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 exception 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.
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. Communication. A 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.