Saturday, May 7, 2016

Who I’m voting for in Beirut and why

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Tomorrow Beirut is voting. I didn’t want to make my choice based on trends or emotions. I preferred to fully understand who are the different contenders and what they stand for before casting my vote and deciding who’s best to run Beirut’s municipality for the next 6 years.

The Beirut List

I have to confess that I’m incapable of telling you exactly who they are and what they represent. Maybe I haven’t done my homework properly, but I know close to nothing about the candidates and what they stand for. I’ve looked and asked around, but it seems I’m not the only one. Beside their Facebook page and a couple of TV interviews where they only talked about generalities, very little information is available to form a decent opinion. So I’ll pass.

The Beirutis List, aka al-Byérté

This is the infamous March14-March 8 alliance list. Everything about that list screams ‘run away as fast as you can, as far as you can’: the program they stole from Beirut Madinati and shamelessly present as their own, the laughable yet very dangerous slogan: “Keeping Beirut for its people”, the populist and sectarian speeches, the campaign clips that insult Beirutis intelligence and memory, so on and so forth.

To be fair, some of the candidates are decent and competent people that could have easily been at home on Beirut Madinati’s list. But none of them represent they own self. They were all appointed by political leaders, and they are nothing more than reps acting on behalf of these leaders.

In other words, when their leaders will fight among each other, as they do almost once a month – if not more – Beirut’s municipality council will be incapable of taking any decision whatsoever. When March14 and March8 join effort, their uselessness is multiplied tenfold. Take the three main places they’re seated together: the dialogue table (the famous tawlet el-hiwar), the government and the parliament.

The dialogue table is, as British iconic character Blackadder would say, as pointless as the book ‘How To Learn French’ translated into French. The government has proven its total incapacity to solve even the most basics problems, like garbage, water or electricity. And the parliament, well, what parliament?

Who in their right mind would want to bring this disastrous formula into Beirut’s new municipality council?

Beirut Madinati

Beirut Madinati is without contest the star of these elections. The hope and enthusiasm this independent citizens initiative has created is unprecedented in local elections.

So let’s not beat around the bushes: Beirut Madinati is a modern, viable and necessary alternative to the usual Lebanese political bazaar. For the first time, a list of candidates presents a detailed program. Even if it’s not perfect or complete, it remains a major step forward (click here to read the program, if you haven’t already). Their campaign is as intelligent as it is new in a country like Lebanon, used to empty slogans and electoral circuses. They didn’t resort to the traditional flag waving cars parade, patriotic songs screaming from giant speakers and candidates’ faces plastered everywhere. They went for opens forums, to meet and dialogue with the citizen they’re aiming to represent.

Now, the big question: are they the anti-establishment list, as their communication suggests? No, they certainly are not. Allow me to explain: Beirut Madinati represents the Beirut bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie was the backbone of late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s local nomenclature (if you’re interested to know more about this, I recommend “History of modern Lebanon” by Georges Corm). The members of this bourgeoisie were the first the take to the streets (along with the Aounists) after the assassination of Rafic Hariri, and they became the heart of the March14 movement.

The Beirut bourgeoisie (obviously when I write Beirut bourgeoisie, I mean the overwhelming majority, not every single member) is hardcore liberal. It believes in a free society based on free trade and freedom of expression – even if sometimes some of it zealots tend to forget it. It believes in a greener approach to local development and in a non-sectarian decentralized form of government. But is not concerned with social justice and equality and wouldn’t mind keeping the socio-economic status quo, even if one third of the Lebanese population lives under the poverty line.

For the past 11 years, the Beirut bourgeoisie has supported March14 in almost every way, and justified every mistake. Among these we can find: the massive uncontrolled influx of Syrian refugees, the denial of the existence of al-Qaeda terrorists cells in north Lebanon and the presence of Daech on Lebanese soil, the refusal of the minimum wage raise, etc. No wonder everyone is insisting on the non-political aspect of this election!

Beirut Madinati is the prodigy child of this bourgeoisie. A picture perfect casting, a very clever mix of honest successful professionals, civil society activists and celebrities. In so many words, it’s the civilized face of what is known as Harirism.

It’s the enlightened side of Harirism, while the Byérté list is it’s dark side. No wonder why a number of BM supporters have publically praised former Solidere manager and head of the Byérté list, Jamal Itani and said that he would make a perfect leader for Beirut Madinati – without raising a single eyebrow, while my questions about corruption have the raised the fury of many!

No wonder either that eminent members of the political establishment have openly expressed their support of Beirut Madinati and discreetly pledged votes for their list. I’m no Leila Abdel Latif, but I can easily predict that the election results will show that a number of politically affiliated Byérté voters removed names from the Byérté list and replaced them with BM candidates.

Is it why BM categorically refused to endorse the fight against corruption during the campaign and didn’t mention the word ‘corruption’ in its program, let alone accept to hold accountable the current municipality council? I hope I’m wrong, but ‘votes in exchange of silence about corruption’ is the only rational explanation.

Harirism is a strong political force in Lebanese politics. Pretending to ignore it or think it can be excluded from the local and national political scene would be either stupid or delusional. So I personally prefer a thousand times its civilized and modern face represented by Beirut Madinati than the sectarian and tribal face represented by the Byérté list.

Citizen within a State

This list is a small one: only 4 candidates. It doesn’t represent any real danger to the other lists. Actually, it chose not to be, keeping the door open to cooperation, for the sake of democratic diversity. Sadly, the others ignored the hand that was extended to them.

Citizen within a State is headed by former minister and left wing figure Charbel Nahas. Nahas is a strange bird in Lebanese politics. His firm stance against corruption got him in trouble many times – it even got him fired from the government, a first in Lebanon! During last summer’s popular movement, he became a father figure to many young protesters. He and his fellow candidates are the undeniable proof that politics in Lebanon are not always synonymous with corruption and personal interests.

Citizen within a State is the actual anti-establishment list. It doesn’t only represent Beirut’s left wing but also every citizen that is fed up with the corrupt, tribal, sectarian and socially unjust system, every citizen that took to the streets last summer, every citizen that doesn’t have anyone to speak on his or her behalf.

So who I’m voting for on Sunday?

I fully support the program of Beirut Madinati. I believe this program is what Beirut needs today. But I also support Citizen within a State, because I strongly believe we need someone to watch over the municipality. Someone that will truly be a deputy of the people, and will report back to us everything the new municipality council will do. To put it bluntly: Charbel Nahas and his team are our transparency insurance.

Knowing that the Beirut Municipality is over 3 billion dollars rich, we would be fools not to take such insurance.

So I’m voting for the 4 ‘Citizen within a State’ candidates and for 20 Beirut Madinati candidates – the ones I think would be most useful to the Lebanese capital and to the implementation of the BM program. And I call anyone who trusts my judgment to do the same.

© Claude El Khal, 2016

1 comment:

Tarek Joseph Chemaly said...

Charbel Nahas was not the first to be sacked from the government it happened before with Frem in the 90s. Great article though.