'A desire to end the mandate of the criminals who are governing us': In Lebanon, part of the diaspora supports anti-establishment candidates

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13 May, 2022
Between hopes for change, tensions between voters and violations of the electoral law, the Lebanese diaspora vote gives a foretaste of what could happen in the legislative elections to be held on May 15.

On May 6 and 8, the Lebanese diaspora started the Lebanese elections by going to the polls. No less than 142,041 Lebanese expatriates out of 225,277 registered voters cast their ballots, almost a threefold increase compared to the last legislative elections of 2018.

Souraya El Ahmar, a member of the Lebanese diaspora network, and an expatriate for 16 years in the United Arab Emirates and then in France, explained this growing interest in the elections as a desire to transform the country.

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“There are candidates who have a real desire to implement reforms for the country. While it won't happen overnight, we are here to lay the groundwork. With the right people in power, expatriates are convinced that Lebanon can recover and get back on its feet,” Souraya told The New Arab.

"There are candidates who have a real desire to implement reforms for the country. While it won't happen overnight, we are here to lay the groundwork"

Indeed, in less than two years, the country's situation has deteriorated. While the World Bank has classified the crisis as one of the worst in the world since the mid-19th century orchestrated by the country’s elite, the American University of Beirut's Crisis Observatory has noted that as many as 300,000 people have left the country in the past two years.

Accused of political negligence and of being responsible for the crisis, some Lebanese from the diaspora who supported the establishment are turning to the opposition parties.

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“We learned what the word citizen means, and the value that our vote represents. Many people went to vote today not only out of duty but also out of a desire to end the mandate of the criminals who are governing us,” said Souraya.

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It is also the massive movements of October 2019 known as the thawra that allowed civil society to organise and mobilise for the elections.

At the legislative level, the Lebanese diaspora network and other civil society organisations from the thawra had the necessary support to put pressure on the parliament to amend the electoral law.

Lebanese expatriates were able to vote for all 128 members of parliament and not just six, as was previously the case. At the same time, the thawra movement coupled with the economic crisis and the explosion in Beirut led to a political awakening.

“As one of the very active participants of the thawra, I was looking forward to this Sunday. The first months of the revolution were the most beautiful of my life. I was proud to be Lebanese. I felt for the first time that there was a civic spirit, a national community,” told Antoun Rizk, a 33-year-old architect who arrived in Dubai in September 2021. 

“With the economic crisis, and the explosion of the port, the movement has suffered many blows. That's why we saved our energy for the elections. It is a matter of transposing the changes we want to see through the electoral process,” he added.

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Although a large portion of the diaspora went to the polls, they represent only a small portion of the voters who will cast ballots on May 15. For this reason, the diaspora is also trying to mobilise the Lebanese staying in their country to bring about the change they are waiting for.

“The diaspora alone can only do so much, and together we can continue the change that has begun since the revolution. Today's vote is a first step in the long struggle ahead, but if we don't all move in the same direction, we will not succeed,” Souraya told The New Arab.

It should also be noted that not all of the diaspora is in favor of change. The traditional political parties are well anchored abroad and they have a significant part of the Lebanese who support them as well. In a study based on the voting behavior of the 2018 elections, the Arab Reform Initiative analysed that the diaspora voted overwhelmingly 94% for traditional parties.

"With the economic crisis, and the explosion of the port, the movement has suffered many blows. That's why we saved our energy for the elections. It is a matter of transposing the changes we want to see through the electoral process"

For these reasons, diaspora voters like Sara El Samman, a 24-year-old landscaping student who left Lebanon in the aftermath of the explosion and now lives in France, prefer to distance themselves from the elections. “That's why even though I voted, I wasn't very active in activism regarding the elections,” she told The New Arab.

“The diaspora vote is not much different from the Lebanese vote. I know that nothing will change and I would rather not have too much hope in these elections and be pleasantly surprised than to have too much hope and be disappointed,” she added.

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The change in favor of the opposition is all the more difficult to foresee, as the political class currently in power uses all the tools in its possession to collect votes, even if it means breaking the electoral law.

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections monitored the second turn of the election on Sunday, May 8, and recorded different pressures and key problems.

The presence of affiliated tents and political propaganda near the polling stations, as well as a discrepancy between the number of registered voters and number of voter’s envelopes, the violations are significant.

For his part, Antoun is concerned about the storage of votes. “The votes are going to be locked up in the Central Bank where our money was stolen. Will they do the same with our votes?”

Clément Gibon is a freelance journalist based in Lebanon. 

Follow him on Instagram: @clm_gbn