Theoretically, and according to article 41 of the Constitution, “Should a seat in the Chamber become vacant, the election of a successor shall begin within two months. The mandate of the new member shall not exceed that of the old member whose place he is taking; however, should the seat in the Chamber become vacant during the last six months of its mandate, no successor may be elected.”
That means we should have elections by August – similar to the Jezzine by-elections earlier this month, but Fadel resigned one day after parliamentary elections could have been held to replace him, and we live in Lebanon, so if the interior ministry was going to organize parliamentary by-elections in Tripoli, it was going to be last week, when the city had its municipal ones. If the Jezzine by-elections took two years to happen (after the death of MP Helou in 2014) Tripoli by-elections are unlikely to happen before May 2017, and no one of the mainstream establishment parties is going to risk losing a Tripoli seat a day after Rifi won the city. It’s a risky prospect, and gives the opportunity to Rifi, Tripoli’s rising politician, to get a Christian politician by his side. That’s literally the worst thing that could ever happen to any of the parties in power, since it would mean that Rifi can slowly expand his influence in the other Sunni regions – The Sunni leaders of the establishment, when “big enough”, have always been known of allying themselves with minor Christian figures in their regions – while also threatening the Christian parties’ dominance in the North.

So yeah, I’ll repeat what I said earlier: No one of the mainstream establishment parties is going to risk losing a Tripoli seat a day after Rifi won the city. Fadel’s seat will remain vacant till 2017, so no one could actually fill the vacancy, and if the Tripoli seat remains in the city, Fadel will run with his Sunni allies just like the good old days of 2009 (In the end – and in a way – he resigned because they lost the municipal elections). If it’s going outside the city, where the Christian electorate is expected to have a higher percentage (Christians are around 40% of the Northeners), he has the best sectarian card ever to face the FPM, the LF, Harb (and if Koura is included, other independents like Makari) : He can say he’s the only MP who resigned for “a Christian cause”.

Mikati tried to do the same maneuver in the Sunni camp when he resigned back in 2013, right before parliamentary elections, when Rifi was being isolated (If you guys remember), so it’s actually an old-school maneuver many Lebanese politicians like to use in times of trouble.

ALSO, if you notice, Fadel resigned exactly 3 years after the first parliamentary extension. Now that is what you call a smooth maneuver.

La morale: Campaigning for the parliamentary elections has just begun. Brace yourselves. It’s going to be an exciting year of political maneuvers.

738 days since the 25th of May (presidential vacancy). 1097 days since the 31st of May (parliamentary extension) .

2010 Municipal Elections Reforms and WikiLeaks

2012 by-elections

A man casts his vote during the municipal by-elections in the southern village of Bisarieh, Sunday, May 6, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

This is the 15th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

Lebanon is a country best known for its presidential vacancy, for its trash crisis, for its political deadlock, for the lack of infrastructure and government services – basically for the lack of everything. That includes fair electoral laws. Since it’s municipal elections season this month, and since I couldn’t find anything worth sharing about the dynamics of the previous municipal elections that happened in 1998, 2004, and 2010 on WikiLeaks (If you find anything interesting, nudge me), I thought it would be interesting to focus on the municipal elections draft law that was proposed in February 2010 by the former minister of interior Ziad Baroud: Among the reforms, you’ll find pre-printed ballots, a 30% quota for women, direct election of council presidents and their deputies, and proportional representation in larger districts. A draft law eventually made it into the drawers of the Lebanese parliament and – as expected – sadly never made it out. This month’s WikiLeaks cable is basically the American ambassador’s point of view on the reforms and why she tought they wouldn’t pass before the May 2010 elections (Fact: We’re in May in 2016, and the reforms still never made it to the parliament’s floor – because Lebanese politicians). To sum up the WikiLeaks cable in two sentences, “The draft bill as a whole is not in the interest of any of the traditional political players, since it weakens the ability of powerbrokers to manipulate the electoral system. Although the motivation varies from party to party and confession to confession, all sides have an interest in minimizing the impact of the proposed reforms.”

Today, those reforms are more important than ever: If the elections were based on proportional representation, the anti-establishment lists would have gotten at least 9 seats out of 24 in Beirut.  Women are still struggling in municipal elections, and the number of violations on the first day of elections was too damn high: Just check LADE’s report, and you’ll get an idea.

Here’s the full cable:

CABINET APPROVES MUNICIPAL ELECTORAL REFORMS, BUT PARLIAMENT IS NEXT HURDLE
2010 February 19, 15:59 (Friday)
10BEIRUT164_a

Classified By: Ambassador Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Despite pressure from multiple sides to delay, the Lebanese municipal elections are still scheduled for June 2009. In January Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud presented a draft bill to cabinet containing a menu of electoral reforms, including measures to create standardized pre-printed ballots, set aside a quota for female candidates, directly elect council presidents and deputies, and introduce proportional voting. Although many politicians have opposed one or more of the reforms, seeing them as undermining existing power structures, the cabinet has approved a surprisingly high proportion of them. Baroud will now redact the bill and it will move to parliament, where many believe differences of opinion and opposition to reform could cause it to stall. End Summary.

BAROUD’S DRAFT LAW FRAMES DEBATE

——————————–

2. (U) On January 19, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud introduced a draft law for municipal elections to the cabinet. Simultaneously, the cabinet voted to extend the term of the sitting councils by a month, thus extending the deadline for elections to the end of June. The cabinet also approved Baroud’s proposal to reduce council terms from six to five years. Although most political observers speculated that the majority of parties would seek to postpone the elections on a technical basis, Baroud has consistently maintained publicly that his ministry was ready logistically to carry out the municipal election in the spring with or without the reforms.

3. (U) Baroud’s draft electoral law called for several major reforms: pre-printed ballots, a 30% quota for female candidates, direct election of council presidents and their deputies, and proportional representation in larger districts. Baroud, who is widely respected for his expertise in electoral processes, anticipated many of the cabinet’s objections to the reforms and included comprehensive responses in the materials submitted to the cabinet. In fact, the careful construction of the draft law ensured that any individual proposed reform could be removed without affecting the overall law. In addition to the reforms actually proposed in his draft law, Baroud also voiced support for a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18 years of age, though privately he indicated to us that it would be difficult to stick to the existing electoral schedule if such an amendment were passed.

CABINET SURPRISE

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4. (SBU) Although the cabinet has made few substantive decisions since being seated in December, in mid-February it approved a number of Baroud’s proposals during several sessions of debate. On February 11, the cabinet voted to approve the most fundamental reform — the use of pre-printed ballots. Traditionally, candidates create and distribute their own ballots, which discourages voters from splitting their votes and allows parties visually to monitor voting at the polls. The proposal approved by the cabinet stipulates that Baroud’s interior ministry (MOI) will print a standardized ballot for each contest and distribute the ballot at the polls on election day. 5. (SBU) The most controversial reform, which the cabinet approved on February 17, was implementing proportional representation in all municipal elections, not just in larger districts as originally proposed by Baroud. Unlike parliamentary elections, municipal elections have not previously followed a sectarian formula. Local candidates have run on negotiated unified lists that were often affiliated with local powerbrokers. With this reform, each council would be drawn from competing electoral lists in proportion to the percentage of the vote each list garners in the poll. Although some political figures, such as Labor Minister Boutros Harb, have publicly decried the proposed change as opening the door to paralysis on local councils, its goal is to increase participation by outsiders, since any list that obtains at least 6% of the vote will win representation on the council. For his part, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) head Michel Aoun lobbied for linking proportional representation to the splitting of Beirut into three electoral districts, but the latter proposal has not been approved. 6. (SBU) The cabinet also approved reserving a 20% quota for female candidates on each list instead of the 30% proposed by Baroud. That such a reform measure passed in any form is surprising, given the general absence of female politicians from Lebanese political life. While there is no legal bar to female political participation in politics, social mores and security concerns reduce female participation, and only four women — all of them from political dynasties — currently serve in parliament. However, many more women are involved in municipal government than in national government. Even so, the barriers women face are underscored by several recent studies indicating that women are actually more likely to vote for a male candidate than a woman, believing that a woman has too many family responsibilities and mistrusting her capacity.

NOT ALL PROPOSALS APPROVED

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7. (C) Despite initial internal disagreement the cabinet approved many of Baroud’s proposals, but some key proposals remain pending. Contacts say that Prime Minister Saad Hariri is opposed to one — direct election of council presidents and deputies — because he views strong, popularly elected council leaders in the majority Sunni cities as a threat to his position as Sunni political leader. Harb told us on February 18 that Aoun’s proposed division of the Beirut municipality, which Hariri and his Christian allies also oppose, would similarly not be approved.

8. (C) On February 17 the cabinet also gave its approval for parliament to debate Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal to modify the constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years of age — something that did not figure in Baroud’s draft law. Such a change would add approximately 283,000 new voters, according to Baroud. Some Christian politicians insinuate that the amendment would sharply increase the number of Muslim voters, but Richard Chambers of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) estimated that the overall increase in the percentage of Muslim voters would be approximately one percent, most of it concentrated in Muslim-majority regions. Even so, Christian leaders are attempting to link the amendment to a proposal to allow expatriate Lebanese (many of them Christian) to vote. Complicating matters further, contacts say Aoun opposes Berri’s proposed amendment — despite the fact that the two are coalition partners — fearing that Christian youth added to the rolls would vote against him. Berri has scheduled a parliamentary debate on the amendment for February 22 and 23.

DRAFT LAW MAY WITHER IN PARLIAMENT

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9. C) On February 17, the cabinet directed Baroud to redraft his proposed electoral law to consolidate the approved proposals, then submit it to parliament for action. The bill will have to pass through parliament’s defense, justice, and finance committees before coming to a floor vote. Many suspect that the law will wither along the way. Harb told us on February 18 that the cabinet approved the proposals so that it could appear to be active, but that all the disagreements aired in cabinet would play out in parliament. Baroud himself implied to the Ambassador on February 18 that the process in parliament would be slow but that “even if the law is not passed before the elections, we have put the ideas out for discussion.” Aoun meanwhile has said repeatedly to the press that it is more important to enact reforms than to hold elections on time. Future MP Oqab Saqr told poloff on February 18 that the battle over the elections would begin with the February 22 parliamentary debate on amending the constitution, during which he predicted the majority would stage a walk-out.

10. (C) COMMENT: Although getting the reforms out of the cabinet was merely the first step, Baroud is right that the debate has increased public awareness of the need for reform. The draft bill as a whole is not in the interest of any of the traditional political players, since it weakens the ability of powerbrokers to manipulate the electoral system. Although the motivation varies from party to party and confession to confession, all sides have an interest in minimizing the impact of the proposed reforms.

SISON

What Beirut’s Election Results Tell: Lebanon Can Hope For Change

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

This post was written with Elie Fares from A Separate State of Mind.

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 did not get actual seats, it 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.

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, 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 the higher socio-economic status, the reliance of the electorate on the mainstream parties will be 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 the 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 him having a 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 in 2016. 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.

UPDATE 1 (Ramez here): This post was written before the ministry published the official results, and was based on the estimations of a table including BM votes and the establishment lists’ votes only (see Elie’s blog post). With more official detailed results made available for all candidates, the numbers become a bit different:  Nahas got 6000 votes, and many other candidates got thousands of votes. All in all, BM gets around 30% (not 40) and LB gets around 45% (not 60) of the 95000 who voted, which shows one more thing: That the establishment did not even get an absolute majority, and that BM and MMfidawla’s reach could have been far better to attract those voters who defected from the parties in power and did not vote with those two lists. The updated numbers aren’t necessarily bad for BM, but are extremely horrible for the establishment that couldn’t even secure an absolute majority in the overall vote of the capital, and we’re still talking about a 20% turnout. Another thing: The myth that “if Nahas and BM had joined forces they would have won” has been debunked: Nahas got the most votes on his list (6920), and Mneimneh got the most votes on BM’s side (319333). Even if we suppose that voters didn’t add Nahas’s name at all while voting BM (a lot of them did) which means that there aren’t common voters for the two, both lists would have still gotten a maximum of 38853 votes. That’s still lower than the lestablishment candidate with the lowest result, Yahchouchi, with 38989 votes. So succeeding wasn’t about alliances of anti-establishment parties as much as it was a difficulty in reaching potential voters, which is a shame.

I can go deeper with the analysis, but I’ll need more data, so if you spot detailed numbers (for every one of the 12 sub-districts), link me and I’ll be glad to crunch the data.

UPDATE 2 (Ramez again here): Even more detailed data is now available on the ministry’s website (by قلم and subdistrict). I’ll write something more detailed as soon as I can but I’m going to need some time to crunch the data (don’t expect anything before summer, there are hundreds of tables😛 ).

The Month that Doesn’t Count

Lebanon municipal elections 2016

A Lebanese woman walks past posters of candidates for the upcoming Beirut municipal elections on a shop window in the Lebanese capital’s Christian dominated neighbourhood of Ashrafiyeh on May 4, 2016. Municipal elections in Lebanon take place every six years, with political parties often forming joint candidate lists. The vote on May 8, 2016, is the first of any kind in Lebanon since the last municipal elections in 2010. Image source: Patrick Baz – Getty images

This is the 20th post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the month of April (and the first few days of May) 2016.

In Lebanese politics, there are months that “count”, and months that “don’t count” when it comes to political maneuvering. There’s a pattern when it comes to policy making: short periods of “active” deadlocks – full of efficient political maneuvering that eventually give you results – are often followed by even shorter periods of political stability. After the shorter periods comes a longvery long period – of deadlock that is extremely similar to what they call in football a “dead rubber match” (a match that has no effect on the winner and loser of the series, other than the number of matches won and lost). The dead rubber period can be full of maneuvers, or it can simply have no political developments at all. It all depends on the laziness of Lebanese politicians.

This month – just like the ones before – was mostly a dead rubber period, but not because Lebanese politicians were lazy. In fact, they were even more focused than before, concentrating all their efforts on the municipal elections. Municipal elections in Lebanon are an extremely complicated process known to bring rivals together (the example of Beirut) but also create tensions between allies (the example of Zahle), so the whole maneuvering mechanism becomes useless and old-fashioned. People are no longer influenced by a politician’s national speech, and start instead thinking about more than 10000 local seats to fill in municipal councils. On the bright side, that means that this post will be a lot shorter than the previous monthly posts, since there were very few politicians who cared to maneuver on a nation-wide scale.

Except Jumblatt. Jumblatt was hyperactive.

The bey of Mukhtara was extremely hyperactive this month: He politically clashed with Abdelmenhem Youssef, a ministry of telecommunications official close to the FM – theoretically an ally – accusing him of corruption, then politically clashed with the mayor of Beirut – theoretically an ally, before finally politically clashing  with the minister of interior – also theoretically an ally. And finally, after accusing all of those FM loyalists with corruption, he eventually allied himself with the FM in Beirut municipal elections. You know, because Walid Jumblatt.

But the most important event of the month was Jumblatt’s decision to resign from parliament – after extending his term twice, because again, Walid Jumblatt. The PSP leader’s maneuver is brilliant: He promised to resign only when the parliament meets in a legislative session. If there’s something Lebanon’s Christian parties agree on, it’s the fact that legislating in the middle of a presidential vacancy is unconstitutional. It made them unite in November, and only two of the three major parties eventually attended the last legislative session, after making an issue out of it and getting something in return. There has been a lot of talk of a legislative session happening soon, and as Berri was trying to push his agenda of convening the parliament to legislate, Jumblatt’s move – in a way – was meant to put pressure on the other parties to make the legislative session possible: No one likes Jumblatt in parliament, and although his presence inside or outside parliament would be the same, it would nevertheless be nice for the Christian parties to imagine themselves electing a president in a Walid-Jumblat-less parliament. Christian parties aren’t exactly fans of Berri, especially since the speaker endorsed Frangieh in March, and have since then tried to thwart all of his moves. But Jumblatt wasn’t only trying to  tempt the Christian parties into participating in legislative sessions: By resigning (he eventually probably won’t), he creates a vacancy for his son Taymour to get elected unopposed (who is going to run against the heir of Mukhtara in by-elections one year before elections?) which means that Taymour would gain more power and experience a year before the decisive general elections in 2017, with Abu Taymour acting as his mentor and the godfather of the party. That was already Walid Jumblatt’s plan since last year (here’s a nice post about that, in case you forgot), when he told us all he was going to resign, then eventually did not – again, because Walid Jumblatt.

And Gemayel. Gemayel was hyperactive too.

As Aoun and Geagea were using their new alliance to blame the Muslim ally of their new Christian ally for not supporting their new Christian candidate (sorry for that complicated sentence), Sami Gemayel was micro-maneuvering in the last ten days in April by finally naming five presidential candidates – The Kataeb have long been crticized for standing in the way of all of the mainstream candidacies without providing an alternative. Curiously, and among the five candidates, you’ll find the name of Michel Aoun’s son-in-law. Yeah, not Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law currently in charge of the FPM, but the other one, Chamel Roukoz, whose popularity is a big threat on the FPM’s new number 1. By embracing the candidacy of the son-in-law of one of the two most popular candidates, that happens not to be the son-in-law leading the party, and also happens to be the son-in-law who is a retired general – apparently 18 years of generals in Baabda aren’t enough, the Kataeb are trying to turn the Aounists on one another.

Nice maneuver, but it’s a bit cliché: The FM tried something similar in July and August, and it wasn’t too effective.

The experience of Sleiman Frangieh

Meanwhile, while all the other Christian parties were spending all their efforts on discussing rumors of tawteen, Frangieh, who is by now supported by almost every mainstream Muslim party in the republic, ignored the maneuvering of the LF, the Kataeb, and the FPM, did not fall into the trap – like a boss – of even mentioning the subject, and from Tripoli, “rejected attempts to eliminate Lebanon’s Arab identity”. Those of you who read the blog probably already know by now that changing the subject is the most efficient way of ending a political maneuver – no matter how professional that maneuver is. It’s in times like these that you realize Frangieh has 15 extra years of experience in the domain than the other three of the Maronite four.

Oh, and in case you wondered, the parliament becomes even more unconstitutional this Monday.

Happy voting this May. Choose change.

713 days since the 25th of May (presidential elections). 549 days since the 5th of November (second parliamentary extension) .

The Example of Beirut Madinati: Change Is Possible

Beirut Municipality

For a country that has postponed elections three times in the past 12 years and that has been polarized between two political coalitions competing and eventually sharing power in almost every state institution, the month of May 2016 will be an exeption in Lebanon’s modern political history: The Lebanese will vote for the first time since 2010, and this time – at least in Beirut – there is a third choice available. To put it in the campaign’s own words, Beirut Madinati is a volunteer-led campaign to elect a municipal council of qualified, politically unaffiliated individuals in the upcoming contest of May 2016, and, once in office, to support them in implementing a people-centered program that prioritizes livability in our storied city.

Beirut Madinati has a plan for the city, and it’s a detailed and realistic one [you can find an expanded version here] addressing 10 key points (more details on their website):

1.MOBILITY
Today about 70% of trips in Beirut rely on the use of private cars. At peak hours, most of these cars move at the speed of a pedestrian walking at a normal pace. Only 3% of current trips are conducted by walking and/or biking. The rest relies on shared modes of transportation. Within 6 years only 45% of trips will be conducted by private cars, and at least 15% will be by walking or biking. The remaining 40% will be through shared transportation.
2.GREENERY & PUBLIC SPACE
Today Beirut offers less than 1m2/person of green open space while the World Health Organization recommends at least 9 m2/person. Within 6 years we will increase that number to at least 5m2/capita.
3.HOUSING
Make housing more affordable for future homeowners and tenants.Today the average price of an apartment is more than $570,000, or 1270 times the minimum monthly wage. At this rate, more than half of the children in Beirut today will not be able to secure a home in the city.
4.WASTE MANAGEMENT
Today Beirut produces 600 tons/day of solid waste. 90% of this waste is landfilled despite the fact that almost all of it recyclable. Within 6 years Beirut will recycle at least 40% of its solid waste, and implement management methods that are in compliance with best practices world wide.
5.NATURAL HERITAGE
Today the Beirut coastline is largely occupied by private complexes, restaurants, and other facilities that block access and view to the sea. Within 6 years we will establish an interlinked network of public gardens, open spaces, a publicly accessible waterfront and natural and architectural heritage.
 6.COMMUNITY SPACES& SERVICES
Today Beirut has only three public libraries, built in partnership between the Municipality and an NGO, As-Sabeel. No new library has been built in the past 6 years. The city has no other public community centers. Within 6 years we will double the number of public libraries and enhance the larger infrastructure of social services.
 7.SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Today unemployment stands at double its 2011 level, and one in four job seekers, half of whom are youth, cannot find a job. Many of the poverty pockets are located within Beirut and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Businesses have difficulties growing and surviving while many households suffer from the rising cost of living. Within 6 years the municipality will have installed local markets for small producers and buyers. It will contribute to an enabling environment for local entrepreneurship in sectors of relevance to the city’s economy and reduce entrepreneurs’ operational and infrastructural costs. The Municipality will attach a social clause to every public work contract that requires contractors to consider the social impacts of their implementation strategies.
8.ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
Integrate principles of environmental sustainability and stewardship across all regulatory and operational interventions of the municipality, particularly in relation to the building development sector. Within 6 years we will renovate municipal buildings to become exemplars of green buildings, and establish incentives and clear design guidelines for new construction projects.
9.HEALTH AND SAFETY
Today Beirut’s environment is a threat to everyday health because of poor air quality, poor levels of cleanliness, and the absence of monitoring of our air, water, and physical environment. Within 6 years we will have clean city streets and will remove the large open-air waste bins that sit in our streets. To monitor water quality and set up a plan with the Beirut Water Authority to alleviate the water problems and their symptoms. To implement a city-wide lighting plan that improves night safety.
10.GOVERNANCE
Improve the organizational structure of the Municipality, train its staff, and address the main institutional challenges that have plagued the performance of councils for decades.

I might not be from the city, but I spend half my day there. Many – if not most – Lebanese either live or work in the city and its suburbs. It is Lebanon’s capital and the country’s biggest city, and yet when a Lebanese citizen visits it, Beirut humiliates him in every possible way there is. I only kept the today vs the Within 6 years parts of Beirut Madinati’s summarized program for a reason: The status-quo is no longer bearable. And no matter how much it’s difficult, the idea that change isn’t possible is an illusion the Lebanese political establishment created only to convince the people that the same politicians will always win the same seats (“شو الها معنى الانتخابات اذا رح يرجعو يجو هني ذاتن”) – the truth is that they won’t win unless you let them win with your vote. The city stinks nowadays – and I mean that in a very literal way. If that is not reason enough to even consider the election of independent candidates who actually know what they are doing and who are distancing themselves from the Lebanese game of sectarianism and petty politics, I don’t know what is.

“Beirut Madinati” means “Beirut, my city”. Beirut is indeed your city, and you should start by taking it back. A 21% voter turnout in 2010 means that there is a silent majority in the city that has lost hope in the system. This May, Beirut’s voters should turn the table upside down on the establishment. Beirut Madinati is offering everything the Lebanese authorities has failed at: A program. A realistic program. Solutions. Gender equality. Transparency. CommunicationA spirit of cooperation. Independent candidates. Independent candidates giving hope to the city.  Independent candidates whose presence in the municipality makes sense. The candidates are urban planners, artists, historians, architects, activists, singers, doctors, advocates for people with disability, citizens of Beirut. [You can check the full list of names here]

The Lebanese syndrome of protesting the authorities when the party you support is part of that authority must end. The biggest illusion in Lebanese politics is when citizens keep expecting change from the same individuals in power. There can be no progress without accountability, and election day is the day of reckoning. It’s not only about Beirut Madinati: It’s about sending a wider message: that you don’t approve of the parties in power. That the parties that cannot vote a budget in parliament cannot be held accountable with Lebanon’s biggest municipality  budget. That the parties that cannot agree on an president in parliament cannot be trusted with voting on crucial municipal decisions. That the parties that could not share a cabinet successfully cannot be allowed to share the country’s most prestigious municipal council. That the parties that have drowned the country in garbage and political maneuvers have to be stopped, everywhere possible, as soon as possible.

Lebanon’s municipal elections are (obviously) always too locally-oriented and – as if Lebanese politics isn’t already complicated – they actually even involve families competing over seats. The Beauty of Beirut is that the city is too big for all those things to really matter. True, they’ll always be there, but they’ll be there on a lesser scale: On the 8th of May, Beirut will not be choosing between family representatives, sectarian leaders, businessmen, and micro-Zaims. It will be choosing between its past and its future, between the status-quo and the light at the end of the tunnel, between the establishment and reform.

This May, raise your voice and vote in your village/city, no matter where you’re from. Spread Beirut Madinati’s ideas in all of Lebanon’s municipalities. They should be more contagious than our politicans’ sectarianism. We don’t always have an opportunity to vote in this country, so make it count.

In the name of the stinking status-quo and the benefit of the doubt, Moulahazat endorses Beirut Madinati. Spread the word. Progress is possible.