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Lebanon's revolution finds an unlikely parallel in Malta Open in fullscreen

Lara Uhlenhaut

Lebanon's revolution finds an unlikely parallel in Malta

Galizia [pictured] investigated government corruption, and was killed by a car bomb in 2017 [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 December, 2019

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Comment: In both her native Malta, and her adopted Lebanon, Lara Uhlenhaut sees a clear political awakening; a new generation desperate to break away from traditional forms of politics.
"Min affa Malta!" is the general reaction I get when I tell Lebanese people where I am from.

In Lebanon this expression is usually used for a place far away, at the end of the world - a literal Timbuktu. Little do the Lebanese know how close we really are.

I am Maltese. Malta is the country where I grew up, where I went to school, where I spent my teenage years and where my entire family resides, a big one come to that. Lebanon however, is where my closest friends come from, a community of kindred spirits, a chosen family to whom I turn to in times of joy and crisis.

My affinity with Lebanon and its people - I have come to realise - is not just a coincidence. The similarities between these two countries might seem farfetched to those who don't know them well, but to me they are striking. 

To start with we have the Phoenicians in common. Our genetic imprint should not be overlooked. We  simply look alike. We also have a language in common. In Malta we ultimately speak a form of Arabic, and of all the dialects I have encountered in the Middle East, the easiest one to learn as a Maltese speaker, is Lebanese.

We are both small nations but we act big, sometimes with an egocentrism not commensurate with our size. But we compensate with our big hearts, gestures and our warmth.

It is not just about rampant corruption, the level of impunity, disregard for the rule of law and unabashed disdain for citizens

There is also a similarity in landscape. Take a long walk along "Ghar id Dud" in Sliema (and take a double take on the roots of its name) and you can easily imagine yourself strolling along Beirut's corniche overlooking the sprawling Mediterranean, parallels not unnoticed by Lebanese friends who have visited Malta, but also film directors who have time and again used Malta to shoot scenes supposedly taking place in the Arab world.

Up until last month I would have said the similarities stopped there.

In the past weeks however, as I kept checking on the status of Lebanon's revolution and the morale of my friends, a political crisis erupted in my own country, implicating our government not only in rampant corruption but seemingly in the murder of a respected journalist.

The shocking murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017, a prominent local journalist who - before her assassination - had just uncovered huge corruption schemes within the highest echelons of our government, has brought unprecedented international attention to our island. 

Fresh revelations linking government officials to her murder and the likelihood of a large-scale cover-up have prompted huge protests in the capital Valetta, in a country unaccustomed to protests.

Yet it is not the obvious culprits that made me think of parallels with Lebanon. It is not just about rampant corruption, the level of impunity, disregard for the rule of law and unabashed disdain for citizens. Neither is it just about the use of car bombs as our preferred mode of eliminating political opponents or dissenters. 

It is about a clear political awakening among a new generation of people that are desperate to break away from traditional forms of politics.

What has failed to come out in international media, is the fact that Malta is victim to deeply embedded partisanship that has historically divided the island in two – the blues and the reds, Labour vs Nationalists.

In Malta you are born into one of the two sides, with no shades in between, at least among the older generation. It defines one's identity down to the village you were born in, your class and your accent. Loyalty to your party runs through your veins, the zeal of which is unlike anything I have witnessed, at least in Europe.

It is also about reconciling our differences and rethinking our entire approach to politics and identity

In the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a staunch critic of Malta's Labour party, the crusade of her sons to bring her assassins to justice has been deemed by many (me included) as a personal vendetta, also aimed at bringing down the Labour party.

In the last month, amid damning revelations, I have had to face a reckoning, as have many Maltese people. 

What such a zeal for partisanship in Malta, or attachment to a form of "identity" sectarianism in Lebanon essentially boils down to, is the inability to put your country first. Above your loyalties. Above your party. Above your sect.

This is what I feel the Lebanese are currently fighting for. In Malta's case, internationally it has mostly been about bringing justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia. At home it goes beyond that. It is also about reconciling our differences and rethinking our entire approach to politics and identity.  


Lara Uhlenhaut has lived and worked extensively in the Arab Region including as Gender and Development Consultant in Yemen and as Editor with the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Beirut. 

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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